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Front Cover: © 1994 Christopher Little

ABOUT THE AUTHORKathryn VanSpanckerenis Professor of English at theUniversity of Tampa, has lectured in American literaturewidely abroad, and is formerdirector of the Fulbright-spon-sored Summer Institute inAmerican Literature for international scholars. Herpublications include poetry andscholarship. She received her Bachelors degree from theUniversity of California,Berkeley, and her Ph.D. fromHarvard University.














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The following text materials may not be reproduced without permission of the copyright holder.“In a Station of the Metro” (page 63) by Ezra Pound. From Ezra Pound Personae.

Copyright © 1926 by Ezra Pound. Translated and reprinted by permission of New DirectionsPublishing Corporation.

“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” (page 65) by Robert Frost. From The Poetry ofRobert Frost, edited by Edward Connery Lathem. Copyright 1923. © 1969 by Henry Holt andCo., Inc., © 1951 by Robert Frost. Reprinted and translated by permission of Henry Holt andCo., Inc.

“Disillusionment of Ten O’Clock” (page 66) by Wallace Stevens. From Selected Poems byWallace Stevens. Copyright 1923 and renewed 1951 by Wallace Stevens. Reprinted by per-mission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

“The Red Wheelbarrow” (page 66) and “The Young Housewife” (page 67) by William CarlosWilliams. Collected Poems. 1909-1939. Vol. I. Copyright 1938 by New DirectionsPublishing Corp. Reprinted by permission of New Directions.

“The Negro Speaks of Rivers” (page 69) by Langston Hughes. From Selected Poems byLangston Hughes. Copyright 1926 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. and renewed 1954 by LangstonHughes. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

“The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner” (page 80) by Randall Jarrell from Randall Jarrell:Selected Poems; © 1945 by Randall Jarrell, © 1990 by Mary Von Schrader Jarrell, published byFarrar Straus & Giroux. Permission granted by Rhoda Weyr Agency, New York.

"The Wild Iris" (page 125) from The Wild Iris by Louise Glück. Copyright © 1993 by LouiseGlück. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers Inc.

"Chickamauga" (page 126) from Chickamauga by Charles Wright. Copyright © 1995 byCharles Wright. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.

"To The Engraver of my Skin" (page 129) from Source by Mark Doty. Copyright © 2001 byMark Doty. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers Inc.

"Mule Heart" (page 130) from The Lives of The Heart by Jane Hirshfield. Copyright © 1997by Jane Hirshfield. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers Inc.

"The Black Snake" (page 131) copyright © 1979 by Mary Oliver. Used with permission of theMolly Malone Cook Literary Agency.

"The Dead" (page 132) is from Questions About Angels by Billy Collins, © 1991. Reprinted bypermission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.

"The Want Bone" (page 133) from The Want Bone by Robert Pinsky. Copyright © 1991 byRobert Pinsky. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers Inc.

Yusef Komunyakaa, "Facing It" (page 134) from Dien Cai Dau in Pleasure Dome: New andCollected Poems, © 2001 by Yusef Komunyakaa and reprinted by permission of WesleyanUniversity Press.

A number of the illustrations appearing in this volume are also copyrighted, as is indicated onthe illustrations themselves. These may not be reprinted without the permission of the copy-right holder.

The opinions expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of theU.S. government.

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merican literature begins with the orallytransmitted myths, legends, tales, and

lyrics (always songs) of Indian cultures.There was no written literature among the morethan 500 different Indian languages and tribalcultures that existed in North America beforethe first Europeans arrived. As a result, Na-tive American oral literature is quite diverse.Narratives from quasi-nomadic hunting cultureslike the Navaho are different from stories of set-tled agricultural tribes such as the pueblo-dwelling Acoma; the stories of northern lakesidedwellers such as the Ojibwa often differ radical-ly from stories of desert tribes like the Hopi.

Tribes maintained their own religions — wor-shipping gods, animals, plants, or sacred per-sons. Systems of government ranged fromdemocracies to councils of elders to theocra-cies. These tribal variations enter into the oralliterature as well.

Still, it is possible to make a few generaliza-tions. Indian stories, for example, glow with rev-erence for nature as a spiritual as well as physi-cal mother. Nature is alive and endowed withspiritual forces; main characters may be animalsor plants, often totems associated with a tribe,group, or individual. The closest to the Indiansense of holiness in later American literature isRalph Waldo Emerson’s transcendental “Over-Soul,” which pervades all of life.

The Mexican tribes revered the divineQuetzalcoatl, a god of the Toltecs and Aztecs, and

some tales of a high god or culture were toldelsewhere. However, there are no long, stan-dardized religious cycles about one supremedivinity. The closest equivalents to Old Worldspiritual narratives are often accounts ofshamans’ initiations and voyages. Apart fromthese, there are stories about culture heroessuch as the Ojibwa tribe’s Manabozho or theNavajo tribe’s Coyote. These tricksters are treat-ed with varying degrees of respect. In one talethey may act like heroes, while in another theymay seem selfish or foolish. Although pastauthorities, such as the Swiss psychologist CarlJung, have deprecated trickster tales as express-ing the inferior, amoral side of the psyche, con-temporary scholars — some of them NativeAmericans — point out that Odysseus andPrometheus, the revered Greek heroes, areessentially tricksters as well.

Examples of almost every oral genre can befound in American Indian literature: lyrics,chants, myths, fairy tales, humorous anecdotes,incantations, riddles, proverbs, epics, and leg-endary histories. Accounts of migrations and an-cestors abound, as do vision or healing songs andtricksters’ tales. Certain creation stories areparticularly popular. In one well-known creationstory, told with variations among many tribes, aturtle holds up the world. In a Cheyenne version,the creator, Maheo, has four chances to fashionthe world from a watery universe. He sends fourwater birds diving to try to bring up earth fromthe bottom. The snow goose, loon, and mallardsoar high into the sky and sweep down in a dive,but cannot reach bottom; but the little coot, whocannot fly, succeeds in bringing up some mud inhis bill. Only one creature, humble GrandmotherTurtle, is the right shape to support the mudworld Maheo shapes on her shell — hence theIndian name for America, “Turtle Island.”

The songs or poetry, like the narratives, rangefrom the sacred to the light and humorous:There are lullabies, war chants, love songs, and




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special songs for children’s games, gambling,various chores, magic, or dance ceremonials.Generally the songs are repetitive. Short poem-songs given in dreams sometimes have the clearimagery and subtle mood associated withJapanese haiku or Eastern-influenced imagisticpoetry. A Chippewa song runs:

A loon I thought it wasBut it wasMy love’ssplashing oar.

Vision songs, often very short, are another dis-tinctive form. Appearing in dreams or visions,sometimes with no warning, they may be healing,hunting, or love songs. Often they are personal,as in this Modoc song:

Ithe songI walk here.

Indian oral tradition and its relation to Americanliterature as a whole is one of the richest and leastexplored topics in American studies. The Indiancontribution to America is greater than is oftenbelieved. The hundreds of Indian words in every-day American English include “canoe,” “tobacco,”“potato,” “moccasin,” “moose,” “persimmon,”“raccoon,” “tomahawk,” and “totem.” Con-temporary Native American writing, discussed inchapter 8, also contains works of great beauty.

THE LITERATURE OF EXPLORATIONad history taken a different turn, the

United States easily could have been apart of the great Spanish or French over-

seas empires. Its present inhabitants mightspeak Spanish and form one nation with Mexico,or speak French and be joined with CanadianFrancophone Quebec and Montreal.

Yet the earliest explorers of America were not

English, Spanish, or French. The first Europeanrecord of exploration in America is in aScandinavian language. The Old Norse VinlandSaga recounts how the adventurous Leif Ericsonand a band of wandering Norsem*n settledbriefly somewhere on the northeast coast ofAmerica — probably Nova Scotia, in Canada —in the first decade of the 11th century, almost 400years before the next recorded European dis-covery of the New World.

The first known and sustained contact be-tween the Americas and the rest of the world,however, began with the famous voyage of anItalian explorer, Christopher Columbus, fundedby the Spanish rulers Ferdinand and Isabella.Columbus’s journal in his “Epistola,” printed in1493, recounts the trip’s drama — the terror ofthe men, who feared monsters and thought theymight fall off the edge of the world; the near-mutiny; how Columbus faked the ships’ logs sothe men would not know how much farther theyhad travelled than anyone had gone before; andthe first sighting of land as they neared America.

Bartolomé de las Casas is the richest sourceof information about the early contact betweenAmerican Indians and Europeans. As a youngpriest he helped conquer Cuba. He transcribedColumbus’s journal, and late in life wrote a long,vivid History of the Indians criticizing theirenslavement by the Spanish.

Initial English attempts at colonization weredisasters. The first colony was set up in 1585 atRoanoke, off the coast of North Carolina; all itscolonists disappeared, and to this day legendsare told about blue-eyed Croatan Indians of thearea. The second colony was more permanent:Jamestown, established in 1607. It endured star-vation, brutality, and misrule. However, the liter-ature of the period paints America in glowing colors as the land of riches and opportunity.Accounts of the colonizations became world-renowned. The exploration of Roanoke was care-fully recorded by Thomas Hariot in A Brief and



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True Report of the New-Found Land of Virginia(1588). Hariot’s book was quickly translated intoLatin, French, and German; the text and pictureswere made into engravings and widely repub-lished for over 200 years.

The Jamestown colony’s main record, the writ-ings of Captain John Smith, one of its leaders, isthe exact opposite of Hariot’s accurate, scientif-ic account. Smith was an incurable romantic, andhe seems to have embroidered his adventures.To him we owe the famous story of the Indianmaiden, Pocahontas. Whether fact or fiction, thetale is ingrained in the American historical imag-ination. The story recounts how Pocahontas,favorite daughter of Chief Powhatan, savedCaptain Smith’s life when he was a prisoner ofthe chief. Later, when the English persuadedPowhatan to give Pocahontas to them as ahostage, her gentleness, intelligence, and beautyimpressed the English, and, in 1614, she marriedJohn Rolfe, an English gentleman. The marriageinitiated an eight-year peace between the col-onists and the Indians, ensuring the survival ofthe struggling new colony.

In the 17th century, pirates, adventurers, andexplorers opened the way to a second wave ofpermanent colonists, bringing their wives, chil-dren, farm implements, and craftsmen’s tools.The early literature of exploration, made up ofdiaries, letters, travel journals, ships’ logs, andreports to the explorers’ financial backers —European rulers or, in mercantile England andHolland, joint stock companies — gradually wassupplanted by records of the settled colonies.Because England eventually took possession ofthe North American colonies, the best-knownand most-anthologized colonial literature isEnglish. As American minority literature contin-ues to flower in the 20th century and Americanlife becomes increasingly multicultural, scholarsare rediscovering the importance of the conti-nent’s mixed ethnic heritage. Although the storyof literature now turns to the English accounts, it

is important to recognize its richly cosmopolitanbeginnings.


It is likely that no other colonists in the his-tory of the world were as intellectual as thePuritans. Between 1630 and 1690, there were

as many university graduates in the northeasternsection of the United States, known as NewEngland, as in the mother country — an astound-ing fact when one considers that most educatedpeople of the time were aristocrats who wereunwilling to risk their lives in wilderness condi-tions. The self-made and often self-educatedPuritans were notable exceptions. They wantededucation to understand and execute God’s willas they established their colonies throughoutNew England.

The Puritan definition of good writing was thatwhich brought home a full awareness of the im-portance of worshipping God and of the spiritualdangers that the soul faced on Earth. Puritanstyle varied enormously — from complex meta-physical poetry to homely journals and crushing-ly pedantic religious history. Whatever the styleor genre, certain themes remained constant. Lifewas seen as a test; failure led to eternal damna-tion and hellfire, and success to heavenly bliss.This world was an arena of constant battlebetween the forces of God and the forces ofSatan, a formidable enemy with many disguises.Many Puritans excitedly awaited the “millenni-um,” when Jesus would return to Earth, endhuman misery, and inaugurate 1,000 years ofpeace and prosperity.

Scholars have long pointed out the linkbetween Puritanism and capitalism: Both rest onambition, hard work, and an intense striving forsuccess. Although individual Puritans could notknow, in strict theological terms, whether theywere “saved” and among the elect who would goto heaven, Puritans tended to feel that earthly


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celebrating a bountiful harvest.

success was a sign of election. Wealth and statuswere sought not only for themselves, but as welcome reassurances of spiritual health andpromises of eternal life.

Moreover, the concept of stewardship encour-aged success. The Puritans interpreted all thingsand events as symbols with deeper spiritualmeanings, and felt that in advancing their ownprofit and their community’s well-being, theywere also furthering God’s plans. They did notdraw lines of distinction between the secular andreligious spheres: All of life was an expression ofthe divine will — a belief that later resurfaces inTranscendentalism.

In recording ordinary events to reveal theirspiritual meaning, Puritan authors commonlycited the Bible, chapter and verse. History was asymbolic religious panorama leading to thePuritan triumph over the New World and to God’skingdom on Earth.

The first Puritan colonists who settled NewEngland exemplified the seriousness of Refor-mation Christianity. Known as the “Pilgrims,”they were a small group of believers who hadmigrated from England to Holland — even thenknown for its religious tolerance — in 1608, dur-ing a time of persecutions.

Like most Puritans, they interpreted the Bibleliterally. They read and acted on the text of theSecond Book of Corinthians — “Come out fromamong them and be ye separate, saith the Lord.”Despairing of purifying the Church of Englandfrom within, “Separatists” formed underground“covenanted” churches that swore loyalty to thegroup instead of the king. Seen as traitors to theking as well as heretics damned to hell, theywere often persecuted. Their separation tookthem ultimately to the New World.

William Bradford (1590-1657)William Bradford was elected governor of

Plymouth in the Massachusetts Bay Colony short-ly after the Separatists landed. He was a deeplypious, self-educated man who had learned sever-al languages, including Hebrew, in order to “seewith his own eyes the ancient oracles of God intheir native beauty.” His participation in themigration to Holland and the Mayflower voyage to Plymouth, and his duties as governor, madehim ideally suited to be the first historian of hiscolony. His history, Of Plymouth Plantation(1651), is a clear and compelling account of thecolony’s beginning. His description of the firstview of America is justly famous:


Painting courtesy Smithsonian Institution

“The First Thanksgiving,” a painting by J.L.G. Ferris, depicts America’s early settlers and Native Americans

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Being thus passed the vast ocean, and a seaof troubles...they had now no friends to wel-come them nor inns to entertain or refreshtheir weatherbeaten bodies; no houses ormuch less towns to repair to, to seek forsuccor...savage barbarians...were readier tofill their sides with arrows than otherwise.And for the reason it was winter, and theythat know the winters of that country, knowthem to be sharp and violent, and subject tocruel and fierce storms...all stand uponthem with a weatherbeaten face, and thewhole country, full of woods and thickets,represented a wild and savage hue.

radford also recorded the first documentof colonial self-governance in theEnglish New World, the “Mayflower

Compact,” drawn up while the Pilgrims were stillon board ship. The compact was a harbinger ofthe Declaration of Independence to come a century and a half later.

Puritans disapproved of such secular amuse-ments as dancing and card-playing, which wereassociated with ungodly aristocrats and immoralliving. Reading or writing “light” books also fellinto this category. Puritan minds poured theirtremendous energies into nonfiction and piousgenres: poetry, sermons, theological tracts, andhistories. Their intimate diaries and meditationsrecord the rich inner lives of this introspectiveand intense people.

Anne Bradstreet (c. 1612-1672) The first published book of poems by an

American was also the first American book to bepublished by a woman — Anne Bradstreet. It isnot surprising that the book was published inEngland, given the lack of printing presses in theearly years of the first American colonies. Bornand educated in England, Anne Bradstreet wasthe daughter of an earl’s estate manager. Sheemigrated with her family when she was 18. Her

husband eventually became governor of theMassachusetts Bay Colony, which later grew intothe great city of Boston. She preferred her long,religious poems on conventional subjects suchas the seasons, but contemporary readers mostenjoy the witty poems on subjects from daily lifeand her warm and loving poems to her husbandand children. She was inspired by English meta-physical poetry, and her book The Tenth MuseLately Sprung Up in America (1650) shows theinfluence of Edmund Spenser, Philip Sidney, andother English poets as well. She often uses elab-orate conceits or extended metaphors. “To MyDear and Loving Husband” (1678) uses the ori-ental imagery, love theme, and idea of compari-son popular in Europe at the time, but givesthese a pious meaning at the poem’s conclusion:

If ever two were one, then surely we.If ever man were loved by wife, then thee;If ever wife was happy in a man,Compare with me, ye women, if you can.I prize thy love more than whole mines of goldOr all the riches that the East doth hold.My love is such that rivers cannot quench,Nor ought but love from thee, give recompense.Thy love is such I can no way repay,The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray.Then while we live, in love let’s so persevereThat when we live no more, we may live ever.

Edward Taylor (c. 1644-1729) Like Anne Bradstreet, and, in fact, all of New

England’s first writers, the intense, brilliant poetand minister Edward Taylor was born in England.The son of a yeoman farmer — an independentfarmer who owned his own land — Taylor was ateacher who sailed to New England in 1668 ratherthan take an oath of loyalty to the Church ofEngland. He studied at Harvard College, and, likemost Harvard-trained ministers, he knew Greek,Latin, and Hebrew. A selfless and pious man,Taylor acted as a missionary to the settlers when



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he accepted his lifelong job as a minister in thefrontier town of Westfield, Massachusetts, 160kilometers into the thickly forested, wild interior.Taylor was the best-educated man in the area,and he put his knowledge to use, working as thetown minister, doctor, and civic leader.

Modest, pious, and hard-working, Taylor neverpublished his poetry, which was discovered onlyin the 1930s. He would, no doubt, have seen hiswork’s discovery as divine providence; today’sreaders should be grateful to have his poems —the finest examples of 17th-century poetry inNorth America.

Taylor wrote a variety of verse: funeral elegies,lyrics, a medieval “debate,” and a 500-pageMetrical History of Christianity (mainly a historyof martyrs). His best works, according to moderncritics, are the series of short preparatory meditations.

Michael Wigglesworth (1631-1705)Michael Wigglesworth, like Taylor an English-

born, Harvard-educated Puritan minister whopracticed medicine, is the third New Englandcolonial poet of note. He continues the Puritanthemes in his best-known work, The Day ofDoom (1662). A long narrative that often fallsinto doggerel, this terrifying popularization ofCalvinistic doctrine was the most popular poemof the colonial period. This first American best-seller is an appalling portrait of damnation to hellin ballad meter.

It is terrible poetry — but everybody loved it.It fused the fascination of a horror story with theauthority of John Calvin. For more than two cen-turies, people memorized this long, dreadfulmonument to religious terror; children proudlyrecited it, and elders quoted it in everydayspeech. It is not such a leap from the terriblepunishments of this poem to the ghastly self-inflicted wound of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s guiltyPuritan minister, Arthur Dimmesdale, in TheScarlet Letter (1850) or Herman Melville’s crip-

pled Captain Ahab, a New England Faust whosequest for forbidden knowledge sinks the ship ofAmerican humanity in Moby-Dick (1851). (Moby-Dick was the favorite novel of 20th-centuryAmerican novelist William Faulkner, whose pro-found and disturbing works suggest that thedark, metaphysical vision of Protestant Americahas not yet been exhausted.)

ike most colonial literature, the poems ofearly New England imitate the form andtechnique of the mother country, though

the religious passion and frequent biblical refer-ences, as well as the new setting, give NewEngland writing a special identity. Isolated NewWorld writers also lived before the advent ofrapid transportation and electronic communica-tions. As a result, colonial writers were imitatingwriting that was already out of date in England.Thus, Edward Taylor, the best American poet ofhis day, wrote metaphysical poetry after it hadbecome unfashionable in England. At times, as inTaylor’s poetry, rich works of striking originalitygrew out of colonial isolation.

Colonial writers often seemed ignorant ofsuch great English authors as Ben Jonson. Somecolonial writers rejected English poets whobelonged to a different sect as well, thereby cut-ting themselves off from the finest lyric and dra-matic models the English language had pro-duced. In addition, many colonials remainedignorant due to the lack of books.

The great model of writing, belief, and conductwas the Bible, in an authorized English transla-tion that was already outdated when it came out. The age of the Bible, so much older than the Roman church, made it authoritative toPuritan eyes.

New England Puritans clung to the tales of theJews in the Old Testament, believing that they,like the Jews, were persecuted for their faith,that they knew the one true God, and that theywere the chosen elect who would establish theNew Jerusalem — a heaven on Earth. The



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Puritans were aware of the parallelsbetween the ancient Jews of the OldTestament and themselves. Mosesled the Israelites out of captivityfrom Egypt, parted the Red Seathrough God’s miraculous assis-tance so that his people couldescape, and received the divine lawin the form of the Ten Command-ments. Like Moses, Puritan leadersfelt they were rescuing their peoplefrom spiritual corruption in England,passing miraculously over a wild seawith God’s aid, and fashioning newlaws and new forms of governmentafter God’s wishes.

Colonial worlds tend to be archaic,and New England certainly was noexception. New England Puritanswere archaic by choice, conviction,and circ*mstance.

Samuel Sewall (1652-1730)Easier to read than the highly reli-

gious poetry full of Biblical refer-ences are the historical and secularaccounts that recount real eventsusing lively details. Governor JohnWinthrop’s Journal (1790) providesthe best information on the earlyMassachusetts Bay Colony and Pu-ritan political theory.

Samuel Sewall’s Diary, which re-cords the years 1674 to 1729, is livelyand engaging. Sewall fits the patternof early New England writers wehave seen in Bradford and Taylor.Born in England, Sewall was broughtto the colonies at an early age. Hemade his home in the Boston area,where he graduated from Harvard,and made a career of legal, adminis-trative, and religious work.

Sewall was born late enough tosee the change from the early,strict religious life of the Puritansto the later, more worldly Yankeeperiod of mercantile wealth in theNew England colonies; his Diary,which is often compared toSamuel Pepys’s English diary ofthe same period, inadvertentlyrecords the transition.

Like Pepys’s diary, Sewall’s is a minute record of his daily life, reflecting his interest in livingpiously and well. He notes littlepurchases of sweets for a womanhe was courting, and their dis-agreements over whether heshould affect aristocratic and ex-pensive ways such as wearing awig and using a coach.

Mary Rowlandson (c. 1635-c.1678)

The earliest woman prosewriter of note is Mary Rowland-son, a minister’s wife who gives aclear, moving account of her 11-week captivity by Indians during anIndian massacre in 1676. The bookundoubtedly fanned the flame ofanti-Indian sentiment, as did JohnWilliams’s The Redeemed Captive(1707), describing his two years incaptivity by French and Indiansafter a massacre. Such writings as women produced are usuallydomestic accounts requiring nospecial education. It may beargued that women’s literaturebenefits from its homey realismand common-sense wit; certainlyworks like Sarah Kemble Knight’slively Journal (1825) of a daring


Engraving © The BettmannArchive

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solo trip in 1704 from Boston to New York andback escapes the baroque complexity of muchPuritan writing.

Cotton Mather (1663-1728)No account of New England colonial literature

would be complete without mentioning CottonMather, the master pedant. The third in the four-generation Mather dynasty of Massachusetts Bay,he wrote at length of New England in over 500books and pamphlets. Mather’s 1702 MagnaliaChristi Americana (Ecclesiastical History of NewEngland), his most ambitious work, exhaustive-ly chronicles the settlement of New Englandthrough a series of biographies. The huge bookpresents the holy Puritan errand into the wilder-ness to establish God’s kingdom; its structure is a narrative progression of representativeAmerican “Saint’s Lives.” His zeal somewhatredeems his pompousness: “I write the wondersof the Christian religion, flying from the depriva-tions of Europe to the American strand.”

Roger Williams (c. 1603-1683)As the 1600s wore on into the 1700s, religious

dogmatism gradually dwindled, despite sporadic,harsh Puritan efforts to stem the tide of toler-ance. The minister Roger Williams suffered forhis own views on religion. An English-born son ofa tailor, he was banished from Massachusetts inthe middle of New England’s ferocious winter in1635. Secretly warned by Governor John Win-throp of Massachusetts, he survived only by livingwith Indians; in 1636, he established a new colonyat Rhode Island that would welcome persons ofdifferent religions.

A graduate of Cambridge University (England),he retained sympathy for working people anddiverse views. His ideas were ahead of his time.He was an early critic of imperialism, insistingthat European kings had no right to grant landcharters because American land belonged to theIndians. Williams also believe in the separation

between church and state — still a fundamentalprinciple in America today. He held that the lawcourts should not have the power to punish peo-ple for religious reasons — a stand that under-mined the strict New England theocracies. Abeliever in equality and democracy, he was a life-long friend of the Indians. Williams’s numerousbooks include one of the first phrase books ofIndian languages, A Key Into the Languages ofAmerica (1643). The book also is an embryonicethnography, giving bold descriptions of Indianlife based on the time he had lived among thetribes. Each chapter is devoted to one topic —for example, eating and mealtime. Indian wordsand phrases pertaining to this topic are mixedwith comments, anecdotes, and a concludingpoem. The end of the first chapter reads:

If nature’s sons, both wild and tame,Humane and courteous be,How ill becomes it sons of GodTo want humanity.

n the chapter on words about entertainment,he comments that “it is a strange truth that aman shall generally find more free entertain-

ment and refreshing among these barbarians,than amongst thousands that call themselvesChristians.”

Williams’s life is uniquely inspiring. On a visitto England during the bloody Civil War there, hedrew upon his survival in frigid New England toorganize firewood deliveries to the poor ofLondon during the winter, after their supply ofcoal had been cut off. He wrote lively defenses of religious toleration not only for differentChristian sects, but also for non-Christians. “It is the will and command of God, that...a per-mission of the most Paganish, Jewish, Turkish, orAntichristian consciences and worships, be grant-ed to all men, in all nations...,” he wrote in TheBloudy Tenent of Persecution for Cause ofConscience (1644). The intercultural experience



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of living among gracious and humaneIndians undoubtedly accounts formuch of his wisdom.

Influence was two-way in thecolonies. For example, John Eliottranslated the Bible into Narra-gansett. Some Indians converted toChristianity. Even today, the NativeAmerican church is a mixture ofChristianity and Indian traditionalbelief.

The spirit of toleration and reli-gious freedom that gradually grewin the American colonies was firstestablished in Rhode Island andPennsylvania, home of the Quakers.The humane and tolerant Quakers,or “Friends,” as they were known,believed in the sacredness of theindividual conscience as the foun-tainhead of social order and moral-ity. The fundamental Quaker beliefin universal love and brotherhoodmade them deeply democratic andopposed to dogmatic religious au-thority. Driven out of strict Massa-chusetts, which feared their influ-ence, they established a very suc-cessful colony, Pennsylvania, underWilliam Penn in 1681.

John Woolman (1720-1772)The best-known Quaker work is

the long Journal (1774) of JohnWoolman, documenting his innerlife in a pure, heartfelt style of greatsweetness that has drawn praisefrom many American and Englishwriters. This remarkable man lefthis comfortable home in town tosojourn with the Indians in the wildinterior because he thought hemight learn from them and share

their ideas. He writes simply of hisdesire to “feel and understandtheir life, and the Spirit they livein.” Woolman’s justice-loving spiritnaturally turns to social criticism:“I perceived that many whitePeople do often sell Rum to theIndians, which, I believe, is a greatEvil.”

oolman was also one ofthe first antislavery writ-

ers, publishing two es-says, “Some Considerations on theKeeping of Negroes,” in 1754 and1762. An ardent humanitarian, hefollowed a path of “passive obedi-ence” to authorities and laws hefound unjust, prefiguring HenryDavid Thoreau’s celebrated essay,“Civil Disobedience” (1849), bygenerations.

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)

The antithesis of John Woolmanis Jonathan Edwards, who was bornonly 17 years before the Quakernotable. Woolman had little formalschooling; Edwards was highly edu-cated. Woolman followed his innerlight; Edwards was devoted to thelaw and authority. Both men werefine writers, but they revealedopposite poles of the colonial reli-gious experience.

Edwards was molded by hisextreme sense of duty and by therigid Puritan environment, whichconspired to make him defendstrict and gloomy Calvinism fromthe forces of liberalism springingup around him. He is best knownfor his frightening, powerful ser-



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mon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”(1741):

[I]f God should let you go, you would imme-diately sink, and sinfully descend, andplunge into the bottomless gulf...The Godthat holds you over the pit of hell, much asone holds a spider or some loathsomeinsect over the fire, abhors you, and isdreadfully provoked....he looks upon you asworthy of nothing else but to be cast into thebottomless gulf.

Edwards’s sermons had enormous impact,sending whole congregations into hysterical fitsof weeping. In the long run, though, theirgrotesque harshness alienated people from theCalvinism that Edwards valiantly defended.Edwards’s dogmatic, medieval sermons nolonger fit the experiences of relatively peaceful,prosperous 18th-century colonists. After Ed-wards, fresh, liberal currents of tolerance gath-ered force.


Pre-revolutionary southern literature wasaristocratic and secular, reflecting thedominant social and economic systems of

the southern plantations. Early English immi-grants were drawn to the southern coloniesbecause of economic opportunity rather thanreligious freedom.

Although many southerners were poor farm-ers or tradespeople living not much better thanslaves, the southern literate upper class wasshaped by the classical, Old World ideal of anoble landed gentry made possible by slavery.The institution released wealthy southern whitesfrom manual labor, afforded them leisure, andmade the dream of an aristocratic life in theAmerican wilderness possible. The Puritanemphasis on hard work, education, and earnest-

ness was rare — instead we hear of such plea-sures as horseback riding and hunting. Thechurch was the focus of a genteel social life, nota forum for minute examinations of conscience.

William Byrd (1674-1744)Southern culture naturally revolved around the

ideal of the gentleman. A Renaissance manequally good at managing a farm and reading clas-sical Greek, he had the power of a feudal lord.

William Byrd describes the gracious way of lifeat his plantation, Westover, in his famous letterof 1726 to his English friend Charles Boyle, Earlof Orrery:

Besides the advantages of pure air, weabound in all kinds of provisions withoutexpense (I mean we who have plantations).I have a large family of my own, and my doorsare open to everybody, yet I have no bills topay, and half-a-crown will rest undisturbedin my pockets for many moons altogether.

Like one of the patriarchs, I have my flockand herds, my bondmen and bondwomen,and every sort of trade amongst my own ser-vants, so that I live in a kind of independenceon everyone but Providence.

William Byrd epitomizes the spirit of thesouthern colonial gentry. The heir to 1,040hectares, which he enlarged to 7,160 hectares, hewas a merchant, trader, and planter. His library of3,600 books was the largest in the South. He wasborn with a lively intelligence that his father aug-mented by sending him to excellent schools inEngland and Holland. He visited the FrenchCourt, became a Fellow of the Royal Society, andwas friendly with some of the leading Englishwriters of his day, particularly William Wycherleyand William Congreve. His London diaries are theopposite of those of the New England Puritans,full of fancy dinners, glittering parties, and wom-anizing, with little introspective soul-searching.


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Byrd is best known today for his lively Historyof the Dividing Line, a diary of a 1729 trip of someweeks and 960 kilometers into the interior tosurvey the line dividing the neighboring coloniesof Virginia and North Carolina. The quick impres-sions that vast wilderness, Indians, half-savagewhites, wild beasts, and every sort of difficultymade on this civilized gentleman form a uniquelyAmerican and very southern book. He ridiculesthe first Virginia colonists, “about a hundredmen, most of them reprobates of good families,”and jokes that at Jamestown, “like trueEnglishmen, they built a church that cost nomore than fifty pounds, and a tavern that cost fivehundred.” Byrd’s writings are fine examples ofthe keen interest southerners took in the mate-rial world: the land, Indians, plants, animals, andsettlers.

Robert Beverley (c. 1673-1722)obert Beverley, another wealthy planterand author of The History and PresentState of Virginia (1705, 1722) records

the history of the Virginia colony in a humane andvigorous style. Like Byrd, he admired the Indiansand remarked on the strange European supersti-tions about Virginia — for example, the belief“that the country turns all people black who gothere.” He noted the great hospitality of south-erners, a trait maintained today.

Humorous satire — a literary work in whichhuman vice or folly is attacked through irony,derision, or wit — appears frequently in thecolonial South. A group of irritated settlers lam-pooned Georgia’s philanthropic founder, GeneralJames Oglethorpe, in a tract entitled A True andHistorical Narrative of the Colony of Georgia(1741). They pretended to praise him for keepingthem so poor and overworked that they had todevelop “the valuable virtue of humility” andshun “the anxieties of any further ambition.”

The rowdy, satirical poem “The SotweedFactor” satirizes the colony of Maryland, where

the author, an Englishman named EbenezerCook, had unsuccessfully tried his hand as atobacco merchant. Cook exposed the crude waysof the colony with high-spirited humor, andaccused the colonists of cheating him. The poemconcludes with an exaggerated curse: “Maywrath divine then lay those regions waste /Where no man’s faithful nor a woman chaste.”

In general, the colonial South may fairly belinked with a light, worldly, informative, and real-istic literary tradition. Imitative of English liter-ary fashions, the southerners attained imagina-tive heights in witty, precise observations of dis-tinctive New World conditions.

Olaudah Equiano (Gustavus Vassa) (c. 1745-c. 1797)

Important black writers like Olaudah Equianoand Jupiter Hammon emerged during the colo-nial period. Equiano, an Ibo from Niger (WestAfrica), was the first black in America to write anautobiography, The Interesting Narrative of theLife of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, theAfrican (1789). In the book — an early exampleof the slave narrative genre — Equiano gives anaccount of his native land and the horrors andcruelties of his captivity and enslavement in the West Indies. Equiano, who converted toChristianity, movingly laments his cruel “un-Christian” treatment by Christians — a senti-ment many African-Americans would voice incenturies to come.

Jupiter Hammon (c. 1720-c. 1800)The black American poet Jupiter Hammon, a

slave on Long Island, New York, is rememberedfor his religious poems as well as for An Addressto the Negroes of the State of New York (1787), inwhich he advocated freeing children of slavesinstead of condemning them to hereditary slavery. His poem “An Evening Thought” was thefirst poem published by a black male in America. ■



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he hard-fought American Revolutionagainst Britain (1775-1783) was the firstmodern war of liberation against a colonial

power. The triumph of American independenceseemed to many at the time a divine sign thatAmerica and her people were destined for great-ness. Military victory fanned nationalistic hopesfor a great new literature. Yet with the excep-tion of outstanding political writing, few works of note appeared during or soon after theRevolution.

American books were harshly reviewed inEngland. Americans were painfully aware of theirexcessive dependence on English literary mod-els. The search for a native literature became anational obsession. As one American magazineeditor wrote, around 1816, “Dependence is astate of degradation fraught with disgrace, and tobe dependent on a foreign mind for what we canourselves produce is to add to the crime of indo-lence the weakness of stupidity.”

Cultural revolutions, unlike military revolu-tions, cannot be successfully imposed but mustgrow from the soil of shared experience.Revolutions are expressions of the heart of thepeople; they grow gradually out of new sensibili-ties and wealth of experience. It would take 50years of accumulated history for America to earnits cultural independence and to produce thefirst great generation of American writers:Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper,Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau,

Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, EdgarAllan Poe, Walt Whitman, and Emily Dickinson.America’s literary independence was slowed by alingering identification with England, an exces-sive imitation of English or classical literary mod-els, and difficult economic and political condi-tions that hampered publishing.

Revolutionary writers, despite their genuinepatriotism, were of necessity self-conscious, andthey could never find roots in their Americansensibilities. Colonial writers of the revolution-ary generation had been born English, had grownto maturity as English citizens, and had cultivatedEnglish modes of thought and English fashions indress and behavior. Their parents and grandpar-ents were English (or European), as were alltheir friends. Added to this, American awarenessof literary fashion still lagged behind the English,and this time lag intensified American imitation.Fifty years after their fame in England, Englishneoclassic writers such as Joseph Addison,Richard Steele, Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope,Oliver Goldsmith, and Samuel Johnson were stilleagerly imitated in America.

Moreover, the heady challenges of building anew nation attracted talented and educated peo-ple to politics, law, and diplomacy. These pursuitsbrought honor, glory, and financial security.Writing, on the other hand, did not pay. EarlyAmerican writers, now separated from England,effectively had no modern publishers, no audi-ence, and no adequate legal protection. Edito-rial assistance, distribution, and publicity wererudimentary.

Until 1825, most American authors paid print-ers to publish their work. Obviously only theleisured and independently wealthy, like Wash-ington Irving and the New York Knickerbockergroup, or the group of Connecticut poets knowsas the Hartford Wits, could afford to indulgetheir interest in writing. The exception, BenjaminFranklin, though from a poor family, was a print-er by trade and could publish his own work.




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Charles Brockden Brown wasmore typical. The author of sever-al interesting Gothic romances,Brown was the first Americanauthor to attempt to live from hiswriting. But his short life ended inpoverty.

The lack of an audience wasanother problem. The small culti-vated audience in America wantedwell-known European authors,partly out of the exaggeratedrespect with which former coloniesregarded their previous rulers.This preference for English workswas not entirely unreasonable, con-sidering the inferiority of Americanoutput, but it worsened the situa-tion by depriving American authorsof an audience. Only journalismoffered financial remuneration, butthe mass audience wanted light,undemanding verse and short topi-cal essays — not long or experi-mental work.

The absence of adequate copy-right laws was perhaps the clearestcause of literary stagnation. Am-erican printers pirating Englishbest-sellers understandably wereunwilling to pay an American authorfor unknown material. The unau-thorized reprinting of foreignbooks was originally seen as a ser-vice to the colonies as well as asource of profit for printers likeFranklin, who reprinted works ofthe classics and great Europeanbooks to educate the Americanpublic.

Printers everywhere in Americafollowed his lead. There are notori-ous examples of pirating. Matthew

Carey, an important American pub-lisher, paid a London agent — asort of literary spy — to sendcopies of unbound pages, or evenproofs, to him in fast ships thatcould sail to America in a month.Carey’s men would sail out to meetthe incoming ships in the harborand speed the pirated books intoprint using typesetters who dividedthe book into sections and workedin shifts around the clock. Such apirated English book could be re-printed in a day and placed on theshelves for sale in American book-stores almost as fast as in England.

Because imported authorizededitions were more expensive andcould not compete with piratedones, the copyright situation dam-aged foreign authors such as SirWalter Scott and Charles Dickens,along with American authors. But at least the foreign authors hadalready been paid by their originalpublishers and were already wellknown. Americans such as JamesFenimore Cooper not only failed toreceive adequate payment, but theyhad to suffer seeing their workspirated under their noses. Coo-per’s first successful book, The Spy(1821), was pirated by four differ-ent printers within a month of itsappearance.

Ironically, the copyright law of1790, which allowed pirating, wasnationalistic in intent. Drafted byNoah Webster, the great lexicogra-pher who later compiled an Am-erican dictionary, the law protectedonly the work of American authors;it was felt that English writers


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should look out for themselves.Bad as the law was, none of the early publish-

ers were willing to have it changed because itproved profitable for them. Piracy starved thefirst generation of revolutionary American writ-ers; not surprisingly, the generation after themproduced even less work of merit. The high pointof piracy, in 1815, corresponds with the low pointof American writing. Nevertheless, the cheap andplentiful supply of pirated foreign books andclassics in the first 50 years of the new countrydid educate Americans, including the first greatwriters, who began to make their appearancearound 1825.

THE AMERICAN ENLIGHTENMENThe 18th-century American Enlightenment

was a movement marked by an emphasis onrationality rather than tradition, scientif-

ic inquiry instead of unquestioning religiousdogma, and representative government in placeof monarchy. Enlightenment thinkers and writerswere devoted to the ideals of justice, liberty, andequality as the natural rights of man.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)Benjamin Franklin, whom the Scottish philoso-

pher David Hume called America’s “first greatman of letters,” embodied the Enlightenmentideal of humane rationality. Practical yet idealis-tic, hard-working and enormously successful,Franklin recorded his early life in his famousAutobiography. Writer, printer, publisher, scien-tist, philanthropist, and diplomat, he was themost famous and respected private figure of histime. He was the first great self-made man inAmerica, a poor democrat born in an aristocraticage that his fine example helped to liberalize.

Franklin was a second-generation immigrant.His Puritan father, a chandler (candle-maker),came to Boston, Massachusetts, from England in1683. In many ways Franklin’s life illustrates theimpact of the Enlightenment on a gifted individ-

ual. Self-educated but well-read in John Locke,Lord Shaftesbury, Joseph Addison, and otherEnlightenment writers, Franklin learned fromthem to apply reason to his own life and to breakwith tradition — in particular the old-fashionedPuritan tradition — when it threatened tosmother his ideals.

While a youth, Franklin taught himself lan-guages, read widely, and practiced writing for thepublic. When he moved from Boston toPhiladelphia, Pennsylvania, Franklin already hadthe kind of education associated with the upperclasses. He also had the Puritan capacity forhard, careful work, constant self-scrutiny, andthe desire to better himself. These qualitiessteadily propelled him to wealth, respectability,and honor. Never selfish, Franklin tried to helpother ordinary people become successful bysharing his insights and initiating a characteristi-cally American genre — the self-help book.

Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanack, begun in1732 and published for many years, madeFranklin prosperous and well-known throughoutthe colonies. In this annual book of usefulencouragement, advice, and factual information,amusing characters such as old Father Abrahamand Poor Richard exhort the reader in pithy,memorable sayings. In “The Way to Wealth,”which originally appeared in the Almanack,Father Abraham, “a plain clean old Man, withwhite Locks,” quotes Poor Richard at length. “AWord to the Wise is enough,” he says. “God helpsthem that help themselves.” “Early to Bed, andearly to rise, makes a Man healthy, wealthy, andwise.” Poor Richard is a psychologist (“Industrypays Debts, while Despair encreaseth them”),and he always counsels hard work (“Diligence isthe Mother of Good Luck”). Do not be lazy, headvises, for “One To-day is worth two tomorrow.”Sometimes he creates anecdotes to illustrate hispoints: “A little Neglect may breed great Mis-chief....For want of a Nail the Shoe was lost; forwant of a Shoe the Horse was lost; and for want



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of a Horse the Rider was lost, being overtakenand slain by the Enemy, all for want of Care abouta Horse-shoe Nail.” Franklin was a genius atcompressing a moral point: “What maintains oneVice, would bring up two Children.” “A small leakwill sink a great Ship.” “Fools make Feasts, andwise Men eat them.”

Franklin’s Autobiography is, in part, anotherself-help book. Written to advise his son, it cov-ers only the early years. The most famous sec-tion describes his scientific scheme of self-improvement. Franklin lists 13 virtues: temper-ance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, indus-try, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness,tranquility, chastity, and humility. He elaborateson each with a maxim; for example, the temper-ance maxim is “Eat not to Dullness. Drink not toElevation.” A pragmatic scientist, Franklin putthe idea of perfectibility to the test, using him-self as the experimental subject.

