Brian O'Sullivan

Associate Professor of English

Department Chair

Brian O'Sullivan

Biography

Brian O’Sullivan earned his B.A. in English at Adelphi University, his M.A. in English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, and his Ph.D. in English at Temple University. In his dissertation, he traced the often-unacknowledged relationship between literary modernism and the teaching of writing. As a writing program administrator at the University of Rochester from 2001 to 2005, he developed a strong research and teaching interest in peer tutoring, because he believes that student writers can often learn more from each other than from their teachers. Partly in response to students who have found many works of modernist literature a little on the bleak side, he has become increasingly interested in the (admittedly dark) humor often found in those works, while also focusing on explosions and violence as a modernist theme. He believes that rhetoric’s reputation for being nothing but empty bluster is unfortunate, and he thinks that learning to make strong arguments is an important first step towards working for peaceful change. As a result, he has developed an increasing interest in the rhetoric of American campaigns and elections.

Areas of Research Specialization

  • Composition and Rhetoric
  • Modernism

Areas of Teaching Specialization

  • Parody and Satire
  • Peer Tutoring and the Teaching of Writing
  • Rhetoric of Politics

Education

  • B.A. in English at Adelphi University, 1989
  • M.A. in English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, 1991
  • Ph.D. in English at Temple University, 2001

Spotlight

  • “Crimes of Juxtaposition”: Incongruous Frames in Sullivan’s Travels
    This article in K.B.: The Journal of the Kenneth Burke Society (Volume 7, Issue 2, Spring 2011) examines the rhetoric of humor in Preston Sturges' 1941 film Sullivan's Travels. The movie depicts a director of Hollywood comedies who has decided to renounce slapstick humor and craft a serious film that shed light on human suffering. The fictional director fails miserably at this ambition, but he learns that comedy plays a serious role in providing solace to the suffering masses. Critics--including Sturges himself--have faulted the movie, and especially its ending, for muddling comedy and tragedy together rather than succeeding at either genre. O'Sullivan's article, using the rhetorical theories of Kenneth Burke, argues that the mix of comedy and satire provides a "perspective by incongruity" into the social and artistic problems that the film explores.
  • "Addressing Instructor Ambivalence about Peer Review and Self-Assessment" (by Pamela Bedore and Brian O'Sullivan)
    In this article in the Volume 34, Number 2, Spring 2011 issue of Writing Program Administration, Bedore and O'Sullivan use focus group data to investigate new instructors' concerns about the use of peer review and self-assessment in first year writing classrooms. The study finds that one group of instructors, while recognizing the theoretical value of these techniques, raised serious pedagogical and professional questions about how they are implemented. Bedore and O'Sullivan make recommendations to writing program administrators for instructor development and collaborative assessment of peer review and self-assessment strategies.