College Mourns Loss of English Professor

headshot of a man with blue eyes and glassesThe College of Arts & Letters is saddened by the death of long-time English Professor, James Seaton, who died on March 30, 2017, at the age of 72.

For more than 45 years, Dr. Seaton had been a member of the Michigan State University faculty. In 1971, he joined MSU’s Humanities Department, where he taught the classics, philosophy, architecture, and literature, and from 1980 until his death, he was a Professor in the Department of English.

“We are saddened by the loss of our devoted colleague, Dr. Seaton,” said Christopher P. Long, Dean of the College of Arts & Letters. “He leaves a legacy of profound impact here at MSU and is dearly missed by all faculty, students, and the greater community. On behalf of the College, I wish to express our sincere condolences to his family and friends.”

Professor of English William Vincent, who had been Seaton's friend and colleague for 45 years, remembered with fondness Seaton's sense of humor and said he "always admired Jim for his dedication to his teaching and for his brave defense of the Canon. I also appreciated his eloquent writing style. He was old-fashioned, it is true, but he instilled in generations of his students a love of literature and a method for opening it up."

Seaton had written four books and published more than 100 articles. His most recent book, Literary Criticism from Pluto to Postmoderism: The Humanistic Alternative (Cambridge University Press, 2014), exemplifies his focus on challenging the dominant presuppositions of the postmodernist era while continuing and renewing the humanistic tradition of literary criticism.

He instilled in generations of his students a love of literature and a method for opening it up.

William Vincent

He was a regular contributor to The Weekly Standard, and his essays and reviews have appeared in a wide variety of publications including The Wall Street Journal, The American Scholar, The Hudson Review, Yale Journal of Law & Humanities, Journal of the History of Ideas, MidAmerica, The University Bookman, Modern Age, Humanitas, The Good Society, Academic Questions, The Review of Politics, and many others.

"From our first meeting last summer, I was impressed with Jim's deep engagement with the questions that have animated so much of his research and teaching," said Department of English Chair Cara Cilano. "I found his commitment and intellectual curiosity inspiring. What really sealed my admiration, though, was the beautiful way Jim invited me to know him: he gifted to me a copy of a magazine whose cover story was about his wife, the playwright Sandra Seaton, and beamed while he described her many accomplishments and talents. I'm grateful for the brief time I was able to call Jim my colleague."

Professor of English Patrick O’Donnell described Seaton as a "terrific colleague" and a "stalwart citizen of the department," adding that he was "always ready to engage in conversation on issues about which he cared deeply, always willing to listen to opinions different than his own while expressing his own views with passion and candor."

I found his commitment and intellectual curiosity inspiring.

Cara Cilano

Seaton was a recipient of the MidAmerican Award from the Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature for his distinguished contributions to the study of Midwestern Literature.

Prior to coming to Michigan State University, he was an instructor at the University of Iowa, where he also received his Ph.D. in Comparative Literature.

A memorial web page for Dr. Seaton has been posted to the Department of English website.

A funeral service is scheduled for Saturday, April 8, at noon at the United Methodist Church, 1120 S. Harrison Road in East Lansing. Visitation will take place before the funeral from 10:30 a.m. to noon.