To establish good habits, Franklin invented areusable calendrical record book in which heworked on one virtue each week, recording eachlapse with a black spot. His theory prefigurespsychological behaviorism, while his systematicmethod of notation anticipates modern behaviormodification. The project of self-improvementblends the Enlightenment belief in perfectibilitywith the Puritan habit of moral self-scrutiny.

ranklin saw early that writing could bestadvance his ideas, and he therefore delib-

erately perfected his supple prose style,not as an end in itself but as a tool. “Write withthe learned. Pronounce with the vulgar,” headvised. A scientist, he followed the Royal (sci-entific) Society’s 1667 advice to use “a close,naked, natural way of speaking; positive expres-sions, clear senses, a native easiness, bringingall things as near the mathematical plainness asthey can.”

Despite his prosperity and fame, Franklinnever lost his democratic sensibility, and he wasan important figure at the 1787 convention at

which the U.S. Constitution was drafted. In hislater years, he was president of an antislaveryassociation. One of his last efforts was to pro-mote universal public education.

Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur (1735-1813)Another Enlightenment figure is Hector St.

John de Crèvecoeur, whose Letters from anAmerican Farmer (1782) gave Europeans a glow-ing idea of opportunities for peace, wealth, andpride in America. Neither an American nor afarmer, but a French aristocrat who owned aplantation outside New York City before theRevolution, Crèvecoeur enthusiastically praisedthe colonies for their industry, tolerance, andgrowing prosperity in 12 letters that depictAmerica as an agrarian paradise — a vision that would inspire Thomas Jefferson, RalphWaldo Emerson, and many other writers up tothe present.

Crèvecoeur was the earliest European todevelop a considered view of America and thenew American character. The first to exploit the“melting pot” image of America, in a famous pas-sage he asks:

What then is the American, this new man?He is either a European, or the descendantof a European, hence that strange mixtureof blood, which you will find in no othercountry. I could point out to you a familywhose grandfather was an Englishman,whose wife was Dutch, whose son married aFrench woman, and whose present foursons have now four wives of differentnations....Here individuals of all nations aremelted into a new race of men, whose laborsand posterity will one day cause changes inthe world.



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THE POLITICAL PAMPHLET: Thomas Paine (1737-1809)

The passion of Revolutionary lit-erature is found in pamphlets, themost popular form of political liter-ature of the day. Over 2,000 pam-phlets were published during theRevolution. The pamphlets thrilledpatriots and threatened loyalists;they filled the role of drama, as theywere often read aloud in public toexcite audiences. American sol-diers read them aloud in theircamps; British Loyalists threw theminto public bonfires.

homas Paine’s pamphletCommon Sense sold over

100,000 copies in the firstthree months of its publication. It isstill rousing today. “The cause ofAmerica is in a great measure thecause of all mankind,” Paine wrote,voicing the idea of American excep-tionalism still strong in the UnitedStates — that in some fundamentalsense, since America is a democra-tic experiment and a country theo-retically open to all immigrants, thefate of America foreshadows thefate of humanity at large.

Political writings in a democracyhad to be clear to appeal to the vot-ers. And to have informed voters,universal education was promotedby many of the founding fathers.One indication of the vigorous, ifsimple, literary life was the prolifer-ation of newspapers. More newspa-pers were read in America duringthe Revolution than anywhere elsein the world. Immigration also man-dated a simple style. Clarity wasvital to a newcomer, for whom

English might be a second lan-guage. Thomas Jefferson’s originaldraft of the Declaration of In-dependence is clear and logical,but his committee’s modificationsmade it even simpler. The Fed-eralist Papers, written in support ofthe Constitution, are also lucid,logical arguments, suitable fordebate in a democratic nation.


Unfortunately, “literary” writingwas not as simple and direct aspolitical writing. When trying towrite poetry, most educated au-thors stumbled into the pitfall ofelegant neoclassicism. The epic, inparticular, exercised a fatal attrac-tion. American literary patriots feltsure that the great American Rev-olution naturally would find ex-pression in the epic — a long, dra-matic narrative poem in elevatedlanguage, celebrating the feats of alegendary hero.

Many writers tried but none suc-ceeded. Timothy Dwight, (1752-1817), one of the group of writersknown as the Hartford Wits, is anexample. Dwight, who eventuallybecame the president of YaleUniversity, based his epic, TheConquest of Canaan (1785), on theBiblical story of Joshua’s struggleto enter the Promised Land.Dwight cast General Washington,commander of the American armyand later the first president of theUnited States, as Joshua in his al-legory and borrowed the coupletform that Alexander Pope used to



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translate Homer. Dwight’s epic was as boring asit was ambitious. English critics demolished it;even Dwight’s friends, such as John Trumbull(1750-1831), remained unenthusiastic. So muchthunder and lightning raged in the melodramaticbattle scenes that Trumbull proposed that theepic be provided with lightning rods.

ot surprisingly, satirical poetry fared muchbetter than serious verse. The mock epicgenre encouraged American poets to use

their natural voices and did not lure them into abog of pretentious and predictable patriotic sen-timents and faceless conventional poetic epi-thets out of the Greek poet Homer and theRoman poet Virgil by way of the English poets.

In mock epics like John Trumbull’s good-humored M’Fingal (1776-1782), stylized emo-tions and conventional turns of phrase areammunition for good satire, and the bombasticoratory of the Revolution is itself ridiculed.Modeled on the British poet Samuel Butler’sHudibras, the mock epic derides a Tory, M’Fingal.It is often pithy, as when noting of condemnedcriminals facing hanging:

No man e’er felt the halter draw. With good opinion of the law.

M’Fingal went into over 30 editions, wasreprinted for a half-century, and was appreciatedin England as well as America. Satire appealed toRevolutionary audiences partly because it con-tained social comment and criticism, and politi-cal topics and social problems were the mainsubjects of the day. The first American comedy tobe performed, The Contrast (produced 1787) byRoyall Tyler (1757-1826), humorously contrastsColonel Manly, an American officer, with Dimple,who imitates English fashions. Naturally, Dimpleis made to look ridiculous. The play introducesthe first Yankee character, Jonathan.

Another satirical work, the novel ModernChivalry, published by Hugh Henry Brackenridge

in installments from 1792 to 1815, memorablylampoons the excesses of the age. Brackenridge(1748-1816), a Scottish immigrant raised on theAmerican frontier, based his huge, picaresquenovel on Don Quixote; it describes the mis-adventures of Captain Farrago and his stupid,brutal, yet appealingly human, servant TeagueO’Regan.

POET OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION:Philip Freneau (1752-1832)

One poet, Philip Freneau, incorporated thenew stirrings of European Romanticism and es-caped the imitativeness and vague universality ofthe Hartford Wits. The key to both his successand his failure was his passionately democraticspirit combined with an inflexible temper.

The Hartford Wits, all of them undoubtedpatriots, reflected the general cultural conser-vatism of the educated classes. Freneau set him-self against this holdover of old Tory attitudes,complaining of “the writings of an aristocratic,speculating faction at Hartford, in favor ofmonarchy and titular distinctions.” AlthoughFreneau received a fine education and was aswell acquainted with the classics as any HartfordWit, he embraced liberal and democratic causes.

From a Huguenot (radical French Protestant)background, Freneau fought as a militiaman dur-ing the Revolutionary War. In 1780, he was cap-tured and imprisoned in two British ships, wherehe almost died before his family managed to gethim released. His poem “The British PrisonShip” is a bitter condemnation of the cruelties ofthe British, who wished “to stain the world withgore.” This piece and other revolutionary works,including “Eutaw Springs,” “American Liberty,”“A Political Litany,” “A Midnight Consultation,”and “George the Third’s Soliloquy,” brought himfame as the “Poet of the American Revolution.”

Freneau edited a number of journals duringhis life, always mindful of the great cause ofdemocracy. When Thomas Jefferson helped him



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establish the militant, anti-Fed-eralist National Gazette in 1791,Freneau became the first powerful,crusading newspaper editor inAmerica, and the literary predeces-sor of William Cullen Bryant,William Lloyd Garrison, and H.L.Mencken.

As a poet and editor, Freneauadhered to his democratic ideals.His popular poems, published innewspapers for the average reader,regularly celebrated American sub-jects. “The Virtue of Tobacco” con-cerns the indigenous plant, a main-stay of the southern economy, while“The Jug of Rum” celebrates thealcoholic drink of the West Indies, a crucial commodity of earlyAmerican trade and a major NewWorld export. Common Americancharacters lived in “The Pilot ofHatteras,” as well as in poemsabout quack doctors and bombasticevangelists.

Freneau commanded a naturaland colloquial style appropriate to agenuine democracy, but he couldalso rise to refined neoclassic lyri-cism in often-anthologized workssuch as “The Wild Honey Suckle”(1786), which evokes a sweet-smelling native shrub. Not until the“American Renaissance” that be-gan in the 1820s would Americanpoetry surpass the heights thatFreneau had scaled 40 years earlier.

Additional groundwork for laterliterary achievement was laid dur-ing the early years. Nationalisminspired publications in manyfields, leading to a new apprecia-tion of things American. Noah

Webster (1758-1843) devised anAmerican Dictionary, as well as animportant reader and speller forthe schools. His Spelling Book soldmore than 100 million copies overthe years. Updated Webster’s dic-tionaries are still standard to-day. The American Geography, byJedidiah Morse, another landmarkreference work, promoted knowl-edge of the vast and expandingAmerican land itself. Some of themost interesting, if nonliterary,writings of the period are the jour-nals of frontiersmen and explorerssuch as Meriwether Lewis (1774-1809) and Zebulon Pike (1779-1813), who wrote accounts of ex-peditions across the LouisianaTerritory, the vast portion of theNorth American continent thatThomas Jefferson purchased fromNapoleon in 1803.

WRITERS OF FICTIONhe first important fiction

writers widely recognized to-day, Charles Brockden Brown,

Washington Irving, and JamesFenimore Cooper, used Americansubjects, historical perspectives,themes of change, and nostalgictones. They wrote in many prosegenres, initiated new forms, andfound new ways to make a livingthrough literature. With them,American literature began to beread and appreciated in the UnitedStates and abroad.

he 18th-centry AmericanEnlightenment wasa movementmarked by anemphasis on rationality ratherthan tradition, scientific inquiryinstead ofunquestioning religious dogma,and representativegovernment inplace of monarchy.

Enlightenmentthinkers and writers were devot-ed to the ideals of justice, liberty,and equality as the natural rightsof man.




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Charles Brockden Brown (1771-1810)Already mentioned as the first professional

American writer, Charles Brockden Brown wasinspired by the English writers Mrs. Radcliffeand English William Godwin. (Radcliffe wasknown for her terrifying Gothic novels; a novelistand social reformer, Godwin was the father ofMary Shelley, who wrote Frankenstein and mar-ried English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.)

Driven by poverty, Brown hastily penned fourhaunting novels in two years: Wieland (1798),Arthur Mervyn (1799), Ormond (1799), and EdgarHuntley (1799). In them, he developed the genreof American Gothic. The Gothic novel was a pop-ular genre of the day featuring exotic and wildsettings, disturbing psychological depth, andmuch suspense. Trappings included ruined cas-tles or abbeys, ghosts, mysterious secrets,threatening figures, and solitary maidens whosurvive by their wits and spiritual strength. Attheir best, such novels offer tremendous sus-pense and hints of magic, along with profoundexplorations of the human soul in extremity.Critics suggest that Brown’s Gothic sensibilityexpresses deep anxieties about the inadequatesocial institutions of the new nation.

Brown used distinctively American settings. Aman of ideas, he dramatized scientific theories,developed a personal theory of fiction, andchampioned high literary standards despite per-sonal poverty. Though flawed, his works are dark-ly powerful. Increasingly, he is seen as the pre-cursor of romantic writers like Edgar Allan Poe,Herman Melville, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Heexpresses subconscious fears that the outward-ly optimistic Enlightenment period drove under-ground.

Washington Irving (1789-1859)The youngest of 11 children born to a well-to-

do New York merchant family, Washington Irvingbecame a cultural and diplomatic ambassador toEurope, like Benjamin Franklin and Nathaniel

Hawthorne. Despite his talent, he probably wouldnot have become a full-time professional writer,given the lack of financial rewards, if a series offortuitous incidents had not thrust writing as aprofession upon him. Through friends, he wasable to publish his Sketch Book (1819-1820)simultaneously in England and America, obtain-ing copyrights and payment in both countries.

The Sketch Book of Geoffrye Crayon (Irving’spseudonym) contains his two best rememberedstories, “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend ofSleepy Hollow.” “Sketch” aptly describes Irving’sdelicate, elegant, yet seemingly casual style, and“crayon” suggests his ability as a colorist or creator of rich, nuanced tones and emotionaleffects. In the Sketch Book, Irving transformsthe Catskill mountains along the Hudson Rivernorth of New York City into a fabulous, magicalregion.

American readers gratefully accepted Irving’simagined “history” of the Catskills, despite thefact (unknown to them) that he had adapted hisstories from a German source. Irving gave Am-erica something it badly needed in the brash,materialistic early years: an imaginative way ofrelating to the new land.

No writer was as successful as Irving at hu-manizing the land, endowing it with a name and aface and a set of legends. The story of “Rip VanWinkle,” who slept for 20 years, waking to findthe colonies had become independent, eventual-ly became folklore. It was adapted for the stage,went into the oral tradition, and was graduallyaccepted as authentic American legend by gener-ations of Americans.

Irving discovered and helped satisfy the rawnew nation’s sense of history. His numerousworks may be seen as his devoted attempts tobuild the new nation’s soul by recreating historyand giving it living, breathing, imaginative life. Forsubjects, he chose the most dramatic aspects ofAmerican history: the discovery of the NewWorld, the first president and national hero, and


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the westward exploration. His earli-est work was a sparkling, satiricalHistory of New York (1809) underthe Dutch, ostensibly written byDiedrich Knickerbocker (hence thename of Irving’s friends and NewYork writers of the day, the“Knickerbocker School”).

James Fenimore Cooper(1789-1851)

James Fenimore Cooper, likeIrving, evoked a sense of the pastand gave it a local habitation and aname. In Cooper, though, one findsthe powerful myth of a golden ageand the poignance of its loss. WhileIrving and other American writersbefore and after him scouredEurope in search of its legends,castles, and great themes, Coopergrasped the essential myth ofAmerica: that it was timeless, likethe wilderness. American historywas a trespass on the eternal;European history in America was areenactment of the fall in theGarden of Eden. The cyclical realmof nature was glimpsed only in theact of destroying it: The wildernessdisappeared in front of Americaneyes, vanishing before the oncom-ing pioneers like a mirage. This isCooper’s basic tragic vision of theironic destruction of the wilder-ness, the new Eden that had at-tracted the colonists in the firstplace.

Personal experience enabledCooper to write vividly of the trans-formation of the wilderness and ofother subjects such as the sea andthe clash of peoples from different

cultures. The son of a Quaker fam-ily, he grew up on his father’sremote estate at Otsego Lake (nowCooperstown) in central New YorkState. Although this area was rela-tively peaceful during Cooper’sboyhood, it had once been thescene of an Indian massacre. YoungFenimore Cooper grew up in analmost feudal environment. Hisfather, Judge Cooper, was alandowner and leader. Cooper sawfrontiersmen and Indians at Ot-sego Lake as a boy; in later life, boldwhite settlers intruded on his land.

Natty Bumppo, Cooper’s re-nowned literary character, embod-ies his vision of the frontiersman asa gentleman, a Jeffersonian “natur-al aristocrat.” Early in 1823, in ThePioneers, Cooper had begun to dis-cover Bumppo. Natty is the firstfamous frontiersman in Americanliterature and the literary forerun-ner of countless cowboy and back-woods heroes. He is the idealized,upright individualist who is betterthan the society he protects. Poorand isolated, yet pure, he is atouchstone for ethical values andprefigures Herman Melville’s BillyBudd and Mark Twain’s Huck Finn.

Based in part on the real life ofAmerican pioneer Daniel Boone —who was a Quaker like Cooper —Natty Bumppo, an outstandingwoodsman like Boone, was a peace-ful man adopted by an Indian tribe.Both Boone and the fictionalBumppo loved nature and freedom.They constantly kept moving westto escape the oncoming settlersthey had guided into the wilder-



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ness, and they became legends intheir own lifetimes. Natty is alsochaste, high-minded, and deeplyspiritual: He is the Christian knightof medieval romances transposedto the virgin forest and rocky soil ofAmerica.

The unifying thread of the fivenovels collectively known as theLeather-Stocking Tales is the life of Natty Bumppo. Cooper’s finestachievement, they constitute a vastprose epic with the North Americancontinent as setting, Indian tribesas characters, and great wars andwestward migration as social back-ground. The novels bring to lifefrontier America from 1740 to 1804.

Cooper’s novels portray the suc-cessive waves of the frontier set-tlement: the original wilderness in-habited by Indians; the arrival of thefirst whites as scouts, soldiers,traders, and frontiersmen; thecoming of the poor, rough settlerfamilies; and the final arrival of themiddle class, bringing the first pro-fessionals — the judge, the physi-cian, and the banker. Each incomingwave displaced the earlier: Whitesdisplaced the Indians, who retreat-ed westward; the “civilized” mid-dle classes who erected schools,churches, and jails displaced thelower-class individualistic frontierfolk, who moved further west, inturn displacing the Indians who hadpreceded them. Cooper evokes theendless, inevitable wave of settlers,seeing not only the gains but thelosses.

Cooper’s novels reveal a deeptension between the lone individual

and society, nature and culture,spirituality and organized religion.In Cooper, the natural world andthe Indian are fundamentally good— as is the highly civilized realmassociated with his most culturedcharacters. Intermediate charac-ters are often suspect, especiallygreedy, poor white settlers who aretoo uneducated or unrefined toappreciate nature or culture. LikeRudyard Kipling, E.M. Forster,Herman Melville, and other sensi-tive observers of widely varied cul-tures interacting with each other,Cooper was a cultural relativist. Heunderstood that no culture had amonopoly on virtue or refinement.

Cooper accepted the Americancondition while Irving did not. Ir-ving addressed the American set-ting as a European might have —by importing and adapting Eu-ropean legends, culture, and histo-ry. Cooper took the process a stepfarther. He created American set-tings and new, distinctively Amer-ican characters and themes. Hewas the first to sound the recurringtragic note in American fiction.

WOMEN AND MINORITIESlthough the colonial period

produced several womenwriters of note, the revolu-

tionary era did not further the workof women and minorities, despitethe many schools, magazines,newspapers, and literary clubs thatwere springing up. Colonial womensuch as Anne Bradstreet, AnneHutchinson, Ann Cotton, and SarahKemble Knight exerted consider-


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able social and literary influence in spite of prim-itive conditions and dangers; of the 18 womenwho came to America on the ship Mayflower in1620, only four survived the first year. When everyable-bodied person counted and conditions werefluid, innate talent could find expression. But ascultural institutions became formalized in thenew republic, women and minorities graduallywere excluded from them.

Phillis Wheatley (c. 1753-1784)Given the hardships of life in early America, it

is ironic that some of the best poetry of the peri-od was written by an exceptional slave woman.The first African-American author of importancein the United States, Phillis Wheatley was born inAfrica and brought to Boston, Massachusetts,when she was about seven, where she was pur-chased by the pious and wealthy tailor JohnWheatley to be a companion for his wife. TheWheatleys recognized Phillis’s remarkable intel-ligence and, with the help of their daughter, Mary,Phillis learned to read and write.

Wheatley’s poetic themes are religious, andher style, like that of Philip Freneau, is neoclas-sical. Among her best-known poems are “To S.M.,a Young African Painter, on Seeing His Works,” apoem of praise and encouragement for anothertalented black, and a short poem showing herstrong religious sensitivity filtered through herexperience of Christian conversion. This poemunsettles some contemporary critics — whitesbecause they find it conventional, and blacksbecause the poem does not protest the immoral-ity of slavery. Yet the work is a sincere expres-sion; it confronts white racism and asserts spiri-tual equality. Indeed, Wheatley was the first toaddress such issues confidently in verse, as in“On Being Brought from Africa to America”:

’Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan landTaught my benighted soul to understand That there’s a God, that there’s a Savior too;Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.Some view our sable race with scornful eye,“Their colour is a diabolic dye.” Remember, Christians, negroes, black as Cain,May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.

Other Women WritersA number of accomplished Revolutionary-era

women writers have been rediscovered by femi-nist scholars. Susanna Rowson (c. 1762-1824)was one of America’s first professional novelists.Her seven novels included the best-sellingseduction story Charlotte Temple (1791). Shetreats feminist and abolitionist themes anddepicts American Indians with respect.

nother long-forgotten novelist was HannahFoster (1758-1840), whose best-selling

novel The Coquette (1797) was about ayoung woman torn between virtue and tempta-tion. Rejected by her sweetheart, a cold man ofthe church, she is seduced, abandoned, bears achild, and dies alone.

Judith Sargent Murray (1751-1820) publishedunder a man’s name to secure serious attentionfor her works. Mercy Otis Warren (1728-1814)was a poet, historian, dramatist, satirist, andpatriot. She held pre-Revolutionary gatherings inher home, attacked the British in her racy plays,and wrote the only contemporary radical historyof the American revolution.

Letters between women such as Mercy OtisWarren and Abigail Adams, and letters generally,are important documents of the period. Forexample, Abigail Adams wrote to her husband,John Adams (later the second president of the United States), in 1776 urging that women’sindependence be guaranteed in the future U.S.constitution. ■



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he Romantic movement, which originatedin Germany but quickly spread to England,France, and beyond, reached America

around the year 1820, some 20 years after WilliamWordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge hadrevolutionized English poetry by publishingLyrical Ballads. In America as in Europe, freshnew vision electrified artistic and intellectual cir-cles. Yet there was an important difference: Ro-manticism in America coincided with the periodof national expansion and the discovery of a dis-tinctive American voice. The solidification of anational identity and the surging idealism andpassion of Romanticism nurtured the master-pieces of “the American Renaissance.”

Romantic ideas centered around art as inspira-tion, the spiritual and aesthetic dimension ofnature, and metaphors of organic growth. Art,rather than science, Romantics argued, couldbest express universal truth. The Romanticsunderscored the importance of expressive artfor the individual and society. In his essay “ThePoet” (1844), Ralph Waldo Emerson, perhaps themost influential writer of the Romantic era,asserts:

For all men live by truth, and stand in needof expression. In love, in art, in avarice, inpolitics, in labor, in games, we study to utterour painful secret. The man is only half him-self, the other half is his expression.

The development of the self became a majortheme; self-awareness, a primary method. If,according to Romantic theory, self and naturewere one, self-awareness was not a selfish deadend but a mode of knowledge opening up the uni-verse. If one’s self were one with all humanity,then the individual had a moral duty to reformsocial inequalities and relieve human suffer-ing. The idea of “self” — which suggested self-ishness to earlier generations — was redefined.New compound words with positive meaningsemerged: “self-realization,” “self-expression,”“self-reliance.”

As the unique, subjective self became impor-tant, so did the realm of psychology. Exceptionalartistic effects and techniques were developedto evoke heightened psychological states. The“sublime” — an effect of beauty in grandeur(for example, a view from a mountaintop) —produced feelings of awe, reverence, vastness,and a power beyond human comprehension.

Romanticism was affirmative and appropriatefor most American poets and creative essayists.America’s vast mountains, deserts, and tropicsembodied the sublime. The Romantic spiritseemed particularly suited to American democ-racy: It stressed individualism, affirmed the valueof the common person, and looked to the in-spired imagination for its aesthetic and ethicalvalues. Certainly the New England Transcenden-talists — Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry DavidThoreau, and their associates — were inspiredto a new optimistic affirmation by the Romanticmovement. In New England, Romanticism fellupon fertile soil.

TRANSCENDENTALISMThe Transcendentalist movement was a reac-

tion against 18th-century rationalism and a mani-festation of the general humanitarian trend of19th-century thought. The movement was basedon a fundamental belief in the unity of the worldand God. The soul of each individual was thought




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to be identical with the world — amicrocosm of the world itself. Thedoctrine of self-reliance and indi-vidualism developed through thebelief in the identification of theindividual soul with God.

Transcendentalism was intimate-ly connected with Concord, a smallNew England village 32 kilometerswest of Boston. Concord was thefirst inland settlement of the origi-nal Massachusetts Bay Colony.Surrounded by forest, it was andremains a peaceful town closeenough to Boston’s lectures, book-stores, and colleges to be intense-ly cultivated, but far enough away tobe serene. Concord was the site of the first battle of the Ameri-can Revolution, and Ralph WaldoEmerson’s poem commemoratingthe battle, “Concord Hymn,” hasone of the most famous openingstanzas in American literature:

By the rude bridge that arched the flood

Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,

Here once the embattled farmers stood

And fired the shot heard round the world.

Concord was the first rural ar-tist’s colony, and the first place tooffer a spiritual and cultural alter-native to American materialism. Itwas a place of high-minded conver-sation and simple living (Emersonand Henry David Thoreau both hadvegetable gardens). Emerson, whom*oved to Concord in 1834, andThoreau are most closely associat-

ed with the town, but the locale alsoattracted the novelist NathanielHawthorne, the feminist writerMargaret Fuller, the educator (andfather of novelist Louisa May Al-cott) Bronson Alcott, and the poetWilliam Ellery Channing. The Tran-scendental Club was loosely orga-nized in 1836 and included, at vari-ous times, Emerson, Thoreau,Fuller, Channing, Bronson Alcott,Orestes Brownson (a leading min-ister), Theodore Parker (abolition-ist and minister), and others.

The Transcendentalists publisheda quarterly magazine, The Dial,which lasted four years and wasfirst edited by Margaret Fuller andlater by Emerson. Reform effortsengaged them as well as literature.A number of Transcendentalistswere abolitionists, and some wereinvolved in experimental utopiancommunities such as nearby BrookFarm (described in Hawthorne’sThe Blithedale Romance) andFruitlands.

Unlike many European groups,the Transcendentalists never is-sued a manifesto. They insisted onindividual differences — on theunique viewpoint of the individual.American Transcendental Romanticspushed radical individualism to theextreme. American writers oftensaw themselves as lonely explorersoutside society and convention.The American hero — like HermanMelville’s Captain Ahab, or MarkTwain’s Huck Finn, or Edgar AllanPoe’s Arthur Gordon Pym — typi-cally faced risk, or even certaindestruction, in the pursuit of meta-


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physical self-discovery. For the RomanticAmerican writer, nothing was a given. Literaryand social conventions, far from being helpful,were dangerous. There was tremendous pres-sure to discover an authentic literary form, con-tent, and voice — all at the same time. It is clearfrom the many masterpieces produced in thethree decades before the U.S. Civil War (1861-65) that American writers rose to the challenge.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)Ralph Waldo Emerson, the towering figure of

his era, had a religious sense of mission.Although many accused him of subvertingChristianity, he explained that, for him “to be a good minister, it was necessary to leave thechurch.” The address he delivered in 1838 at hisalma mater, the Harvard Divinity School, madehim unwelcome at Harvard for 30 years. In it,Emerson accused the church of acting “as if Godwere dead” and of emphasizing dogma while sti-fling the spirit.

merson’s philosophy has been called con-tradictory, and it is true that he conscious-ly avoided building a logical intellectual

system because such a rational system wouldhave negated his Romantic belief in intuition andflexibility. In his essay “Self-Reliance,” Emersonremarks: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblinof little minds.” Yet he is remarkably consistentin his call for the birth of American individualisminspired by nature. Most of his major ideas —the need for a new national vision, the use ofpersonal experience, the notion of the cosmicOver-Soul, and the doctrine of compensation —are suggested in his first publication, Nature(1836). This essay opens:

Our age is retrospective. It builds the sepul-chres of the fathers. It writes biographies,histories, criticism. The foregoing genera-tions beheld God and nature face to face;we, through their eyes. Why should not we

also enjoy an original relation to the uni-verse? Why should not we have a poetry ofinsight and not of tradition, and a religion byrevelation to us, and not the history oftheirs. Embosomed for a season in nature,whose floods of life stream around andthrough us, and invite us by the powers theysupply, to action proportioned to nature, whyshould we grope among the dry bones of thepast...? The sun shines today also. There ismore wool and flax in the fields. There arenew lands, new men, new thoughts. Let us demand our own works and laws and worship.

Emerson loved the aphoristic genius of the16th-century French essayist Montaigne, and heonce told Bronson Alcott that he wanted to writea book like Montaigne’s, “full of fun, poetry, busi-ness, divinity, philosophy, anecdotes, smut.” Hecomplained that Alcott’s abstract style omitted“the light that shines on a man’s hat, in a child’sspoon.”

Spiritual vision and practical, aphoristic ex-pression make Emerson exhilarating; one of theConcord Transcendentalists aptly compared lis-tening to him with “going to heaven in a swing.”Much of his spiritual insight comes from hisreadings in Eastern religion, especially Hin-duism, Confucianism, and Islamic Sufism. Forexample, his poem “Brahma” relies on Hindusources to assert a cosmic order beyond the lim-ited perception of mortals:

If the red slayer think he slayOr the slain think he is slain, They know not well the subtle ways I keep, and pass, and turn again.

Far or forgot to me is nearShadow and sunlight are the same;The vanished gods to me appear;And one to me are shame and fame.



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They reckon ill who leave me out;When me they fly, I am the wings;I am the doubter and the doubt,And I the hymn the Brahmin sings

The strong gods pine for myabode,

And pine in vain the sacred Seven,But thou, meek lover of the good!Find me, and turn thy back on


This poem, published in the firstnumber of the Atlantic Monthlymagazine (1857), confused readersunfamiliar with Brahma, the high-est Hindu god, the eternal and infi-nite soul of the universe. Emersonhad this advice for his readers:“Tell them to say Jehovah insteadof Brahma.”

The British critic Matthew Arnoldsaid the most important writings inEnglish in the 19th century hadbeen Wordsworth’s poems andEmerson’s essays. A great prose-poet, Emerson influenced a longline of American poets, includingWalt Whitman, Emily Dickinson,Edwin Arlington Robinson, WallaceStevens, Hart Crane, and RobertFrost. He is also credited withinfluencing the philosophies ofJohn Dewey, George Santayana,Friedrich Nietzsche, and WilliamJames.

Henry David Thoreau(1817-1862)

Henry David Thoreau, of Frenchand Scottish descent, was born inConcord and made it his perma-nent home. From a poor family, like

Emerson, he worked his waythrough Harvard. Throughout hislife, he reduced his needs to thesimplest level and managed to liveon very little money, thus maintain-ing his independence. In essence,he made living his career. A noncon-formist, he attempted to live his lifeat all times according to his rigor-ous principles. This attempt wasthe subject of many of his writings.

Thoreau’s masterpiece, Walden,or, Life in the Woods (1854), is theresult of two years, two months, andtwo days (from 1845 to 1847) hespent living in a cabin he built atWalden Pond on property owned byEmerson. In Walden, Thoreau con-sciously shapes this time into oneyear, and the book is carefully con-structed so the seasons are subtlyevoked in order. The book also is organized so that the simplestearthly concerns come first (in thesection called “Economy,” he des-cribes the expenses of building acabin); by the ending, the book has progressed to meditations onthe stars.

In Walden, Thoreau, a lover oftravel books and the author of sev-eral, gives us an anti-travel bookthat paradoxically opens the innerfrontier of self-discovery as noAmerican book had up to this time.As deceptively modest as Thoreau’sascetic life, it is no less than a guideto living the classical ideal of thegood life. Both poetry and philoso-phy, this long poetic essay chal-lenges the reader to examine his orher life and live it authentically. Thebuilding of the cabin, described in



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great detail, is a concrete metaphorfor the careful building of a soul. Inhis journal for January 30, 1852,Thoreau explains his preferencefor living rooted in one place: “I amafraid to travel much or to famousplaces, lest it might completely dis-sipate the mind.”

Thoreau’s method of retreat andconcentration resembles Asianmeditation techniques. The resem-blance is not accidental: likeEmerson and Whitman, he wasinfluenced by Hindu and Buddhistphilosophy. His most treasuredpossession was his library of Asianclassics, which he shared withEmerson. His eclectic style drawson Greek and Latin classics and is crystalline, punning, and as rich-ly metaphorical as the Englishmetaphysical writers of the lateRenaissance.

In Walden, Thoreau not only teststhe theories of Transcendental-ism, he re-enacts the collectiveAmerican experience of the 19thcentury: living on the frontier.Thoreau felt that his contributionwould be to renew a sense of thewilderness in language. His journalhas an undated entry from 1851:

English literature from thedays of the minstrels to theLake Poets, Chaucer andSpenser and Shakespeare and Milton included, breathes noquite fresh and in this sense,wild strain. It is an essentially tame and civilized literature,reflecting Greece and Rome.Her wilderness is a green-

wood, her wildman a RobinHood. There is plenty of geniallove of nature in her poets, butnot so much of nature herself.Her chronicles inform us whenher wild animals, but not the wildman in her, becameextinct. There was need ofAmerica.

Walden inspired William ButlerYeats, a passionate Irish national-ist, to write “The Lake Isle ofInnisfree,” while Thoreau’s essay“Civil Disobedience,” with its theo-ry of passive resistance based onthe moral necessity for the justindividual to disobey unjust laws,was an inspiration for Mahat-ma Gandhi’s Indian independencemovement and Martin Luther King’sstruggle for black Americans’ civilrights in the 20th century.

Thoreau is the most attractive of the Transcendentalists todaybecause of his ecological con-sciousness, do-it-yourself indepen-dence, ethical commitment to abo-litionism, and political theory ofcivil disobedience and peacefulresistance. His ideas are still fresh,and his incisive poetic style andhabit of close observation are stillmodern.

Walt Whitman (1819-1892)Born on Long Island, New York,

Walt Whitman was a part-time car-penter and man of the people,whose brilliant, innovative workexpressed the country’s democrat-ic spirit. Whitman was largely self-taught; he left school at the age of


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11 to go to work, missing the sort of traditionaleducation that made most American authorsrespectful imitators of the English. His Leaves of Grass (1855), which he rewrote and revisedthroughout his life, contains “Song of Myself,”the most stunningly original poem ever writtenby an American. The enthusiastic praise thatEmerson and a few others heaped on this daring volume confirmed Whitman in his poeticvocation, although the book was not a popularsuccess.

A visionary book celebrating all creation,Leaves of Grass was inspired largely byEmerson’s writings, especially his essay “ThePoet,” which predicted a robust, open-hearted,universal kind of poet uncannily like Whitmanhimself. The poem’s innovative, unrhymed, free-verse form, open celebration of sexuality, vibrantdemocratic sensibility, and extreme Romanticassertion that the poet’s self was one with thepoem, the universe, and the reader permanentlyaltered the course of American poetry.

Leaves of Grass is as vast, energetic, and natur-al as the American continent; it was the epic gen-erations of American critics had been calling for,although they did not recognize it. Movement rip-ples through “Song of Myself” like restlessmusic:

My ties and ballasts leave me...I skirt sierras, my palms cover continentsI am afoot with my vision.

The poem bulges with myriad concrete sightsand sounds. Whitman’s birds are not the conven-tional “winged spirits” of poetry. His “yellow-crown’d heron comes to the edge of the marsh at night and feeds upon small crabs.” Whitmanseems to project himself into everything that hesees or imagines. He is mass man, “Voyaging toevery port to dicker and adventure, / Hurryingwith the modern crowd as eager and fickle asany.” But he is equally the suffering individual,

“The mother of old, condemn’d for a witch, burntwith dry wood, her children gazing on....I am thehounded slave, I wince at the bite of the dogs....I am the mash’d fireman with breast-bonebroken....”

More than any other writer, Whitman inventedthe myth of democratic America. “The Americansof all nations at any time upon the earth haveprobably the fullest poetical nature. The UnitedStates is essentially the greatest poem.” WhenWhitman wrote this, he daringly turned upsidedown the general opinion that America was toobrash and new to be poetic. He invented a time-less America of the free imagination, peopledwith pioneering spirits of all nations. D.H.Lawrence, the British novelist and poet, accu-rately called him the poet of the “open road.”

hitman’s greatness is visible in many ofhis poems, among them “Crossing

Brooklyn Ferry,” “Out of the CradleEndlessly Rocking,” and “When Lilacs Last in theDooryard Bloom’d,” a moving elegy on the deathof Abraham Lincoln. Another important work ishis long essay “Democratic Vistas” (1871), writ-ten during the unrestrained materialism ofindustrialism’s “Gilded Age.” In this essay,Whitman justly criticizes America for its “mighty,many-threaded wealth and industry” that maskan underlying “dry and flat Sahara” of soul. Hecalls for a new kind of literature to revive theAmerican population (“Not the book needs somuch to be the complete thing, but the reader ofthe book does”). Yet ultimately, Whitman’s mainclaim to immortality lies in “Song of Myself.”Here he places the Romantic self at the center ofthe consciousness of the poem:

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,And what I assume you shall assume,For every atom belonging to me

as good belongs to you.



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Whitman’s voice electrifies evenmodern readers with his proclama-tion of the unity and vital force ofall creation. He was enormouslyinnovative. From him spring thepoem as autobiography, theAmerican Everyman as bard, thereader as creator, and the still-con-temporary discovery of “experi-mental,” or organic, form.


In their time, the BostonBrahmins (as the patrician,Harvard-educated class came

to be called) supplied the mostrespected and genuinely cultivatedliterary arbiters of the UnitedStates. Their lives fitted a pleasantpattern of wealth and leisuredirected by the strong NewEngland work ethic and respect forlearning.

In an earlier Puritan age, theBoston Brahmins would have beenministers; in the 19th century, theybecame professors, often at Har-vard. Late in life they sometimesbecame ambassadors or receivedhonorary degrees from Europeaninstitutions. Most of them travelledor were educated in Europe: Theywere familiar with the ideas andbooks of Britain, Germany, andFrance, and often Italy and Spain.Upper class in background butdemocratic in sympathy, theBrahmin poets carried their gen-teel, European-oriented views toevery section of the United States,through public lectures at the 3,000lyceums (centers for public lec-tures) and in the pages of twoinfluential Boston magazines, the

North American Review and theAtlantic Monthly.

The writings of the Brahmin poetsfused American and European tra-ditions and sought to create a con-tinuity of shared Atlantic experi-ence. These scholar-poets attempt-ed to educate and elevate the gen-eral populace by introducing aEuropean dimension to Americanliterature. Ironically, their overalleffect was conservative. By insistingon European things and forms, theyretarded the growth of a distinctiveAmerican consciousness. Well-meaning men, their conservativebackgrounds blinded them to thedaring innovativeness of Thoreau,Whitman (whom they refused tomeet socially), and Edgar Allan Poe(whom even Emerson regarded asthe “jingle man”). They were pillarsof what was called the “genteel tra-dition” that three generations ofAmerican realists had to battle.Partly because of their benign butbland influence, it was almost 100years before the distinctive Amer-ican genius of Whitman, Melville,Thoreau, and Poe was generally rec-ognized in the United States.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

The most important BostonBrahmin poets were HenryWadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wen-dell Holmes, and James RussellLowell. Longfellow, professor ofmodern languages at Harvard, wasthe best-known American poet ofhis day. He was responsible for themisty, ahistorical, legendary sense


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of the past that merged American and Europeantraditions. He wrote three long narrative poemspopularizing native legends in European meters— “Evangeline” (1847), “The Song of Hiawatha”(1855), and “The Courtship of Miles Standish”(1858).

Longfellow also wrote textbooks on modernlanguages and a travel book entitled Outre-Mer,retelling foreign legends and patterned afterWashington Irving’s Sketch Book. Although con-ventionality, sentimentality, and facile handlingmar the long poems, haunting short lyrics like“The Jewish Cemetery at Newport” (1854), “MyLost Youth” (1855), and “The Tide Rises, TheTide Falls” (1880) continue to give pleasure.

James Russell Lowell (1819-1891)James Russell Lowell, who became professor

of modern languages at Harvard after Longfellowretired, is the Matthew Arnold of American liter-ature. He began as a poet but gradually lost hispoetic ability, ending as a respected critic andeducator. As editor of the Atlantic and co-editorof the North American Review, Lowell exercisedenormous influence. Lowell’s A Fable for Critics(1848) is a funny and apt appraisal of Americanwriters, as in his comment: “There comes Poe,with his raven, like Barnaby Rudge / Three-fifthsof him genius and two-fifths sheer fudge.”

Under his wife’s influence, Lowell became aliberal reformer, abolitionist, and supporter ofwomen’s suffrage and laws ending child labor.His Biglow Papers, First Series (1847-48), createsHosea Biglow, a shrewd but uneducated villagepoet who argues for reform in dialect poetry.Benjamin Franklin and Phillip Freneau had usedintelligent villagers as mouthpieces for socialcommentary. Lowell writes in the same vein, link-ing the colonial “character” tradition with thenew realism and regionalism based on dialectthat flowered in the 1850s and came to fruition inMark Twain.

Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894)Oliver Wendell Holmes, a celebrated physician

and professor of anatomy and physiology atHarvard, is the hardest of the three well-knownBrahmins to categorize because his work ismarked by a refreshing versatility. It encompass-es collections of humorous essays (for example,The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table, 1858), nov-els (Elsie Venner, 1861), biographies (RalphWaldo Emerson, 1885), and verse that could besprightly (“The Deacon’s Masterpiece, or, TheWonderful One-Hoss Shay”), philosophical(“The Chambered Nautilus”), or fervently patri-otic (“Old Ironsides”).

Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the suburbof Boston that is home to Harvard, Holmes wasthe son of a prominent local minister. His moth-er was a descendant of the poet Anne Brad-street. In his time, and more so thereafter, hesymbolized wit, intelligence, and charm not as adiscoverer or a trailblazer, but rather as anexemplary interpreter of everything from societyand language to medicine and human nature.

TWO REFORMERSew England sparkled with intellectual ener-gy in the years before the Civil War. Someof the stars that shine more brightly today

than the famous constellation of Brahmins weredimmed by poverty or accidents of gender orrace in their own time. Modern readers increas-ingly value the work of abolitionist JohnGreenleaf Whittier and feminist and socialreformer Margaret Fuller.

John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892)John Greenleaf Whittier, the most active poet

of the era, had a background very similar to WaltWhitman’s. He was born and raised on a modestQuaker farm in Massachusetts, had little formaleducation, and worked as a journalist. Fordecades before it became popular, he was anardent abolitionist. Whittier is respected for



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anti-slavery poems such as“Ichabod,” and his poetry is some-times viewed as an early example ofregional realism.

