Dr. Sean Patrick O’Rourke already had a long, illustrious career before he arrived at Sewanee in 2015, first as a Brown Foundation Fellow and then as Professor of Rhetoric and American Studies and Director of the Center for Speaking and Listening. His presence on our campus has strengthened and brightened the offerings and opportunities available for students in the fields of speech and rhetoric. O’Rourke brought with him a depth of scholarly experience and teaching quality that has greatly benefitted Sewanee.

Since the start of the pandemic, a period during which many people have felt much less ambitious than usual, O’Rourke has actually published three books! In addition to the introductions and section introductions, O’Rourke also has chapters in each of these books.

Rhetoric, Race, Religion, and the Charleston Shootings: Was Blind but Now I See (2020; Lexington Press), co-edited with Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and Women’s and Gender Studies at Sewanee, Dr. Melody Lehn, is a collection of five sets of paired essays by leading scholars discussing the rhetoric related to the Charleston shootings. The book offers an appraisal of the discourses—speeches, editorials, social media posts, visual images, prayers, songs, silence, demonstrations, and protests—that constituted, contested, and reconstituted the shootings in American civil life and memory. 

Like Wildfire: The Rhetoric of the Civil Rights Sit-Ins (2020) and On Fire: Five Civil Rights Sit-Ins and the Rhetoric of Protest (2021) were both co-edited with Dr. Lesli K. Pace of Southeast Missouri State University and published by the University of South Carolina Press. O’Rourke and Pace put together a team of scholars to address the Sit-In movement, one of the least-studied facets of the Civil Rights Movement. The two books cover the same topic in complementary and somewhat overlapping ways. Like Wildfire is a broader treatment of the sit-ins from the early twentieth century to the present. On Fire focuses on five sit-ins of 1960. 

Dr. O’Rourke was also recently the recipient of a summer stipend from the National Endowment of the Humanities (NEH) to enable him to conduct a larger study of the Greenville, SC civil rights movement, a previously understudied area. Only 9% of those who applied received this NEH funding, which speaks to the quality of O’Rourke’s work and his reputation. Despite the pandemic-related restrictions, he was able to work in two different archives in Greenville and is developing yet another book. 

With the initial help of a McCrickard Faculty Development grant, O’Rourke and Melody Lehn have recently begun a long-term project called “Go Tell It On the Mountain.” The project has them working with colleagues (both local and at other institutions) and students to create a history of listening and speaking on the mountain, focusing on the University, the Monteagle Sunday School Assembly, and the Highlander Folk School. This is a project that will have long-term benefits to the campus and the surrounding areas.