John C. Shields (1944-2017)

Testimonials & Tributes
By Zabelle Stodola

I am sad to inform the early American community of the recent death of John C. Shields. When the formal obituary becomes available, I will forward it to the list. Meanwhile, here is some information I have put together about Prof. Shields’ many accomplishments.

John C. Shields (1944-2017) was Distinguished Professor of English at Illinois State University until his retirement. An eminent scholar, especially on Phillis Wheatley, Shields was the editor of The Collected Works of Phillis Wheatley and the co-editor (with Eric D. Lamore) of New Essays on Phillis Wheatley. He also authored the monographs The American Aeneas: Classical Origins of the American Self, a Choice Outstanding Academic Book; Phillis Wheatley and the Romantics; and Phillis Wheatley’s Poetics of Liberation. He was awarded honorable mention in the competition for the American Comparative Literature Association’s Harry Levin Prize. Shields served as director of the Center for Classicism and American Culture and as General Editor for the series of monographs on Classicism in American Culture published by the University of Tennessee Press. The Ebony Column: Classics, Civilization, and the African American Reclamation of the West by Eric Ashley Hairston was published in 2013 as the inaugural volume in that series.

Zabelle Stodola

(Dr.) Zabelle Stodola
Professor of English, Emerita
University of Arkansas at Little Rock


By Sharon M. Harris

Thank you for letting us know, Zabelle. John’s foundational work was instrumental in shaping the fields of early African American and women’s writings. He will be missed.


Sharon M. Harris
Professor Emerita
Dept. of English
University of Connecticut


By Reiner Smolinski

Thank you, Zabelle, for letting us know. I loved John Shields’ work on Wheatley and used it in my classes all the time.

Memento mori.


Reiner Smolinski, Ph.D.
Professor of English
Department of English
Georgia State University


By Dan Williams

John C. Shields was truly a great scholar and a wonderful individual. Over the years I had the pleasure of hearing John present at various conferences and a few times sharing meals with him afterwards. I always looked forward to hearing him talk and then talking with him. His scholarship was insightful and valuable, and he was always warm, generous, and helpful in sharing his work. Back in the 80s when we first met, when there were far fewer people working in early American print culture, and fewer still working in non-canonical areas, John’s scholarly work on Wheatley was invaluable and inspiring. He established himself as one of the leading scholars in early American studies, particularly in the areas of race and eighteenth-century African American culture. He has left a great legacy, as his work will continue to help and inspire other scholars.


Dan Williams
Honors Professor of Humanity and Director of Texas Christian University Press

Obituary for John C. Shields

Knoxville News Sentinel, April 9, 2017

John Charles Shields

Normal, IL

John Charles Shields, age 72, died Saturday, April 1, 2017, at OSF Medical Center, Bloomington, Illinois.

He is survived by his brother, Granville B. Shields, Jr., of Normal, IL; and sister, Rhonda E. (Beth) Stubbs, of Knoxville, TN; his niece, Melanie Upton, of Chicago, IL; and nephew, Thomas B. Stubbs, of Knoxville, TN. Shields was preceded in death by his parents, the late Dr. Granville B. Shields and Elizabeth Hartgraves Shields; as well as his sister, Ruth Ann Shields. After graduating Sevier County High School, he attended University of Tennessee where he received his B.A. and M.A. degrees. He earned an Ed. S. at George Peabody College for Teachers, and returned to University of Tennessee for his Ph. D. in English and Religious Studies. He was a teacher at Sevier County High School, Battleground Academy at Franklin, TN, and Brentwood Academy.

He was a retired Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Illinois State University in Normal, IL where he taught from 1979 to 2011. He is the author of six volumes of literary criticism, including The American Aeneas: Classic Origins of the American Self, which was awarded a Choice Outstanding academic book, his most recent book, Phillis Wheatley and the Romantics (Tennessee, 2010). He was the editor of The Collected Works of Phillis Wheatley (Oxford, 1988) and coeditor of New Essays on Phillis Wheatley (Tennessee, 2011). His articles have appeared in American Literature, Eighteenth Century Studies, College Language Association Journal, and numerous others. Shields received a National Endowment for the Humanities grant while at Illinois State, and served as an NEH Fellow at the University of California at Berkeley, Yale University, and Princeton University.

Shields was widely known for his work on Phillis Wheatley, the first African American to publish a book. He did groundbreaking work on reclaiming the literary works of Wheatley.

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