Whittier’s sharp images, simpleconstructions, and ballad-like tet-rameter couplets have the simpleearthy texture of Robert Burns. Hisbest work, the long poem “SnowBound,” vividly recreates the poet’sdeceased family members andfriends as he remembers themfrom childhood, huddled cozilyaround the blazing hearth duringone of New England’s blusteringsnowstorms. This simple, religious,intensely personal poem, comingafter the long nightmare of the CivilWar, is an elegy for the dead and ahealing hymn. It affirms the eternityof the spirit, the timeless power oflove in the memory, and the undi-minished beauty of nature, despiteviolent outer political storms.

Margaret Fuller (1810-1850)Margaret Fuller, an outstanding

essayist, was born and raised in Cam-bridge, Massachusetts. From amodest financial background, shewas educated at home by her father(women were not allowed to attendHarvard) and became a child prodi-gy in the classics and modern litera-tures. Her special passion wasGerman Romantic literature, espe-cially Goethe, whom she translated.

The first professional womanjournalist of note in America, Fullerwrote influential book reviews andreports on social issues such as thetreatment of women prisoners andthe insane. Some of these essays

were published in her book Paperson Literature and Art (1846). A yearearlier, she had her most sig-nificant book, Woman in theNineteenth Century. It originallyhad appeared in the Tran-scendentalist magazine, The Dial,which she edited from 1840 to1842.

Fuller’s Woman in the Nine-teenth Century is the earliest andmost American exploration ofwomen’s role in society. Oftenapplying democratic and Transcen-dental principles, Fuller thought-fully analyzes the numerous subtlecauses and evil consequences ofsexual discrimination and suggestspositive steps to be taken. Many ofher ideas are strikingly modern.She stresses the importance of“self-dependence,” which womenlack because “they are taught tolearn their rule from without, notto unfold it from within.”

Fuller is finally not a feminist somuch as an activist and reformerdedicated to the cause of creativehuman freedom and dignity for all:

...Let us be wise and notimpede the soul....Let us haveone creative energy....Let ittake what form it will, and letus not bind it by the past toman or woman, black or white.


Emily Dickinson is, in a sense, alink between her era and the liter-ary sensitivities of the turn of thecentury. A radical individualist, she


Daguerreotype courtesyHarper & Bros.


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was born and spent her life in Amherst,Massachusetts, a small Calvinist village. Shenever married, and she led an unconventionallife that was outwardly uneventful but was full of inner intensity. She loved nature and found deep inspiration in the birds, animals,plants, and changing seasons of the New Englandcountryside.

ickinson spent the latter part of her life asa recluse, due to an extremely sensitive

psyche and possibly to make time for writ-ing (for stretches of time she wrote about onepoem a day). Her day also included homemakingfor her attorney father, a prominent figure inAmherst who became a member of Congress.

Dickinson was not widely read, but knew theBible, the works of William Shakespeare, andworks of classical mythology in great depth.These were her true teachers, for Dickinson wascertainly the most solitary literary figure of hertime. That this shy, withdrawn village woman,almost unpublished and unknown, created someof the greatest American poetry of the 19th cen-tury has fascinated the public since the 1950s,when her poetry was rediscovered.

Dickinson’s terse, frequently imagistic style is even more modern and innovative thanWhitman’s. She never uses two words when onewill do, and combines concrete things withabstract ideas in an almost proverbial, com-pressed style. Her best poems have no fat; manymock current sentimentality, and some are evenheretical. She sometimes shows a terrifyingexistential awareness. Like Poe, she exploresthe dark and hidden part of the mind, dramatizingdeath and the grave. Yet she also celebrated sim-ple objects — a flower, a bee. Her poetry ex-hibits great intelligence and often evokes theagonizing paradox of the limits of the human con-sciousness trapped in time. She had an excellentsense of humor, and her range of subjects andtreatment is amazingly wide. Her poems are gen-erally known by the numbers assigned them in

Thomas H. Johnson’s standard edition of 1955.They bristle with odd capitalizations and dashes.

A nonconformist, like Thoreau she often re-versed meanings of words and phrases and usedparadox to great effect. From 435:

Much Madness is divinest sense — To a discerning Eye —Much Sense — the starkest Madness — ‘Tis the Majority In this, as All, prevail —Assent — and you are sane —Demur — you’re straightway dangerousAnd handled with a chain —

Her wit shines in the following poem (288),which ridicules ambition and public life:

I’m Nobody! Who are you?Are you — Nobody — Too?Then there’s a pair of us? Don’t tell! they’d advertise — you know!How dreary — to be — Somebody!How public — like a Frog —To tell one’s name — the livelong June —To an admiring Bog!

Dickinson’s 1,775 poems continue to intriguecritics, who often disagree about them. Somestress her mystical side, some her sensitivity tonature; many note her odd, exotic appeal. Onemodern critic, R.P. Blackmur, comments thatDickinson’s poetry sometimes feels as if “a catcame at us speaking English.” Her clean, clear,chiseled poems are some of the most fascinatingand challenging in American literature. ■



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alt Whitman, Nathaniel Hawthorne,Herman Melville, Edgar Allan Poe, Emily

Dickinson, and the Transcendentalistsrepresent the first great literary generation pro-duced in the United States. In the case of thenovelists, the Romantic vision tended to expressitself in the form Hawthorne called the “ro-mance,” a heightened, emotional, and symbolicform of the novel. Romances were not love sto-ries, but serious novels that used special tech-niques to communicate complex and subtlemeanings.

Instead of carefully defining realistic charac-ters through a wealth of detail, as most Englishor continental novelists did, Hawthorne, Melville,and Poe shaped heroic figures larger than life,burning with mythic significance. The typical pro-tagonists of the American Romance are haunted,alienated individuals. Hawthorne’s ArthurDimmesdale or Hester Prynne in The ScarletLetter, Melville’s Ahab in Moby-Dick, and themany isolated and obsessed characters of Poe’stales are lonely protagonists pitted against un-knowable, dark fates that, in some mysteriousway, grow out of their deepest unconsciousselves. The symbolic plots reveal hidden actionsof the anguished spirit.

One reason for this fictional exploration intothe hidden recesses of the soul is the absence of settled, traditional community life in Amer-ica. English novelists — Jane Austen, CharlesDickens (the great favorite), Anthony Trollope,

George Eliot, William Thackeray — lived in acomplex, well-articulated, traditional society andshared with their readers attitudes that in-formed their realistic fiction. American novelistswere faced with a history of strife and revolution,a geography of vast wilderness, and a fluid andrelatively classless democratic society. Americannovels frequently reveal a revolutionary absenceof tradition. Many English novels show a poormain character rising on the economic and socialladder, perhaps because of a good marriage orthe discovery of a hidden aristocratic past. Butthis buried plot does not challenge the aristo-cratic social structure of England. On the con-trary, it confirms it. The rise of the main charac-ter satisfies the wish fulfillment of the mainlymiddle-class readers.

In contrast, the American novelist had to de-pend on his or her own devices. America was, inpart, an undefined, constantly moving frontierpopulated by immigrants speaking foreign lan-guages and following strange and crude ways oflife. Thus the main character in American litera-ture might find himself alone among cannibaltribes, as in Melville’s Typee, or exploring awilderness like James Fenimore Cooper’sLeatherstocking, or witnessing lonely visionsfrom the grave, like Poe’s solitary individuals, ormeeting the devil walking in the forest, likeHawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown. Virtually allthe great American protagonists have been “lon-ers.” The democratic American individual had, asit were, to invent himself.

The serious American novelist had to inventnew forms as well — hence the sprawling, idio-syncratic shape of Melville’s novel Moby-Dick,and Poe’s dreamlike, wandering Narrative ofArthur Gordon Pym. Few American novels achieveformal perfection, even today. Instead of borrow-ing tested literary methods, Americans tend toinvent new creative techniques. In America, itis not enough to be a traditional and definablesocial unit, for the old and traditional gets left




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behind; the new, innovative force isthe center of attention.

THE ROMANCEhe Romance form is dark andforbidding, indicating howdifficult it is to create an

identity without a stable society.Most of the Romantic heroes die inthe end: All the sailors exceptIshmael are drowned in Moby-Dick, and the sensitive but sinfulminister Arthur Dimmesdale diesat the end of The Scarlet Letter.The self-divided, tragic note inAmerican literature becomes dom-inant in the novels, even before theCivil War of the 1860s manifestedthe greater social tragedy of a soci-ety at war with itself.

Nathaniel Hawthorne(1804-1864)

Nathaniel Hawthorne, a fifth-generation American of Englishdescent, was born in Salem, Massa-chusetts, a wealthy seaport northof Boston that specialized in EastIndia trade. One of his ancestorshad been a judge in an earlier cen-tury, during trials in Salem ofwomen accused of being witches.Hawthorne used the idea of a curseon the family of an evil judge in hisnovel The House of the SevenGables.

Many of Hawthorne’s stories areset in Puritan New England, and hisgreatest novel, The Scarlet Letter(1850), has become the classicportrayal of Puritan America. Ittells of the passionate, forbiddenlove affair linking a sensitive, reli-

gious young man, the ReverendArthur Dimmesdale, and the sensu-ous, beautiful townsperson, HesterPrynne. Set in Boston around 1650during early Puritan colonization,the novel highlights the Calvinisticobsession with morality, sexualrepression, guilt and confession,and spiritual salvation.

For its time, The Scarlet Letterwas a daring and even subversivebook. Hawthorne’s gentle style, re-mote historical setting, and ambi-guity softened his grim themes andcontented the general public, butsophisticated writers such as RalphWaldo Emerson and Herman Mel-ville recognized the book’s “hell-ish” power. It treated issues thatwere usually suppressed in 19th-century America, such as the im-pact of the new, liberating demo-cratic experience on individual be-havior, especially on sexual and re-ligious freedom.

The book is superbly organizedand beautifully written. Appropri-ately, it uses allegory, a techniquethe early Puritan colonists them-selves practiced.

Hawthorne’s reputation rests onhis other novels and tales as well.In The House of the Seven Gables(1851), he again returns to NewEngland’s history. The crumbling ofthe “house” refers to a family inSalem as well as to the actual struc-ture. The theme concerns an in-herited curse and its resolutionthrough love. As one critic hasnoted, the idealistic protagonistHolgrave voices Hawthorne’s owndemocratic distrust of old aristo-



Photo courtesy OWI


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cratic families: “The truth is, that once in everyhalf-century, at least, a family should be mergedinto the great, obscure mass of humanity, andforget about its ancestors.”

awthorne’s last two novels were less suc-cessful. Both use modern settings, whichhamper the magic of romance. The

Blithedale Romance (1852) is interesting for itsportrait of the socialist, utopian Brook Farmcommunity. In the book, Hawthorne criticizesegotistical, power-hungry social reformerswhose deepest instincts are not genuinely demo-cratic. The Marble Faun (1860), though set inRome, dwells on the Puritan themes of sin, isola-tion, expiation, and salvation.

These themes, and his characteristic settingsin Puritan colonial New England, are trademarksof many of Hawthorne’s best-known shorter stories: “The Minister’s Black Veil,” “YoungGoodman Brown,” and “My Kinsman, MajorMolineux.” In the last of these, a naïve young manfrom the country comes to the city — a commonroute in urbanizing 19th-century America — toseek help from his powerful relative, whom hehas never met. Robin has great difficulty findingthe major, and finally joins in a strange night riotin which a man who seems to be a disgracedcriminal is comically and cruelly driven out oftown. Robin laughs loudest of all until he realizesthat this “criminal” is none other than the manhe sought — a representative of the British whohas just been overthrown by a revolutionaryAmerican mob. The story confirms the bond ofsin and suffering shared by all humanity. It alsostresses the theme of the self-made man: Robinmust learn, like every democratic American, toprosper from his own hard work, not from spe-cial favors from wealthy relatives.

“My Kinsman, Major Molineux” casts light onone of the most striking elements in Haw-thorne’s fiction: the lack of functioning familiesin his works. Although Cooper’s Leather-StockingTales manage to introduce families into the least

likely wilderness places, Hawthorne’s storiesand novels repeatedly show broken, cursed, orartificial families and the sufferings of the isolat-ed individual.

The ideology of revolution, too, may haveplayed a part in glorifying a sense of proud yetalienated freedom. The American Revolution,from a psychohistorical viewpoint, parallels anadolescent rebellion away from the parent-figureof England and the larger family of the BritishEmpire. Americans won their independence andwere then faced with the bewildering dilemma ofdiscovering their identity apart from old authori-ties. This scenario was played out countlesstimes on the frontier, to the extent that, in fic-tion, isolation often seems the basic Americancondition of life. Puritanism and its Protestantoffshoots may have further weakened the familyby preaching that the individual’s first responsi-bility was to save his or her own soul.

Herman Melville (1819-1891)Herman Melville, like Nathaniel Hawthorne,

was a descendant of an old, wealthy family thatfell abruptly into poverty upon the death of thefather. Despite his patrician upbringing, proudfamily traditions, and hard work, Melville foundhimself in poverty with no college education. At19 he went to sea. His interest in sailors’ livesgrew naturally out of his own experiences, andmost of his early novels grew out of his voyages.In these we see the young Melville’s wide, demo-cratic experience and hatred of tyranny and in-justice. His first book, Typee, was based on histime spent among the supposedly cannibalisticbut hospitable tribe of the Taipis in theMarquesas Islands of the South Pacific. The bookpraises the islanders and their natural, harmo-nious life, and criticizes the Christian missionar-ies, who Melville found less genuinely civilizedthan the people they came to convert.

Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, Melville’s master-piece, is the epic story of the whaling ship



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Pequod and its “ungodly, god-likeman,” Captain Ahab, whose obses-sive quest for the white whaleMoby-Dick leads the ship and itsmen to destruction. This work, arealistic adventure novel, contains aseries of meditations on the humancondition. Whaling, throughout thebook, is a grand metaphor for thepursuit of knowledge. Realistic cat-alogues and descriptions of whalesand the whaling industry punctuatethe book, but these carry symbolicconnotations. In chapter 15, “TheRight Whale’s Head,” the narratorsays that the Right Whale is a Stoicand the Sperm Whale is a Platonian,referring to two classical schools ofphilosophy.

Although Melville’s novel is philo-sophical, it is also tragic. Despitehis heroism, Ahab is doomed andperhaps damned in the end. Nature,however beautiful, remains alienand potentially deadly. In Moby-Dick, Melville challenges Emerson’soptimistic idea that humans canunderstand nature. Moby-Dick, thegreat white whale, is an inscrutable,cosmic existence that dominatesthe novel, just as he obsesses Ahab.Facts about the whale and whalingcannot explain Moby-Dick; on thecontrary, the facts themselves tendto become symbols, and every factis obscurely related in a cosmicweb to every other fact. This idea ofcorrespondence (as Melville calls itin the “Sphinx” chapter) does not,however, mean that humans can“read” truth in nature, as it does in Emerson. Behind Melville’s accu-mulation of facts is a mystic vision

— but whether this vision is evil orgood, human or inhuman, is neverexplained.

The novel is modern in its ten-dency to be self-referential, or re-flexive. In other words, the noveloften is about itself. Melville fre-quently comments on mental pro-cesses such as writing, reading,and understanding. One chapter,for instance, is an exhaustive sur-vey in which the narrator attemptsa classification but finally gives up,saying that nothing great can everbe finished (“God keep me fromever completing anything. Thiswhole book is but a draught — nay,but the draught of a draught. O Time, Strength, Cash and Pa-tience”). Melville’s notion of theliterary text as an imperfect ver-sion or an abandoned draft is quitecontemporary.

Ahab insists on imaging a hero-ic, timeless world of absolutes inwhich he can stand above his men.Unwisely, he demands a finishedtext, an answer. But the novelshows that just as there are no fin-ished texts, there are no finalanswers except, perhaps, death.

Certain literary references res-onate throughout the novel. Ahab,named for an Old Testament king,desires a total, Faustian, god-likeknowledge. Like Oedipus in Soph-ocles’ play, who pays tragically forwrongful knowledge, Ahab is struckblind before he is wounded in theleg and finally killed. Moby-Dickends with the word “orphan.”Ishmael, the narrator, is an orphan-like wanderer. The name Ishmael


Portrait courtesy HarvardCollege Library


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emanates from the Book of Genesis in the OldTestament — he was the son of Abraham andHagar (servant to Abraham’s wife, Sarah). Ish-mael and Hagar were cast into the wilderness byAbraham.

Other examples exist. Rachel (one of thepatriarch Jacob’s wives) is the name of the boatthat rescues Ishmael at book’s end. Finally, the metaphysical whale reminds Jewish andChristian readers of the Biblical story of Jonah,who was tossed overboard by fellow sailors whoconsidered him an object of ill fortune.Swallowed by a “big fish,” according to the bibli-cal text, he lived for a time in its belly beforebeing returned to dry land through God’s inter-vention. Seeking to flee from punishment, heonly brought more suffering upon himself.

Historical references also enrich the novel.The ship Pequod is named for an extinct NewEngland Indian tribe; thus the name suggeststhat the boat is doomed to destruction. Whalingwas in fact a major industry, especially in NewEngland: It supplied oil as an energy source,especially for lamps. Thus the whale does literal-ly “shed light” on the universe. Whaling was alsoinherently expansionist and linked with the ideaof manifest destiny, since it required Americansto sail round the world in search of whales (infact, the present state of Hawaii came underAmerican domination because it was used as the major refueling base for American whalingships). The Pequod’s crew members representall races and various religions, suggesting theidea of America as a universal state of mind aswell as a melting pot. Finally, Ahab embodies thetragic version of democratic American individual-ism. He asserts his dignity as an individual anddares to oppose the inexorable external forcesof the universe.

The novel’s epilogue tempers the tragicdestruction of the ship. Throughout, Melvillestresses the importance of friendship and themulticultural human community. After the ship

sinks, Ishmael is saved by the engraved coffinmade by his close friend, the heroic tatooed harpooner and Polynesian prince Queequeg. Thecoffin’s primitive, mythological designs incorpo-rate the history of the cosmos. Ishmael is res-cued from death by an object of death. Fromdeath life emerges, in the end.

Moby-Dick has been called a “natural epic” —a magnificent dramatization of the human spiritset in primitive nature — because of its huntermyth, its initiation theme, its Edenic island sym-bolism, its positive treatment of pre-technologi-cal peoples, and its quest for rebirth. In settinghumanity alone in nature, it is eminentlyAmerican. The French writer and politician Alexisde Tocqueville had predicted, in the 1835 workDemocracy in America, that this theme wouldarise in America as a result of its democracy:

The destinies of mankind, man himselftaken aloof from his country and his age andstanding in the presence of Nature and God,with his passions, his doubts, his rarepropensities and inconceivable wretched-ness, will become the chief, if not the sole,theme of (American) poetry.

Tocqueville reasons that, in a democracy, liter-ature would dwell on “the hidden depths of theimmaterial nature of man” rather than on mereappearances or superficial distinctions such asclass and status. Certainly both Moby-Dick andTypee, like Adventures of Huckleberry Finn andWalden, fit this description. They are celebra-tions of nature and pastoral subversions of class-oriented, urban civilization.

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)Edgar Allan Poe, a southerner, shares with

Melville a darkly metaphysical vision mixed withelements of realism, parody, and burlesque. Herefined the short story genre and inventeddetective fiction. Many of his stories prefigure


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the genres of science fiction, hor-ror, and fantasy so popular today.

Poe’s short and tragic life wasplagued with insecurity. Like somany other major 19th-centuryAmerican writers, Poe was or-phaned at an early age. Poe’sstrange marriage in 1835 to his firstcousin Virginia Clemm, who was notyet 14, has been interpreted as anattempt to find the stable family lifehe lacked.

oe believed that strangenesswas an essential ingredient

of beauty, and his writing isoften exotic. His stories and poemsare populated with doomed, intro-spective aristocrats (Poe, like manyother southerners, cherished anaristocratic ideal). These gloomycharacters never seem to work orsocialize; instead they bury them-selves in dark, moldering castlessymbolically decorated with bizarrerugs and draperies that hide thereal world of sun, windows, walls,and floors. The hidden rooms revealancient libraries, strange art works,and eclectic oriental objects. Thearistocrats play musical instru-ments or read ancient books whilethey brood on tragedies, often thedeaths of loved ones. Themes of death-in-life, especially beingburied alive or returning like a vam-pire from the grave, appear in manyof his works, including “ThePremature Burial,” “Ligeia,” “TheCask of Amontillado,” and “The Fallof the House of Usher.” Poe’s twi-light realm between life and deathand his gaudy, Gothic settings arenot merely decorative. They reflect

the overcivilized yet deathly interi-or of his characters’ disturbed psy-ches. They are symbolic expres-sions of the unconscious, and thusare central to his art.

Poe’s verse, like that of manysoutherners, was very musical andstrictly metrical. His best-knownpoem, in his own lifetime andtoday, is “The Raven” (1845). Inthis eerie poem, the haunted,sleepless narrator, who has beenreading and mourning the death ofhis “lost Lenore” at midnight, isvisited by a raven (a bird that eatsdead flesh, hence a symbol ofdeath) who perches above hisdoor and ominously repeats thepoem’s famous refrain, “never-more.” The poem ends in a frozenscene of death-in-life:

And the Raven, never flitting, still

is sitting, still is sittingOn the pallid bust of Pallas justabove my chamber door;And his eyes have all the

seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,And the lamp-light o’er himstreaming throws his shadow

on the floor;And my soul from out

that shadow that lies floating on the floor

Shall be lifted — nevermore!

Poe’s stories — such as thosecited above — have been de-scribed as tales of horror. Storieslike “The Gold Bug” and “ThePurloined Letter” are more tales



Photo © The Bettmann Archive


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of ratiocination, or reasoning. The horror talesprefigure works by such American authors ofhorror fantasy as H.P. Lovecraft and StephenKing, while the tales of ratiocination are harbin-gers of the detective fiction of DashiellHammett, Raymond Chandler, Ross Macdonald,and John D. MacDonald. There is a hint, too, ofwhat was to follow as science fiction. All of thesestories reveal Poe’s fascination with the mindand the unsettling scientific knowledge that wasradically secularizing the 19th-century worldview.

In every genre, Poe explores the psyche.Profound psychological insights glint throughoutthe stories. “Who has not, a hundred times,found himself committing a vile or silly action,for no other reason than because he knows heshould not,” we read in “The Black Cat.” Toexplore the exotic and strange aspect of psycho-logical processes, Poe delved into accounts ofmadness and extreme emotion. The painfullydeliberate style and elaborate explanation in thestories heighten the sense of the horrible bymaking the events seem vivid and plausible.

Poe’s combination of decadence and romanticprimitivism appealed enormously to Europeans,particularly to the French poets StéphaneMallarmé, Charles Baudelaire, Paul Valéry, andArthur Rimbaud. But Poe is not un-American,despite his aristocratic disgust with democracy,preference for the exotic, and themes of dehu-manization. On the contrary, he is almost a text-book example of Tocqueville’s prediction thatAmerican democracy would produce works thatlay bare the deepest, hidden parts of the psyche.Deep anxiety and psychic insecurity seem to haveoccurred earlier in America than in Europe, forEuropeans at least had a firm, complex socialstructure that gave them psychological security.In America, there was no compensating security;it was every man for himself. Poe accuratelydescribed the underside of the American dreamof the self-made man and showed the price of

materialism and excessive competition — lone-liness, alienation, and images of death-in-life.

Poe’s “decadence” also reflects the devalua-tion of symbols that occurred in the 19th century— the tendency to mix art objects promiscuous-ly from many eras and places, in the processstripping them of their identity and reducingthem to merely decorative items in a collection.The resulting chaos of styles was particularlynoticeable in the United States, which oftenlacked traditional styles of its own. The jumblereflects the loss of coherent systems of thoughtas immigration, urbanization, and industrializa-tion uprooted families and traditional ways. Inart, this confusion of symbols fueled thegrotesque, an idea that Poe explicitly made histheme in his classic collection of stories Tales ofthe Grotesque and Arabesque (1840).


merican women endured many inequalitiesin the 19th century: They were denied thevote, barred from professional schools

and most higher education, forbidden to speak inpublic and even attend public conventions, andunable to own property. Despite these obstacles,a strong women’s network sprang up. Throughletters, personal friendships, formal meetings,women’s newspapers, and books, women fur-thered social change. Intellectual women drewparallels between themselves and slaves. Theycourageously demanded fundamental reforms,such as the abolition of slavery and women’s suf-frage, despite social ostracism and sometimesfinancial ruin. Their works were the vanguard ofintellectual expression of a larger women’s liter-ary tradition that included the sentimental novel.Women’s sentimental novels, such as HarrietBeecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, were enor-mously popular. They appealed to the emotionsand often dramatized contentious social issues,particularly those touching the family and



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women’s roles and responsibilities.Abolitionist Lydia Child (1802-1880), who great-

ly influenced Margaret Fuller, was a leader of thisnetwork. Her successful 1824 novel Hobomokshows the need for racial and religious tolera-tion. Its setting — Puritan Salem, Massachu-setts — anticipated Nathaniel Hawthorne. Anactivist, Child founded a private girls’ school,founded and edited the first journal for childrenin the United States, and published the first anti-slavery tract, An Appeal in Favor of that Class ofAmericans Called Africans, in 1833. This daringwork made her notorious and ruined her finan-cially. Her History of the Condition of Women inVarious Ages and Nations (1855) argues forwomen’s equality by pointing to their historicalachievements.

Angelina Grimké (1805-1879) and Sarah Grimké(1792-1873) were born into a large family ofwealthy slaveowners in elegant Charleston, SouthCarolina. These sisters moved to the North todefend the rights of blacks and women. As speak-ers for the New York Anti-Slavery Society, theywere the first women to publicly lecture to audi-ences, including men. In letters, essays, andstudies, they drew parallels between racism andsexism.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902), abolition-ist and women’s rights activist, lived for a time inBoston, where she befriended Lydia Child. WithLucretia Mott, she organized the 1848 SenecaFalls Convention for Women’s rights; she alsodrafted its Declaration of Sentiments. Her“Woman’s Declaration of Independence” begins“men and women are created equal” andincludes a resolution to give women the right to vote. With Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth CadyStanton campaigned for suffrage in the 1860s and1870s, formed the anti-slavery Women’s LoyalNational League and the National WomanSuffrage Association, and co-edited the weeklynewspaper Revolution. President of the WomanSuffrage Association for 21 years, she led the

struggle for women’s rights. She gave public lec-tures in several states, partly to support the edu-cation of her seven children.

After her husband died, Cady Stanton deep-ened her analysis of inequality between thesexes. Her book The Woman’s Bible (1895) dis-cerns a deep-seated anti-female bias in Judaeo-Christian tradition. She lectured on such sub-jects as divorce, women’s rights, and religionuntil her death at 86, just after writing a letter toPresident Theodore Roosevelt supporting thewomen’s vote. Her numerous works — at firstpseudonymous, but later under her own name —include three co-authored volumes of History ofWoman Suffrage (1881-1886) and a candid,humorous autobiography.

ojourner Truth (c. 1797-1883) epitomized theendurance and charisma of this extraordi-nary group of women. Born a slave in New

York, she grew up speaking Dutch. She escapedfrom slavery in 1827, settling with a son anddaughter in the supportive Dutch-American VanWagener family, for whom she worked as a ser-vant. They helped her win a legal battle for herson’s freedom, and she took their name. Strikingout on her own, she worked with a preacher toconvert prostitutes to Christianity and lived in a progressive communal home. She was chris-tened “Sojourner Truth” for the mystical voicesand visions she began to experience. To spreadthe truth of these visionary teachings, shesojourned alone, lecturing, singing gospel songs,and preaching abolitionism through many statesover three decades. Encouraged by ElizabethCady Stanton, she advocated women’s suffrage.Her life is told in the Narrative of Sojourner Truth(1850), an autobiographical account transcribedand edited by Olive Gilbert. Illiterate her wholelife, she spoke Dutch-accented English. So-journer Truth is said to have bared her breast ata women’s rights convention when she wasaccused of really being a man. Her answer to aman who said that women were the weaker sex



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has become legendary:

I have ploughed and planted, andgathered into bars, and no mancould head me! And ain’t I awoman? I could work as muchand eat as much as a man —when I could get it —and bearthe lash as well! And ain’t I awoman? I have borne thirteenchildren, and seen them most allsold off to slavery, and when Icried out with my mother’s grief,none but Jesus heard me! Andain’t I a woman?

This humorous and irreverentorator has been compared to thegreat blues singers. Harriet Beech-er Stowe and many others foundwisdom in this visionary blackwoman, who could declare, “Lord,Lord, I can love even de white folk!”

Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896)

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novelUncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life Amongthe Lowly was the most popularAmerican book of the 19th centu-ry. First published serially in theNational Era magazine (1851-1852),it was an immediate success. Fortydifferent publishers printed it inEngland alone, and it was quicklytranslated into 20 languages, receiv-ing the praise of such authors asGeorges Sand in France, HeinrichHeine in Germany, and Ivan Tur-genev in Russia. Its passionate ap-peal for an end to slavery in theUnited States inflamed the debatethat, within a decade, led to the U.S.

Civil War (1861-1865).Reasons for the success of Uncle

Tom’s Cabin are obvious. It reflect-ed the idea that slavery in theUnited States, the nation that pur-portedly embodied democracy andequality for all, was an injustice ofcolossal proportions.

towe herself was a perfectrepresentative of old NewEngland Puritan stock. Her

father, brother, and husband allwere well-known, learned Prot-estant clergymen and reformers.Stowe conceived the idea of thenovel — in a vision of an old,ragged slave being beaten — asshe participated in a church ser-vice. Later, she said that the novelwas inspired and “written by God.”Her motive was the religious pas-sion to reform life by making itmore godly. The romantic periodhad ushered in an era of feeling:The virtues of family and lovereigned supreme. Stowe’s novelattacked slavery precisely becauseit violated domestic values.

Uncle Tom, the slave and centralcharacter, is a true Christian mar-tyr who labors to convert his kindmaster, St. Clare, prays for St.Clare’s soul as he dies, and iskilled defending slave women.Slavery is depicted as evil not forpolitical or philosophical reasonsbut mainly because it divides fami-lies, destroys normal parental love,and is inherently un-Christian. Themost touching scenes show anagonized slave mother unable tohelp her screaming child and afather sold away from his family.



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These were crimes against thesanctity of domestic love.

Stowe’s novel was not originallyintended as an attack on the South;in fact, Stowe had visited theSouth, liked southerners, and por-trayed them kindly. Southern slave-owners are good masters and treatTom well. St. Clare personally ab-hors slavery and intends to free allof his slaves. The evil masterSimon Legree, on the other hand,is a northerner and the villain.Ironically, the novel was meant toreconcile the North and South,which were drifting toward theCivil War a decade away. Ultimately,though, the book was used by abo-litionists and others as a polemicagainst the South.

Harriet Jacobs (1818-1896)Born a slave in North Carolina,

Harriet Jacobs was taught to readand write by her mistress. On hermistress’s death, Jacobs was soldto a white master who tried toforce her to have sexual relations.She resisted him, finding anotherwhite lover by whom she had twochildren, who went to live with hergrandmother. “It seems less de-grading to give one’s self than tosubmit to compulsion,” she can-didly wrote. She escaped from herowner and started a rumor that shehad fled North.

Terrified of being caught andsent back to slavery and punish-ment, she spent almost sevenyears hidden in her master’s town,in the tiny dark attic of her grand-mother’s house. She was sustained

by glimpses of her beloved childrenseen through holes that she drilledthrough the ceiling. She finallyescaped to the North, settling inRochester, New York, whereFrederick Douglass was publishingthe anti-slavery newspaper NorthStar and near which (in SenecaFalls) a women’s rights conventionhad recently met. There Jacobsbecame friends with Amy Post, aQuaker feminist abolitionist, whoencouraged her to write her autobi-ography. Incidents in the Life of aSlave Girl, published under thepseudonym “Linda Brent” in 1861,was edited by Lydia Child. It out-spokenly condemned the sexualexploitation of black slave women.Jacobs’s book, like Douglass’s, ispart of the slave narrative genreextending back to Olaudah Equianoin colonial times.

Harriet Wilson (1807-1870)Harriet Wilson was the first

African-American to publish a novelin the United States — Our Nig: or,Sketches from the life of a FreeBlack, in a two-storey white house,North. Showing that Slavery’sShadows Fall Even There (1859).The novel realistically dramatizesthe marriage between a white wo-man and a black man, and also de-picts the difficult life of a black ser-vant in a wealthy Christian house-hold. Formerly thought to be autobi-ographical, it is now understood tobe a work of fiction.

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looked until recently. The same can be said ofthe work of most of the women writers of the era.Noted African-American scholar Henry LouisGates, Jr. — in his role of spearheading the blackfiction project — reissued Our Nig in 1983.

Frederick Douglass (1817-1895)The most famous black American anti-slavery

leader and orator of the era, Frederick Douglasswas born a slave on a Maryland plantation. It washis good fortune to be sent to relatively liberalBaltimore as a young man, where he learned toread and write. Escaping to Massachusetts in1838, at age 21, Douglass was helped by abolition-ist editor William Lloyd Garrison and began tolecture for anti-slavery societies.

In 1845, he published his Narrative of the Lifeof Frederick Douglass, An American Slave (sec-ond version 1855, revised in 1892), the best andmost popular of many “slave narratives.” Oftendictated by illiterate blacks to white abolitionists

and used as propaganda, these slave narrativeswere well-known in the years just before the CivilWar. Douglass’s narrative is vivid and highly liter-ate, and it gives unique insights into the mentali-ty of slavery and the agony that institution causedamong blacks.

The slave narrative was the first black literaryprose genre in the United States. It helped blacksin the difficult task of establishing an African-American identity in white America, and it hascontinued to exert an important influence onblack fictional techniques and themes through-out the 20th century. The search for identity, an-ger against discrimination, and sense of living aninvisible, hunted, underground life unacknowl-edged by the white majority, have recurred in theworks of such 20th-century black American au-thors as Richard Wright, James Baldwin, RalphEllison, and Toni Morrison. ■


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he U.S. Civil War (1861-1865) between theindustrial North and the agricultural,slave-owning South was a watershed in

American history. The innocent optimism of theyoung democratic nation gave way, after the war,to a period of exhaustion. American idealismremained but was rechanneled. Before the war,idealists championed human rights, especiallythe abolition of slavery; after the war, Americansincreasingly idealized progress and the self-made man. This was the era of the million-aire manufacturer and the speculator, whenDarwinian evolution and the “survival of thefittest” seemed to sanction the sometimesunethical methods of the successful businesstycoon.

Business boomed after the war. War produc-tion had boosted industry in the North and givenit prestige and political clout. It also gave indus-trial leaders valuable experience in the manage-ment of men and machines. The enormous nat-ural resources — iron, coal, oil, gold, and silver— of the American land benefitted business.The new intercontinental rail system, inaugurat-ed in 1869, and the transcontinental telegraph,which began operating in 1861, gave industryaccess to materials, markets, and communica-tions. The constant influx of immigrants provideda seemingly endless supply of inexpensive laboras well. Over 23 million foreigners — German,Scandinavian, and Irish in the early years, andincreasingly Central and Southern Europeans

thereafter — flowed into the United Statesbetween 1860 and 1910. Chinese, Japanese, andFilipino contract laborers were imported byHawaiian plantation owners, railroad companies,and other American business interests on theWest Coast.

In 1860, most Americans lived on farms or insmall villages, but by 1919 half of the populationwas concentrated in about 12 cities. Problems of urbanization and industrialization appeared:poor and overcrowded housing, unsanitary con-ditions, low pay (called “wage slavery”), difficultworking conditions, and inadequate restraints onbusiness. Labor unions grew, and strikes broughtthe plight of working people to national aware-ness. Farmers, too, saw themselves strugglingagainst the “money interests” of the East, theso-called robber barons like J.P. Morgan and JohnD. Rockefeller. Their eastern banks tightly con-trolled mortgages and credit so vital to westerndevelopment and agriculture, while railroadcompanies charged high prices to transport farmproducts to the cities. The farmer graduallybecame an object of ridicule, lampooned as anunsophisticated “hick” or “rube.” The idealAmerican of the post-Civil War period becamethe millionaire. In 1860, there were fewer than100 millionaires; by 1875, there were more than1,000.

From 1860 to 1914, the United States was trans-formed from a small, young, agricultural ex-colony to a huge, modern, industrial nation. Adebtor nation in 1860, by 1914 it had become theworld’s wealthiest state, with a population thathad more than doubled, rising from 31 million in1860 to 76 million in 1900. By World War I, theUnited States had become a major world power.

As industrialization grew, so did alienation.Characteristic American novels of the period —Stephen Crane’s Maggie: A Girl of the Streets,Jack London’s Martin Eden, and later TheodoreDreiser’s An American Tragedy — depict thedamage of economic forces and alienation on





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the weak or vulnerable individual.Survivors, like Twain’s Huck Finn,Humphrey Vanderveyden in Lon-don’s The Sea-Wolf, and Dreiser’sopportunistic Sister Carrie, endurethrough inner strength involvingkindness, flexibility, and, above all,individuality.


amuel Clemens, better knownby his pen name of MarkTwain, grew up in the

Mississippi River frontier town ofHannibal, Missouri. ErnestHemingway’s famous statementthat all of American literaturecomes from one great book,Twain’s Adventures of HuckleberryFinn, indicates this author’s tower-ing place in the tradition. Ear-ly 19th-century American writerstended to be too flowery, senti-mental, or ostentatious — partiallybecause they were still trying toprove that they could write as ele-gantly as the English. Twain’s style,based on vigorous, realistic, col-loquial American speech, gaveAmerican writers a new apprecia-tion of their national voice. Twainwas the first major author to comefrom the interior of the country,and he captured its distinctive,humorous slang and iconoclasm.

For Twain and other Americanwriters of the late 19th century,realism was not merely a literarytechnique: It was a way of speakingtruth and exploding worn-out con-ventions. Thus it was profoundlyliberating and potentially at odds

with society. The most well-knownexample is Huck Finn, a poor boywho decides to follow the voice ofhis conscience and help a Negroslave escape to freedom, eventhough Huck thinks this means thathe will be damned to hell for break-ing the law.

Twain’s masterpiece, which ap-peared in 1884, is set in the Mis-sissippi River village of St. Peters-burg. The son of an alcoholic bum,Huck has just been adopted by arespectable family when his father,in a drunken stupor, threatens tokill him. Fearing for his life, Huckescapes, feigning his own death. Heis joined in his escape by anotheroutcast, the slave Jim, whoseowner, Miss Watson, is thinking ofselling him down the river to theharsher slavery of the deep South.Huck and Jim float on a raft downthe majestic Mississippi, but aresunk by a steamboat, separated,and later reunited. They go throughmany comical and dangerous shoreadventures that show the variety,generosity, and sometimes cruel ir-rationality of society. In the end, itis discovered that Miss Watson hadalready freed Jim, and a respec-table family is taking care of thewild boy Huck. But Huck growsimpatient with civilized society andplans to escape to “the territories”— Indian lands. The ending givesthe reader the counter-version ofthe classic American success myth:the open road leading to the pris-tine wilderness, away from themorally corrupting influences of“civilization.” James Fenimore




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Cooper’s novels, Walt Whitman’s hymns to theopen road, William Faulkner’s The Bear, and Jack Kerouac’s On the Road are other literaryexamples.

Huckleberry Finn has inspired countless liter-ary interpretations. Clearly, the novel is a story ofdeath, rebirth, and initiation. The escaped slave,Jim, becomes a father figure for Huck; in decid-ing to save Jim, Huck grows morally beyond thebounds of his slave-owning society. It is Jim’sadventures that initiate Huck into the com-plexities of human nature and give him moralcourage.

The novel also dramatizes Twain’s ideal of theharmonious community: “What you want, aboveall things, on a raft is for everybody to be satis-fied and feel right and kind toward the others.”Like Melville’s ship the Pequod, the raft sinks,and with it that special community. The pure,simple world of the raft is ultimately over-whelmed by progress — the steamboat — butthe mythic image of the river remains, as vast andchanging as life itself.

The unstable relationship between reality andillusion is Twain’s characteristic theme, the basisof much of his humor. The magnificent yetdeceptive, constantly changing river is also themain feature of his imaginative landscape. In Lifeon the Mississippi, Twain recalls his training as ayoung steamboat pilot when he writes: “I went towork now to learn the shape of the river; and of all the eluding and ungraspable objects thatever I tried to get mind or hands on, that was the chief.”

Twain’s moral sense as a writer echoes hispilot’s responsibility to steer the ship to safety.Samuel Clemens’s pen name, “Mark Twain,” isthe phrase Mississippi boatmen used to signifytwo fathoms (3.6 meters) of water, the depthneeded for a boat’s safe passage. Twain’s serious purpose combined with a rare genius forhumor and style keep Twain’s writing fresh andappealing.

FRONTIER HUMOR AND REALISMwo major literary currents in 19th-century

America merged in Mark Twain: popularfrontier humor and local color, or “region-

alism.” These related literary approaches beganin the 1830s — and had even earlier roots inlocal oral traditions. In ragged frontier villages,on riverboats, in mining camps, and around cow-boy campfires far from city amusem*nts, story-telling flourished. Exaggeration, tall tales, in-credible boasts, and comic workingmen heroesenlivened frontier literature. These humorousforms were found in many frontier regions — inthe “old Southwest” (the present-day inlandSouth and the lower Midwest), the mining fron-tier, and the Pacific Coast. Each region had itscolorful characters around whom stories collect-ed: Mike Fink, the Mississippi riverboat brawler;Casey Jones, the brave railroad engineer; JohnHenry, the steel-driving African-American; PaulBunyan, the giant logger whose fame was helpedalong by advertising; westerners Kit Carson, theIndian fighter, and Davy Crockett, the scout.Their exploits were exaggerated and enhanced inballads, newspapers, and magazines. Sometimes,as with Kit Carson and Davy Crockett, these sto-ries were strung together into book form.

Twain, Faulkner, and many other writers, par-ticularly southerners, are indebted to frontierpre-Civil War humorists such as Johnson Hooper,George Washington Harris, Augustus Longstreet,Thomas Bangs Thorpe, and Joseph Baldwin.From them and the American frontier folk camethe wild proliferation of comical new Americanwords: “absquatulate” (leave), “flabbergasted”(amazed), “rampagious” (unruly, rampaging).Local boasters, or “ring-tailed roarers,” whoasserted they were half horse, half alligator, alsounderscored the boundless energy of the fron-tier. They drew strength from natural hazardsthat would terrify lesser men. “I’m a regular tor-nado,” one swelled, “tough as hickory and long-winded as a nor’wester. I can strike a blow like a



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falling tree, and every lick makes agap in the crowd that lets in an acreof sunshine.”

LOCAL COLORISTSike frontier humor, local colorwriting has old roots but pro-

duced its best works longafter the Civil War. Obviously, manypre-war writers, from Henry DavidThoreau and Nathaniel Hawthorneto James Greenleaf Whittier andJames Russell Lowell, paint strik-ing portraits of specific Americanregions. What sets the coloristsapart is their self-conscious andexclusive interest in rendering agiven location, and their scrupu-lously factual, realistic technique.

Bret Harte (1836-1902) is remem-bered as the author of adventurousstories such as “The Luck ofRoaring Camp” and “The Outcastsof Poker Flat,” set along the west-ern mining frontier. As the firstgreat success in the local coloristschool, Harte for a brief time wasperhaps the best-known writer inAmerica — such was the appeal ofhis romantic version of the gun-slinging West. Outwardly realistic,he was one of the first to introducelow-life characters — cunninggamblers, gaudy prostitutes, anduncouth robbers — into seriousliterary works. He got away with this(as had Charles Dickens in England,who greatly admired Harte’s work)by showing in the end that theseseeming derelicts really had heartsof gold.

Several women writers are re-membered for their fine depictions

of New England: Mary WilkinsFreeman (1852-1930), HarrietBeecher Stowe (1811-1896), andespecially Sarah Orne Jewett(1849-1909). Jewett’s originality,exact observation of her Mainecharacters and setting, and sensi-tive style are best seen in her finestory “The White Heron” in Countryof the Pointed Firs (1896). HarrietBeecher Stowe’s local color works,especially The Pearl of Orr’s Island(1862), depicting humble Mainefishing communities, greatly influ-enced Jewett. Nineteenth-centurywomen writers formed their ownnetworks of moral support andinfluence, as their letters show.Women made up the major audi-ence for fiction, and many womenwrote popular novels, poems, andhumorous pieces.

All regions of the country cele-brated themselves in writing influ-enced by local color. Some of itincluded social protest, especiallytoward the end of the century,when social inequality and econom-ic hardship were particularly press-ing issues. Racial injustice andinequality between the sexes ap-pear in the works of southern writ-ers such as George WashingtonCable (1844-1925) and Kate Chopin(1851-1904), whose powerful nov-els set in Cajun/French Louisianatranscend the local color label.Cable’s The Grandissimes (1880)treats racial injustice with greatartistry; like Kate Chopin’s daringnovel The Awakening (1899), abouta woman’s doomed attempt to findher own identity through passion,




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it was ahead of its time. In The Awakening, a young marriedwoman with attractive children andan indulgent and successful hus-band gives up family, money,respectability, and eventually herlife in search of self-realization.Poetic evocations of ocean, birds(caged and freed), and musicendow this short novel with unusu-al intensity and complexity.

Often paired with The Awakeningis the fine story “The Yellow Wall-paper” (1892) by Charlotte PerkinsGilman (1860-1935). Both workswere forgotten for a time, butrediscovered by feminist literarycritics late in the 20th century. InGilman’s story, a condescendingdoctor drives his wife mad by con-fining her in a room to “cure” herof nervous exhaustion. The impris-oned wife projects her entrapmentonto the wallpaper, in the design ofwhich she sees imprisoned womencreeping behind bars.

MIDWESTERN REALISMor many years, the editor of

the important Atlantic Monthlymagazine, William Dean Howells

(1837-1920) published realisticlocal color writing by Bret Harte,Mark Twain, George WashingtonCable, and others. He was thechampion of realism, and his nov-els, such as A Modern Instance(1882), The Rise of Silas Lapham(1885), and A Hazard of NewFortunes (1890), carefully inter-weave social circ*mstances withthe emotions of ordinary middle-class Americans.

Love, ambition, idealism, andtemptation motivate his characters;Howells was acutely aware of themoral corruption of business ty-coons during the Gilded Age of the1870s. Howells’s The Rise of SilasLapham uses an ironic title to makethis point. Silas Lapham becamerich by cheating an old businesspartner; and his immoral act deeplydisturbed his family, though foryears Lapham could not see that he had acted improperly. In theend, Lapham is morally redeemed,choosing bankruptcy rather thanunethical success. Silas Lapham is,like Huckleberry Finn, an unsuc-cess story: Lapham’s business fallis his moral rise. Toward the end of his life, Howells, like Twain,became increasingly active in polit-ical causes, defending the rights oflabor union organizers and deplor-ing American colonialism in thePhilippines.


Henry James once wrote that art,especially literary art, “makes life,makes interest, makes impor-tance.” James’s fiction and criti-cism is the most highly conscious,sophisticated, and difficult of itsera. With Twain, James is generallyranked as the greatest Americannovelist of the second half of the19th century.

James is noted for his “interna-tional theme” — that is, the com-plex relationships between naïveAmericans and cosmopolitan Euro-peans. What his biographer Leon



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Edel calls James’s first, or “interna-tional,” phase encompassed suchworks as Transatlantic Sketches(travel pieces, 1875), The American(1877), Daisy Miller (1879), and amasterpiece, The Portrait of a Lady(1881). In The American, for exam-ple, Christopher Newman, a naïvebut intelligent and idealistic self-made millionaire industrialist, goesto Europe seeking a bride. Whenher family rejects him because helacks an aristocratic background, hehas a chance to revenge himself; indeciding not to, he demonstrateshis moral superiority.

ames’s second period wasexperimental. He exploitednew subject matters — femi-

nism and social reform in TheBostonians (1886) and politicalintrigue in The Princess Casa-massima (1885). He also attemptedto write for the theater, but failedembarrassingly when his play GuyDomville (1895) was booed on thefirst night.

In his third, or “major,” phaseJames returned to internationalsubjects, but treated them withincreasing sophistication and psy-chological penetration. The com-plex and almost mythical The Wingsof the Dove (1902), The Ambassa-dors (1903) (which James felt washis best novel), and The GoldenBowl (1904) date from this majorperiod. If the main theme of Twain’swork is appearance and reality,James’s constant concern is per-ception. In James, only self-aware-ness and clear perception of othersyields wisdom and self-sacrificing

love. As James develops, his novelsbecome more psychological andless concerned with externalevents. In James’s later works, themost important events are all psy-chological — usually moments ofintense illumination that showcharacters their previous blind-ness. For example, in The Ambassa-dors, the idealistic, aging LambertStrether uncovers a secret loveaffair and, in doing so, discovers anew complexity to his inner life.His rigid, upright, morality is hu-manized and enlarged as he discov-ers a capacity to accept those whohave sinned.

Edith Wharton (1862-1937)Like James, Edith Wharton grew

up partly in Europe and eventuallymade her home there. She wasdescended from a wealthy, estab-lished family in New York societyand saw firsthand the decline ofthis cultivated group and, in herview, the rise of boorish, nouveau-riche business families. This socialtransformation is the backgroundof many of her novels.

Like James, Wharton contrastsAmericans and Europeans. Thecore of her concern is the gulf sep-arating social reality and the innerself. Often a sensitive characterfeels trapped by unfeeling char-acters or social forces. EdithWharton had personally experi-enced such entrapment, as a youngwriter suffering a long nervousbreakdown partly due to the con-flict in roles between writer andwife.




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Wharton’s best novels includeThe House of Mirth (1905), TheCustom of the Country (1913),Summer (1917), The Age of In-nocence (1920), and the beautifullycrafted novella Ethan Frome (1911).


harton’s and James’s dis-sections of hidden sexual

and financial motivations atwork in society link them with writ-ers who seem superficially quitedifferent: Stephen Crane, JackLondon, Frank Norris, TheodoreDreiser, and Upton Sinclair. Like thecosmopolitan novelists, but muchmore explicitly, these naturalistsused realism to relate the individualto society. Often they exposedsocial problems and were influ-enced by Darwinian thought and therelated philosophical doctrine ofdeterminism, which views individu-als as the helpless pawns of eco-nomic and social forces beyondtheir control.

Naturalism is essentially a literaryexpression of determinism. Asso-ciated with bleak, realistic depic-tions of lower-class life, determin-ism denies religion as a motivatingforce in the world and instead per-ceives the universe as a machine.Eighteenth-century Enlightenmentthinkers had also imagined theworld as a machine, but as a perfectone, invented by God and tendingtoward progress and human better-ment. Naturalists imagined society,instead, as a blind machine, godlessand out of control.

The 19th-century American histo-rian Henry Adams constructed anelaborate theory of history involv-ing the idea of the dynamo, ormachine force, and entropy, ordecay of force. Instead of progress,Adams sees inevitable decline inhuman society.

Stephen Crane, the son of a cler-gyman, put the loss of God mostsuccinctly:

A man said to the universe: “Sir, I exist!”“However,” replied the universe,“The fact has not created in me A sense of obligation.”

Like Romanticism, naturalismfirst appeared in Europe. It is usu-ally traced to the works of Honoréde Balzac in the 1840s and seen as aFrench literary movement associat-ed with Gustave Flaubert, Edmondand Jules Goncourt, Émile Zola, andGuy de Maupassant. It daringlyopened up the seamy underside ofsociety and such topics as divorce,sex, adultery, poverty, and crime.

Naturalism flourished as Ameri-cans became urbanized and awareof the importance of large econom-ic and social forces. By 1890, thefrontier was declared officiallyclosed. Most Americans resided intowns, and business dominatedeven remote farmsteads.

Stephen Crane (1871-1900)Stephen Crane, born in New

Jersey, had roots going back toRevolutionary War soldiers, clergy-men, sheriffs, judges, and farmers




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who had lived a century earlier. Primarily a jour-nalist who also wrote fiction, essays, poetry, andplays, Crane saw life at its rawest, in slums andon battlefields. His short stories — in particu-lar, “The Open Boat,” “The Blue Hotel,” and “TheBride Comes to Yellow Sky” — exemplified thatliterary form. His haunting Civil War novel, TheRed Badge of Courage, was published to greatacclaim in 1895, but he barely had time to bask inthe attention before he died, at 29, havingneglected his health. He was virtually forgottenduring the first two decades of the 20th century,but was resurrected through a laudatory biogra-phy by Thomas Beer in 1923. He has enjoyed con-tinued success ever since — as a champion ofthe common man, a realist, and a symbolist.

rane’s Maggie: A Girl of the Streets (1893)is one of the best, if not the earliest, nat-uralistic American novels. It is the har-

rowing story of a poor, sensitive young girl whoseuneducated, alcoholic parents utterly fail her. Inlove and eager to escape her violent home life,she allows herself to be seduced into living witha young man, who soon deserts her. When herself-righteous mother rejects her, Maggie be-comes a prostitute to survive, but soon commitssuicide out of despair. Crane’s earthy subjectmatter and his objective, scientific style, devoidof moralizing, earmark Maggie as a naturalistwork.

Jack London (1876-1916)A poor, self-taught worker from California, the

naturalist Jack London was catapulted frompoverty to fame by his first collection of stories,The Son of the Wolf (1900), set largely in theKlondike region of Alaska and the CanadianYukon. Other of his best-sellers, including TheCall of the Wild (1903) and The Sea-Wolf (1904),made him the highest paid writer in the UnitedStates of his time.

The autobiographical novel Martin Eden (1909)depicts the inner stresses of the American

dream as London experienced them during hismeteoric rise from obscure poverty to wealthand fame. Eden, an impoverished but intelligentand hardworking sailor and laborer, is deter-mined to become a writer. Eventually, his writingmakes him rich and well-known, but Eden real-izes that the woman he loves cares only for hismoney and fame. His despair over her inability to love causes him to lose faith in human nature.He also suffers from class alienation, for he nolonger belongs to the working class, while herejects the materialistic values of the wealthywhom he worked so hard to join. He sails for theSouth Pacific and commits suicide by jumpinginto the sea. Like many of the best novels of its time, Martin Eden is an unsuccess story. Itlooks ahead to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The GreatGatsby in its revelation of despair amid greatwealth.

Theodore Dreiser (1871-1945)The 1925 work An American Tragedy by

Theodore Dreiser, like London’s Martin Eden,explores the dangers of the American dream. Thenovel relates, in great detail, the life of ClydeGriffiths, a boy of weak will and little self-aware-ness. He grows up in great poverty in a family ofwandering evangelists, but dreams of wealth andthe love of beautiful women. A rich uncle employshim in his factory. When his girlfriend Robertabecomes pregnant, she demands that he marryher. Meanwhile, Clyde has fallen in love with awealthy society girl who represents success,money, and social acceptance. Clyde carefullyplans to drown Roberta on a boat trip, but at thelast minute he begins to change his mind; howev-er, she accidentally falls out of the boat. Clyde, a good swimmer, does not save her, and shedrowns. As Clyde is brought to justice, Dreiserreplays his story in reverse, masterfully using thevantage points of prosecuting and defense attor-neys to analyze each step and motive that led themild-mannered Clyde, with a highly religious



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background and good family con-nections, to commit murder.

espite his awkward style,Dreiser, in An AmericanTragedy, displays crushing

authority. Its precise details buildup an overwhelming sense of tragicinevitability. The novel is a scathingportrait of the American successmyth gone sour, but it is also a uni-versal story about the stresses ofurbanization, modernization, andalienation. Within it roam the ro-mantic and dangerous fantasies ofthe dispossessed.

An American Tragedy is a reflec-tion of the dissatisfaction, envy, anddespair that afflicted many poorand working people in America’scompetitive, success-driven soci-ety. As American industrial powersoared, the glittering lives of thewealthy in newspapers and pho-tographs sharply contrasted withthe drab lives of ordinary farmersand city workers. The media fannedrising expectations and unreason-able desires. Such problems, com-mon to modernizing nations, gaverise to muckraking journalism —penetrating investigative reportingthat documented social problemsand provided an important impetusto social reform.

The great tradition of Americaninvestigative journalism had itsbeginning in this period, duringwhich national magazines such asMcClures and Collier’s publishedIda M. Tarbell’s History of theStandard Oil Company (1904),Lincoln Steffens’s The Shame of theCities (1904), and other hard-hit-

ting exposés. Muckraking novelsused eye-catching journalistic tech-niques to depict harsh working con-ditions and oppression. PopulistFrank Norris’s The Octopus (1901)exposed big railroad companies,while socialist Upton Sinclair’s TheJungle (1906) painted the squalorof the Chicago meat-packing hous-es. Jack London’s dystopia The IronHeel (1908) anticipates GeorgeOrwell’s 1984 in predicting a classwar and the takeover of the government.

Another more artistic responsewas the realistic portrait, or groupof portraits, of ordinary charactersand their frustrated inner lives. Thecollection of stories Main-Travelled Roads (1891), by WilliamDean Howells’s protégé, HamlinGarland (1860-1940), is a portraitgallery of ordinary people. It shock-ingly depicted the poverty of mid-western farmers who were de-manding agricultural reforms. Thetitle suggests the many trails west-ward that the hardy pioneers fol-lowed and the dusty main streets ofthe villages they settled.

Close to Garland’s Main-Travelled Roads is Winesburg, Ohio,by Sherwood Anderson (1876-1941), begun in 1916. This is a loosecollection of stories about resi-dents of the fictitious town ofWinesburg seen through the eyesof a naïve young newspaper re-porter, George Willard, who eventu-ally leaves to seek his fortune in thecity. Like Main-Travelled Roads andother naturalistic works of the peri-od, Winesburg, Ohio emphasizes




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the quiet poverty, loneliness, and despair insmall-town America.

THE “CHICAGO SCHOOL” OF POETRYhree Midwestern poets who grew up in

Illinois and shared the midwestern concernwith ordinary people are Carl Sandburg,

Vachel Lindsay, and Edgar Lee Masters. Theirpoetry often concerns obscure individuals; theydeveloped techniques — realism, dramatic ren-derings — that reached out to a larger reader-ship. They are part of the Midwestern, or ChicagoSchool, that arose before World War I to chal-lenge the East Coast literary establishment. The“Chicago Renaissance” was a watershed inAmerican culture: It demonstrated that Amer-ica’s interior had matured.

Edgar Lee Masters (1868-1950)By the turn of the century, Chicago had become

a great city, home of innovative architecture andcosmopolitan art collections. Chicago was alsothe home of Harriet Monroe’s Poetry, the mostimportant literary magazine of the day.

Among the intriguing contemporary poets thejournal printed was Edgar Lee Masters, author of the daring Spoon River Anthology (1915), with its new “unpoetic” colloquial style, frankpresentation of sex, critical view of village life,and intensely imagined inner lives of ordinarypeople.

Spoon River Anthology is a collection of por-traits presented as colloquial epitaphs (wordsfound inscribed on gravestones) summing up thelives of individual villagers as if in their ownwords. It presents a panorama of a country vil-lage through its cemetery: 250 people buriedthere speak, revealing their deepest secrets.Many of the people are related; members ofabout 20 families speak of their failures anddreams in free-verse monologues that are sur-prisingly modern.

Carl Sandburg (1878-1967)A friend once said, “Trying to write briefly

about Carl Sandburg is like trying to picture theGrand Canyon in one black-and-white snapshot.”Poet, historian, biographer, novelist, musician,essayist — Sandburg, son of a railroad black-smith, was all of these and more. A journalist byprofession, he wrote a massive biography ofAbraham Lincoln that is one of the classic worksof the 20th century.

To many, Sandburg was a latter-day WaltWhitman, writing expansive, evocative urban andpatriotic poems and simple, childlike rhymes andballads. He traveled about reciting and recordinghis poetry, in a lilting, mellifluously toned voicethat was a kind of singing. At heart he was totallyunassuming, notwithstanding his national fame.What he wanted from life, he once said, was “tobe out of jail...to eat regular..to get what I writeprinted,...a little love at home and a little niceaffection hither and yon over the American land-scape,...(and) to sing every day.”

A fine example of his themes and hisWhitmanesque style is the poem “Chicago”(1914):

Hog Butcher for the World,Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;Stormy, husky, brawling, City of the Big Shoulders...

Vachel Lindsay (1879-1931)Vachel Lindsay was a celebrant of small-town

midwestern populism and creator of strong,rhythmic poetry designed to be declaimed aloud.His work forms a curious link between the popu-lar, or folk, forms of poetry, such as Christiangospel songs and vaudeville (popular theater) onthe one hand, and advanced modernist poeticson the other. An extremely popular public readerin his day, Lindsay’s readings prefigure “Beat”



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poetry readings of the post-WorldWar II era that were accompaniedby jazz.

To popularize poetry, Lindsay de-veloped what he called a “highervaudeville,” using music and strongrhythm. Racist by today’s standards,his famous poem “The Congo”(1914) celebrates the history ofAfricans by mingling jazz, poetry,music, and chanting. At the sametime, he immortalized such figureson the American landscape asAbraham Lincoln (“Abraham Lin-coln Walks at Midnight”) and JohnChapman (“Johnny Appleseed”),often blending facts with myth.

Edwin Arlington Robinson(1869-1935)

Edwin Arlington Robinson is thebest U.S. poet of the late 19th cen-tury. Like Edgar Lee Masters, he isknown for short, ironic characterstudies of ordinary individuals. Un-like Masters, Robinson uses tradi-tional metrics. Robinson’s imagi-nary Tilbury Town, like Masters’sSpoon River, contains lives of quietdesperation.

ome of the best known ofRobinson’s dramatic mono-logues are “Luke Havergal”

(1896), about a forsaken lover;“Miniver Cheevy” (1910), a portraitof a romantic dreamer; and “Rich-ard Cory” (1896), a somber portraitof a wealthy man who commitssuicide:

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,

We people on the pavement looked at him:

He was a gentleman from sole to crown,

Clean favored, and imperially slim,

And he was always quietly arrayed,

And he was always human when he talked;

But still he fluttered pulses when he said,

“Good-morning,” and he glit-tered when he walked.

And he was rich — yes, richer than a king —

And admirably schooled in every grace:

In fine, we thought that he was everything

To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,

And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;

And Richard Cory, one calm sum-mer night,

Went home and put a bullet through his head.

“Richard Cory” takes its placealongside Martin Eden, An Amer-ican Tragedy, and The Great Gatsbyas a powerful warning against theoverblown success myth that hadcome to plague Americans in theera of the millionaire.



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ovelists Ellen Glasgow(1873-1945) and WillaCather (1873-1947) explored

women’s lives, placed in brilliantlyevoked regional settings. Neithernovelist set out to address specifi-cally female issues; their earlyworks usually treat male protago-nists, and only as they gained artis-tic confidence and maturity did theyturn to depictions of women’s lives.Glasgow and Cather can only beregarded as “women writers” in adescriptive sense, for their worksresist categorization.

Glasgow was from Richmond,Virginia, the old capital of theSouthern Confederacy. Her realis-tic novels examine the transforma-tion of the South from a rural to anindustrial economy. Mature workssuch as Virginia (1912) focus onthe southern experience, whilelater novels like Barren Ground(1925) — acknowledged as herbest — dramatize gifted womenattempting to surmount the claus-trophobic, traditional southerncode of domesticity, piety, anddependence for women.

Cather, another Virginian, grewup on the Nebraska prairie amongpioneering immigrants — laterimmortalized in O Pioneers! (1913),My Antonia (1918), and her well-known story “Neighbour Rosicky”(1928). During her lifetime shebecame increasingly alienated fromthe materialism of modern life andwrote of alternative visions in theAmerican Southwest and in the

past. Death Comes for theArchbishop (1927) evokes the ide-alism of two 16th-century priestsestablishing the Catholic Church inthe New Mexican desert. Cather’sworks commemorate important as-pects of the American experienceoutside the literary mainstream —pioneering, the establishment ofreligion, and women’s independentlives.


he literary achievement ofAfrican-Americans was one ofthe most striking literary de-

velopments of the post-Civil Warera. In the writings of Booker T.Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, JamesWeldon Johnson, Charles WaddellChesnutt, Paul Laurence Dunbar,and others, the roots of blackAmerican writing took hold, nota-bly in the forms of autobiography,protest literature, sermons, poetry,and song.

Booker T. Washington (1856-1915)

Booker T. Washington, educatorand the most prominent blackleader of his day, grew up as a slavein Franklin County, Virginia, born toa white slave-holding father and aslave mother. His fine, simple auto-biography, Up From Slavery (1901),recounts his successful struggle tobetter himself. He became re-nowned for his efforts to improvethe lives of African-Americans; his policy of accommodation withwhites — an attempt to involve the





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recently freed black American in the mainstreamof American society — was outlined in hisfamous Atlanta Exposition Address (1895).

W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963)Born in New England and educated at Harvard

University and the University of Berlin (Ger-many), W.E.B. Du Bois authored “Of Mr. Booker T.Washington and Others,” an essay later collectedin his landmark book The Souls of Black Folk(1903). Du Bois carefully demonstrates thatdespite his many accomplishments, Washingtonhad, in effect, accepted segregation — that is,the unequal and separate treatment of blackAmericans — and that segregation would in-evitably lead to inferiority, particularly in edu-cation. Du Bois, a founder of the NationalAssociation for the Advancement of ColoredPeople (NAACP), also wrote sensitive apprecia-tions of the African-American traditions and cul-ture; his work helped black intellectuals redis-cover their rich folk literature and music.

James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938)

Like Du Bois, the poet James Weldon Johnsonfound inspiration in African-American spirituals.

His poem “O Black and Unknown Bards” (1917)asks:

Heart of what slave poured out such melodyAs “Steal Away to Jesus?” On its strainsHis spirit must have nightly floated free,Though still about his hands he felt his chains.

Of mixed white and black ancestry, Johnsonexplored the complex issue of race in his fiction-al Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912),about a mixed-race man who “passes” (is ac-cepted) for white. The book effectively conveysthe black American’s concern with issues of iden-tity in America.

Charles Waddell Chesnutt (1858-1932)Charles Waddell Chesnutt, author of two col-

lections of stories, The Conjure Woman (1899)and The Wife of His Youth (1899), several novels,including The Marrow of Tradition (1901), and abiography of Frederick Douglass, was ahead ofhis time. His stories dwell on racial themes, butavoid predictable endings and generalized senti-ment; his characters are distinct individuals withcomplex attitudes about many things, includingrace. Chesnutt often shows the strength of theblack community and affirms ethical values andracial solidarity. ■


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any historians have characterized theperiod between the two world wars asthe United States’ traumatic “coming

of age,” despite the fact that U.S. direct involve-ment was relatively brief (1917-1918) and itscasualties many fewer than those of its Europeanallies and foes. John Dos Passos expressedAmerica’s postwar disillusionment in the novelThree Soldiers (1921), when he noted that civi-lization was a “vast edifice of sham, and the war,instead of its crumbling, was its fullest and mostultimate expression.” Shocked and permanentlychanged, Americans returned to their homelandbut could never regain their innocence.

Nor could soldiers from rural America easilyreturn to their roots. After experiencing theworld, many now yearned for a modern, urbanlife. New farm machines such as planters, har-vesters, and binders had drastically reduced thedemand for farm jobs; yet despite their in-creased productivity, farmers were poor. Cropprices, like urban workers’ wages, depended onunrestrained market forces heavily influenced bybusiness interests: Government subsidies forfarmers and effective workers’ unions had notyet become established. “The chief business ofthe American people is business,” PresidentCalvin Coolidge proclaimed in 1925, and mostagreed.

In the postwar “Big Boom,” business flour-ished, and the successful prospered beyond

their wildest dreams. For the first time, manyAmericans enrolled in higher education — in the1920s college enrollment doubled. The middle-class prospered; Americans began to enjoy theworld’s highest national average income in thisera, and many people purchased the ultimatestatus symbol — an automobile. The typicalurban American home glowed with electric lightsand boasted a radio that connected the housewith the outside world, and perhaps a telephone,a camera, a typewriter, or a sewing machine. Likethe businessman protagonist of Sinclair Lewis’snovel Babbitt (1922), the average Americanapproved of these machines because they weremodern and because most were American inven-tions and American-made.

Americans of the “Roaring Twenties” fell inlove with other modern entertainments. Mostpeople went to the movies once a week. AlthoughProhibition — a nationwide ban on the produc-tion, transport, and sale of alcohol institutedthrough the 18th Amendment to the U.S.Constitution — began in 1919, underground“speak-easies” and nightclubs proliferated, fea-turing jazz music, co*cktails, and daring modes ofdress and dance. Dancing, moviegoing, automo-bile touring, and radio were national crazes.American women, in particular, felt liberated.Many had left farms and villages for homefrontduty in American cities during World War I, andhad become resolutely modern. They cut theirhair short (“bobbed”), wore short “flapper”dresses, and gloried in the right to vote assuredby the 19th Amendment to the Constitution,passed in 1920. They boldly spoke their mind andtook public roles in society.

Western youths were rebelling, angry and dis-illusioned with the savage war, the older genera-tion they held responsible, and difficult postwareconomic conditions that, ironically, allowedAmericans with dollars — like writers F. ScottFitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein,and Ezra Pound — to live abroad handsomely on






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very little money. Intellectual currents, particu-larly Freudian psychology and to a lesser extentMarxism (like the earlier Darwinian theory ofevolution), implied a “godless” world view andcontributed to the breakdown of traditional val-ues. Americans abroad absorbed these views andbrought them back to the United States wherethey took root, firing the imagination of youngwriters and artists. William Faulkner, for exam-ple, a 20th-century American novelist, employedFreudian elements in all his works, as did virtual-ly all serious American fiction writers after WorldWar I.

Despite outward gaiety, modernity, and un-paralleled material prosperity, young Americansof the 1920s were “the lost generation” — sonamed by literary portraitist Gertrude Stein.Without a stable, traditional structure of values,the individual lost a sense of identity. The secure,supportive family life; the familiar, settled com-munity; the natural and eternal rhythms of naturethat guide the planting and harvesting on a farm;the sustaining sense of patriotism; moral valuesinculcated by religious beliefs and observations— all seemed undermined by World War I and itsaftermath.

Numerous novels, notably Hemingway’s TheSun Also Rises (1926) and Fitzgerald’s This Sideof Paradise (1920), evoke the extravagance anddisillusionment of the lost generation. In T.S.Eliot’s influential long poem The Waste Land(1922), Western civilization is symbolized by ableak desert in desperate need of rain (spiritualrenewal).

The world depression of the 1930s affectedmost of the population of the United States.Workers lost their jobs, and factories shut down;businesses and banks failed; farmers, unable toharvest, transport, or sell their crops, could notpay their debts and lost their farms. Midwesterndroughts turned the “breadbasket” of Americainto a dust bowl. Many farmers left the Midwestfor California in search of jobs, as vividly

described in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes ofWrath (1939). At the peak of the Depression,one-third of all Americans were out of work.Soup kitchens, shanty towns, and armies ofhobos — unemployed men illegally riding freighttrains — became part of national life. Many sawthe Depression as a punishment for sins ofexcessive materialism and loose living. The duststorms that blackened the midwestern sky, theybelieved, constituted an Old Testament judg-ment: the “whirlwind by day and the darkness atnoon.”

The Depression turned the world upsidedown. The United States had preached a gospelof business in the 1920s; now, many Americanssupported a more active role for government inthe New Deal programs of President Franklin D.Roosevelt. Federal money created jobs in publicworks, conservation, and rural electrification.Artists and intellectuals were paid to createmurals and state handbooks. These remedieshelped, but only the industrial build-up of WorldWar II renewed prosperity. After Japan attackedthe United States at Pearl Harbor on December7, 1941, disused shipyards and factories came tobustling life mass-producing ships, airplanes,jeeps, and supplies. War production and experi-mentation led to new technologies, including thenuclear bomb. Witnessing the first experimentalnuclear blast, Robert Oppenheimer, leader of an international team of nuclear scientists,prophetically quoted a Hindu poem: “I ambecome Death, the shatterer of worlds.”

MODERNISMhe large cultural wave of Modernism,

which gradually emerged in Europe and theUnited States in the early years of the 20th

century, expressed a sense of modern lifethrough art as a sharp break from the past, aswell as from Western civilization’s classical tradi-tions. Modern life seemed radically differentfrom traditional life — more scientific, faster,



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more technological, and more mechanized.Modernism embraced these changes.

In literature, Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) de-veloped an analogue to modern art. A resident ofParis and an art collector (she and her brotherLeo purchased works of the artists Paul Cézanne,Paul Gauguin, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Pablo Pi-casso, and many others), Stein once explainedthat she and Picasso were doing the same thing,he in art and she in writing. Using simple, con-crete words as counters, she developed anabstract, experimental prose poetry. The child-like quality of Stein’s simple vocabulary recallsthe bright, primary colors of modern art, whileher repetitions echo the repeated shapes ofabstract visual compositions. By dislocatinggrammar and punctuation, she achieved new“abstract” meanings as in her influential collec-tion Tender Buttons (1914), which views objectsfrom different angles, as in a cubist painting:

A Table A Table means does it not my dear it means a whole steadiness. Is it likely that a change. A table means more than a glass even a looking glass is tall.

Meaning, in Stein’s work, was often subordi-nated to technique, just as subject was lessimportant than shape in abstract visual art.Subject and technique became inseparable inboth the visual and literary art of the period. Theidea of form as the equivalent of content, a cor-nerstone of post-World War II art and literature,crystallized in this period.

Technological innovation in the world of facto-ries and machines inspired new attentiveness totechnique in the arts. To take one example: Light,particularly electrical light, fascinated modernartists and writers. Posters and advertisem*ntsof the period are full of images of floodlitskyscrapers and light rays shooting out fromautomobile headlights, moviehouses, and watch-

towers to illumine a forbidding outer darknesssuggesting ignorance and old-fashioned tradition.

Photography began to assume the status of afine art allied with the latest scientific develop-ments. The photographer Alfred Stieglitz openeda salon in New York City, and by 1908 he wasshowing the latest European works, includingpieces by Picasso and other European friends ofGertrude Stein. Stieglitz’s salon influenced nu-merous writers and artists, including WilliamCarlos Williams, who was one of the most influ-ential American poets of the 20th century.Williams cultivated a photographic clarity ofimage; his aesthetic dictum was “no ideas but inthings.”

ision and viewpoint became an essentialaspect of the modernist novel as well. No

longer was it sufficient to write a straight-forward third-person narrative or (worse yet)use a pointlessly intrusive narrator. The way thestory was told became as important as the storyitself.

Henry James, William Faulkner, and manyother American writers experimented with fic-tional points of view (some are still doing so).James often restricted the information in thenovel to what a single character would haveknown. Faulkner’s novel The Sound and The Fury(1929) breaks up the narrative into four sections,each giving the viewpoint of a different character(including a mentally retarded boy).

To analyze such modernist novels and poetry, aschool of “New Criticism” arose in the UnitedStates, with a new critical vocabulary. New Criticshunted the “epiphany” (moment in which a char-acter suddenly sees the transcendent truth of asituation, a term derived from a holy saint’sappearance to mortals); they “examined” and“clarified” a work, hoping to “shed light” upon itthrough their “insights.”



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POETRY 1914-1945: EXPERIMENTS IN FORMEzra Pound (1885-1972)

Ezra Pound was one of the mostinfluential American poets of thiscentury. From 1908 to 1920, heresided in London where he asso-ciated with many writers, includingWilliam Butler Yeats, for whom heworked as a secretary, and T.S.Eliot, whose Waste Land he drasti-cally edited and improved. He was alink between the United States andBritain, acting as contributing edi-tor to Harriet Monroe’s importantChicago magazine Poetry andspearheading the new school ofpoetry known as Imagism, whichadvocated a clear, highly visual pre-sentation. After Imagism, he cham-pioned various poetic approaches.He eventually moved to Italy, wherehe became caught up in ItalianFascism.

ound furthered Imagism inletters, essays, and an an-

thology. In a letter to Monroein 1915, he argues for a modern-sounding, visual poetry that avoids“clichés and set phrases.” In “AFew Don’ts of an Imagiste” (1913),he defined “image” as somethingthat “presents an intellectual andemotional complex in an instant oftime.” Pound’s 1914 anthology of 10poets, Des Imagistes, offeredexamples of Imagist poetry by out-standing poets, including WilliamCarlos Williams, H.D. (HildaDoolittle), and Amy Lowell.

Pound’s interests and readingwere universal. His adaptations andbrilliant, if sometimes flawed,

translations introduced new liter-ary possibilities from many culturesto modern writers. His life-workwas The Cantos, which he wrote andpublished until his death. They con-tain brilliant passages, but theirallusions to works of literature andart from many eras and culturesmake them difficult. Pound’s poetryis best known for its clear, visualimages, fresh rhythms, and muscu-lar, intelligent, unusual lines, suchas, in Canto LXXXI, “The ant’s a cen-taur in his dragon world,” or inpoems inspired by Japanese haiku,such as “In a Station of the Metro”(1916):

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;

Petals on a wet, black bough.

T.S. Eliot (1888-1965)Thomas Stearns Eliot was born in

St. Louis, Missouri, to a well-to-do family with roots in the north-eastern United States. He receivedthe best education of any majorAmerican writer of his generationat Harvard College, the Sorbonne,and Merton College of Oxford Uni-versity. He studied Sanskrit andOriental philosophy, which influ-enced his poetry. Like his friendPound, he went to England earlyand became a towering figure in theliterary world there. One of themost respected poets of his day, hismodernist, seemingly illogical or ab-stract iconoclastic poetry had re-volutionary impact. He also wroteinfluential essays and dramas, andchampioned the importance of lit-



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erary and social traditions for themodern poet.

As a critic, Eliot is best remem-bered for his formulation of the“objective correlative,” which hedescribed, in The Sacred Wood, as ameans of expressing emotionthrough “a set of objects, a situa-tion, a chain of events” that wouldbe the “formula” of that particularemotion. Poems such as “The LoveSong of J. Alfred Prufrock” (1915)embody this approach, when theineffectual, elderly Prufrock thinksto himself that he has “measuredout his life in coffee spoons,”using coffee spoons to reflect ahumdrum existence and a wastedlifetime.

The famous beginning of Eliot’s“Prufrock” invites the reader intotawdry alleys that, like modern life,offer no answers to the questionslife poses:

Let us go then, you and I,When the evening is spread

out against the skyLike a patient etherized upon

a table;Let us go, through certain half-

deserted streets,The muttering retreatsOf restless nights in one-night

cheap hotelsAnd sawdust restaurants with

oyster-shells:Streets that follow like a

tedious argumentOf insidious intentTo lead you to an overwhelm-

ing question...Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”

Let us go and make our visit.

Similar imagery pervades TheWaste Land (1922), which echoesDante’s Inferno to evoke London’sthronged streets around the time ofWorld War I:

Unreal City,Under the brown fog of a winter

dawn,A crowd flowed over London

Bridge, so manyI had not thought death had

undone so many... (I, 60-63)

The Waste Land’s vision is ulti-mately apocalyptic and worldwide:

Cracks and reforms and bursts in the violet air

Falling towersJerusalem, Athens, AlexandriaVienna LondonUnreal (V, 373-377)

liot’s other major poemsinclude “Gerontion” (1920),

which uses an elderly man to symbolize the decrepitude ofWestern society; “The Hollow Men”(1925), a moving dirge for the deathof the spirit of contemporary hu-manity; Ash-Wednesday (1930), inwhich he turns explicitly toward theChurch of England for meaning inhuman life; and Four Quartets(1943), a complex, highly subjec-tive, experimental meditation ontranscendent subjects such astime, the nature of self, and spiritu-al awareness. His poetry, especially



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his daring, innovative early work,has influenced generations.

Robert Frost (1874-1963)Robert Lee Frost was born in

California but raised on a farm inthe northeastern United Statesuntil the age of 10. Like Eliot andPound, he went to England, attract-ed by new movements in poetrythere. A charismatic public reader,he was renowned for his tours. Heread an original work at the inaugu-ration of President John F. Kennedyin 1961 that helped spark a nationalinterest in poetry. His popularity iseasy to explain: He wrote of tradi-tional farm life, appealing to a nos-talgia for the old ways. His subjectsare universal — apple picking,stone walls, fences, country roads.Frost’s approach was lucid andaccessible: He rarely employed pe-dantic allusions or ellipses. His fre-quent use of rhyme also appealedto the general audience.

Frost’s work is often deceptivelysimple. Many poems suggest adeeper meaning. For example, aquiet snowy evening by an almosthypnotic rhyme scheme may sug-gest the not entirely unwelcomeapproach of death. From: “Stoppingby Woods on a Snowy Evening”(1923):

Whose woods these are I think I know.

His house is in the village, though;

He will not see me stopping here

To watch his woods fill up with


My little horse must think it queer

To stop without a farmhouse near

Between the woods and frozen lake

The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake

To ask if there is some mistake.The only other sound’s the

sweepOf easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep,And miles to go before I sleep,And miles to go before I sleep.

Wallace Stevens (1879-1955)Born in Pennsylvania, Wallace

Stevens was educated at HarvardCollege and New York UniversityLaw School. He practiced law inNew York City from 1904 to 1916, a time of great artistic and poeticactivity there. On moving to Hart-ford, Connecticut, to become aninsurance executive in 1916, hecontinued writing poetry. His life isremarkable for its compartmental-ization: His associates in the insur-ance company did not know that hewas a major poet. In private he con-tinued to develop extremely com-plex ideas of aesthetic orderthroughout his life in aptly namedbooks such as Harmonium (en-larged edition 1931), Ideas of Order


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(1935), and Parts of a World (1942). Some of hisbest known poems are “Sunday Morning,” “PeterQuince at the Clavier,” “The Emperor of Ice-Cream,” “Thirteen Ways of Looking at aBlackbird,” and “The Idea of Order at Key West.”

Stevens’s poetry dwells upon themes of theimagination, the necessity for aesthetic form andthe belief that the order of art corresponds withan order in nature. His vocabulary is rich and var-ious: He paints lush tropical scenes but alsomanages dry, humorous, and ironic vignettes.

Some of his poems draw upon popular culture,while others poke fun at sophisticated society orsoar into an intellectual heaven. He is known forhis exuberant word play: “Soon, with a noise liketambourines / Came her attendant Byzantines.”

Stevens’s work is full of surprising insights.Sometimes he plays tricks on the reader, as in“Disillusionment of Ten O’Clock” (1931):

The houses are hauntedBy white night-gowns.None are green,Or purple with green rings,Or green with yellow rings,Or yellow with blue rings.None of them are strange,With socks of laceAnd beaded ceintures.People are not goingTo dream of baboons and periwinkles.Only, here and there, an old sailor,Drunk and asleep in his boots,Catches tigersIn red weather.

his poem seems to complain aboutunimaginative lives (plain white night-gowns), but actually conjures up vivid

images in the reader’s mind. At the end a drunk-en sailor, oblivious to the proprieties, does“catch tigers” — at least in his dream. The poemshows that the human imagination — of reader

or sailor — will always find a creative outlet.

William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)William Carlos Williams was a practicing pedi-

atrician throughout his life; he delivered over2,000 babies and wrote poems on his prescrip-tion pads. Williams was a classmate of poets EzraPound and Hilda Doolittle, and his early poetryreveals the influence of Imagism. He later wenton to champion the use of colloquial speech; hisear for the natural rhythms of American Englishhelped free American poetry from the iambicmeter that had dominated English verse sincethe Renaissance. His sympathy for ordinaryworking people, children, and everyday events inmodern urban settings make his poetry attractiveand accessible. “The Red Wheelbarrow” (1923),like a Dutch still life, finds interest and beauty ineveryday objects:

So much dependsupon

a red wheelbarrow

glazed with rainwater

beside the whitechickens.

Williams cultivated a relaxed, natural poetry. Inhis hands, the poem was not to become a perfectobject of art as in Stevens, or the carefully re-created Wordsworthian incident as in Frost.Instead, the poem was to capture an instant oftime like an unposed snapshot — a concept hederived from photographers and artists he metat galleries like Stieglitz’s in New York City. Likephotographs, his poems often hint at hidden pos-sibilities or attractions, as in “The YoungHousewife” (1917):



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At ten a.m. the young housewifemoves about in negligee behindthe wooden walls of her

huband’s house.I pass solitary in my car.

Then again she comes to the curb,

to call the ice-man, fish-man, and stands

shy, uncorseted, tucking instray ends of hair, and I

compare herTo a fallen leaf.

The noiseless wheels of my carrush with a crackling sound overdried leaves as I bow and pass


He termed his work “objectivist”to suggest the importance of con-crete, visual objects. His work oftencaptured the spontaneous, emotivepattern of experience, and influ-enced the “Beat” writing of theearly 1950s.

Like Eliot and Pound, Williamstried his hand at the epic form, butwhile their epics employ literaryallusions directed to a small num-ber of highly educated readers,Williams instead writes for a moregeneral audience. Though he stud-ied abroad, he elected to live in theUnited States. His epic, Paterson(five vols., 1946-1958), celebrateshis hometown of Paterson, NewJersey, as seen by an autobiograph-ical “Dr. Paterson.” In it, Williamsjuxtaposed lyric passages, prose,letters, autobiography, newspaper

accounts, and historical facts. Thelayout’s ample white space sug-gests the open road theme ofAmerican literature and gives asense of new vistas even open tothe poor people who picnic in thepublic park on Sundays. LikeWhitman’s persona in Leaves ofGrass, Dr. Paterson moves freelyamong the working people:

-late spring,a Sunday afternoon!

- and goes by the footpath to the cliff (counting: the proof)

himself among others- treads there the same stoneson which their feet slip as they

climb,paced by their dogs!

laughing, calling to each other -

Wait for me!(II, i, 14-23)

BETWEEN THE WARSRobinson Jeffers (1887-1962)

umerous American poets ofstature and genuine visionarose in the years between

the world wars, among them poetsfrom the West Coast, women, andAfrican-Americans. Like the nov-elist John Steinbeck, RobinsonJeffers lived in California and wroteof the Spanish rancheros and In-dians and their mixed traditions,and of the haunting beauty of theland. Trained in the classics andwell-read in Freud, he re-created


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themes of Greek tragedy set in therugged coastal seascape. He is bestknown for his tragic narratives suchas Tamar (1924), Roan Stallion(1925), The Tower Beyond Tragedy(1924) — a recreation of Aeschy-lus’s Agamemnon — and Medea(1946), a re-creation of the tragedyby Euripides.

Edward Estlin Cummings(1894-1962)

Edward Estlin Cummings, com-monly known as e.e. cummings,wrote attractive, innovative versedistinguished for its humor, grace,celebration of love and eroticism,and experimentation with punctua-tion and visual format on the page.A painter, he was the first Americanpoet to recognize that poetry hadbecome primarily a visual, not anoral, art; his poems used muchunusual spacing and indentation, aswell as dropping all use of capitalletters.

ike Williams, Cummings alsoused colloquial language,sharp imagery, and words

from popular culture. Like Wil-liams, he took creative libertieswith layout. His poem “in Just —”(1920) invites the reader to fill inthe missing ideas:

in Just —

Spring when the world is mud -luscious the littlelame balloonman

whistles far and wee

and eddieandbill comerunning from marbles andpiracies and it’s spring...

Hart Crane (1899-1932)Hart Crane was a tormented

young poet who committed suicideat age 33 by leaping into the sea. Heleft striking poems, including anepic, The Bridge (1930), which wasinspired by the Brooklyn Bridge, inwhich he ambitiously attempted toreview the American cultural expe-rience and recast it in affirmativeterms. His luscious, overheatedstyle works best in short poemssuch as “Voyages” (1923, 1926) and“At Melville’s Tomb” (1926), whoseending is a suitable epitaph forCrane:

monody shall not wake the mariner.

This fabulous shadow only the sea keeps.

Marianne Moore (1887-1972)Marianne Moore once wrote that

poems were “imaginary gardenswith real toads in them.” Her po-ems are conversational, yet elabo-rate and subtle in their syllabic ver-sification, drawing upon extremelyprecise description and historicaland scientific fact. A “poet’s poet,”she influenced such later poets asher young friend Elizabeth Bishop.



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Langston Hughes (1902-1967)

One of many talented poets ofthe Harlem Renaissance of the1920s — in the company of JamesWeldon Johnson, Claude McKay,Countee Cullen, and others — wasLangston Hughes. He embraced Af-rican-American jazz rhythms andwas one of the first black writersto attempt to make a profitable ca-reer out of his writing. Hughesincorporated blues, spirituals, col-loquial speech, and folkways in his poetry.

An influential cultural organizer,Hughes published numerous blackanthologies and began black the-ater groups in Los Angeles andChicago, as well as New York City.He also wrote effective journalism,creating the character Jesse B.Semple (“simple”) to expresssocial commentary. One of hismost beloved poems, “The NegroSpeaks of Rivers” (1921, 1925),embraces his African — and uni-versal — heritage in a grand epiccatalogue. The poem suggests that,like the great rivers of the world,African culture will endure anddeepen:

I’ve known rivers:I’ve known rivers ancient as the

world and older than theflow of human blood in

human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when

dawns were young.I built my hut near the Congo

and it lulled me to sleep.I looked upon the Nile and

raised the pyramids above it.I heard the singing of the

Mississippi when Abe Lincolnwent down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy

bosom turn all golden in the sunset

I’ve known riversAncient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.


lthough American prose be-tween the wars experimented

with viewpoint and form,Americans wrote more realistically,on the whole, than did Europeans.Novelist Ernest Hemingway wroteof war, hunting, and other masculinepursuits in a stripped, plain style;William Faulkner set his powerfulsouthern novels spanning genera-tions and cultures firmly in Mis-sissippi heat and dust; and SinclairLewis delineated bourgeois liveswith ironic clarity.

The importance of facing realitybecame a dominant theme in the1920s and 1930s: Writers such as F.Scott Fitzgerald and the playwrightEugene O’Neill repeatedly por-trayed the tragedy awaiting thosewho live in flimsy dreams.



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F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940)

Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald’s liferesembles a fairy tale. DuringWorld War I, Fitzgerald enlisted inthe U.S. Army and fell in love with arich and beautiful girl, Zelda Sayre,who lived near Montgomery, Ala-bama, where he was stationed.Zelda broke off their engagementbecause he was relatively poor.After he was discharged at war’send, he went to seek his literaryfortune in New York City in order tomarry her.

His first novel, This Side ofParadise (1920), became a best-seller, and at 24 they married.Neither of them was able to with-stand the stresses of success andfame, and they squandered theirmoney. They moved to France toeconomize in 1924 and returnedseven years later. Zelda becamementally unstable and had to beinstitutionalized; Fitzgerald himselfbecame an alcoholic and died youngas a movie screenwriter.

itzgerald’s secure place inAmerican literature rests pri-

marily on his novel The GreatGatsby (1925), a brilliantly writ-ten, economically structured storyabout the American dream of theself-made man. The protagonist,the mysterious Jay Gatsby, discov-ers the devastating cost of successin terms of personal fulfillment andlove. Other fine works includeTender Is the Night (1934), about ayoung psychiatrist whose life isdoomed by his marriage to anunstable woman, and some stories

in the collections Flappers andPhilosophers (1920), Tales of theJazz Age (1922), and All the SadYoung Men (1926). More than anyother writer, Fitzgerald capturedthe glittering, desperate life of the1920s; This Side of Paradise washeralded as the voice of modernAmerican youth. His second novel,The Beautiful and the Damned(1922), continued his exploration ofthe self-destructive extravagance ofhis times.

Fitzgerald’s special qualities in-clude a dazzling style perfectly suit-ed to his theme of seductive glam-our. A famous section from TheGreat Gatsby masterfully summa-rizes a long passage of time: “Therewas music from my neighbor’shouse through the summer nights.In his blue gardens men and girlscame and went like moths amongthe whisperings and the champagneand the stars.”

Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)

Few writers have lived as color-fully as Ernest Hemingway, whosecareer could have come out of oneof his adventurous novels. Like Fitz-gerald, Dreiser, and many other finenovelists of the 20th century,Hemingway came from the U.S.Midwest. Born in Illinois, Heming-way spent childhood vacations inMichigan on hunting and fishingtrips. He volunteered for an ambu-lance unit in France during WorldWar I, but was wounded and hospi-talized for six months. After the war,as a war correspondent based in



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Paris, he met expatriate Americanwriters Sherwood Anderson, EzraPound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, andGertrude Stein. Stein, in particular,influenced his spare style.

After his novel The Sun Also Rises(1926) brought him fame, he cov-ered the Spanish Civil War, WorldWar II, and the fighting in China inthe 1940s. On a safari in Africa, hewas badly injured when his smallplane crashed; still, he continuedto enjoy hunting and sport fishing,activities that inspired some of hisbest work. The Old Man and the Sea(1952), a short poetic novel about a poor, old fisherman who heroical-ly catches a huge fish devoured bysharks, won him the Pulitzer Prizein 1953; the next year he receivedthe Nobel Prize. Discouraged by a troubled family background, illness, and the belief that he was losing his gift for writing,Hemingway shot himself to deathin 1961.

emingway is arguably themost popular Americannovelist of this century.

His sympathies are basically apolit-ical and humanistic, and in thissense he is universal. His simplestyle makes his novels easy to com-prehend, and they are often set inexotic surroundings. A believer inthe “cult of experience,” Heming-way often involved his characters indangerous situations in order toreveal their inner natures; in hislater works, the danger sometimesbecomes an occasion for mascu-line assertion.

Like Fitzgerald, Hemingway be-

came a spokesperson for his gener-ation. But instead of painting itsfatal glamour as did Fitzgerald, whonever fought in World War I,Hemingway wrote of war, death, andthe “lost generation” of cynical sur-vivors. His characters are notdreamers but tough bullfighters,soldiers, and athletes. If intellectu-al, they are deeply scarred and dis-illusioned.

His hallmark is a clean styledevoid of unnecessary words. Of-ten he uses understatement: In AFarewell to Arms (1929) the heroinedies in childbirth saying “I’m not abit afraid. It’s just a dirty trick.” Heonce compared his writing to ice-bergs: “There is seven-eighths of it under water for every part thatshows.”

Hemingway’s fine ear for dia-logue and exact description showsin his excellent short stories, suchas “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and“The Short Happy Life of FrancisMacomber.” Critical opinion, in fact,generally holds his short storiesequal or superior to his novels. Hisbest novels include The Sun AlsoRises, about the demoralized life ofexpatriates after World War I; AFarewell to Arms, about the tragiclove affair of an American soldierand an English nurse during thewar; For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940),set during the Spanish Civil War;and The Old Man and the Sea.

William Faulkner (1897-1962)Born to an old southern family,

William Harrison Faulkner wasraised in Oxford, Mississippi,


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where he lived most of his life.Faulkner created an entire imagi-native landscape, YoknapatawphaCounty, mentioned in numerousnovels, along with several familieswith interconnections extendingback for generations. Yoknapat-awpha County, with its capital,“Jefferson,” is closely modeled onOxford, Mississippi, and its sur-roundings. Faulkner re-creates thehistory of the land and the variousraces — Indian, African-American,Euro-American, and various mix-tures — who have lived on it. Aninnovative writer, Faulkner experi-mented brilliantly with narrativechronology, different points of viewand voices (including those of out-casts, children, and illiterates), anda rich and demanding baroque stylebuilt of extremely long sentencesfull of complicated subordinateparts.

The best of Faulkner’s novelsinclude The Sound and the Fury(1929) and As I Lay Dying (1930),two modernist works experiment-ing with viewpoint and voice toprobe southern families under thestress of losing a family member;Light in August (1932), about com-plex and violent relations betweena white woman and a black man;and Absalom, Absalom! (1936), per-haps his finest, about the rise of aself-made plantation owner and histragic fall through racial prejudiceand a failure to love.

Most of these novels use differ-ent characters to tell parts of thestory and demonstrate how mean-ing resides in the manner of telling,

as much as in the subject at hand.The use of various viewpointsmakes Faulkner more self-referen-tial, or “reflexive,” than Hemingwayor Fitzgerald; each novel reflectsupon itself, while it simultaneouslyunfolds a story of universal inter-est. Faulkner’s themes are south-ern tradition, family, community, theland, history and the past, race, andthe passions of ambition and love.He also created three novels focus-ing on the rise of a degenerate fam-ily, the Snopes clan: The Hamlet(1940), The Town (1957), and TheMansion (1959).


ince the 1890s, an undercur-rent of social protest hadcoursed through American

literature, welling up in the nat-uralism of Stephen Crane andTheodore Dreiser and in the clearmessages of the muckraking novel-ists. Later socially engaged authorsincluded Sinclair Lewis, JohnSteinbeck, John Dos Passos,Richard Wright, and the dramatistClifford Odets. They were linked tothe 1930s in their concern for thewelfare of the common citizen andtheir focus on groups of people —the professions, as in SinclairLewis’s archetypal Arrowsmith (aphysician) or Babbitt (a local busi-nessman); families, as in Stein-beck’s The Grapes of Wrath ; orurban masses, as Dos Passos ac-complishes through his 11 majorcharacters in his U.S.A. trilogy.



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Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951)Harry Sinclair Lewis was born in

Sauk Centre, Minnesota, and grad-uated from Yale University. He tooktime off from school to work at asocialist community, Helicon HomeColony, financed by muckrakingnovelist Upton Sinclair. Lewis’sMain Street (1920) satirizedmonotonous, hypocritical small-town life in Gopher Prairie,Minnesota. His incisive presenta-tion of American life and his criti-cism of American materialism, nar-rowness, and hypocrisy broughthim national and internationalrecognition. In 1926, he wasoffered and declined a PulizerPrize for Arrowsmith (1925), anovel tracing a doctor’s efforts tomaintain his medical ethics amidgreed and corruption. In 1930, hebecame the first American to winthe Nobel Prize for Literature.

ewis’s other major novels in-clude Babbitt (1922). George

Babbitt is an ordinary busi-nessman living and working inZenith, an ordinary American town.Babbitt is moral and enterprising,and a believer in business as thenew scientific approach to modernlife. Becoming restless, he seeksfulfilment but is disillusioned by anaffair with a bohemian woman, re-turns to his wife, and accepts hislot. The novel added a new word tothe American language — “babbit-try,” meaning narrow-minded, com-placent, bourgeois ways. ElmerGantry (1927) exposes revivalistreligion in the United States, whileCass Timberlane (1945) studies the

stresses that develop within themarriage of an older judge and hisyoung wife.

John Dos Passos (1896-1970)Like Sinclair Lewis, John Dos

Passos began as a left-wing radicalbut moved to the right as he aged.Dos Passos wrote realistically, inline with the doctrine of socialistrealism. His best work achieves ascientific objectivism and almostdocumentary effect. Dos Passosdeveloped an experimental collagetechnique for his masterworkU.S.A., consisting of The 42ndParallel (1930), 1919 (1932), andThe Big Money (1936). This sprawl-ing collection covers the social his-tory of the United States from 1900to 1930 and exposes the moral cor-ruption of materialistic Americansociety through the lives of its characters.

Dos Passos’s new techniques in-cluded “newsreel” sections takenfrom contemporary headlines, pop-ular songs, and advertisem*nts, aswell as “biographies” briefly set-ting forth the lives of importantAmericans of the period, such asinventor Thomas Edison, labororganizer Eugene Debs, film starRudolph Valentino, financier J.P.Morgan, and sociologist ThorsteinVeblen. Both the newsreels andbiographies lend Dos Passos’s nov-els a documentary value; a thirdtechnique, the “camera eye,” con-sists of stream of consciousnessprose poems that offer a subjectiveresponse to the events described inthe books.



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John Steinbeck (1902-1968)Like Sinclair Lewis, John

Steinbeck is held in higher criticalesteem outside the United Statesthan in it today, largely because hereceived the Nobel Prize forLiterature in 1963 and the interna-tional fame it confers. In bothcases, the Nobel Committee select-ed liberal American writers notedfor their social criticism.

Steinbeck, a Californian, setmuch of his writing in the SalinasValley near San Francisco. His bestknown work is the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Grapes of Wrath(1939), which follows the travails ofa poor Oklahoma family that losesits farm during the Depression andtravels to California to seek work.Family members suffer conditionsof feudal oppression by richlandowners. Other works set inCalifornia include Tortilla Flat(1935), Of Mice and Men (1937),Cannery Row (1945), and East ofEden (1952).

Steinbeck combines realism witha primitivist romanticism that findsvirtue in poor farmers who liveclose to the land. His fictiondemonstrates the vulnerability ofsuch people, who can be uprootedby droughts and are the first to suf-fer in periods of political unrestand economic depression.

THE HARLEM RENAISSANCEuring the exuberant 1920s,

Harlem, the black commu-nity situated uptown in New

York City, sparkled with passion andcreativity. The sounds of its black

American jazz swept the UnitedStates by storm, and jazz musiciansand composers like Duke Ellingtonbecame stars beloved across theUnited States and overseas. BessieSmith and other blues singers pre-sented frank, sensual, wry lyricsraw with emotion. Black spiritualsbecame widely appreciated asuniquely beautiful religious music.Ethel Waters, the black actress, tri-umphed on the stage, and blackAmerican dance and art flourishedwith music and drama.

Among the rich variety of talentin Harlem, many visions coexisted.Carl Van Vechten’s sympathetic1926 novel of Harlem gives someidea of the complex and bitter-sweet life of black America in theface of economic and socialinequality.

The poet Countee Cullen (1903-1946), a native of Harlem who wasbriefly married to W.E.B. Du Bois’sdaughter, wrote accomplishedrhymed poetry, in accepted forms,which was much admired by whites.He believed that a poet should notallow race to dictate the subjectmatter and style of a poem. On theother end of the spectrum wereAfrican-Americans who rejectedthe United States in favor ofMarcus Garvey’s “Back to Africa”movement. Somewhere in betweenlies the work of Jean Toomer.

Jean Toomer (1894-1967)Like Cullen, African-American

fiction writer and poet JeanToomer envisioned an Americanidentity that would transcend race.


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Perhaps for this reason, he bril-liantly employed poetic traditionsof rhyme and meter and did notseek out new “black” forms for hispoetry. His major work, Cane(1923), is ambitious and innovative,however. Like Williams’s Paterson,Cane incorporates poems, prosevignettes, stories, and autobio-graphical notes. In it, an African-American struggles to discover hisselfhood within and beyond theblack communities in rural Georgia,Washington, D.C., and Chicago,Illinois, and as a black teacher inthe South. In Cane, Toomer’sGeorgia rural black folk are natural-ly artistic:

Their voices rise...the pine trees are guitars,

Strumming, pine-needles fall like sheets of rain...

Their voices rise...the chorus of the cane

Is caroling a vesper to the stars...(I, 21-24)

Cane contrasts the fast pace ofAfrican-American life in the city ofWashington:

Money burns the pocket, pocket hurts,

Bootleggers in silken shirts,Ballooned, zooming Cadillacs,Whizzing, whizzing down the

street-car tracks. (II, 1-4)

Richard Wright (1908-1960)Richard Wright was born into

a poor Mississippi sharecroppingfamily that his father deserted

when the boy was five. Wright wasthe first African-American novelistto reach a general audience, eventhough he had barely a ninth gradeeducation. His harsh childhood isdepicted in one of his best books,his autobiography, Black Boy(1945). He later said that his senseof deprivation, due to racism, wasso great that only reading kept himalive.

The social criticism and realismof Sherwood Anderson, TheodoreDreiser, and Sinclair Lewis espe-cially inspired Wright. During the1930s, he joined the Communistparty; in the 1940s, he moved toFrance, where he knew GertrudeStein and Jean-Paul Sartre andbecame an anti-Communist. Hisoutspoken writing blazed a path for subsequent African-Americannovelists.

is work includes Uncle Tom’sChildren (1938), a book ofshort stories, and the pow-

erful and relentless novel NativeSon (1940), in which BiggerThomas, an uneducated blackyouth, mistakenly kills his whiteemployer’s daughter, gruesomelyburns the body, and murders hisblack girlfriend — fearing she willbetray him. Although some African-Americans have criticized Wrightfor portraying a black character asa murderer, Wright’s novel was anecessary and overdue expressionof the racial inequality that hasbeen the subject of so much debatein the United States.


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Zora Neale Hurston (1903-1960)

Born in the small town ofEatonville, Florida, Zora NealeHurston is known as one of thelights of the Harlem Renaissance.She first came to New York City atthe age of 16 — having arrived aspart of a traveling theatrical troupe.A strikingly gifted storyteller whocaptivated her listeners, she at-tended Barnard College, where shestudied with anthropologist FranzBoaz and came to grasp ethnicityfrom a scientific perspective. Boazurged her to collect folklore fromher native Florida environment,which she did. The distinguishedfolklorist Alan Lomax called herMules and Men (1935) “the mostengaging, genuine, and skillful-ly written book in the field of folklore.”

Hurston also spent time in Haiti,studying voodoo and collecting Ca-ribbean folklore that was antholo-gized in Tell My Horse (1938). Hernatural command of colloquial En-glish puts her in the great traditionof Mark Twain. Her writing sparkleswith colorful language and comic— or tragic — stories from theAfrican-American oral tradition.

Hurston was an impressive nov-elist. Her most important work,Their Eyes Were Watching God(1937), is a moving, fresh depictionof a beautiful mulatto woman’smaturation and renewed happinessas she moves through three mar-riages. The novel vividly evokes thelives of African-Americans workingthe land in the rural South. A har-

binger of the women’s movement,Hurston inspired and influencedsuch contemporary writers as AliceWalker and Toni Morrison throughbooks such as her autobiography,Dust Tracks on a Road (1942).


rom the Civil War into the20th century, the southern

United States had remained apolitical and economic backwaterridden with racism and supersti-tion, but, at the same time, blessedwith rich folkways and a strongsense of pride and tradition. It hada somewhat unfair reputation forbeing a cultural desert of provin-cialism and ignorance.

Ironically, the most significant20th-century regional literarymovement was that of the Fugitives— led by poet-critic-theoreticianJohn Crowe Ransom, poet AllenTate, and novelist-poet-essayistRobert Penn Warren. This southernliterary school rejected “northern”urban, commercial values, whichthey felt had taken over America.The Fugitives called for a return tothe land and to American traditionsthat could be found in the South.The movement took its name froma literary magazine, The Fugitive,published from 1922 to 1925 atVanderbilt University in Nashville,Tennessee, and with which Ran-som, Tate, and Warren were allassociated.

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Criticism, an approach to under-standing literature through closereadings and attentiveness to for-mal patterns (of imagery, meta-phors, metrics, sounds, and sym-bols) and their suggested mean-ings. Ransom, leading theorist ofthe southern renaissance betweenthe wars, published a book, TheNew Criticism (1941), on thismethod, which offered an alterna-tive to previous extra-literary meth-ods of criticism based on histo-ry and biography. New Criticismbecame the dominant Americancritical approach in the 1940s and1950s because it proved to be well-suited to modernist writers such asEliot and could absorb Freudiantheory (especially its structuralcategories such as id, ego, andsuperego) and approaches drawingon mythic patterns.


merican drama imitatedEnglish and European the-ater until well into the 20th

century. Often, plays from Englandor translated from European lan-guages dominated theater seasons.An inadequate copyright law thatfailed to protect and promoteAmerican dramatists workedagainst genuinely original drama.So did the “star system,” in whichactors and actresses, rather thanthe actual plays, were given mostacclaim. Americans flocked to seeEuropean actors who toured the-aters in the United States. In addi-tion, imported drama, like imported

wine, enjoyed higher status thanindigenous productions.

During the 19th century, melo-dramas with exemplary democraticfigures and clear contrasts be-tween good and evil had been pop-ular. Plays about social problemssuch as slavery also drew largeaudiences; sometimes these playswere adaptations of novels likeUncle Tom’s Cabin. Not until the20th century would serious playsattempt aesthetic innovation. Pop-ular culture showed vital devel-opments, however, especially invaudeville (popular variety theaterinvolving skits, clowning, music, andthe like). Minstrel shows, based onAfrican-American music and folk-ways, performed by white charac-ters using “blackface” makeup,also developed original forms andexpressions.

Eugene O’Neill (1888-1953)Eugene O’Neill is the great figure

of American theater. His numerousplays combine enormous technicaloriginality with freshness of visionand emotional depth. O’Neill’s ear-liest dramas concern the workingclass and poor; later works exploresubjective realms, such as obses-sions and sex, and underscore hisreading in Freud and his anguishedattempt to come to terms with hisdead mother, father, and brother.His play Desire Under the Elms(1924) recreates the passions hid-den within one family; The GreatGod Brown (1926) uncovers theunconsciousness of a wealthy busi-nessman; and Strange Interlude



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(1928), a winner of the Pulitzer Prize, traces thetangled loves of one woman. These powerfulplays reveal different personalities reverting toprimitive emotions or confusion under intensestress.

O’Neill continued to explore the Freudianpressures of love and dominance within familiesin a trilogy of plays collectively entitled MourningBecomes Electra (1931), based on the classicalOedipus trilogy by Sophocles. His later playsinclude the acknowledged masterpieces TheIceman Cometh (1946), a stark work on thetheme of death, and Long Day’s Journey IntoNight (1956) — a powerful, extended autobiog-raphy in dramatic form focusing on his own fami-ly and their physical and psychological deteriora-tion, as witnessed in the course of one night. Thiswork was part of a cycle of plays O’Neill wasworking on at the time of his death.

O’Neill redefined the theater by abandoningtraditional divisions into acts and scenes(Strange Interlude has nine acts, and MourningBecomes Electra takes nine hours to perform);using masks such as those found in Asian andancient Greek theater; introducing Shake-spearean monologues and Greek choruses; andproducing special effects through lighting andsound. He is generally acknowledged to havebeen America’s foremost dramatist. In 1936 hereceived the Nobel Prize for Literature — thefirst American playwright to be so honored.

Thornton Wilder (1897-1975)Thornton Wilder is known for his plays Our

Town (1938) and The Skin of Our Teeth (1942),and for his novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey(1927).

Our Town conveys positive American values. Ithas all the elements of sentimentality and nostal-gia — the archetypal traditional small countrytown, the kindly parents and mischievous chil-dren, the young lovers. Still, the innovative ele-ments such as ghosts, voices from the audience,and daring time shifts keep the play engaging. Itis, in effect, a play about life and death in whichthe dead are reborn, at least for the moment.

Clifford Odets (1906-1963)Clifford Odets, a master of social drama, came

from an Eastern European, Jewish immigrantbackground. Raised in New York City, he becameone of the original acting members of the GroupTheater directed by Harold Clurman, LeeStrasberg, and Cheryl Crawford, which was com-mitted to producing only native American dramas.

Odets’s best-known play was Waiting for Lefty(1935), an experimental one-act drama that fer-vently advocated labor unionism. His Awake andSing!, a nostalgic family drama, became anotherpopular success, followed by Golden Boy, thestory of an Italian immigrant youth who ruins hismusical talent (he is a violinist) when he isseduced by the lure of money to become a boxerand injures his hands. Like Fitzgerald’s The GreatGatsby and Drieser’s An American Tragedy, theplay warns against excessive ambition and materialism. ■


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raditional forms and ideas no longerseemed to provide meaning to manyAmerican poets in the second half of the

20th century. Events after World War II producedfor many writers a sense of history as discontinu-ous: Each act, emotion, and moment was seen asunique. Style and form now seemed provisional,makeshift, reflexive of the process of composi-tion and the writer’s self-awareness. Familiar cat-egories of expression were suspect; originalitywas becoming a new tradition.

The break from tradition gathered momentumduring the 1957 obscenity trial of Allen Ginsberg’spoem Howl. When the San Francisco customsoffice seized the book, its publisher, LawrenceFerlinghetti’s City Lights, brought a lawsuit.During that notorious court case, famous criticsdefended Howl’s passionate social criticism onthe basis of the poem’s redeeming literary merit.Howl’s triumph over the censors helped propelthe rebellious Beat poets — especially Ginsbergand his friends Jack Kerouac and WilliamBurroughs — to fame.

It is not hard to find historical causes for thisdissociated sensibility in the United States. WorldWar II itself, the rise of anonymity and con-sumerism in a mass urban society, the protestmovements of the 1960s, the decade-long Vietnamconflict, the Cold War, environmental threats —

the catalog of shocks to American culture is longand varied. The change that most transformedAmerican society, however, was the rise of themass media and mass culture. First radio, thenmovies, and later an all-powerful, ubiquitous tele-vision presence changed American life at itsroots. From a private, literate, elite culture basedon the book and reading, the United Statesbecame a media culture attuned to the voice onthe radio, the music of compact discs and cas-settes, film, and the images on the televisionscreen.

American poetry was directly influenced by themass media and electronic technology. Films,videotapes, and tape recordings of poetry read-ings and interviews with poets became available,and new inexpensive photographic methods ofprinting encouraged young poets to self-publishand young editors to begin literary magazines —of which there were more than 2,000 by 1990.

At the same time, Americans became uncom-fortably aware that technology, so useful as a tool,could be used to manipulate the culture. ToAmericans seeking alternatives, poetry seemedmore relevant than before: It offered people a wayto express subjective life and articulate theimpact of technology and mass society on theindividual.

A host of styles, some regional, some associat-ed with famous schools or poets, vied for atten-tion; post-World War II American poetry wasdecentralized, richly varied, and difficult to sum-marize. For the sake of discussion, however, it canbe arranged along a spectrum, producing threeoverlapping camps — the traditional on one end,the idiosyncratic in the middle, and the experi-mental on the other end. Traditional poets havemaintained or revitalized poetic traditions.Idiosyncratic poets have used both traditional andinnovative techniques in creating unique voices.Experimental poets have courted new culturalstyles.






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TRADITIONALISMraditional writers include acknowledged

masters of established forms and dictionwho wrote with a readily recognizable craft,

often using rhyme or a set metrical pattern. Oftenthey were from the U.S. eastern seaboard or thesouthern part of the country, and taught in col-leges and universities. Richard Eberhart andRichard Wilbur; the older Fugitive poets JohnCrowe Ransom, Allen Tate, and Robert PennWarren; such accomplished younger poets asJohn Hollander and Richard Howard; and the earlyRobert Lowell are examples. In the years afterWorld War II, they became established and werefrequently anthologized.

The previous chapter discussed the refine-ment, respect for nature, and profoundly conser-vative values of the Fugitives. These qualitiesgrace much poetry oriented to traditional modes.Traditionalist poets were generally precise, real-istic, and witty; many, like Richard Wilbur (1921- ),were influenced by British metaphysical poetsbrought to favor by T.S. Eliot. Wilbur’s mostfamous poem, “A World Without Objects Is aSensible Emptiness” (1950), takes its title fromThomas Traherne, a 17th-century English meta-physical poet. Its vivid opening illustrates the clar-ity some poets found within rhyme and formalregularity:

The tall camels of the spiritSteer for their deserts, passing the lastgroves loud

With the sawmill shrill of the locust, to thewhole honey of the arid

Sun. They are slow, proud...

Traditional poets, unlike many experimentalistswho distrusted “too poetic” diction, welcomedresounding poetic lines. Robert Penn Warren(1905-1989) ended one poem with the words: “Tolove so well the world that we may believe, in theend, in God.” Allen Tate (1899-1979) ended a

poem: “Sentinel of the grave who counts us all!”Traditional poets also at times used a somewhatrhetorical diction of obsolete or odd words, usingmany adjectives (for example, “sepulchral owl”)and inversions, in which the natural, spoken wordorder of English is altered unnaturally. Sometimesthe effect is noble, as in the line by Warren; othertimes, the poetry seems stilted and out of touchwith real emotions, as in Tate’s line: “Fatuouslytouched the hems of the hierophants.”

Occasionally, as in Hollander, Howard, andJames Merrill (1926-1995), self-conscious dictioncombines with wit, puns, and literary allusions.Merrill, who was innovative in his urban themes,unrhymed lines, personal subjects, and light con-versational tone, shares a witty habit with the tra-ditionalists in “The Broken Heart” (1966), writingabout a marriage as if it were a co*cktail:

Always that same old story — Father Time and Mother Earth,A marriage on the rocks.

bvious fluency and verbal pyrotechnics bysome poets, including Merrill and John

Ashbery, made them successful in tradi-tional terms, although they redefined poetry inradically innovative ways. Stylistic gracefulnessmade some poets seem more traditional thanthey were, as in the case of Randall Jarrell (1914-1965) and A.R. Ammons (1926-2001). Ammons cre-ated intense dialogues between humanity andnature; Jarrell stepped into the trapped con-sciousness of the dispossessed — women, chil-dren, doomed soldiers, as in “The Death of theBall Turret Gunner” (1945):

From my mother’s sleep I fell into the State,And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream

of life,I woke to black flak and the nightmare





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When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

Although many traditional poetsused rhyme, not all rhymed poetrywas traditional in subject or tone.Poet Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000)wrote of the difficulties of living —let alone writing — in urban slums.Her “Kitchenette Building” (1945)asks how

could a dream send up throughonion fumes

Its white and violet, fight withfried potatoes

And yesterday’s garbage ripeningin the hall…

Many poets, including Brooks,Adrienne Rich, Richard Wilbur,Robert Lowell, and Robert PennWarren, began writing traditionally,using rhyme and meters, but theyabandoned these in the 1960s underthe pressure of public events and agradual trend toward open forms.

Robert Lowell (1917-1977)The most influential poet of the

period, Robert Lowell, began tradi-tionally but was influenced by exper-imental currents. Because his lifeand work spanned the periodbetween the older modernist mas-ters like T.S. Eliot and the recentantitraditional writers, his careerplaces the later experimentalism ina larger context.

Lowell fits the mold of the acade-mic writer: white, male, Protestantby birth, well educated, and linked

with the political and social estab-lishment. He was a descendant ofthe respected Boston Brahmin fam-ily that included the famous 19th-century poet James Russell Lowelland a 20th-century president ofHarvard University.

Robert Lowell found an identityoutside his elite background, how-ever. He left Harvard to attendKenyon College in Ohio, where herejected his Puritan ancestry andconverted to Catholicism. Jailed fora year as a conscientious objector inWorld War II, he later publiclyprotested the Vietnam conflict.

Lowell’s early books, Land ofUnlikeness (1944) and Lord Weary’sCastle (1946), which won a PulitzerPrize, revealed great control of tra-ditional forms and styles, strongfeeling, and an intensely personalyet historical vision. The violenceand specificity of the early work isoverpowering in poems like“Children of Light” (1946), a harshcondemnation of the Puritans whokilled Indians and whose descen-dants burned surplus grain insteadof shipping it to hungry people.Lowell writes: “Our fathers wrungtheir bread from stocks and stones /And fenced their gardens with theRedman’s bones.”

Lowell’s next book, The Mills ofthe Kavanaughs (1951), containsmoving dramatic monologues inwhich members of his family revealtheir tenderness and failings. Asalways, his style mixes the humanwith the majestic. Often he uses tra-ditional rhyme, but his colloquialismdisguises it until it seems like back-


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ground melody. It was experimentalpoetry, however, that gave Lowell hisbreakthrough into a creative individ-ual idiom.

On a reading tour in the mid-1950s, Lowell heard some of the newexperimental poetry for the firsttime. Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and GarySnyder’s Myths and Texts, stillunpublished, were being read andchanted, sometimes to jazz accom-paniment, in coffee houses in NorthBeach, a section of San Francisco.Lowell felt that next to these, hisown accomplished poems were toostilted, rhetorical, and encased inconvention; when reading themaloud, he made spontaneous revi-sions toward a more colloquial dic-tion. “My own poems seemed likeprehistoric monsters dragged downinto a bog and death by their ponder-ous armor,” he wrote later. “I wasreciting what I no longer felt.”

At this point Lowell, like manypoets after him, accepted the chal-lenge of learning from the rival tradi-tion in America — the school ofWilliam Carlos Williams. “It's as if nopoet except Williams had really seenAmerica or heard its language,”Lowell wrote in 1962. Henceforth,Lowell changed his writing drastical-ly, using the “quick changes of tone,atmosphere, and speed” that Lowellmost appreciated in Williams.

Lowell dropped many of hisobscure allusions; his rhymesbecame integral to the experiencewithin the poem instead of superim-posed on it. The stanzaic structure,too, collapsed; new improvisationalforms arose. In Life Studies (1959),

he initiated confessional poetry, anew mode in which he bared hismost tormenting personal prob-lems with great honesty and inten-sity. In essence, he not only discov-ered his individuality but celebrat-ed it in its most difficult and privatemanifestations. He transformedhimself into a contemporary, athome with the self, the fragmen-tary, and the form as process.

Lowell’s transformation, a water-shed for poetry after the war,opened the way for many youngerwriters. In For the Union Dead(1964), Notebook 1967-68 (1969),and later books, he continued hisautobiographical explorations andtechnical innovations, drawing uponhis experience of psychoanalysis.Lowell’s confessional poetry hasbeen particularly influential. Worksby John Berryman, Anne Sexton,and Sylvia Plath (the last two hisstudents), to mention only a few,are impossible to imagine withoutLowell.

IDIOSYNCRATIC POETSoets who developed uniquestyles drawing on tradition

but extending it into newrealms with a distinctively contem-porary flavor, in addition to Plathand Sexton, include John Berryman,Theodore Roethke, Richard Hugo,Philip Levine, James Dickey,Elizabeth Bishop, and AdrienneRich.

Sylvia Plath (1932-1963)Sylvia Plath lived an outwardly

exemplary life, attending Smith


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College on scholarship, graduating first in herclass, and winning a Fulbright grant to CambridgeUniversity in England. There she met her charis-matic husband-to-be, poet Ted Hughes, withwhom she had two children and settled in a coun-try house in England.

Beneath the fairy-tale success festered unre-solved psychological problems evoked in her high-ly readable novel The Bell Jar (1963). Some ofthese problems were personal, while othersarose from her sense of repressive attitudestoward women in the 1950s. Among these werethe beliefs — shared by many women themselves— that women should not show anger or ambi-tiously pursue a career, and instead find fulfill-ment in tending their husbands and children.Professionally successful women like Plath feltthat they lived a contradiction.

Plath’s storybook life crumbled when she andHughes separated and she cared for the youngchildren in a London apartment during a winter ofextreme cold. Ill, isolated, and in despair, Plathworked against the clock to produce a series ofstunning poems before she committed suicide bygassing herself in her kitchen. These poems werecollected in the volume Ariel (1965), two yearsafter her death. Robert Lowell, who wrote theintroduction, noted her poetry’s rapid develop-ment from the time she and Anne Sexton hadattended his poetry classes in 1958.

Plath’s early poetry is well crafted and tradition-al, but her late poems exhibit a desperate bravuraand proto-feminist cry of anguish. In “TheApplicant” (1966), Plath exposes the emptiness inthe current role of wife (who is reduced to aninanimate “it”):

A living doll, everywhere you look.It can sew, it can cook.It can talk, talk, talk.

It works, there is nothing wrong with it.You have a hole, it’s a poultice.

You have an eye, it’s an image.My boy, it’s your last resort.Will you marry it, marry it, marry it.

Plath dares to use a nursery rhyme language, abrutal directness. She has a knack for using boldimages from popular culture. Of a baby shewrites, “Love set you going like a fat gold watch.”In “Daddy,” she imagines her father as theDracula of cinema: “There’s a stake in your fatblack heart / And the villagers never liked you.”

Anne Sexton (1928-1974)Like Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton was a passionate

woman who attempted to be wife, mother, andpoet on the eve of the women’s movement in theUnited States. Like Plath, she suffered from men-tal illness and ultimately committed suicide.

Sexton’s confessional poetry is more autobio-graphical than Plath’s and lacks the craftednessPlath’s earlier poems exhibit. Sexton’s poemsappeal powerfully to the emotions, however. Theythrust taboo subjects into close focus. Often theydaringly introduce female topics such as child-bearing, the female body, or marriage seen from awoman’s point of view. In poems like “Her Kind”(1960), Sexton identifies with a witch burned atthe stake:

I have ridden in your cart, driver,waved my nude arms at villages going by,learning the last bright routes, survivorwhere your flames still bite my thighand my ribs crack where your wheels wind.A woman like that is not ashamed to die.I have been her kind.

The titles of her works indicate their concernwith madness and death. They include To Bedlamand Part Way Back (1960), Live or Die (1966), andthe posthumous book The Awful Rowing TowardGod (1975).


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John Berryman (1914-1972)John Berryman’s life paralleled

Robert Lowell’s in some respects.Born in Oklahoma, Berryman waseducated in the Northeast — at prepschool and at Columbia University,and later was a fellow at PrincetonUniversity. Specializing in traditionalforms and meters, he was inspiredby early American history and wroteself-critical, confessional poems inhis Dream Songs (1969) that featurea grotesque autobiographical char-acter named Henry and reflectionson his own teaching routine, chronicalcoholism, and ambition.

Like his contemporary, TheodoreRoethke, Berryman developed asupple, playful, but profound styleenlivened by phrases from folklore,children’s rhymes, clichés, andslang. Berryman writes, of Henry,“He stared at ruin. Ruin staredstraight back.” Elsewhere, he wittilywrites, “Oho alas alas / When willindifference come, I moan andrave.”

Theodore Roethke (1908-1963)

The son of a greenhouse owner,Theodore Roethke evolved a speciallanguage evoking the “greenhouseworld” of tiny insects and unseenroots: “Worm, be with me. / This ismy hard time.” His love poems inWords for the Wind (1958) celebratebeauty and desire with innocentpassion. One poem begins: “I knewa woman, lovely in her bones, / Whensmall birds sighed, she would sighback at them.” Sometimes hispoems seem like nature’s short-

hand or ancient riddles: “Whostunned the dirt into noise? / Ask themole, he knows.”

Richard Hugo (1923-1982)Richard Hugo, a native of Seattle,

Washington, studied underTheodore Roethke. He grew up poorin dismal urban environments andexcelled at communicating thehopes, fears, and frustrations ofworking people against the back-drop of the northwestern UnitedStates.

Hugo wrote nostalgic, confession-al poems in bold iambics aboutshabby, forgotten small towns in hispart of the United States; he wroteof shame, failure, and rare momentsof acceptance through human rela-tionships. He focused the reader’sattention on minute, seeminglyinconsequential details in order tomake more significant points. “What Thou Lovest Well, RemainsAmerican” (1975) ends with a per-son carrying memories of his oldhometown as if they were food:

in case you’re stranded in someodd empty town

and need hungry lovers forfriends, and need feel

you are welcome in the streetclub they have formed.

Philip Levine (1928- )Philip Levine, born in Detroit,

Michigan, deals directly with theeconomic sufferings of workersthrough keen observation, rage, andpainful irony. Like Hugo, his back-ground is urban and poor. He has


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been the voice for the lonely individ-ual caught up in industrial America.Much of his poetry is somber andreflects an anarchic tendency amidthe realization that systems of gov-ernment will endure.

In one poem, Levine likens him-self to a fox who survives in a dan-gerous world of hunters through hiscourage and cunning. In terms of hisrhythmic pattern, he has traveled apath from traditional meters in hisearly works to a freer, more openline in his later poetry as heexpresses his lonely protest againstthe evils of the contemporary world.

James Dickey (1923-1997)James Dickey, a novelist and

essayist as well as poet, was a nativeof Georgia. At Vanderbilt Universityhe studied under Agrarian poet andcritic Donald Davidson, who encour-aged Dickey’s sensitivity to hissouthern heritage. Like RandallJarrell, Dickey flew in World War IIand wrote of the agony of war.

As a novelist and poet, Dickey wasoften concerned with strenuouseffort, “outdoing, desperately /Outdoing what is required.” Heyearned for revitalizing contact withthe world — a contact he sought innature (animals, the wild), sexuality,and physical exertion. Dickey’s novelDeliverance (1970), set in a south-ern wilderness river canyon,explores the struggle for survivaland the dark side of male bonding.When filmed with the poet himselfplaying a southern sheriff, the noveland film increased his renown.While Selected Poems (l998)

includes later work, Dickey’s repu-tation rests largely on his early collection Poems 1957-1967 (1967).

Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979)and Adrienne Rich (1929- )

Among women poets of the idio-syncratic group, Elizabeth Bishopand Adrienne Rich have garneredthe most respect in recent years.Bishop’s crystalline intelligence andinterest in remote landscapes andmetaphors of travel appeal to read-ers for their exactitude and subtlety.Like her mentor Marianne Moore,Bishop wrote highly crafted poemsin a descriptive style that containshidden philosophical depths. Thedescription of the ice-cold NorthAtlantic in “At the Fishhouses”(1955) could apply to Bishop’s ownpoetry: “It is like what we imagineknowledge to be: / dark, salt, clear,moving, utterly free.”

With Moore, Bishop may beplaced in a “cool” female poetic tra-dition harking back to EmilyDickinson, in comparison with the“hot” poems of Plath, Sexton, andAdrienne Rich. Though Rich beganby writing poems in traditional formand meter, her works, particularlythose written after she became anardent feminist in the 1980s,embody strong emotions.

Rich’s special genius is themetaphor, as in her extraordinarywork “Diving Into the Wreck”(1973), evoking a woman’s searchfor identity in terms of diving downto a wrecked ship. Rich’s poem“The Roofwalker” (1961), dedicatedto poet Denise Levertov, imagines


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poetry writing, for women, as a dangerous craft.Like men building a roof, she feels “exposed, larg-er than life, / and due to break my neck.”

EXPERIMENTAL POETRYhe force behind Robert Lowell’s mature

achievement and much of contemporarypoetry lies in the experimentation begun in

the 1950s by a number of poets. They may be divid-ed into five loose schools, identified by DonaldAllen in The New American Poetry, 1945-1960(1960), the first anthology to present the work ofpoets who were previously neglected by the criti-cal and academic communities.

Inspired by jazz and abstract expressionistpainting, most of the experimental writers are ageneration younger than Lowell. They have tendedto be bohemian, counterculture intellectuals whodisassociated themselves from universities andoutspokenly criticized “bourgeois” Americansociety. Their poetry is daring, original, and some-times shocking. In its search for new values, itclaims affinity with the archaic world of myth, leg-end, and traditional societies such as those of theAmerican Indian. The forms are looser, morespontaneous, organic; they arise from the subjectmatter and the feeling of the poet as the poem iswritten, and from the natural pauses of the spo-ken language. As Allen Ginsberg noted in“Improvised Poetics,” “first thought bestthought.”

The Black Mountain SchoolThe Black Mountain School centered around

Black Mountain College, an experimental liberalarts college in Asheville, North Carolina, wherepoets Charles Olson, Robert Duncan, and RobertCreeley taught in the early 1950s. Ed Dorn, JoelOppenheimer, and Jonathan Williams studiedthere, and Paul Blackburn, Larry Eigner, andDenise Levertov published work in the school’smagazines Origin and Black Mountain Review.The Black Mountain School is linked with Charles

Olson’s theory of “projective verse,” which insist-ed on an open form based on the spontaneity ofthe breath pause in speech and the typewriter linein writing.

Robert Creeley (1926-2005), who writes with aterse, minimalist style, was one of the major BlackMountain poets. In “The Warning” (1955), Creeleyimagines the violent, loving imagination:

For love — I wouldsplit open your head and puta candle inbehind the eyes.

Love is dead in usif we forgetthe virtues of an amuletand quick surprise

The San Francisco SchoolThe work of the San Francisco School owes

much to Eastern philosophy and religion, as well asto Japanese and Chinese poetry. This is not sur-prising because the influence of the Orient hasalways been strong in the U.S. West. The landaround San Francisco — the Sierra NevadaMountains and the jagged seacoast — is lovely andmajestic, and poets from that area tend to have adeep feeling for nature. Many of their poems areset in the mountains or take place on backpackingtrips. The poetry looks to nature instead of literarytradition as a source of inspiration.

San Francisco poets include Jack Spicer,Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Robert Duncan, PhilWhalen, Lew Welch, Gary Snyder, KennethRexroth, Joanne Kyger, and Diane diPrima. Manyof these poets identify with working people. Theirpoetry is often simple, accessible, and optimistic.

At its best, as seen in the work of Gary Snyder(1930- ), San Francisco poetry evokes the delicatebalance of the individual and the cosmos. InSnyder’s “Above Pate Valley” (1955), the poetdescribes working on a trail crew in the moun-



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tains and finding obsidian arrow-head flakes from vanished Indiantribes:

On a hill snowed all but summer,A land of fat summer deer,They came to camp. On theirOwn trails. I followed my ownTrail here. Picked up the

cold-drill,Pick, singlejack, and sackOf dynamite.Ten thousand years.

Beat PoetsThe San Franciso School blends

into the next grouping — the Beatpoets, who emerged in the 1950s.The term beat variously suggestsmusical downbeats, as in jazz; angel-ical beatitude or blessedness; and“beat up” — tired or hurt. TheBeats (beatniks) were inspired byjazz, Eastern religion, and the wan-dering life. These were all depictedin the famous novel by Jack Kerouac On the Road, a sensation when itwas published in l957. An account ofa 1947 cross-country car trip, thenovel was written in three hecticweeks on a single roll of paper inwhat Kerouac called “spontaneousbop prose.” The wild, improvisation-al style, hipster-mystic characters,and rejection of authority and con-vention fired the imaginations ofyoung readers and helped usher inthe freewheeling counterculture ofthe 1960s.

Most of the important Beatsmigrated to San Francisco fromAmerica’s East Coast, gaining theirinitial national recognition in

California. The charismatic AllenGinsberg (1926-1997) became thegroup’s chief spokesperson. Theson of a poet father and an eccentricmother committed to Communism,Ginsberg attended ColumbiaUniversity, where he became fastfriends with fellow studentsKerouac (1922-1969) and WilliamBurroughs (1914-1997), whose vio-lent, nightmarish novels about theunderworld of heroin addictioninclude The Naked Lunch (1959).These three were the nucleus of theBeat movement.

Other figures included publisherLawrence Ferlinghetti (1919- ),whose bookstore, City Lights, estab-lished in San Francisco’s NorthBeach in l951, became a gatheringplace. One of the best educated ofthe mid-20th century poets (hereceived a doctorate from theSorbonne), Ferlinghetti’s thought-ful, humorous, political poetryincluded A Coney Island of the Mind(1958); Endless Life (1981) is thetitle of his selected poems.

Gregory Corso (1930-2001), a pettycriminal whose talent was nurturedby the Beats, is remembered for vol-umes of humorous poems, such asthe often-anthologized “Marriage.” Agifted poet, translator, and originalcritic, as seen in his insightfulAmerican Poetry in the TwentiethCentury (1971), Kenneth Rexroth(1905-1982) played the role of elderstatesman to the anti-tradition. Alabor organizer from Indiana, he sawthe Beats as a West Coast alternativeto the East Coast literary establish-ment. He encouraged the Beats with


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his example and influence.Beat poetry is oral, repetitive, and

immensely effective in readings,largely because it developed out ofpoetry readings in undergroundclubs. Some might correctly see it asa great-grandparent of the rap musicthat became prevalent in the 1990s.Beat poetry was the most anti-estab-lishment form of literature in theUnited States, but beneath its shock-ing words lies a love of country. Thepoetry is a cry of pain and rage at whatthe poets see as the loss of America’sinnocence and the tragic waste of itshuman and material resources.

Poems like Allen Ginsberg’s Howl(1956) revolutionized traditionalpoetry.

I saw the best minds of mygeneration destroyed bymadness, starving hystericalnaked,

dragging themselves through thenegro streets at dawnlooking for an angry fix,

angelheaded hipsters burningfor the ancient heavenlyconnection to the starrydynamo in themachinery of night...

The New York SchoolUnlike the Beat and San Franciso

poets, the poets of the New YorkSchool were not interested in overtlymoral questions, and, in general, theysteered clear of political issues. Theyhad the best formal educations of anygroup.

The major figures of the New YorkSchool — John Ashbery, Frank O’Hara,

and Kenneth Koch — met while theywere undergraduates at HarvardUniversity. They are quintessentiallyurban, cool, nonreligious, witty with apoignant, pastel sophistication.Their poems are fast moving, full ofurban detail, incongruity, and analmost palpable sense of suspendedbelief.

New York City is the fine arts cen-ter of America and the birthplace ofabstract expressionism, a majorinspiration of this poetry. Most of thepoets worked as art reviewers ormuseum curators, or collaboratedwith painters. Perhaps because oftheir feeling for abstract art, whichdistrusts figurative shapes and obvi-ous meanings, their work is oftendifficult to comprehend, as in thelater work of John Ashbery (1927- ),perhaps the most criticallyesteemed poet of the late 20thcentury.

Ashbery’s fluid poems recordthoughts and emotions as they washover the mind too swiftly for directarticulation. His profound, longpoem, Self-Portrait in a ConvexMirror (1975), which won threemajor prizes, glides from thought tothought, often reflecting back onitself:

A shipFlying unknown colors has

entered the harbor.You are allowing extraneous

mattersTo break up your day...

Surrealism and ExistentialismIn his anthology defining the new


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schools, Donald Allen includes afifth group he cannot definebecause it has no clear geographicalunderpinning. This vague groupincludes recent movements andexperiments. Chief among theseare surrealism, which expressesthe unconscious through vividdreamlike imagery, and much poetryby women and ethnic minoritiesthat has flourished in recent years.Though superficially distinct, surre-alists, feminists, and minoritiesappear to share a sense of alien-ation from mainstream literature.

lthough T.S. Eliot, WallaceStevens, and Ezra Pound had

introduced symbolist tech-niques into American poetry in the1920s, surrealism, the major forcein European poetry and thought inEurope during and after World WarII, did not take root in the UnitedStates. Not until the 1960s did sur-realism (along with existentialism)become domesticated in Americaunder the stress of the Vietnamconflict.

During the 1960s, many Americanwriters — W.S. Merwin, Robert Bly,Charles Simic, Charles Wright, andMark Strand, among others —turned to French and especiallySpanish surrealism for its pureemotion, its archetypal images, andits models of anti-rational, existen-tial unrest.

Surrealists like Merwin tend tobe epigrammatic, as in lines suchas: “The gods are what has failed tobecome of us / If you find you nolonger believe enlarge the temple.”

Bly’s political surrealism criti-

cized values that he felt played a partin the Vietnam War in poems like“The Teeth Mother Naked at Last.”

It’s because we have new packaging for smoked oysters

that bomb holes appear in the rice paddies.

The more pervasive surrealistinfluence has been quieter andmore contemplative, like the poemCharles Wright describes in “TheNew Poem” (1973):

It will not attend our sorrow.It will not console our children.It will not be able to help us.

Mark Strand’s surrealism, likeMerwin’s, is often bleak; it speaks ofan extreme deprivation. Now thattraditions, values, and beliefs havefailed him, the poet has nothing buthis own cavelike soul:

I have a keyso I open the door and walk in.It is dark and I walk in.It is darker and I walk in.


Literature in the United States, asin most other countries, was longevaluated on standards that oftenoverlooked women’s contributions.Yet there are many women poets ofdistinction in American writing. Notall are feminists, nor do their sub-jects invariably voice women’s con-cerns. Also, regional, political, and



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racial differences have shaped theirwork. Among distinguished womenpoets are Amy Clampitt, Rita Dove,Louise Glück, Jorie Graham, Carolyn Kizer, Maxine Kumin, DeniseLevertov, Audre Lorde, GjertrudSchnackenberg, May Swenson, andMona Van Duyn.

Before the 1960s, most womenpoets had adhered to an androgy-nous ideal, believing that gendermade no difference in artistic excel-lence. This gender-blind positionwas, in effect, an early form of fem-inism that allowed women to arguefor equal rights. By the late l960s,American women — many active inthe civil rights struggle and protestsagainst the Vietnam conflict, orinfluenced by the counterculture— had begun to recognize theirown marginalization. Betty Friedan’soutspoken The Feminine Mystique(1963), published in the year SylviaPlath committed suicide, decriedwomen’s low status. Another land-mark book, Kate Millett’s SexualPolitics (1969), made a case thatmale writings revealed a pervasivemisogyny, or contempt for women.

In the l970s, a second wave offeminist criticism emerged follow-ing the founding of the NationalOrganization for Women (NOW) inl966. Elaine Showalter’s A Literatureof Their Own (1977) identified amajor tradition of British andAmerican women authors. SandraGilbert and Susan Gubar’s TheMadwoman in the Attic (l979)traced misogyny in English classics,exploring its impact on works bywomen, such as Charlotte Brontë’s

Jane Eyre. In that novel, a wife is dri-ven mad by her husband’s ill treat-ment and is imprisoned in the attic; Gilbert and Gubar comparewomen’s muffled voices in literature to this suppressed femalefigure.

Feminist critics of the secondwave challenged the accepted canonof great works on the basis that aes-thetic standards were not timelessand universal but rather arbitrary,culture bound, and patriarchal.Feminism became in the 1970s a dri-ving force for equal rights, not onlyin literature but in the larger cultureas well. Gilbert and Gubar’s TheNorton Anthology of Literature byWomen (1985) facilitated the studyof women’s literature, and awomen’s tradition came into focus.

Other influential woman poetsbefore Sylvia Plath and Anne Sextoninclude Amy Lowell (1874-1925),whose works have great sensuousbeauty. She edited influential Imagistanthologies and introduced modernFrench poetry and Chinese poetry intranslation to the English-speakingliterary world. Her work celebratedlove, longing, and the spiritualaspect of human and natural beauty.H.D. (1886-1961), a friend of EzraPound and William Carlos Williamswho had been psychoanalyzed bySigmund Freud, wrote crystallinepoems inspired by nature and by theGreek classics and experimentaldrama. Her mystical poetry cele-brates goddesses. The contribu-tions of Lowell and H.D., and thoseof other women poets of the early20th century such as Edna St.


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Vincent Millay, are only now beingfully acknowledged.

MULTIETHNIC POETSThe second half of the 20th centu-

ry witnessed a renaissance in multi-ethnic literature that has continuedinto the 21st century. In the 1960s,following the lead of AfricanAmericans, ethnic writers in theUnited States began to commandpublic attention. The 1970s saw thefounding of ethnic studies programsin universities.

In the 1980s, a number of academicjournals, professional organizations,and literary magazines focusing onethnic groups were initiated.Conferences devoted to the study ofspecific ethnic literatures hadbegun, and the canon of “classics”had been expanded to include eth-nic writers in anthologies andcourse lists. Important issuesincluded race and ethnicity, spirituallife, familial and gender roles, andlanguage.

inority poetry shares thevariety and occasionally theanger of women’s writing. It

has flowered in works by Latino andChicano Americans such as GarySoto, Alberto Rios, and Lorna DeeCervantes; in Native Americans suchas Leslie Marmon Silko, SimonOrtiz, and Louise Erdrich; in African-American writers such as AmiriBaraka (LeRoi Jones), Michael S.Harper, Rita Dove, Maya Angelou,and Nikki Giovanni; and in Asian-American poets such as Cathy Song,Lawson Inada, and Janice Mirikitani.

Chicano/Latino Poetry Spanish-influenced poetry en-

compasses works by many diversegroups. Among these are MexicanAmericans, known since the 1950sas Chicanos, who have lived formany generations in the southwest-ern U.S. states annexed fromMexico in the Mexican-AmericanWar ending in 1848.

Among Spanish Caribbean popu-lations, Cuban Americans andPuerto Ricans maintain vital and distinctive literary traditions. Forexample, the Cuban-American geniusfor comedy sets it apart from theelegiac lyricism of Chicano writerssuch as Rudolfo Anaya. New immi-grants from Mexico, Central andSouth America, and Spain constantlyreplenish and enlarge this literaryrealm.

Chicano, or Mexican-American,poetry has a rich oral tradition in thecorrido, or ballad, form. Seminalworks stress traditional strengthsof the Mexican community and thediscrimination it has sometimesmet with among whites. Sometimesthe poets blend Spanish and Englishwords in a poetic fusion, as in thepoetry of Alurista and GloriaAnzaldúa. Their poetry is much influ-enced by oral tradition and is verypowerful when read aloud.

Some poets have written largelyin Spanish, in a tradition going backto the earliest epic written in thepresent-day United States — GasparPérez de Villagrá’s Historia de laNueva México, commemorating the1598 battle between invadingSpaniards and the Pueblo Indians at


number of academic jour-nals, professionalorganizations,and literary mag-azines focusingon ethnic groupswere initiated.Conferencesdevoted to thestudy of specificethnic literatureshad begun, andthe canon of“classics” hadbeen expanded toinclude ethnicwriters inanthologies andcourse lists.



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Acoma, New Mexico.A central text in Chicano poetry, I

Am Joaquin by Rodolfo Gonzales(1928-2005) evokes acculturation:the speaker is “Lost in a world ofconfusion/Caught up in a whirl ofgringo society/Confused by therules....”

Many Chicano writers have foundsustenance in their ancient Mexicanroots. Thinking of the grandeur of Mexico, Lorna Dee Cervantes (1954- ) writes that “an epic corri-do” chants through her veins, whileLuis Omar Salinas (1937- ) feelshimself to be “an Aztec angel.”

Much Chicano poetry is highlypersonal, dealing with feelings andfamily or members of the communi-ty. Gary Soto (1952- ) writes out ofthe ancient tradition of honoringdeparted ancestors, but thesewords, written in 1981, describe themulticultural situation of Americanstoday:

A candle is lit for the deadTwo worlds ahead of us all

In the 1980s, Chicano poetryachieved a new prominence, andworks by Cervantes, Soto, andAlberto Rios were widely antholo-gized.

Native-American Poetry Native Americans have written

fine poetry, most likely because atradition of shamanistic song plays avital role in their cultural heritage.Their work has excelled in vivid, liv-ing evocations of the natural world,which become almost mystical at

times. Indian poets have also voiceda tragic sense of irrevocable loss oftheir rich heritage.

Simon Ortiz (1941- ), an AcomaPueblo, bases many of his hard-hit-ting poems on history, exploring thecontradictions of being an indige-nous American in the United Statestoday. His poetry challenges Angloreaders because it often remindsthem of the injustice and violence atone time done to Native Americans.His poems envision racial harmonybased on a deepened understand-ing.

In “Star Quilt,” Roberta HillWhiteman (1947- ), a member of theOneida tribe, imagines a multicul-tural future like a “star quilt, sewnfrom dawn light,” while LeslieMarmon Silko (1948- ), who is partLaguna Pueblo, uses colloquial lan-guage and traditional stories tofashion haunting, lyrical poems. In“In Cold Storm Light” (1981), Silkoachieves a haiku-like resonance:

out of the thick ice skyrunning swiftly pounding swirling above the treetops

The snow elk come, Moving, moving

white song storm wind in the branches.

Louise Erdrich (1954- ), like Silkoalso a novelist, creates powerfuldramatic monologues that work likecompressed dramas. They unspar-ingly depict families coping withalcoholism, unemployment, andpoverty on the Chippewa reservation.



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In Erdrich’s “Family Reunion”(1984), a drunken, abusive unclereturns from years in the city. As hesuffers from a heart disease, theabused niece, who is the speaker,remembers how this uncle hadkilled a large turtle years before bystuffing it with a firecracker. Theend of the poem links Uncle Raywith the turtle he has victimized:

Somehow we find our way back,Uncle Ray

sings an old song to the bodythat pulls him

toward home. The gray fins thathis hands have become

screw their bones in thedashboard. His face

has the odd, calm patience of achild who has always

let bad wounds alone, or acreature that has lived

for a long time underwater.And the angels come

lowering their slings and litters.

African-American Poetry Black Americans have produced

many poems of great beauty with aconsiderable range of themes andtones. African-American literatureis the most developed ethnic writingin America and is extremely diverse.Amiri Baraka (1934- ), the best-known African-American poet of the1960s and 1970s, has also writtenplays and taken an active role in pol-itics. The writings of Maya Angelou(1928- ) encompass various literaryforms, including poetry, drama, andher well-known memoir, I Know WhyThe Caged Bird Sings (1969).

Rita Dove (1952- ) was namedpoet laureate of the United Statesfor 1993-1995. Dove, a writer of fiction and drama as well, won the1987 Pulitzer Prize for Thomas andBeulah (1986), in which she cele-brates her grandparents through aseries of lyric poems. She has saidthat she wrote the work to revealthe rich inner lives of poor people.

Michael S. Harper (1938- ) hassimilarly written poems revealingthe complex lives of AfricanAmericans faced with discrimina-tion and violence. His dense, allu-sive poems often deal with crowded,dramatic scenes of war or urbanlife. They make use of surgicalimages in an attempt to heal. His“Clan Meeting: Births and Nations: ABlood Song” (1971), which likenscooking to surgery (“splicing themeats with fluids”), begins “wereconstruct lives in the intensive /care unit, pieced together in a buf-fet.” The poem ends by splicingtogether images of the hospital,racism in the early American filmBirth of a Nation, the Ku Klux Klan,film editing, and x-ray technology:

We reload our brains as thecameras,

the film overexposedin the x-ray light,locked with our double doorlight meters: race and sexspooled and rung in a hobby;we take our bundle and go


History, jazz, and popular culturehave inspired many African



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Americans, from Harper (a collegeprofessor) to West Coast publisherand poet Ishmael Reed (1938- ),known for spearheading multicultur-al writing through the BeforeColumbus Foundation and a seriesof magazines such as Yardbird, Quilt,and Konch.

Many African-American poets,such as Audre Lorde (1934-1992),have found nourishment inAfrocentrism, which sees Africa as acenter of civilization since ancienttimes. In sensuous poems such as“The Women of Dan Dance WithSwords in Their Hands To Mark theTime When They Were Warriors”(1978), she speaks as a woman war-rior of ancient Dahomey, “armingwhatever I touch” and “consuming”only “What is already dead.”

Asian-American PoetryLike poetry by Chicano and Latino

writers, Asian-American poetry isexceedingly varied. Americans ofJapanese, Chinese, and Filipinodescent may often have lived in theUnited States for eight generations,while Americans of Korean, Thai, andVietnamese heritage are likely to befairly recent immigrants. Each grouphas grown out of a distinctive lin-guistic, historical, and cultural tradi-tion.

Developments in Asian-Americanliterature have included an empha-sis on the Pacific Rim and women’swriting. Asian Americans generallyhave resisted the common stereo-types as the “exotic” or “good”minority. Aestheticians have com-pared Asian and Western literary tra-

ditions — for example, comparingthe concepts of Tao and Logos.

Asian-American poets have drawnon many sources, from Chineseopera to Zen Buddhism, and Asianliterary traditions, particularly Zen,have inspired numerous non-Asianpoets, as can be seen in the 1991anthology Beneath a Single Moon:Buddhism in ContemporaryAmerican Poetry. Asian-Americanpoets span a spectrum, from theiconoclastic posture taken by FrankChin (1940- ), co-editor of Aiiieeeee!(an early anthology of Asian-American literature), to the gener-ous use of tradition by writers suchas Maxine Hong Kingston (1940- ).Janice Mirikitani (1942- ), a sansei(third-generation Japanese Ameri-can), evokes Japanese-Americanhistory and has edited severalanthologies, such as Third WorldWomen (1973); Time To Greez!Incantations From the Third World(1975); and Ayumi: A JapaneseAmerican Anthology (1980).

The lyrical Picture Bride (1983) ofChinese American Cathy Song (1955- ) also dramatizes historythrough the lives of her family. ManyAsian-American poets explore cul-tural diversity. In Song’s “TheVegetable Air” (1988), a shabby townwith cows in the plaza, a Chineserestaurant, and a Coca-Cola signhung askew becomes an emblem ofrootless multicultural contemporarylife made bearable by art, in thiscase an opera on cassette:

then the familiar aria,rising like the moon,


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lifts you out of yourself,transporting you to another countrywhere, for a moment, you travel



At the end of the 20th century,directions in American poetryincluded the Language Poets looselyassociated with Temblor magazineand Douglas Messerli, editor of“Language” Poetries: An Anthology(1987). Among them: BruceAndrews, Lyn Hejinian, BobPerelman, and Barrett Watten,author of Total Syntax (1985), a col-lection of essays. These poetsstretch language to reveal its poten-tial for ambiguity, fragmentation, andself-assertion within chaos. Ironicand postmodern, they reject “meta-narratives” — ideologies, dogmas,conventions — and doubt the exis-tence of transcendent reality.Michael Palmer writes:

This is Paradise, a mildewed bookLeft too long in the house

Bob Perelman’s “Chronic Meanings” (1993) begins:

The single fact is matter.Five words can say only.Black sky at night, reasonably.I am, the irrational residue...

Viewing art and literary criticismas inherently ideological, theyoppose modernism’s closed forms,hierarchies, ideas of epiphany and

transcendence, categories of genreand canonical texts or accepted liter-ary works. Instead they proposeopen forms and multicultural texts.They appropriate images from popu-lar culture and the media, andrefashion them. Like performancepoetry, language poems often resistinterpretation and invite participa-tion.

Performance-oriented poetry —sets of chance operations such asthose of composer John Cage, jazzimprovisation, mixed media work,and European surrealism — haveinfluenced many U.S. poets. Well-known figures include LaurieAnderson (1947- ), author of theinternational hit United States(1984), which uses film, video,acoustics and music, choreography,and space-age technology. Soundpoetry, emphasizing the voice andinstruments, has been practiced bypoets David Antin (who extempo-rizes his performances) and NewYorkers George Quasha (publisherof Station Hill Press), the lateArmand Schwerner, and JacksonMac Low. Mac Low has also writtenvisual or concrete poetry, whichmakes a visual statement usingplacement and typography.

Ethnic performance poetryentered the mainstream with rapmusic, while across the UnitedStates over the last decade, poetryslams — open poetry reading con-tests that are held in alternative artgalleries and literary bookstores— have become inexpensive, high-spirited, participatory entertain-ments.



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At the opposite end of the theoretical spectrumare the self-styled New Formalists, who championa return to form, rhyme, and meter. All groups areresponding to the same problem — a perceivedmiddle-brow complacency with the status quo, acareful and overly polished sound, often the prod-uct of poetry workshops, and an overemphasis onthe personal lyric as opposed to the public ges-ture.

The Formal School is associated with Story LinePress; Dana Gioia, the poet who became chairmanof the National Endowment for the Arts in 2003;

Philip Dacey and David Jauss, poets and editors ofStrong Measures: Contemporary American Poetryin Traditional Forms (1986); Brad Leithauser; andGjertrud Schnackenberg. Robert Richman’s TheDirection of Poetry: An Anthology of Rhymed andMetered Verse Written in the English LanguageSince 1975 is a 1988 anthology. Though these poetshave been accused of retreating to 19th-centurythemes, they often draw on contemporary stancesand images, along with musical languages and tra-ditional, closed forms. ■

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arrative in the decades following WorldWar II resists generalization: It wasextremely various and multifaceted. It

was vitalized by international currents such asEuropean existentialism and Latin Americanmagical realism, while the electronic era broughtthe global village. The spoken word on televisiongave new life to oral tradition. Oral genres,media, and popular culture increasingly influ-enced narrative.

In the past, elite culture influenced popularculture through its status and example; thereverse seems true in the United States in thepostwar years. Serious novelists like ThomasPynchon, Joyce Carol Oates, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.,Alice Walker, and E.L. Doctorow borrowed fromand commented on comics, movies, fashions,songs, and oral history.

To say this is not to trivialize this literature:Writers in the United States were asking seriousquestions, many of them of a metaphysicalnature. Writers became highly innovative andself-aware, or reflexive. Often they found tradi-tional modes ineffective and sought vitality inmore widely popular material. To put it anotherway, American writers in the postwar decadesdeveloped a postmodern sensibility. Modernistrestructurings of point of view no longer sufficedfor them; rather, the context of vision had to bemade new.


s in the first half of the 20th century, fictionin the second half reflected the character

of each decade. The late 1940s saw theaftermath of World War II and the beginning ofthe Cold War.

World War II offered prime material: NormanMailer (The Naked and the Dead, 1948) andJames Jones (From Here to Eternity, 1951) weretwo writers who used it best. Both of thememployed realism verging on grim naturalism;both took pains not to glorify combat. The samewas true for Irwin Shaw’s The Young Lions(1948). Herman Wouk, in The Caine Mutiny(1951), also showed that human foibles were asevident in wartime as in civilian life.

Later, Joseph Heller cast World War II in satir-ical and absurdist terms (Catch-22, 1961), argu-ing that war is laced with insanity. ThomasPynchon presented an involuted, brilliant caseparodying and displacing different versions ofreality (Gravity’s Rainbow, 1973). Kurt Vonnegut,Jr., became one of the shining lights of the coun-terculture during the early 1970s following publi-cation of Slaughterhouse-Five: or, The Children’sCrusade (1969), his antiwar novel about the fire-bombing of Dresden, Germany, by Allied forcesduring World War II (which Vonnegut witnessedon the ground as a prisoner of war).

The 1940s saw the flourishing of a new contin-gent of writers, including poet-novelist-essayistRobert Penn Warren, dramatists Arthur Miller,Lillian Hellman, and Tennessee Williams, andshort story writers Katherine Anne Porter andEudora Welty. All but Miller were from the South.All explored the fate of the individual within thefamily or community and focused on the balancebetween personal growth and responsibility tothe group.






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Robert Penn Warren (1905-1989)

Robert Penn Warren, one of thesouthern Fugitives, enjoyed a fruit-ful career running through most ofthe 20th century. He showed a life-long concern with democratic val-ues as they appeared within histor-ical context. The most enduring ofhis novels is All the King’s Men(1946), focusing on the darkerimplications of the Americandream as revealed in this thinlyveiled account of the career of aflamboyant and sinister southernpolitician, Huey Long.

Arthur Miller (1915-2005) ew York-born dramatistArthur Miller reached hispersonal pinnacle in 1949

with Death of a Salesman, a studyof man’s search for merit andworth in his life and the realizationthat failure invariably looms. Setwithin the family of the title charac-ter, Willy Loman, the play hinges onthe uneven relationships of fatherand sons, husband and wife. It is amirror of the literary attitudes ofthe 1940s, with its rich combinationof realism tinged with naturalism;carefully drawn, rounded charac-ters; and insistence on the value ofthe individual, despite failure anderror. Death of a Salesman is amoving paean to the common man— to whom, as Willy Loman’swidow eulogizes, “attention mustbe paid.” Poignant and somber, it isalso a story of dreams. As one char-acter notes ironically, “a salesmanhas got to dream, boy. It comes

with the territory.”Death of a Salesman, a landmark

work, still is only one of a number ofdramas Miller wrote over severaldecades, including All My Sons(1947) and The Crucible (1953).Both are political — one contempo-rary and the other set in colonialtimes. The first deals with a manu-facturer who knowingly allowsdefective parts to be shipped to air-plane firms during World War II,resulting in the death of severalAmerican airmen. The Crucibledepicts the Salem (Massachusetts)witchcraft trials of the 17th centuryin which Puritan settlers werewrongfully executed as supposedwitches. Its message, though — that“witch hunts” directed at innocentpeople are anathema in a democracy— was relevant to the era in whichthe play was staged, the early1950s, when an anti-Communist cru-sade led by U.S. Senator JosephMcCarthy and others ruined the livesof innocent people. Partly inresponse to The Crucible, Millerwas called before the House (of Representatives) Un-AmericanActivities Committee in 1956 andasked to provide the names of per-sons who might have Communistsympathies. Because of his refusalto do so, Miller was charged withcontempt of Congress, a chargethat was overturned on appeal.

A later Miller play, Incident atVichy (1964), dealt with theHolocaust — the destruction ofmuch of European Jewry at thehands of the Nazis and their collab-orators. In The Price (1968), two




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brothers struggle to free them-selves from the burdens of thepast. Other of Miller’s dramasinclude two one-act plays, Fame(1970) and The Reason Why (1970).His essays are collected in EchoesDown the Corridor (2000); his auto-biography, Timebends: A Life,appeared in 1987.

Lillian Hellman (1906-1984)Like Robert Penn Warren, Lillian

Hellman’s moral vision was shapedby the South. Her childhood waslargely spent in New Orleans. Hercompelling plays explore power’smany guises and abuses. In TheChildren’s Hour (l934), a manipula-tive girl destroys the lives of twowomen teachers by telling peoplethey are lesbians. In The LittleFoxes (1939), a rich old southernfamily fights over an inheritance.Hellman’s anti-fascist Watch on theRhine (1941) grew out of her tripsto Europe in the l930s. Her mem-oirs include An Unfinished Woman(l969) and Pentimento (1973).

For many years, Hellman had aclose personal relationship withthe remarkable scriptwriterDashiell Hammett, whose street-wise detective character, SamSpade, fascinated Depression-eraAmericans. Hammett invented thequintessentially American hard-boiled detective novel: The MalteseFalcon (l930); The Thin Man(1934).

Hellman, like Arthur Miller, hadrefused to “name names” for theHouse Un-American ActivitiesCommittee, and she and Hammett

were blacklisted (refused employ-ment in the American entertain-ment industry) for a time. Theseevents are recounted in Hellman’smemoir, Scoundrel Time (1976).

Tennessee Williams (1911-1983)

ennessee Williams, a nativeof Mississippi, was one of themore complex individuals on

the American literary scene of themid-20th century. His work focusedon disturbed emotions within fami-lies — most of them southern. Hewas known for incantatory repeti-tions, a poetic southern diction,weird gothic settings, and Freudianexploration of human emotion. Oneof the first American writers to liveopenly as a hom*osexual, Williamsexplained that the longings of histormented characters expressedtheir loneliness. His characters liveand suffer intensely.

Williams wrote more than 20 full-length dramas, many of them auto-biographical. He reached his peakrelatively early in his career — inthe 1940s — with The GlassMenagerie (1944) and A StreetcarNamed Desire (1949). None of theworks that followed over the nexttwo decades and more reached thelevel of success and richness ofthose two pieces.

Katherine Anne Porter (1890-1980)

Katherine Anne Porter’s long lifeand career encompassed severaleras. Her first success, the shortstory “Flowering Judas” (1929),




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was set in Mexico during the revo-lution. The beautifully crafted shortstories that gained her renown sub-tly unveil personal lives. “The Jiltingof Granny Weatherall” (1930), forexample, conveys large emotionswith precision. Often she revealswomen’s inner experiences andtheir dependence on men.

Porter’s nuances owe much tothe stories of the New Zealand-born story writer KatherineMansfield. Porter’s story collec-tions include Flowering Judas(1930), Noon Wine (1937), PaleHorse, Pale Rider (1939), TheLeaning Tower (1944), andCollected Stories (1965). In theearly 1960s, she produced a long,allegorical novel with a timelesstheme — the responsibility ofhumans for each other. Titled Shipof Fools (1962), it was set in thelate 1930s aboard a passenger linercarrying members of the Germanupper class and German refugeesalike from the Nazi nation.

ot a prolific writer, Porternonetheless influencedgenerations of authors,

among them her southern col-leagues Eudora Welty and FlanneryO’Connor.

Eudora Welty (1909-2001)Born in Mississippi to a well-to-

do family of transplanted northern-ers, Eudora Welty was guided byRobert Penn Warren and KatherineAnne Porter. Porter, in fact, wrotean introduction to Welty’s first col-lection of short stories, A Curtainof Green (1941). Welty modeled her

nuanced work on Porter, but theyounger woman was more interest-ed in the comic and grotesque. Like fellow southerner FlanneryO’Connor, Welty often took subnor-mal, eccentric, or exceptional char-acters for subjects.

Despite violence in her work,Welty’s wit was essentially humaneand affirmative, as, for example, inher frequently anthologized story“Why I Live at the P.O.” (1941), inwhich a stubborn and independentdaughter moves out of her house tolive in a tiny post office. Her collec-tions of stories include The WideNet (1943), The Golden Apples(1949), The Bride of the Innisfallen(1955), and Moon Lake (1980).Welty also wrote novels such asDelta Wedding (1946), which isfocused on a plantation family inmodern times, and The Optimist’sDaughter (1972).

THE 1950sThe 1950s saw the delayed

impact of modernization and tech-nology in everyday life. Not only didWorld War II defeat fascism, itbrought the United States out ofthe Depression, and the 1950s pro-vided most Americans with time toenjoy long-awaited material pros-perity. Business, especially in thecorporate world, seemed to offerthe good life (usually in the sub-urbs), with its real and symbolicmarks of success — house, car,television, and home appliances.

Yet loneliness at the top was adominant theme for many writers;the faceless corporate man




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became a cultural stereotype inSloan Wilson’s best-selling novelThe Man in the Gray Flannel Suit(1955). Generalized Americanalienation came under the scrutinyof sociologist David Riesman in TheLonely Crowd (1950).

Other popular, more or less sci-entific studies followed, rangingfrom Vance Packard’s The HiddenPersuaders (1957) and The StatusSeekers (1959) to William Whyte’sThe Organization Man (1956) andC. Wright Mills’s more intellectualformulations — White Collar (1951)and The Power Elite (1956).Economist and academician JohnKenneth Galbraith contributed The Affluent Society (1958).

ost of these works sup-ported the 1950s assump-tion that all Americans

shared a common lifestyle. Thestudies spoke in general terms,criticizing citizens for losing fron-tier individualism and becomingtoo conformist (for example,Riesman and Mills) or advisingpeople to become members of the“New Class” that technology andleisure time created (as seen inGalbraith’s works).

The 1950s in literary terms actu-ally was a decade of subtle and per-vasive unease. Novels by JohnO’Hara, John Cheever, and JohnUpdike explore the stress lurkingin the shadows of seeming satisfac-tion. Some of the best work por-trays men who fail in the struggle tosucceed, as in Arthur Miller’sDeath of a Salesman and SaulBellow’s novella Seize the

Day. African-American LorraineHansberry (1930-1965) revealedracism as a continuing undercur-rent in her moving 1959 play ARaisin in the Sun, in which a blackfamily encounters a threatening“welcome committee” when it triesto move into a white neighborhood.

Some writers went further byfocusing on characters whodropped out of mainstream society,as did J.D. Salinger in The Catcherin the Rye, Ralph Ellison in InvisibleMan, and Jack Kerouac in On theRoad. And in the waning days of thedecade, Philip Roth arrived with aseries of short stories reflecting acertain alienation from his Jewishheritage (Goodbye, Columbus). Hispsychological ruminations providedfodder for fiction, and later autobi-ography, into the new millennium.

The fiction of American-Jewishwriters Bellow, Bernard Malamud,and Isaac Bashevis Singer — amongothers prominent in the 1950s andthe years following — are also wor-thy, compelling additions to thecompendium of American litera-ture. The output of these threeauthors is most noted for itshumor, ethical concern, and por-traits of Jewish communities in theOld and New Worlds.

John O’Hara (1905-1970)Trained as a journalist, John

O’Hara was a prolific writer ofplays, stories, and novels. He was amaster of careful, telling detail andis best remembered for severalrealistic novels, mostly written inthe 1950s, about outwardly success-



he 1950s inliterary termsactually was adecade of subtleand pervasiveunease. Novels byJohn O’Hara, John Cheever, andJohn Updikeexplore the stresslurking in the shadows ofseeming satisfaction.


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ful people whose inner faults and dissatisfaction leave them vul-nerable. These titles includeAppointment in Samarra (1934),Ten North Frederick (1955), andFrom the Terrace (1959).

James Baldwin (1924-1987)James Baldwin and Ralph Ellison

mirror the African-American expe-rience of the 1950s. Their charac-ters suffer from a lack of identity,rather than from over-ambition.

Baldwin, the oldest of nine chil-dren born to a Harlem, New York,family, was the foster son of a min-ister. As a youth, Baldwin occasion-ally preached in the church. Thisexperience helped shape the com-pelling, oral quality of his prose,most clearly seen in his excellentessays such as “Letter From aRegion of My Mind,” from the col-lection The Fire Next Time (1963).In this work, he argued movingly foran end to separation between theraces.

aldwin’s first novel, theautobiographical Go Tell Iton the Mountain (1953), is

probably his best known. It is thestory of a 14-year-old boy who seeksself-knowledge and religious faithas he wrestles with issues ofChristian conversion in a storefrontchurch. Other important Baldwinworks include Another Country(1962) and Nobody Knows MyName (1961), a collection of pas-sionate personal essays aboutracism, the role of the artist, andliterature.

Ralph Ellison (1914-1994)Ralph Ellison was a Midwesterner,

born in Oklahoma, who studied atTuskegee Institute in the southernUnited States. He had one of thestrangest careers in American let-ters — consisting of one highlyacclaimed book and little more.

The novel is Invisible Man(1952), the story of a black manwho lives a subterranean existencein a cellar brightly illuminated byelectricity stolen from a utility com-pany. The book recounts hisgrotesque, disenchanting experi-ences. When he wins a scholarshipto an all-black college, he is humili-ated by whites; when he gets to thecollege, he witnesses the school’spresident spurning black Americanconcerns. Life is corrupt outsidecollege, too. For example, evenreligion is no consolation: Apreacher turns out to be a criminal.The novel indicts society for failingto provide its citizens — black andwhite — with viable ideals andinstitutions for realizing them. Itembodies a powerful racial themebecause the “invisible man” isinvisible not in himself but becauseothers, blinded by prejudice, can-not see him for who he is.

Juneteenth (1999), Ellison’ssprawling, unfinished novel, editedposthumously, reveals his continu-ing concern with race and identity.

Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964)

Flannery O’Connor, a native ofGeorgia, lived a life cut short bylupus, a blood disease. Still, she



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refused sentimentality, as is evi-dent in her extremely humorousyet bleak and uncompromising sto-ries.

Unlike Katherine Anne Porter,Eudora Welty, and Zora NealeHurston, O’Connor most often heldher characters at arm’s length,revealing their inadequacy and silli-ness. The uneducated southerncharacters who people her novelsoften create violence throughsuperstition or religion, as we seein her novel Wise Blood (1952),about a religious fanatic who estab-lishes his own church.

ometimes violence arises outof prejudice, as in “TheDisplaced Person” (1955),

about an immigrant killed by igno-rant country people who are threat-ened by his hard work and strangeways. Often, cruel events simplyhappen to the characters, as in“Good Country People” (1955), thestory of a girl seduced by a man whosteals her artificial leg.

The black humor of O’Connorlinks her with Nathanael West andJoseph Heller. Her works includeshort story collections A Good Man Is Hard To Find (1955), andEverything That Rises MustConverge (1965); the novel TheViolent Bear It Away (1960); and avolume of letters, The Habit ofBeing (1979). The Complete Storiescame out in 1971.

Saul Bellow (1915-2005)Born in Canada and raised in

Chicago, Saul Bellow was ofRussian-Jewish background. In col-

lege, he studied anthropology andsociology, which greatly influencedhis writing. He once expressed aprofound debt to Theodore Dreiserfor his openness to a wide range ofexperience and his emotionalengagement with it. Highly respect-ed, Bellow received the Nobel Prizefor Literature in 1976.

Bellow’s early, somewhat grimexistentialist novels includeDangling Man (1944), a Kafkaesquestudy of a man waiting to be draftedinto the army, and The Victim(1947), about relations betweenJews and Gentiles. In the 1950s, hisvision became more comic: Heused a series of energetic andadventurous first-person narratorsin The Adventures of Augie March(1953) — the study of a Huck Finn-like urban entrepreneur whobecomes a black marketeer inEurope — and in Henderson theRain King (1959), a brilliant andexuberant serio-comic novel abouta middle-aged millionaire whoseunsatisfied ambitions drive him toAfrica.

Bellow’s later works includeHerzog (1964), about the troubledlife of a neurotic English professorwho specializes in the idea of theromantic self; Mr. Sammler’s Planet(1970); Humboldt’s Gift (1975); andthe autobiographical The Dean’sDecember (1982).

In the late 1980s, Bellow wrotetwo novellas in which elderly pro-tagonists search for ultimate veri-ties, Something To Remember MeBy (1991) and The Actual (1997).His novel Ravelstein (2000) is a




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veiled account of the life ofBellow’s friend Alan Bloom, thebest-selling author of The Closingof the American Mind (1987), aconservative attack on the academyfor a perceived erosion of stan-dards in American cultural life.

Bellow’s Seize the Day (1956) isa brilliant novella centered on afailed businessman, TommyWilhelm, who is so consumed byfeelings of inadequacy that hebecomes totally inadequate — afailure with women, jobs,machines, and the commoditiesmarket, where he loses all hismoney. Wilhelm is an example ofthe schlemiel of Jewish folklore —one to whom unlucky thingsinevitably happen.

Bernard Malamud (1914-1986)

Bernard Malamud was born inNew York City to Russian-Jewishimmigrant parents. In his secondnovel, The Assistant (1957),Malamud found his characteristicthemes — man’s struggle to sur-vive against all odds, and the ethi-cal underpinnings of recent Jewishimmigrants.

alamud’s first publishedwork was The Natural(1952), a combination of

realism and fantasy set in the myth-ic world of professional baseball.Other novels include A New Life(1961), The Fixer (1966), Picturesof Fidelman (1969), and TheTenants (1971).

Malamud also was a prolific mas-ter of short fiction. Through his

stories in collections such as TheMagic Barrel (1958), Idiots First(1963), and Rembrandt’s Hat(1973), he conveyed — more thanany other American-born writer —a sense of the Jewish present andpast, the real and the surreal, factand legend.

Malamud’s monumental work —for which he was awarded thePulitzer Prize and National BookAward — is The Fixer. Set in Russiaaround the turn of the 20th century,it is a thinly veiled look at an actualcase of blood libel — the infamous1913 trial of Mendel Beiliss, a dark,anti-Semitic blotch on modern his-tory. As in many of his writings,Malamud underscores the sufferingof his hero, Yakob Bok, and thestruggle against all odds to endure.

Isaac Bashevis Singer (1904-1991)

Nobel Prize-winning novelist andshort story master Isaac BashevisSinger — a native of Poland whoimmigrated to the United States in1935 — was the son of the promi-nent head of a rabbinical court inWarsaw. Writing in Yiddish all hislife, he dealt in mythic and realisticterms with two specific groups ofJews — the denizens of the OldWorld shtetls (small villages) andthe ocean-tossed 20th-century emi-grés of the pre-World War II andpostwar eras.

Singer’s writings served as book-ends for the Holocaust. On the onehand, he described — in novels suchas The Manor (1967) and The Estate(1969), set in 19th-century Russia,



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and The Family Moskat (1950),focused on a Polish-Jewish familybetween the world wars — theworld of European Jewry that nolonger exists. Complementing theseworks were his writings set after thewar, such as Enemies, A Love Story(1972), whose protagonists weresurvivors of the Holocaust seeking tocreate new lives for themselves.

Vladimir Nabokov (1889-1977)

ike Singer, Vladimir Nabokovwas an Eastern European immi-

grant. Born into an affluentfamily in Czarist Russia, he came tothe United States in 1940 andgained U.S. citizenship five yearslater. From 1948 to 1959, he taughtliterature at Cornell University inupstate New York; in 1960 he movedpermanently to Switzerland.

Nabokov is best known for hisnovels, which include the autobio-graphical Pnin (1957), about anineffectual Russian emigré profes-sor, and Lolita (U.S. edition, 1958),about an educated, middle-agedEuropean who becomes infatuatedwith a 12-year-old American girl.Nabokov’s pastiche novel, Pale Fire(1962), another successful venture,focuses on a long poem by an imag-inary dead poet and the commen-taries on it by a critic whose writ-ings overwhelm the poem and takeon unexpected lives of their own.

Nabokov is an important writerfor his stylistic subtlety, deft satire,and ingenious innovations in form,which have inspired such novelistsas John Barth. Nabokov was aware

of his role as a mediator betweenthe Russian and American literaryworlds; he wrote a book on Gogoland translated Pushkin’s EugeneOnegin. His daring, somewhatexpressionist subjects helpedintroduce 20th-century Europeancurrents into the essentially realistAmerican fictional tradition.Nabokov’s tone, partly satirical andpartly nostalgic, also suggested anew serio-comic emotional regis-ter made use of by writers such asThomas Pynchon, who combinesthe opposing notes of wit and fear.

John Cheever (1912-1982)John Cheever often has been

called a “novelist of manners.” Heis also known for his elegant, sug-gestive short stories, which scruti-nize the New York business worldthrough its effects on the busi-nessmen, their wives, children, andfriends.

A wry melancholy and never quitequenched but seemingly hopelessdesire for passion or metaphysicalcertainty lurks in the shadows ofCheever’s finely drawn, Chekhoviantales, collected in The Way SomePeople Live (1943), The House-breaker of Shady Hill (1958), SomePeople, Places, and Things That WillNot Appear in My Next Novel(1961), The Brigadier and the GolfWidow (1964), and The World ofApples (1973). His titles reveal hischaracteristic nonchalance, play-fulness, and irreverence, and hintat his subject matter.

Cheever also published severalnovels — The Wapshot Scandal



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(1964), Bullet Park (1969), andFalconer (1977) — the last ofwhich was largely autobiographical.

John Updike (1932- )John Updike, like Cheever, is also

regarded as a writer of mannerswith his suburban settings, domes-tic themes, reflections of ennuiand wistfulness, and, particularly,his fictional locales on the easternseaboard of the United States, inMassachusetts and Pennsylvania.

Updike is best known for his fiveRabbit books, depictions of thelife of a man — Harry “Rabbit”Angstrom — through the ebbs andflows of his existence across fourdecades of American social andpolitical history. Rabbit, Run (1960)is a mirror of the 1950s, withAngstrom an aimless, disaffectedyoung husband. Rabbit Redux(1971) — spotlighting the counter-culture of the 1960s — findsAngstrom still without a clear goalor purpose or viable escape routefrom the banal. In Rabbit Is Rich(1981), Harry has become a pros-perous businessman during the1970s, as the Vietnam era wanes.The final novel, Rabbit at Rest(1990), glimpses Angstrom’s rec-onciliation with life, before hisdeath from a heart attack, againstthe backdrop of the 1980s. InUpdike’s 1995 novella RabbitRemembered, his adult childrenrecall Rabbit.

Among Updike’s other novels areThe Centaur (1963), Couples(1968), A Month of Sundays (1975),Roger’s Version (1986), and S.

(l988). Updike creates an alter ego— a writer whose fame ironicallythreatens to silence him — inanother series of novels: Bech: ABook (l970), Bech Is Back (1982),and Bech at Bay (1998).

pdike possesses the mostbrilliant style of any writertoday, and his short stories

offer scintillating examples of its range and inventiveness.Collections include The Same Door(1959), The Music School (1966),Museums and Women (1972), TooFar To Go (1979), and Problems(1979). He has also written severalvolumes of poetry and essays.

J.D. Salinger (1919- )A harbinger of things to come in

the 1960s, J.D. Salinger has por-trayed attempts to drop out of soci-ety. Born in New York City, heachieved huge literary success withthe publication of his novel TheCatcher in the Rye (1951), centeredon a sensitive 16-year-old, HoldenCaulfield, who flees his elite board-ing school for the outside world ofadulthood, only to become disillu-sioned by its materialism andphoniness.

When asked what he would like tobe, Caulfield answers “the catcherin the rye,” misquoting a poem byRobert Burns. In his vision, he is amodern version of a white knight,the sole preserver of innocence. Heimagines a big field of rye so tallthat a group of young children can-not see where they are running asthey play their games. He is the onlybig person there. “I’m standing on




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the edge of some crazy cliff. What Ihave to do, I have to catch every-body if they start to go over thecliff.” The fall over the cliff isequated with the loss of childhoodinnocence — a persistent themeof the era.

Other works by this reclusive,spare writer include Nine Stories(1953), Franny and Zooey (1961),and Raise High the Roof Beam,Carpenters (1963), a collection ofstories from The New Yorker maga-zine. Since the appearance of onestory in 1965, Salinger — who lives inNew Hampshire — has been absentfrom the American literary scene.

Jack Kerouac (1922-1969)The son of an impoverished

French-Canadian family, JackKerouac also questioned the valuesof middle-class life. He met mem-bers of the Beat literary under-ground as an undergraduate atColumbia University in New YorkCity. His fiction was much influ-enced by the loosely autobiographi-cal work of southern novelistThomas Wolfe.

erouac’s best-known novel,On the Road (1957),

describes beatniks wan-dering through America seeking anidealistic dream of communal lifeand beauty. The Dharma Bums(1958) also focuses on peripateticcounterculture intellectuals andtheir infatuation with ZenBuddhism. Kerouac also penned abook of poetry, Mexico City Blues(1959), and volumes about his lifewith such beatniks as experimental

novelist William Burroughs andpoet Allen Ginsberg.


The alienation and stress under-lying the 1950s found outwardexpression in the 1960s in theUnited States in the civil rightsmovement, feminism, antiwarprotests, minority activism, and thearrival of a counterculture whoseeffects are still being workedthrough American society. Notablepolitical and social works of the erainclude the speeches of civil rightsleader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,the early writings of feministleader Betty Friedan (TheFeminine Mystique), and NormanMailer’s The Armies of the Night(1968), about a 1967 antiwar march.

The 1960s were marked by a blur-ring of the line between fiction andfact, novels and reportage that hascarried through the present day.Novelist Truman Capote (1924-1984) — who had dazzled readersas an enfant terrible of the late1940s and 1950s in such works asBreakfast at Tiffany’s (1958) —stunned audiences with In ColdBlood (1965), a riveting analysis ofa brutal mass murder in theAmerican heartland that read like awork of detective fiction.

At the same time, the NewJournalism emerged — volumes ofnonfiction that combined journal-ism with techniques of fiction, orthat frequently played with thefacts, reshaping them to add to thedrama and immediacy of the story


he alienation andstress underlyingthe 1950s found outward expression in the 1960s in the United States in the civil rightsmovement,feminism, antiwar protests,minorityactivism, and thearrival of a counterculturewhose effects are still being workedthroughAmerican society.



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being reported. In The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test(1968), Tom Wolfe (1931- ) celebrated the coun-terculture wanderlust of novelist Ken Kesey(1935-2001); Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing theFlak Catchers (1970) ridiculed many aspects ofleft-wing activism. Wolfe later wrote an exuber-ant and insightful history of the initial phase ofthe U.S. space program, The Right Stuff (1979),and a novel, The Bonfire of the Vanities (1987), apanoramic portrayal of American society in the1980s.

As the 1960s evolved, literature flowed with theturbulence of the era. An ironic, comic vision alsocame into view, reflected in the fabulism of sev-eral writers. Examples include Ken Kesey’s dark-ly comic One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1962),a novel about life in a mental hospital in whichthe wardens are more disturbed than theinmates, and the whimsical, fantastic TroutFishing in America (1967) by Richard Brautigan(1935-1984).

The comical and fantastic yielded a new mode,half comic and half metaphysical, in ThomasPynchon’s paranoid, brilliant V and The Crying ofLot 49, John Barth’s Giles Goat-Boy, and thegrotesque short stories of Donald Barthelme(1931-1989), whose first collection, Come Back,Dr. Caligari, was published in 1964.

This new mode came to be called metafiction— self-conscious or reflexive fiction that callsattention to its own technique. Such “fictionabout fiction” emphasizes language and style,and departs from the conventions of realismsuch as rounded characters, a believable plotenabling a character’s development, and appro-priate settings. In metafiction, the writer’s styleattracts the reader’s attention. The true subjectis not the characters, but rather the writer’s ownconsciousness.

Critics of the time commonly groupedPynchon, Barth, and Barthelme as metafiction-ists, along with William Gaddis (1922-1998),whose long novel JR (l975), about a young boy

who builds up a phony business empire fromjunk bonds, eerily forecasts Wall Street excessesto come. His shorter, more accessibleCarpenter’s Gothic (1985) combines romancewith menace. Gaddis is often linked with mid-western philosopher/novelist William Gass(1924- ), best known for his early, thoughtfulnovel Omensetter’s Luck (1966), and for storiescollected in In the Heart of the Heart of theCountry (1968).

Robert Coover (1932- ) is another metafictionwriter. His collection of stories Pricksongs &Descants (1969) plays with plots familiar fromfolktales and popular culture, while his novel ThePublic Burning (1977) deconstructs the execu-tion of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who wereconvicted of espionage.

Thomas Pynchon (1937- )Thomas Pynchon, a mysterious, publicity-shun-

ning author, was born in New York and graduatedfrom Cornell University in 1958, where he mayhave come under the influence of VladimirNabokov. Certainly, his innovative fantasies usethemes of translating clues, games, and codesthat could derive from Nabokov. Pynchon’s flexi-ble tone can modulate paranoia into poetry.

ll of Pynchon’s fiction is similarly structured. Avast plot is unknown to at least one of themain characters, whose task it then

becomes to render order out of chaos and deci-pher the world. This project, exactly the job ofthe traditional artist, devolves also upon thereader, who must follow along and watch forclues and meanings. This paranoid vision isextended across continents and time itself, forPynchon employs the metaphor of entropy, thegradual running down of the universe. The mas-terful use of popular culture — particularly sci-ence fiction and detective fiction — is evident inhis works.

Pynchon’s work V (1963) is loosely structuredaround Benny Profane — a failure who engages in



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pointless wanderings and variousweird enterprises — and his oppo-site, the educated Herbert Stencil,who seeks a mysterious female spy,V (alternatively Venus, Virgin, Void).The Crying of Lot 49 (1966), a shortwork, deals with a secret systemassociated with the U.S. PostalService. Gravity’s Rainbow (1973)takes place during World War II inLondon, when rockets were fallingon the city, and concerns a farcicalyet symbolic search for Nazis andother disguised figures.

In Pynchon’s comic novelVineland (l990), set in northernCalifornia, shadowy forces withinfederal agencies endanger individu-als. In the novel Mason & Dixon(1997), partly set in the wildernessof 1765, two English explorers sur-vey the line that would come todivide the North and South in theUnited States. Again, Pynchon seespower wielded unjustly. Dixon asks:“No matter where…we go, shall wefind all the World Tyrants andSlaves?” Despite its range, the vio-lence, comedy, and flair for innova-tion in his work inexorably linkPynchon with the 1960s.

John Barth (1930- )John Barth, a native of Maryland,

is more interested in how a story istold than in the story itself, butwhere Pynchon deludes the readerby false trails and possible cluesout of detective novels, Barthentices his audience into a carnivalfun house full of distorting mirrorsthat exaggerate some featureswhile minimizing others.

Realism is the enemy for Barth,the author of Lost in the Funhouse(1968), 14 stories that constantlyrefer to the processes of writingand reading. Barth’s intent is toalert the reader to the artificialnature of reading and writing andto prevent him or her from beingdrawn into the story as if it werereal. To explode the illusion of real-ism, Barth uses a panoply of reflex-ive devices to remind his audiencethat they are reading.

Barth’s earlier works, like SaulBellow’s, were questioning andexistential, and took up the 1950sthemes of escape and wandering.In The Floating Opera (1956), aman considers suicide. The End ofthe Road (1958) concerns a com-plex love affair. Works of the 1960sbecame more comical and lessrealistic. The Sot-Weed Factor(1960) parodies an 18th-centurypicaresque style, while Giles Goat-Boy (1966) is a parody of the worldseen as a university.

Chimera (1972) retells talesfrom Greek mythology, and Letters(1979) uses Barth himself as acharacter, as Norman Mailer doesin The Armies of the Night. InSabbatical: A Romance (1982),Barth uses the popular fictionmotif of the spy; this is the story ofa woman college professor and herhusband, a retired secret agentturned novelist. Later novels —The Tidewater Tales (1987), TheLast Voyage of Somebody the Sailor(1991), and Once Upon a Time: AFloating Opera (1994) revealBarth’s “passionate virtuosity” (his

o matterwhere…we go,shall we find allthe World Tyrants andSlaves?” Despiteits range, theviolence, comedy, and flairfor innovation in his work inexorably linkPynchon with the 1960s.



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own phrase) in negotiating thechaotic, oceanic world with thebright rigging of language.

Norman Mailer (1923- )Norman Mailer made himself the

most visible novelist of the l960sand l970s. Co-founder of the anti-establishment New York City weekly The Village Voice, Mailerpublicized himself along with hispolitical views. In his appetite forexperience, vigorous style, and adramatic public persona, Mailer fol-lows in the tradition of ErnestHemingway. To gain a vantage pointon the assassination of PresidentJohn F. Kennedy, Vietnam Warprotests, black liberation, and thewomen’s movement, he construct-ed hip, existentialist, macho malepersonae (in her book SexualPolitics, Kate Millett identifiedMailer as an archetypal male chau-vinist). The irrepressible Mailerwent on to marry six times and runfor mayor of New York.

Mailer is the reverse of a writerlike John Barth, for whom the sub-ject is not as important as the way itis handled. Unlike the invisibleThomas Pynchon, Mailer constantlycourts and demands attention.

A novelist, essayist, sometimepolitician, literary activist, andoccasional actor, Mailer is alwayson the scene. From such NewJournalism exercises as Miami andthe Siege of Chicago (1968), an analysis of the 1968 U.S. presi-dential conventions, and his compelling study about the execu-tion of a condemned murderer, The

Executioner’s Song (1979), Mailerhas turned to writing such ambi-tious, if flawed, novels as AncientEvenings (1983), set in the Egypt ofantiquity, and Harlot’s Ghost (1991),revolving around the U.S. CentralIntelligence Agency.

Philip Roth (1933- )Like Norman Mailer, Philip Roth

has provoked controversy by min-ing his life for fiction. In Roth’scase, his treatments of sexualthemes and ironic analysis ofJewish life have drawn popular andcritical attention, as well as criti-cism.

Roth’s first book, Goodbye,Columbus (1959), satirized provin-cial Jewish suburbanites. In hisbest-known novel, the outrageous,best-selling Portnoy’s Complaint(1969), a New York City administra-tor regales his taciturn psychoana-lyst with off-color stories of hisboyhood.

Although The Great AmericanNovel (1973) delves into baseballlore, most of Roth’s novels remainresolutely, even defiantly, autobio-graphical. In My Life As a Man(1974), under the stress of divorce,a man resorts to creating an alter-ego, Nathan Zuckerman, whose sto-ries constitute one pole of the nar-rative, the other pole being the dif-ferent kinds of readers’ responses.Zuckerman seemingly takes over ina series of subsequent novels. Themost successful is probably thefirst, The Ghost Writer (1979). It istold by Zuckerman as a young writercriticized by Jewish elders for fan-


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ning anti-Semitism. In ZuckermanBound (1985), a novel has madeZuckerman rich but notorious. InThe Counterlife (1986), the fifthZuckerman novel, stories vie withstories, as Nathan’s supposed life iscontrasted with other imaginablelives. Roth’s memoir The Facts(1988) twists the screw further; init, Zuckerman criticizes Roth’s ownnarrative style.

oth continues wavering onthe border between fact andfiction in Patrimony: A True

Story (1991), a memoir about thedeath of his father. His recent nov-els include American Pastoral(1997), in which a daughter’s 1960sradicalism wounds a father, and TheHuman Stain (2000), about a pro-fessor whose career is ruined by aracial misunderstanding based onlanguage.

Roth is a profound analyst ofJewish strengths and weaknesses.His characterizations are nuanced;his protagonists are complex, indi-vidualized, and deeply human.Roth’s series of autobiographicalnovels about a writer recalls JohnUpdike’s recent Bech series, and itis master-stylist Updike with whomRoth — widely admired for his sup-ple, ingenious style — is mostoften compared.

Despite its brilliance and wit,some readers find Roth’s work self-absorbed. Still, his vigorousaccomplishment over almost 50years has earned him a place amongthe most distinguished of Americannovelists.

SOUTHERN WRITERSSouthern writing of the l960s

tended, like the then still largelyagrarian southern region, toadhere to time-honored traditions.It remained rooted in realism andan ethical, if not religious, visionduring this decade of radicalchange. Recurring southernthemes include family, the familyhome, history, the land, religion,guilt, identity, death, and the searchfor redemptive meaning in life.Like William Faulkner and ThomasWolfe (Look Homeward, Angel,1929), who inspired the “southernrenaissance” in literature, manysouthern writers of the 1960s werescholars and elaborate stylists,revering the written word as a linkwith traditions rooted in the classi-cal world.

Many have been influentialteachers. Kentucky-born CarolineGordon (1895-1981), who marriedsouthern poet Allen Tate, was arespected professor of writing.She set her novels in her nativeKentucky. Truman Capote was bornin New Orleans and spent part ofhis childhood in small towns inLouisiana and Alabama, the set-tings for many of his early works inthe elegant, decadent, southerngothic vein.

African-American writing profes-sor Ernest Gaines (1933- ), alsoborn in New Orleans, set many ofhis moving, thoughtful works in thelargely black rural bayou country ofLouisiana. Perhaps his best knownnovel, The Autobiography of MissJane Pittman (1971), reflects on




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the sweep of time from the end of the Civil Warin 1865 up to 1960. Concerned with human issuesdeeper than skin color, Gaines handles racialrelations subtly.

Reynolds Price (1933- ), a long-time professorat Duke University, was born in North Carolina,which furnishes the scenes for many of hisworks, such as A Long and Happy Life (1961).Like William Faulkner and Robert Penn Warren,he peoples his southern terrain with interlinkedfamilies close to their roots and broods on thepassing of time and the imperative to expiateancient wrongs. His meditative, poetic stylerecalls the classical literary tradition of the oldSouth. Partially paralyzed due to cancer, Price hasexplored physical suffering in The Promise ofRest (1995), about a father tending his son who isdying of AIDS. His highly regarded novel KateVaiden (1986) reveals his ability to evoke awoman’s life.

Walker Percy (1916-1990), a resident ofLouisiana, was raised as a member of the south-ern aristocracy. His very readable novels — byturns comic, lyrical, moralizing, and satirical —reveal his awareness of social class and his con-version to Catholicism. His best novel is his first,The Moviegoer (l961). This story of a charmingbut aimless young New Orleans stockbrokershows the influence of French existentialismtransplanted to the booming and often brashNew South that burgeoned after World War II.

THE 1970s AND 1980s: CONSOLIDATIONBy the mid-1970s, an era of consolidation had

begun. The Vietnam conflict was over, followedsoon afterward by U.S. recognition of thePeople’s Republic of China and America’s bicen-tennial celebration. Soon the 1980s — the “MeDecade” in Tom Wolfe’s phrase — ensued, inwhich individuals tended to focus more on per-sonal concerns than on larger social issues.

In literature, old currents remained, but theforce behind pure experimentation dwindled.

New novelists like John Gardner, John Irving(The World According to Garp, 1978), PaulTheroux (The Mosquito Coast, 1981), WilliamKennedy (Ironweed, 1983), and Alice Walker (TheColor Purple, 1982) surfaced with stylisticallybrilliant novels to portray moving human dramas.Concern with setting, character, and themesassociated with realism returned, along withrenewed interest in history, as in works by E.L.Doctorow.

ealism, abandoned by experimental writers in the 1960s, also crept back,often mingled with bold original

elements — a daring structure like a novel with-in a novel, as in John Gardner’s October Light, orblack American dialect as in Alice Walker’s TheColor Purple. Minority literature began to flour-ish. Drama shifted from realism to more cinematic, kinetic techniques. At the same time,however, the Me Decade was reflected in suchbrash new talents as Jay McInerney (BrightLights, Big City, 1984), Bret Easton Ellis (LessThan Zero, 1985), and Tama Janowitz (Slaves ofNew York, 1986).

E.L. Doctorow (1931- )The novels of E.L. Doctorow demonstrate the

transition from metafiction to a new and morehuman sensibility. His critically acclaimed novelabout the high human cost of the Cold War, TheBook of Daniel (1971), is based on the executionof Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for espionage, toldin the voice of the bereaved son. Robert Coover’sThe Public Burning treats the same topic, butDoctorow’s book conveys more warmth and emotion.

Doctorow’s Ragtime (1975) is a rich, kaleido-scopic collage of the United States beginning in1906. As John Dos Passos had done severaldecades earlier in his trilogy U.S.A., Doctorowmingles fictional characters with real ones tocapture the era’s flavor and complexity.Doctorow’s fictional history of the United States



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is continued in Loon Lake (1979), set in the1930s, about a ruthless capitalist who dominatesand destroys idealistic people.

Later Doctorow novels are the autobiographi-cal World’s Fair (1985), about an eight-year-oldboy growing up in the Depression of the 1930s;Billy Bathgate (l989), about Dutch Schultz, a realNew York gangster; and The Waterworks (1994),set in New York during the 1870s. City of God(2000) — the title referencing St. Augustine —turns to New York in the present. A Christian cler-ic’s consciousness interweaves the city’s general-ized poverty, crime, and loneliness with stories ofpeople whose lives touch his. The book hints atDoctorow’s abiding belief that writing — a form ofwitnessing — is a mode of human survival.

Doctorow’s techniques are eclectic. His stylis-tic exuberance and formal inventiveness link himwith metafiction writers like Thomas Pynchonand John Barth, but his novels remain rooted inrealism and history. His use of real people andevents links him with the New Journalism of thel960s and with Norman Mailer, Truman Capote,and Tom Wolfe, while his use of fictional memoir,as in World’s Fair, looks forward to writers likeMaxine Hong Kingston and the flowering of thememoir in the 1990s.

William Styron (1925-2006)rom the Tidewater area of Virginia, south-erner William Styron wrote ambitious

novels that set individuals in places andtimes that test the limits of their humanity. Hisearly works include the acclaimed Lie Down inDarkness (1951), which begins with the suicideof a beautiful southern woman — who leapsfrom a New York skyscraper — and works back-ward in time to explore the dark forces withinher family that drew her to her death.

The Faulknerian treatment, including darksouthern gothic themes, flashbacks, and streamof consciousness monologues, brought Styronfame that turned to controversy when he pub-

lished his Pulitzer Prize-winning The Confessionsof Nat Turner (1967). This novel re-creates themost violent slave uprising in U.S. history, asseen through the eyes of its leader. The bookcame out at the height of the “black power”movement, and, unsurprisingly, the depiction ofNat Turner drew sharp criticism from manyAfrican-American observers, although somecame to Styron’s defense.

Styron’s fascination with individual human actsset against backdrops of larger racial injusticecontinues in Sophie’s Choice (1979), anothertour de force about the doom of a lovely woman— the topic that Edgar Allan Poe, the presidingspirit of southern writers, found the most mov-ing of all possible subjects. In this novel, a beau-tiful Polish woman who has survived Auschwitz isdefeated by its remembered agonies, summedup in the moment she was made to choose whichone of her children would live and which onewould die. The book makes complex parallelsbetween the racism of the South and theHolocaust.

More recently Styron, like many other writers,turned to the memoir form. His short account ofhis near-suicidal depression, Darkness Visible:A Memoir of Madness (1990), recalls the terribleundertow that his own doomed characters musthave felt. In the autobiographical fictions inA Tidewater Morning (1993), the shimmering,oppressively hot Virginia coast where he grew upmirrors and extends the speaker’s shiftingconsciousness.

John Gardner (1933-1982)John Gardner, from a farming background in

New York State, was his era’s most importantspokesperson for ethical values in literatureuntil his death in a motorcycle accident. He was aprofessor of English specializing in the medievalperiod; his most popular novel, Grendel (1971),retells the Old English epic Beowulf from themonster’s existentialist point of view. The short,



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vivid, and often comic novel is asubtle argument against the exis-tentialism that fills its protagonistwith self-destructive despair andcynicism.

A prolific and popular novelist,Gardner used a realistic approachbut employed innovative techniques— such as flashbacks, stories withinstories, retellings of myths, and con-trasting stories — to bring out thetruth of a human situation. Hisstrengths are characterization (par-ticularly his sympathetic portraits ofordinary people) and colorful style.Major works include TheResurrection (1966), The SunlightDialogues (1972), Nickel Mountain(1973), October Light (1976), andMickelsson’s Ghosts (1982).

Gardner’s fictional patterns sug-gest the curative powers of fellow-ship, duty, and family obligations,and in this sense Gardner was aprofoundly traditional and conserv-ative author. He endeavored todemonstrate that certain valuesand acts lead to fulfilling lives. Hisbook On Moral Fiction (1978) callsfor novels that embody ethical val-ues rather than dazzle with emptytechnical innovation. The book cre-ated a furor, largely becauseGardner bluntly criticized impor-tant living authors — especiallywriters of metafiction — for failingto reflect ethical concerns. Gardnerargued for a warm, human, ulti-mately more realistic and sociallyengaged fiction, such as that ofJoyce Carol Oates and ToniMorrison.

Joyce Carol Oates (1938- )Joyce Carol Oates is the most

prolific serious novelist of recentdecades, having published novels,short stories, poetry, nonfiction,plays, critical studies, and essays.She uses what she has called “psy-chological realism” on a panoramicrange of subjects and forms.

Oates has authored a Gothic tril-ogy consisting of Bellefleur (1980),A Bloodsmoor Romance (1982), andMysteries of Winterthurn (l984); anonfiction book, On Boxing (l987);and a study of Marilyn Monroe(Blonde, 2000). Her plots are darkand often hinge on violence, whichshe finds to be deeply rooted in theAmerican psyche.

Toni Morrison (1931- )African-American novelist Toni

Morrison was born in Ohio to aspiritually oriented family. Sheattended Howard University inWashington, D.C., and has workedas a senior editor in a majorWashington publishing house andas a distinguished professor at var-ious universities.

Morrison’s richly woven fictionhas gained her internationalacclaim. In compelling, large-spirit-ed novels, she treats the complexidentities of black people in a uni-versal manner. In her early workThe Bluest Eye (1970), a strong-willed young black girl tells thestory of Pecola Breedlove, who isdriven mad by an abusive father.Pecola believes that her dark eyeshave magically become blue andthat they will make her lovable.


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Morrison has said that she was cre-ating her own sense of identity as awriter through this novel: “I wasPecola, Claudia, everybody.”

Sula (1973) describes the strongfriendship of two women. Morrisonpaints African-American women asunique, fully individual charactersrather than as stereotypes.Morrison’s Song of Solomon (1977)has won several awards. It follows ablack man, Milkman Dead, and hiscomplex relations with his familyand community. In Tar Baby (1981)Morrison deals with black andwhite relations. Beloved (1987) isthe wrenching story of a womanwho murders her children ratherthan allow them to live as slaves. Itemploys the dreamlike techniquesof magical realism in depicting amysterious figure, Beloved, whor*turns to live with the mother whohas slit her throat.

Jazz (1992), set in 1920s Harlem,is a story of love and murder; inParadise (1998), males of the all-black Oklahoma town of Ruby killneighbors from an all-women’s set-tlement. Morrison reveals thatexclusion, whether by sex or race,however appealing it may seem,leads ultimately not to paradise butto a hell of human devising.

In her accessible nonfiction bookPlaying in the Dark: Whiteness andthe Literary Imagination (1992),Morrison discerns a defining cur-rent of racial consciousness inAmerican literature. Morrison hassuggested that though her novelsare consummate works of art, theycontain political meanings: “I am

not interested in indulging myselfin some private exercise of myimagination...yes, the work must bepolitical.” In 1993, Morrison wonthe Nobel Prize for Literature.

Alice Walker (1944- )Alice Walker, an African-

American and the child of a share-cropper family in rural Georgia,graduated from Sarah LawrenceCollege, where one of her teacherswas the politically committedfemale poet Muriel Rukeyser.Other influences on her work havebeen Flannery O’Connor and ZoraNeale Hurston.

A “womanist” writer, as Walkercalls herself, she has long beenassociated with feminism, present-ing black existence from the femaleperspective. Like Toni Morrison,Jamaica Kincaid, the late Toni CadeBambara, and other accomplishedcontemporary black novelists,Walker uses heightened, lyricalrealism to center on the dreamsand failures of accessible, crediblepeople. Her work underscores thequest for dignity in human life. Afine stylist, particularly in her epis-tolary dialect novel The ColorPurple, her work seeks to educate.In this she resembles the blackAmerican novelist Ishmael Reed,whose satires expose social prob-lems and racial issues.

Walker’s The Color Purple is thestory of the love between two poorblack sisters that survives a separa-tion over years, interwoven with thestory of how, during that same peri-od, the shy, ugly, and uneducated


orrison’srichly woven fiction has gainedher internationalacclaim. In compelling,large-spiritednovels, she treatsthe complexidentities of blackpeople in a universal manner.


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sister discovers her inner strength through thesupport of a female friend. The theme of thesupport women give each other recalls MayaAngelou’s autobiography, I Know Why the CagedBird Sings, which celebrates the mother-daugh-ter connection, and the work of white feministssuch as Adrienne Rich. The Color Purple portraysmen as basically unaware of the needs and reali-ty of women.

Although many critics find Walker’s work toodidactic or ideological, a large general reader-ship appreciates her bold explorations ofAfrican-American womanhood. Her novels shedlight on festering issues such as the harsh legacyof sharecropping (The Third Life of GrangeCopeland, 1970) and female circumcision(Possessing the Secret Joy, 1992).

THE RISE OF MULTIETHNIC FICTIONewish-American writers like Saul Bellow,Bernard Malamud, Isaac Bashevis Singer,Arthur Miller, Philip Roth, and Norman

Mailer were the first since the 19th-century abo-litionists and African-American writers of slavenarratives to address ethnic prejudice and theplight of the outsider. They explored new ways ofprojecting an awareness that was both Americanand specific to a subculture. In this, they openedthe door for the flowering of multiethnic writingin the decades to come.

The close of the 1980s and the beginnings ofthe 1990s saw minority writing become a majorfixture on the American literary landscape. Thisis true in drama as well as in prose. The lateAugust Wilson (1945-2005) wrote an acclaimedcycle of plays about the 20th-century black expe-rience that stands alongside the work of novel-ists Alice Walker, John Edgar Wideman, and ToniMorrison. Scholars such as Lawrence Levine(The Opening of the American Mind: Canons,Culture and History, 1996) and Ronald Takaki (ADifferent Mirror: A History of MulticulturalAmerica, 1993) provide invaluable context for

understanding multiethnic literature and itsmeanings.

Asian Americans also took their place on thescene. Maxine Hong Kingston, author of TheWoman Warrior (1976), carved out a place forher fellow Asian Americans. Among them is AmyTan (1952- ), whose luminous novels of Chineselife transposed to post-World War II America(The Joy Luck Club, 1989, and The Kitchen God’sWife, 1991) captivated readers. David HenryHwang (1957- ), a California-born son of Chineseimmigrants, made his mark in drama, with playssuch as F.O.B. (1981) and M. Butterfly (1986).

A relatively new group on the literary horizonwere the Latino-American writers, including thePulitzer Prize-winning novelist Oscar Hijuelos,the Cuban-born author of The Mambo Kings PlaySongs of Love (1989). Leading writers ofMexican-American descent include SandraCisneros (Woman Hollering Creek and OtherStories, 1991); and Rudolfo Anaya, author of thepoetic novel Bless Me, Ultima (1972).

Native-American fiction flowered. Most oftenthe authors evoked the loss of traditional lifebased in nature, the stressful attempt to adapt tomodern life, and their struggles with poverty,unemployment, and alcoholism. The PulitzerPrize-winning House Made of Dawn (1968), by N.Scott Momaday (1934- ), and his poetic The Wayto Rainy Mountain (1969) evoke the beauty anddespair of Kiowa Indian life. Of mixed Pueblodescent, Leslie Marmon Silko wrote the critical-ly esteemed novel Ceremony (1977), whichgained a large general audience. Like Momaday’sworks, hers is a “chant novel” structured onNative-American healing rituals.

Blackfoot poet and novelist James Welch(1940-2003) detailed the struggles of NativeAmericans in his slender, nearly flawless novelsWinter in the Blood (1974), The Death of JimLoney (1979), Fools Crow (1986), and The IndianLawyer (1990). Louise Erdrich, part Chippewa,has written a powerful series of novels inaugu-



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rated by Love Medicine (1984) thatcapture the tangled lives of dysfunctional reservation familieswith a poignant blend of stoicismand humor.

AMERICAN DRAMAfter World War I, popular and

lucrative musicals hadincreasingly dominated the

Broadway theatrical scene. Serioustheater retreated to smaller, lessexpensive theaters “off Broadway”or outside New York City.

This situation repeated itselfafter World War II. American dramahad languished in the l950s, con-strained by the Cold War andMcCarthyism. The energy of thel960s revived it. The off-off-Broadway movement presented aninnovative alternative to commer-cialized popular theater.

Many of the major dramatistsafter 1960 produced their work insmall venues. Freed from the needto make enough money to pay forexpensive playhouses, they werenewly inspired by European exis-tentialism and the so-calledTheater of the Absurd associatedwith European playwrights SamuelBeckett, Jean Genet, and EugeneIonesco, as well as by Harold Pinter.The best dramatists became innov-ative and even surreal, rejectingrealistic theater to attack superficial social conventions.

Edward Albee (1928- )The most influential dramatist of

the early 1960s was Edward Albee,who was adopted into a well-off

family that had owned vaudevilletheaters and counted actors amongtheir friends. Helping produceEuropean absurdist theater, Albeeactively brought new European cur-rents into U.S. drama. In TheAmerican Dream (1960), stick fig-ures of Mommy, Daddy, andGrandma recite platitudes that car-icature a loveless, conventionalfamily.

Loss of identity and consequentstruggles for power to fill the voidpropel Albee’s plays, such as Who’sAfraid of Virginia Woolf? (l962). Inthis controversial drama, made intoa film starring Elizabeth Taylor andRichard Burton, an unhappily mar-ried couple’s shared fantasy —that they have a child, that theirlives have meaning — is violentlyexposed as an untruth.

Albee has continued to producedistinguished work over severaldecades, including Tiny Alice(l964); A Delicate Balance (l966);Seascape (l975); Marriage Play(1987); and Three Tall Women(1991), which follows the maincharacter, who resembles Albee'soverbearing adoptive mother,through three stages of life.

Amiri Baraka (1934- )Poet Amiri Baraka, known for

supple, speech-oriented poetrywith an affinity to improvisationaljazz, turned to drama in the l960s.Always searching to find himself,Baraka has changed his name sev-eral times as he has sought todefine his identity as a blackAmerican. Baraka explored various


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paths of life in his early years,flunking out of Howard Universityand becoming dishonorably dis-charged from the U.S. Air Force foralleged Communism. During theseyears, his true vocation of writingemerged.

During the l960s, Baraka lived inNew York City’s Greenwich Village,where he knew many artists andwriters including Frank O’Hara andAllen Ginsberg.

By 1965, Baraka had started theBlack Arts Repertory Theater inHarlem, the black section of NewYork City. He portrayed blacknationalist views of racism in dis-turbing plays such as Dutchman(1964), in which a white womanflirts with and eventually kills ayounger black man on a New YorkCity subway. The realistic first halfof the play sparkles with witty dia-logue and subtle characterization.The shocking ending risks melodra-ma to dramatize racial misunder-standing and the victimization ofthe black male protagonist.

Sam Shepard (1943- )Actor/dramatist Sam Shepard

spent his childhood moving with hisfamily from army base to army basefollowing his father, who had been apilot in World War II. He spent histeen years on a ranch in the barrendesert east of Los Angeles,California. In secondary school,Shepard found solace in the Beatpoets; he learned jazz drummingand later played in a rock band.Shepard produced his first plays,Cowboys and The Rock Garden, in

1964. They prefigure his matureworks in their western motifs andtheme of male competition.

Of almost 50 works for stage andscreen, Shepard’s most esteemedare three interrelated plays evokinglove and violence in the family: Curseof the Starving Class (1976), BuriedChild (1978), and True West (1980),his best-known work. In True West,two middle-aged brothers, an edu-cated screenwriter and a driftingthief, compete to write a true-to-lifewestern play for a rich, urban movieproducer. Each thinking he needswhat the other has — success,freedom — the two brotherschange places in an atmosphere ofincreasing violence fueled by alco-hol. The play registers Shepard’sconcern with loss of freedom,authenticity, and autonomy inAmerican life. It dramatizes the van-ishing frontier (the drifter) and theAmerican imagination (the writer),seduced by money, the media, andcommercial forces, personified bythe producer.

In his writing process, Shepardtries to re-create a zone of freedomby allowing his characters to act inunpredictable, spontaneous, some-times illogical ways. The mostfamous example comes from TrueWest. In a gesture meant to suggestlawless freedom, the distraughtwriter steals numerous toasters.Totally unrealistic yet oddly believ-able on an emotional level, thescene works as comedy, absurddrama, and irony.

Shepard lets his characters guidehis writing, rather than beginning



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with a pre-planned plot, and hisplays are fresh and lifelike. His sur-realistic flair and experimentalismlink him with Edward Albee, but hisplays are earthier and funnier, andhis characters are drawn more real-istically. They convey a bold WestCoast consciousness and makecomments on America in their useof landscape motifs and specificsettings and contexts.

David Mamet (1947- )Equally important is David

Mamet, raised in Chicago, whosewriting was influenced by theStanislavsky method of acting thatrevealed to him the way “the lan-guage we use...determines the waywe behave, more than the other wayaround.” His emphasis on languagenot as communication but as aweapon, evasion, and manipulationof reality give Mamet a contempo-rary, postmodern sensibility.

Mamet’s hard-hitting playsinclude American Buffalo (l975), atwo-act play of increasingly violentlanguage involving a drug addict, ajunk store, and an attempted theft;and Speed-the-Plow (1987). Theacclaimed and frequently antholo-gized Glengarry Glen Ross (l982),about real estate salesmen, wasmade into an outstanding 1992movie with an all-star cast. Thisplay, like most of Mamet’s work,reveals his intense engagementwith some of America’s unresolvedissues — here, as if in an update ofArthur Miller’s Death of aSalesman, one sees the need fordignity and job security, especially

for older workers; competitionbetween older and younger genera-tions in the workplace; intensefocus on profits at the expense ofthe welfare of workers; and —enveloping all — the corrosiveatmosphere of competition carriedto abusive lengths.

Mamet’s Oleanna (l991) effec-tively dissects sexual harassmentin a university setting. TheCryptogram (1994) imagines achild’s horrific vision of family life.Recent plays include The OldNeighborhood (1991) and BostonMarriage (1999).

David Rabe (1940- )Another noted dramatist is David

Rabe, a Vietnam veteran who wasone of the first to explore thatwar’s upheaval and violence in TheBasic Training of Pavlo Hummel(l971) and Sticks and Bones (l969).Subsequent plays include TheOrphan (l973), based onAeschylus’s Oresteia; In the BoomBoom Room (1973), about the rapeof a dancer; and Hurlyburly (1984)and Those the River Keeps (l990),both about Hollywood disillusion-ment. Rabe’s recent works includeThe Crossing Guard (l994) andCorners (1998), about the conceptof honor in the Mafia.

August Wilson (1945-2005)The distinguished African-

American dramatist August Wilson,born Frederick August Kittel, wasthe son of a German immigrant whodid not concern himself with hisfamily. Wilson endured poverty and




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racism and adopted the surname ofhis African-American mother as ateenager. Influenced by the blackarts movement of the late 1960s,Wilson co-founded Pittsburgh'sBlack Horizons Theater.

Wilson’s plays explore African-American experience, organized bydecades. Ma Rainey's BlackBottom (l984), set in 1927 Chicago,depicts the famous blues singer.His acclaimed play Fences (1985),set in the 1950s, dramatizes the

conflict between a father and a son,touching on the all-Americanthemes of baseball and theAmerican dream of success. JoeTurner's Come and Gone (1986)concerns boarding-house residentsin 1911. The Piano Lesson (1987),set in the 1930s, crystallizes a fami-ly’s dynamic by focusing on the heir-loom piano. Two Trains Running(1990) takes place in a coffeehousein the 1960s, while Seven Guitars(1995) explores the 1940s. ■



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.S. poetry since 1990 has been in the midstof a kaleidoscopic renaissance. In the lat-ter half of the 20th century, there was, if

not a consensus, at least a discernible shape tothe poetic field, complete with well-defendedpositions. Well-defined schools dominated thescene, and critical discussions tended to thebinary: formalism versus free verse, academicversus experimental.

Looking back, some have seen the post-WorldWar II years as a heroic age in which Americanpoetry broke free from constraints such asrhyme and meter and flung itself heart-first intonew dimensions alongside the abstract expres-sionists in American painting. Others — experi-mentalists, multiethnic and global authors, andfeminist writers among them — recall the era’sblindness to issues of race and gender. Thesewriters experience diversity as a present bless-ing and look forward to freedoms yet unimag-ined. Their contributions have made the poetryof the present a rich cornucopia with a genuine-ly popular base.

Among the general public, interest in poetry isat an all-time high. Poetry slams generate com-petitive camaraderie among beginning writers,informal writing groups provide support and cri-tiques, and reading clubs proliferate. Writingprograms flourish at all levels, brisk poeticexchanges zip over the Internet, and universities,

magazines, and enterprising authors mount Websites. American poetry at present is a vast terri-tory of free imagination, a pot on the boil, adynamic work in progress.

The ferment of American poetry since l990makes the field decentralized and hard to define.Most anthologies showcase only one dimensionof poetry, for example, women’s writing — orgroupings of ethnic writers, or poetry with acommon inspiration — jazz poetry, cowboy poet-ry, Buddhist-influenced poems, hip-hop.

The few anthologists aspiring to represent thewhole of contemporary American poetry beginwith copious disclaimers and dwell on its dis-parate impulses: postmodernism, the expansionof the canon, ethnicities, immigration (with spe-cial mention of new voices out of South andSoutheast Asia and the Middle East), the dawn-ing of global literature, the elaboration ofwomen’s continuing contributions, the rise ofInternet technology, the influence of specificteachers or writing programs or regional impuls-es, the ubiquitous media, and the role of the poetas the lone individual voice raised against the dinof commercialism and conformity.

Poets themselves struggle to make sense ofthe flood of poetry. It is possible to envision acontinuum, with poetry of the speaking, subjec-tive self on one end, poetry of the world on theother, and a large middle range in which self andworld merge.

Poetry of the speaking self tends to focus onvivid expression and exploration of deep, oftenburied, emotion. It is psychological and intense,and its settings are secondary. In the last half ofthe 20th century, the most influential poet of thissort was Robert Lowell, whose descents into hisown psyche and his disturbed family backgroundinspired confessional writing.

Poetry of the world, on the other hand, tendsto build up meaning from narrative drive, detail,and context. It sets careful scenes. One of themost influential poets of the world was Elizabeth






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Bishop, generally considered the finestAmerican woman poet of later 20th century.

Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop were life-long friends; both taught at Harvard University.Like Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson in the19th century, Lowell and Bishop are presidinggenerative spirits for later poets. And althoughthey shared a kindred vision, their approacheswere polar opposites. Lowell’s knotty, subjective,rhetorical poetry wrests meaning from self-pre-sentation and heightened language, while Bishopoffers, instead, detailed landscapes in a decep-tively simple prosaic style. Only on rereadingdoes her precision and depth make itself felt.

Most poets hover somewhere between the twopoles. Ultimately, great poetry — whether of theself or the world — overcomes such divisions; theself and the world becoming mirrors of each other.Nevertheless, for purposes of discussion, the twomay be provisionally distinguished.

THE POETRY OF SELFoetry of self tends toward direct address ormonologue. At its most intense, it states a

condition of soul. The settings, though pre-sent, do not play definitive roles. This poetry maybe psychological or spiritual, aspiring to a time-less realm. It may also, however, undercut spiri-tual certainty by referring all meaning back tolanguage. Within this large grouping, therefore,one may find somewhat romantic, expressivepoetry, but also language-based poems thatquestion the very concepts of identity and mean-ing, seeing these as constructs.

Balancing these concerns, John Ashbery hassaid that he is interested in “the experience ofexperience,” or what filters through his con-sciousness, rather than what actually happened.His “Soonest Mended” (1970) depicts a reality“out there” lying loose and seemingly simple, butlethal as a floor on which wheat and chaff (likehuman lives, or Walt Whitman’s leaves of grass)are winnowed:

…underneath the talk liesThe moving and not wanting to be moved, the loose Meaning, untidy and simple like a threshing floor.

The enigmatic, classically trained W.S. Merwin(1927- ) continues to produce volumes of hauntingsubjective poetry. Merwin’s poem “The River ofBees” (1967) ends:

On the door it says what to do to surviveBut we were not born to surviveOnly to live

The word “only” ironically underscores howdifficult it is to live fully as human beings, anobler pursuit than mere survival. Both Ashberyand Merwin, precursors of the current genera-tion of poets of self, characteristically writemonologues detached from explicit contexts ornarratives. Merwin’s haunting existential lyricsplumb psychological depths, while Ashbery’sunexpected use of words from many registers ofhuman endeavor — psychology, farming, philos-ophy — looks forward to the Language School.

Recent poets of self have pushed more deeplyinto a phenomenological awareness of con-sciousness played out moment by moment. ForAnn Lauterbach (1942- ), the poem is an exten-sion of the mind in action; she has said that herpoetry is “an act of self-construction, the voiceits threshold.” Language poet Lyn Hejinian(1941- ) expresses the movement of conscious-ness in her autobiographical prose poem My Life(1987), which employs disjunction, surprisingleaps, and chance intersections: “I picture anidea at the moment I come to it, our collision.”Rae Armantrout (1947- ) uses silences and sub-tle, oblique associative clusters; the title poemof her volume Necromance (1991) warns that“emphatic / precision / is revealed as / hostility.”Another experimental poet, Leslie Scalapino(1947- ), writes poems as an “examination of themind in the process of whatever it’s creating.”



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Much experimental poetry of selfis elliptical, nonlinear, nonnarrative,and nonobjective; at its best, it is,however, not solipsistic but rathercircles around an “absent center.”Poetry of self often involves a publicperformance. In the case of womenpoets, the erasures, notions ofsilence, and disjunctions are oftenassociated with Julia Kristeva andother French feminist theoreti-cians. Poet Susan Howe (1937- ),who has developed a complex visu-al poetics to interweave the histori-cal and personal, has noted the dif-ficulty of tracing back female linesin archives and genealogies and theerasure of women in cultural histo-ry. For her, as a woman, “the gapsand silences are where you findyourself.”

Jorie Graham (1950- )One of the most accomplished

poets of the subjective self is JorieGraham. Born in New York, shegrew up in Italy and studied at theSorbonne in France, at New YorkUniversity (specializing in film,which continues to influence herwork), and at the Iowa Writers’Workshop, where she later taught.Since then, she has been a profes-sor at Harvard University.

Graham’s work is suffused withcosmopolitan references, and shesees the history of the UnitedStates as a part of a larger interna-tional engagement over time. Thetitle poem in her Pulitzer Prize-win-ning collection The Dream of theUnified Field: Selected Poems, 1974-1994 (1995) addresses this complex

and changing history. The poembrings together disparate ele-ments in large-gestured free asso-ciation — the poet’s walk throughthe white flecks of a snowstorm toreturn a friend’s black dance leo-tard, a flock of black starlings(birds that drive out nativespecies), a single black crow (aprotagonist of Native-Americanoral tradition) evoked as “one ink-streak on the early evening snowlitscene.”

These sense impressions sum-mon up the poet’s childhood mem-ories of Europe and her black-garbed dance teacher, and broadenout into the history of the NewWorld. Christopher Columbus’scontact with Native Americans on awhite sandy beach is likened to thepoet’s white snowstorm: “Hethought he saw Indians fleeingthrough the white before the ship,”and “In the white swirl, he placed alarge cross.”

All these elements are subordi-nated to the moving mind that con-tains them and that constantlyquestions itself. This mind, or “uni-fied field” (a set of theories inphysics that attempt to relate allforces in the universe), is likenedto the snowstorm of the beginning:

Nothing true or false in itself. Just motion. Many strips of

motion. Filaments of falling marked by the tiny certainties of flakes.

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arate vantage point. As in a film’smontage, her voice threads togeth-er disparate visions and experi-ences. Swarm (2000) deepensGraham’s metaphysical bent, emo-tional depth, and urgency.

THE POETRY OF VOICEt its furthest extreme, poetry

of self obliterates the self ifit lacks a counterbalancing

sensibility. The next stage may be apoetry of various voices or fictiveselves, breaking the monolithicidea of self into fragments andcharacters. The dramatic mono-logues of Robert Browning are19th-century antecedents. The fic-tive “I” feels solid but does notinvolve the actual author, whoseself remains offstage.

This strain of poetry often takessubjects from myth and popularculture, typically seeing modernrelationships as redefinitions orversions of older patterns. Amongcontemporary poets of voice ormonologue are Brigit Pegeen Kelly,Alberto Rios, and the Canadian poetMargaret Atwood.

Usually, the poetry of voice iswritten in the first person, but thethird person can make a similarimpact if the viewpoint is clearlythat of the characters, as in RitaDove’s Thomas and Beulah. In thisvolume, Dove intertwines biogra-phy and history to dramatize hergrandparents’ lives. Like manyAfrican Americans in the early 20thcentury, they fled poverty andracism in the rural South for workin the urban North. Dove endows

their humble lives with dignity.Thomas’s first job, as a laborer onthe third shift, requires him to livein a barracks and share a mattresswith two men he never meets. Hiswork is “a narrow grief,” but musiclifts his spirits like a beautifulwoman (forecasting Beulah, whomhe has not yet met). When Thomassings

he closes his eyes.He never knows when she’ll

be comingbut when she leaves, he always tips his hat.

Louise Glück (1943- )One of the most impressive

poets of voice is Louise Glück. Bornin New York City, Glück, the U.S.poet laureate for 2003-2004, grewup with an abiding sense of guiltdue to the death of a sister bornbefore her. At Sarah LawrenceCollege and Columbia University,she studied with poets LeonieAdams and Stanley Kunitz, and shehas attributed her psychic survivalto psychoanalysis and her studiesin poetry. Much of her poetry dealswith tragic loss.

Each of Glück’s books attemptsnew techniques, making it difficultto summarize her work. Her earlyvolumes, such as The House onMarshland (l975) and The Triumphof Achilles (1985), handle autobio-graphical material at a psychic dis-tance, while in later books she ismore direct. Meadowlands (1996)employs comic wit and referencesto the Odyssey to depict a



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failing marriage.In Glück’s memorable The Wild

Iris (1992), different kinds of flow-ers utter short metaphysical mono-logues. The book’s title poem, anexploration of resurrection, couldbe an epigraph for Glück’s work asa whole. The wild iris, a gorgeousdeep blue flower growing from abulb that lies dormant all winter,says: “It is terrible to survive / asconsciousness / buried in the darkearth.” Like Jorie Graham’s visionof the self merged in the snow-storm, Glück’s poem ends with avision of world and self merged —this time in the water of life, blueon blue:

You who do not rememberpassage from the other worldI tell you I could speak again:

whateverreturns from oblivion returnsto find a voice;

from the center of my life camea great fountain, deep blueshadows on azure seawater.

Like Graham, Glück merges theself into the world through a fluidimagery of water. While Graham’sfrozen water — snow — resem-bles sand, the earth ground up atthe sea’s edge, Glück’s blue freshwater — signifying her heart —merges with the salt sea of theworld.

THE POETRY OF PLACEnumber of poets — these arenot groups, but nationwide

tendencies — find deepinspiration in specific landscapes.Instances are Robert Hass’s lyricalevocations of Northern California,Mark Jarman’s Southern Californiacoastlines and memories of surf-ing, Tess Gallagher’s poems set inthe Pacific Northwest, and SimonOrtiz’s and Jimmy Santiago Baca’spoems emanating from southwest-ern landscapes. Each subregionhas inspired poetry: C.D. (Carolyn)Wright’s hardscrabble upper Southis far from Yusef Komunyakaa’shumid Louisiana Gulf.

Poetry of place is not based onlandscape description; rather, theland, and its history, is a generativeforce implicated in the way its peo-ple, including the poet, live andthink. The land is felt as what D.H.Lawrence called a “spirit of place.”

Charles Wright (1935- )One of the most moving poets of

place is Charles Wright. Raised inTennessee, Wright is a cosmopoli-tan southerner. He draws on Italianand ancient Chinese poetry, andinfuses his work with southernthemes such as the burden of atragic past, seen in his poeticseries “Appalachian Book of theDead,” which is based on theancient Egyptian Book of the Dead.His works include Country Music:Selected Early Poems (l982);Chickamauga (1995); and NegativeBlue: Selected Later Poems (2000).

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moments of spiritual insight rescued, or ratherconstructed, from the ravages of time and cir-c*mstance. A purposeful awkwardness — seenin his unexpected turns of colloquial phrase andpreference for long, broken lines with odd num-bers of syllables — endows his poems with aburnished grace, like that of gnarled old farmtools polished with the wear of hands. This hand-made, earned, sometimes wry quality makesWright’s poems feel contemporary and preventsthem from seeming pretentious.

The disparity between transcendent vision andhuman frailty lies at the heart of Wright’s vision.He is drawn to grand themes — stars, constella-tions, history — on the one hand, and to tiny tac-tile elements — fingers, hairs — on the other.His title poem “Chickamauga” relies on the read-er’s knowledge: Chickamauga, Georgia, onSeptember 19 and 20, 1862, was the scene of adecisive battle in the U.S. Civil War between theNorth and the South. The South failed to destroythe Union (northern) army and opened a way forthe North’s scorched-earth invasion of the Southvia Atlanta, Georgia.

“Chickamauga” can be read as a meditation onlandscape, but it is also an elegiac lament and thepoet’s ars poetica. It begins with a simple obser-vation: “Dove-twirl in the tall grass.” This seem-ing idyll is the moment just before a huntershoots; the slain soldiers, never mentioned inthe poem, have been forgotten, mowed down likedoves or grass. The “conked magnolia tree”undercuts the romantic “midnight and magnolia”stereotype of the antebellum-plantation South.The poem merges present and past in a powerfulepitaph for lost worlds and ideals.

Dove-twirl in the tall grass.End-of-summer glaze next door

On the gloves and split ends of the conked mag- nolia tree.

Work sounds: truck back-up-beep, wood tin-hammer, cicada, fire horn.

_____History handles our past like spoiled fruit.Mid-morning, late-century light

calicoed under the peach trees.Fingers us here. Fingers us here and here.

______The poem is a code with no message:The point of the mask is not the mask but the

face underneath,Absolute, incommunicado,

unhoused and peregrine._____

The gill net of history will pluck us soon enoughFrom the cold waters of self-contentment we

drift inOne by one

into its suffocating light and air._____

Structure becomes an element of belief, syntaxAnd grammar a catechist,Their words what the beads say,

words thumbed to our discontent.

The poem sees history as a construct, a “codewith no message.” Each individual exists in itself,unknowable outside its own terms and time, “notthe mask but the face underneath.” Death isinevitable for us as for the fallen soldiers, theOld South, and the caught fish. Nevertheless, poet-ry offers a partial consolation: Our articulated dis-content may yield a measure of immortality.

THE POETRY OF FAMILYn even more grounded strain of poetry

locates the poetic subject in a matrix ofbelonging — to family, community, and

changing traditions. Often the traditions calledinto play are ethnic or international.

A few poets, such as Sharon Olds (1942- ),expose their own unhealed wounds, resorting tothe confessional mode, but most contemporarypoets write with an affection that, however rue-ful, is nonetheless genuine. Stephen Dunn



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(1939- ) is an example: In hispoems, relationships are a meansof knowing. In some poets, respectfor family and community carrieswith it a sense of affirmation, if notan explicitly devotional sensibility.This is not a conservative poetry;often it confronts change, loss, andstruggle with the powers of ethnicor non-Western literary tradition.

Lucille Clifton (1936- ) findssolace in the black community. Hercolloquial language and strong faithare a potent combination. The mov-ing elegies to his mother of AghaShahid Ali (1949-2001) draw on adazzling array of classical MiddleEastern poetic forms, intertwininghis mother’s life with the sufferingof his family’s native Kashmir.

Malaysian-Chinese AmericanShirley Geok-lin Lim (1944- ) pow-erfully contrasts her difficult familyin Malaysia with her new family inCalifornia. Chicana poet Lorna DeeCervantes memorializes her harsh,impoverished family life inCalifornia; Louise Erdrich bringsher unpredictable, tragicomicNative-American family membersto vital life.

Li-Young Lee (1957- )Tragic history arches over Li-

Young Lee, whose Chinese-bornfather, at one time a physician toMao Tse-tung, was later imprisonedin Indonesia. Born in Jakarta,Indonesia, Lee lived the life of arefugee, moving with his family toHong Kong, Macao, and Japanbefore finding refuge in the UnitedStates, where his father became a

Protestant minister in Pennsylva-nia. Lee won acclaim for his booksRose (1986) and The City in Which ILove You (1990).

Lee is sensuous, filial — hemovingly depicts his family and hisfather’s decline — and outspokenin his commitment to the spiritualdimensions of poetry. His mostinfluential poem, “Persimmons”(1986), from his book Rose, evokeshis Asian background through thepersimmon, a fruit little known inthe United States. Fruits and flow-ers are traditional subjects ofChinese art and poetry, but unusualin the West. The poem contains apointed yet humorous critique of aprovincial schoolteacher Leeencountered in the United Stateswho presumes to understand per-simmons and language.

Lee’s poem “Irises” (1986), fromthe same volume, suggests that wedrift through a “dream of life” but,like the iris, “waken dying — violetbecoming blue, growing / black,black.” The poem and its handlingof color resonate with Glück’s wildiris.

The title poem of The City inWhich I Love You announces Lee’saffirmative entrance into a largercommunity of poetry. It ends:

my birthplace vanished, my citizenship earned,

in league with stones of the earth, Ienter, without retreat or help

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the city in which I love you. And I never believed that the

multitude of dreams and many words were



et another strain of intenselylyrical, image-driven poetrycelebrates beauty despite, or

in the midst of, modern life in all itssuffering and confusion. Many poetscould be included here — Joy Harjo(1951- ), Sandra McPherson (1943- ),Henri Cole (1965- ) — as the strainsof poetry are overlapping, not mutu-ally exclusive.

Some of the finest contemporarypoets use imagery not as decora-tion, but to explore new subjectsand terrain. Harjo imagines horses as a way of retrieving herNative-American heritage, whileMcPherson and Cole create imagesthat seem to come alive.

Mark Doty (l953- )Since the late l980s, Mark Doty

has been publishing supple, beautiful poetic meditations on artand relationships — with lovers,friends, and a host of communities.His vivid, exact, sensory imagery isoften a mode of knowing, feeling,and reaching out. Through images,Doty makes us feel a kinship withanimals, strangers, and the work ofartistic creation, which for himinvolves a way of seeing.

It is possible to enjoy Doty by fol-lowing his evolving ideas of com-munity. In “A Little Rabbit Dead in

the Grass” from Source (2001), adead rabbit provokes a philosophi-cal meditation. This particular rab-bit, like a poem, is important initself and as a text, an “artfullycrafted thing” on whose brow“some trace / of thought seemswritten.” The next poem in Source,“Fish R Us,” likens the human com-munity to a bag of fish in a pet storetank, “each fry / about the size ofthis line.” Like people, or ideas, thefish want freedom: They “want toswim forward,” but for now they“pulse in their golden ball.” Thesense of a shared organic connec-tion with others is carried through-out the volume. The third poem, “Atthe Gym,” envisions the imprint ofsweaty heads on exercise equip-ment as “some halo / the livingmade together.”

Doty finds in Walt Whitman a per-sonal and poetic guide. Doty hasalso written memorably of the trag-ic AIDS epidemic. His works includeMy Alexandria (l993), Atlantis(l995), and his vivid memoirFirebird (1999). Still Life WithOysters and Lemon (2001) is arecent collection.

Doty’s poems are both reflexive(referencing themselves as art)and responsive to the outer world.He sees the imperfect yet vitalbody, especially the skin, as themargin — a kind of text — whereinternal and external meet, as in hisshort poem, also from Source,about getting a tattoo, “To theEngraver of My Skin.”




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I understand the pact is mortal,agree to bear this permanence.

I contract with limitation; I sayno and no then yes to you, and sign

— here, on the dotted line —for whatever comes, I do: our time,

our outline, the filling-in of our details

(it’s density that hurts, always,

not the original scheme). I’m herefor revision, discoloration; here to


and last, ineradicable, blue. Write me!

This ink lasts longer than I do.

THE POETRY OF SPIRITspiritual focus permeatesanother strand of contempo-rary American poetry. In this

work, the deepest relationship isthat between the individual and atimeless essence beyond —though linked with — artistic beau-ty. Older poets who heralded a spir-itual consciousness include GarySnyder, who helped introduce Zento American poetry, and poet-trans-lator Robert Bly, who brought anawareness of Latin American surre-alism to U.S. poetry. In recenttimes, Coleman Barks has translat-ed many books of the 13th-centurymystic poet Rumi.

Spiritually attuned contemporaryU.S. poets include Arthur Sze(1950- ), who is said to have a Zen-like sensibility. His poems offer lit-

eral and seemingly simple observa-tions that are also meditations,such as these lines from “ThrowingSalt on a Path” (1987): “Shrimpsmoking over a fire. Ah, / the light ofa star never stops, but travels.”Shoveling snow, he notes: “The saltnow clears a path in the snow,expands the edges of the uni-verse.”

Jane Hirshfield (l953- )Jane Hirshfield makes almost no

explicit references to Buddhism inher poems, yet they breathe thespirit of her many years of Zenmeditation and her translationsfrom the ancient court poetry oftwo Japanese women, Ono noKomachi and Izumi Shikibu.Hirshfield has edited an anthology,Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43Centuries of Spiritual Poetry byWomen (l994).

Hirshfield’s poetry manifestswhat she calls the “mind of indirec-tion” in her book about writingpoetry, Nine Gates: Entering theMind of Poetry (1997). This orienta-tion draws on a reverence fornature, an economy of language,and a Buddhist sense of imperma-nence. Her own “poetry of indirec-tion” works by nuance, association(often to seasons and weathers,evocative of world views andmoods), and natural imagery.

Hirshfield’s poem “Mule Heart,”from her poetry collection TheLives of the Heart (1997), vividlyevokes a mule without ever men-tioning it. Hirshfield drew on hermemory of a mule used to carry




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loads up steep hills on the Greekisland of Santorini to write thispoem, which she has called a kindof recipe for getting through a dif-ficult time. The poem conjures thereader to take heart. This humblemule has its own beauty (bridlebells) and strength.

On the days when the resthave failed you,let this much be yours —flies, dust, an unnameable odor,the two waiting baskets:one for the lemons and passion,the other for all you have lost.Both empty,it will come to your shoulder,breathe slowly against your bare

arm.If you offer it hay, it will eat.Offered nothing,it will stand as long as you ask.The little bells of the bridle will

hangbeside you quietly,in the heat and the tree’s thin

shade.Do not let its sparse mane

deceive you,or the way the left ear swivels

into dream.This too is a gift of the gods,calm and complete.

THE POETRY OF NATUREhe New World riveted the

attention of Americans duringthe revolutionary era of the

late 1700s, when Philip Freneaumade a point of celebrating floraand fauna native to the Americas asa way of forging an American iden-

tity. Transcendentalism and agrari-anism focused on America’s rela-tion to nature in the 19th and early20th centuries.

Today environmental concernsinform a powerful strain of ecologi-cally oriented U.S. poetry. The lateA.R. Ammons was one recent progenitor, and Native-Americanpoets, such as the late James Welch and Leslie Marmon Silko,never lost a reverence for nature.Contemporary poets rooted in anatural vision include PattiannRogers (1940- ) and Maxine Kumin(1925- ). Rogers brings natural his-tory into focus, while Kumin writesfeelingly of her personal life on afarm and her raising of horses.

Mary Oliver (1935- )One of the most celebrated

poets of nature is Mary Oliver. Astunning, accessible poet, Oliverevokes plants and animals withvisionary intensity. Oliver was bornin Ohio but has lived in NewEngland for years, and her poems,like those of Robert Frost, draw onits varied landscape and changingseasons. Oliver finds meaning inencounters with nature, continuingin the Transcendental tradition ofHenry David Thoreau and RalphWaldo Emerson, and her work has astrong ethical dimension. Oliver’sworks include American Primitive(1983), New and Selected Poems(l992), White Pine (1994), BluePastures (1995), and the essays inThe Leaf and the Cloud (2000).

For Oliver, no natural fact is toohumble to afford insights, or what



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Emerson called “spiritual facts,” as in her poem“The Black Snake” (1979). Though the speaker,as a driver of an automobile, is implicated in thesnake’s demise, she stops and removes thesnake’s body from the road — an act of respect.She recognizes the often vilified snake, with itsnegative associations with the biblical book ofGenesis and death, as a “dead brother,” and sheappreciates his gleaming beauty. The snaketeaches her death, but also a new genesis anddelight in life, and she drives on, thinking aboutthe “light at the center of every cell” that enticesall created life “forward / happily all spring” —always unaware of where we will meet our end.This carpe diem is an invitation to a more rooted,celebratory awareness.

When the black snakeflashed onto the morning road,and the truck could not swerve —death, that is how it happens.

Now he lies looped and uselessas an old bicycle tire.I stop the carand carry him into the bushes.

He is as cool and gleamingas a braided whip, he is as beautiful and quietas a dead brother.I leave him under the leaves

and drive on, thinkingabout death: its suddenness,its terrible weight,its certain coming. Yet under

reason burns a brighter fire, which the boneshave always preferred.It is the story of endless good fortune.It says to oblivion: not me!

It is the light at the center of every cell.It is what sent the snake coiling and flowing forwardhappily all spring through the green leaves beforehe came to the road.

Oliver’s poems find countless ways to cele-brate the simple yet transcendent fact of beingalive. In “Hummingbird Pauses at the TrumpetVine” (1992), she reminds us that most of exis-tence is “waiting or remembering,” since mostof the world’s time we are “not here, / not bornyet, or died.” An intensity reminiscent of the latepoet James Wright burns through many ofOliver’s poems, such as “Poppies” (1991-1992).This poem begins with a description of the“orange flares; swaying / in the wind, their con-gregations are a levitation.” It ends with a tauntat death: “what can you do / about it — deep,blue night?”

THE POETRY OF WITn the spectrum from poetry of self topoetry of the world, wit — including

humor, a sense of the incongruous, andflights of fancy — lies close to world. Witdepends on the intersection of two or moreframes of reference and on acute discrimination;this is a worldly poetry.

Poetry of wit locates the poetic occasion ineveryday life raised to a humorous, surrealistic,or allegorical pitch. Usually the language is collo-quial so that the fantastic situations have the heftof reality. Older masters of this vein are CharlesSimic and Mark Strand; among younger poets, itspractitioners include Stephen Dobyns and MarkHalliday.

The everyday language, humor, surprisingaction, and exaggeration of this poetry makes itunusually accessible, though the best of thiswork only gives up its secrets on repeatedrereading.



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Billy Collins (1941- )The most influential of the poets

of wit today is Billy Collins. Collins,who was the U.S. poet laureate for2001-2003, is refreshing and exhila-rating, as was Frank O’Hara a gen-eration earlier. Like O’Hara, Collinsuses everyday language to recordthe myriad details of everyday life,freely mixing quotidian events (eat-ing, doing chores, writing) with cul-tural references. His humor andoriginality have brought him a wideaudience. Though some have fault-ed Collins for being too accessible,his unpredictable flights of fancyopen out into mystery.

Collins’s is a domesticated formof surrealism. His best poems, toolong to reproduce here, quicklypropel the imagination up a stair-way of increasingly surrealistic sit-uations, at the end offering an emo-tional landing, a mood one can reston, if temporarily, like a final modu-lation in music. The short poem“The Dead,” from Sailing AloneAround the Room: New and SelectedPoems (2001), gives some sense ofCollins’s fanciful flight and gentlesettling down, as if a bird had cometo rest.

The dead are always looking down on us, they say,

while we are putting on our shoes or making a sandwich,

they are looking down through the glass-bottom boats of heaven

as they row themselves slowly through eternity.

They watch the tops of our heads

moving below on earth,and when we lie down in a field or on

a couch,drugged perhaps by the hum of a

warm afternoon,they think we are looking back at


which makes them lift their oars and fall silent

and wait, like parents, for us to close our eyes.

THE POETRY OF HISTORYoetry inspired by history is insome ways the most difficult

and ambitious of all. In thisvein, poets venture into the worldwith a lower-case “i,” open to allthat has shaped them. The faith ofthese poets is in experience.

An older poet working in this veinis Michael S. Harper, who inter-weaves African-American historywith his family’s experiences in aform of montage. Frank Bidart hassimilarly merged political eventssuch as the assassination of U.S.President John F. Kennedy withpersonal life. Ed Hirsch, GjertrudSchnackenberg, and Rita Doveimbue some of their finest poemswith similarly irreducible memo-ries of their personal pasts, center-ing on touchstone moments.

Robert Pinsky (1940- )Among the most accomplished of

the poets of history is RobertPinsky. U.S. poet laureate from 1997to 2000, Pinsky links colloquialspeech to technical virtuosity. He isinsistently local and personal, but





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his poems extend into historical and nationalcontexts. Like the works of Elizabeth Bishop, hisconversational poetry wields seeming artless-ness with subtle art.

Pinsky’s influential book of criticism, TheSituation of Poetry (l976), recommended a poet-ry with the virtues of prose, and he carried outthat mandate in his book-length poem AnExplanation of America (l979) and in History ofMy Heart (l984), though later books, includingThe Want Bone (l990), unleash a lyricism alsoseen in his impressive collected poems entitledThe Figured Wheel (1996).

The title poem from The Figured Wheel isamong Pinsky’s finest works, but it is difficult toexcerpt. The brief poem “The Want Bone,” sug-gested by the jaw of a shark seen on a friend’smantel, displays Pinsky’s technical brilliance(internal rhymes like “limber grin,” slant rhymesas in “together” and “pleasure,” and polysylla-bles pattering lightly against a drum-firm iambicline). The poem begins by describing the sharkas the “tongue of the waves” and ends with itssinging — from the realm of the dead — a paeanof endless desire. The ego or self may be cri-tiqued here: It is a pointless hunger, an O orzero, and its satisfaction a hopeless illusion.

The tongue of the waves tolled in the earth’s bell.Blue rippled and soaked in the fire of blue.The dried mouthbones of a shark in the hot swaleGaped on nothing but sand on either side.

The bone tasted of nothing and smelled of nothing,A scalded toothless harp, uncrushed, unstrung.The joined arcs made the shape of birth and

cravingAnd the welded-open shape kept mouthing O.

Ossified cords held the corners togetherIn groined spirals pleated like a summer dress.But where was the limber grin, the gash of


Infinitesimal mouths bore it away,

The beach scrubbed and etched and pickled it clean.

But O I love you it sings, my little my countryMy food my parent my child I want you my ownMy flower my fin my life my lightness my O.

THE POETRY OF THE WORLDn the furthest extreme of the poeticspectrum lies poetry of the world,presided over by the spirit of Elizabeth

Bishop. This is a downbeat, or outcast, poetrythat at first reading seems anti-poetical. It mayseem too prosaic, too caught up with mere inci-dentals, to count for anything lasting. The hesi-tant delivery is the opposite of oracular, and thesubject at first seems lost or merely descriptive.Nevertheless, the best of this poetry cutsthrough multiple perspectives, questions thevery notion of personal identity, and understandssuffering from an ethical perspective.

Older poets writing in this manner are RichardHugo, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Phil Levine.Contemporary voices such as Ellen Bryant Voigtand Yusef Komunyakaa have been influenced bytheir almost naturalistic vision, and they aredrawn to violence and its far-reaching shadow.

Yusef Komunyakaa (1947- )Louisiana-raised Yusef Komunyakaa, born

James Willie Brown, Jr., served in Vietnam direct-ly after graduation from secondary school, win-ning a Bronze Star. He was a reporter for the mil-itary newspaper Southern Cross, and has writtenvivid poems set in the war. Often, as in“Camouflaging the Chimera” (1988), there is anelement of suspense, danger, and ambush.Komunyakaa has spoken of the need for poetry toafford a “series of surprises.” Like the poetMichael S. Harper, he often uses jazz methods,and he has written of the poetry’s need for freeimprovisation and openness to other voices, as



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in a musicians’ “jam session.” Hehas co-edited The Jazz PoetryAnthology (1991, 1996) and pub-lished a volume of essays entitledBlue Notes (2000), while he firstgained recognition with NeonVernacular (1993).

One of Komunyakaa’s enduringthemes concerns identity. Hispoem “Facing It” (1988), set at theVietnam Veterans Memorial inWashington, D.C., begins with a riffthat merges his own face withmemories and reflected faces:

My black face fades,hiding inside the black granite.I said I wouldn’t,dammit: No tears.I’m stone. I’m flesh.My clouded reflection eyes melike a bird of prey, the profile of nightslanted against morning. I turnthis way — the stone lets me go.I turn that way — I’m insidethe Vietnam Veterans Memorialagain, depending on the lightto make a difference.I go down the 58,022 names,half-expecting to findmy own in letters like smoke.I touch the name Andrew Johnson;I see the booby trap’s white flash.Names shimmer on a woman’s

blousebut when she walks awaythe names stay on the wall.Brushstrokes flash, a red bird’swings cutting across my stare.The sky. A plane in the sky.A white vet’s image floatscloser to me, then his pale eyeslook through mine. I’m a window.

He’s lost his right arminside the stone. In the black mirrora woman’s trying to erase names:No, she’s brushing a boy’s hair.

CYBER-POETRYt the extreme end of the poet-

ic spectrum, cyber-poetry isa new worldly poetry. For

many young American adults, thebook is secondary to the computermonitor, and reading a spokenhuman language comes after expo-sure to binary codes.

Computer-based literature hastaken shape since the early 1990s;with the advent of the World WideWeb, some experimental poetryhas shifted its focus to a paperless,virtual, global realm.

Recurring motifs in cyber-poetryinclude self-reflexive critiques oftechnologically driven work; com-puter icons, graphics, and hypertextlinks festoon vast webs of relation-ships, while dimensional layers —animation, sonics, hyperlinkedtexts — proliferate in multipledirections, sometimes created bymultiple and unknown authors.

Outlets for this work come andgo; they have included the CD-ROMpoetry magazines The LittleMagazine, Cyberpoetry, Java Poetry,New River, Parallel, and many oth-ers. Writing From the New Coast:Technique (1993), an influentialgathering of poetic statementsaccompanied by a collection ofpoems edited by Juliana Spahr andPeter Gizzi, helped catalyze experi-mental poetry in the electronic age.It celebrates irreducible multiplici-




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ty and the primacy of historical context, attackingthe very notions of identity and universality asrepressive bourgeois constructs.

Jorie Graham and other experimental poets of

self have arrived at similar viewpoints, comingfrom opposite directions. Ultimate or contin-gent, poems exist at the intersection of word andworld. ■


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he United States is one of the mostdiverse nations in the world. Its dynamicpopulation of about 300 million boasts more

than 30 million foreign-born individuals whospeak numerous languages and dialects. Someone million new immigrants arrive each year,many from Asia and Latin America.

Literature in the United States today is like-wise dazzlingly diverse, exciting, and evolving.New voices have arisen from many quarters,challenging old ideas and adapting literary tradi-tions to suit changing conditions of the nationallife. Social and economic advances have enabledpreviously underrepresented groups to expressthemselves more fully, while technological inno-vations have created a fast-moving public forum.Reading clubs proliferate, and book fairs, literaryfestivals, and “poetry slams” (events whereyouthful poets compete in performing theirpoetry) attract enthusiastic audiences. Selectionof a new work for a book club can launch anunknown writer into the limelight overnight.

On a typical Sunday the list of best-selling booksin the New York Times Book Review testifies to theextraordinary diversity of the current American lit-erary scene. In January, 2006, for example, the listof paperback best-sellers included “genre” fic-tion — steamy romances by Nora Roberts, a newthriller by John Grisham, murder mysteries —alongside nonfiction science books by the anthro-

pologist Jared Diamond, popular sociology by TheNew Yorker magazine writer Malcolm Gladwell,and accounts of drug rehabilitation and crime. Inthe last category was a reprint of Truman Capote’sgroundbreaking In Cold Blood, a 1965 “nonfictionnovel” that blurs the distinction between high lit-erature and journalism and had recently beenmade into a film.

Books by non-American authors and books oninternational themes were also prominent on thelist. Afghan-American Khaled Hosseini’s searingnovel, The Kite Runner, tells of childhood friendsin Kabul separated by the rule of the Taliban,while Azar Nafisi’s memoir, Reading Lolita inTeheran, poignantly recalls teaching great worksof western literature to young women in Iran. Athird novel, Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha(made into a movie), recounts a Japanesewoman’s life during World War II.

In addition, the best-seller list reveals thepopularity of religious themes. According toPublishers Weekly, 2001 was the first year thatChristian-themed books topped the sales lists inboth fiction and nonfiction. Among the hardcoverbest-sellers of that exemplary Sunday in 2006, wefind Dan Brown’s novel The DaVinci Code andAnne Rice’s tale Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt.

Beyond the Times’ best-seller list, chain book-stores offer separate sections for major reli-gions including Christianity, Islam, Judaism,Buddhism, and sometimes Hinduism.

In the Women’s Literature section of book-stores one finds works by a “Third Wave” of fem-inists, a movement that usually refers to youngwomen in their 20s and 30s who have grown up inan era of widely accepted social equality in theUnited States. Third Wave feminists feel suffi-ciently empowered to emphasize the individuali-ty of choices women make. Often associated inthe popular mind with a return to tradition andchild-rearing, lipstick, and “feminine” styles,these young women have reclaimed the word“girl” — some decline to call themselves femi-





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nist. What is often called “chick lit”is a flourishing offshoot. BridgetJones’s Diary by the British writerHelen Fielding and CandaceBushnell’s Sex and the City featur-ing urban single women withromance in mind have spawned apopular genre among youngwomen.

Nonfiction writers also examinethe phenomenon of post-feminism.The Mommy Myth (2004) by SusanDouglas and Meredith Michaelsanalyzes the role of the media inthe “mommy wars,” while JenniferBaumgardner and Amy Richards’lively ManifestA: Young Women,Feminism, and the Future (2000)discusses women’s activism in the age of the Internet. CaitlinFlanagan, a magazine writer whocalls herself an “anti-feminist,”explores conflicts between domes-tic life and professional life forwomen. Her 2004 essay in TheAtlantic, “How Serfdom Saved theWomen’s Movement,” an accountof how professional womendepend on immigrant women of alower class for their childcare, trig-gered an enormous debate.

It is clear that American litera-ture at the turn of the 21st centuryhas become democratic and het-erogeneous. Regionalism has flow-ered, and international, or “global,”writers refract U.S. culture throughforeign perspectives. Multiethnicwriting continues to mine richveins, and as each ethnic literaturematures, it creates its own tradi-tions. Creative nonfiction andmemoir have flourished. The short

story genre has gained luster, andthe “short” short story has takenroot. A new generation of play-wrights continues the American tra-dition of exploring current socialissues on stage. There is not spacehere in this brief survey to do jus-tice to the glittering diversity ofAmerican literature today. Instead,one must consider general develop-ments and representative figures.


ostmodernism suggests frag-mentation: collage, hybridity,

and the use of various voices,scenes, and identities. Postmodernauthors question external struc-tures, whether political, philo-sophical, or artistic. They tend todistrust the master-narratives ofmodernist thought, which theysee as politically suspect.Instead, they mine popular cul-ture genres, especially sciencefiction, spy, and detective stories,becoming, in effect, archaeolo-gists of pop culture.

Don DeLillo’s White Noise,structured in 40 sections likevideo clips, highlights the dilem-mas of representation: “Werepeople this dumb before televi-sion?” one character wonders.David Foster Wallace’s gargantuan(1,000 pages, 900 footnotes)Infinite Jest mixes up wheelchair-bound terrorists, drug addicts,and futuristic descriptions of acountry like the United States. InGalatea 2.2, Richard Powers inter-weaves sophisticated technology


ostmodernauthors question external structures,whether political,philosophical, orartistic. Theytend to distrustthe master-narratives ofmodernistthought, whichthey see as politicallysuspect.



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with private lives.Influenced by Thomas Pynchon, postmodern

authors fabricate complex plots that demandimaginative leaps. Often they flatten historicaldepth into one dimension; William Vollmann’snovels slide between vastly different timesand places as easily as a computer mousemoves between texts.

Creative Nonfiction: Memoir andAutobiography

any writers hunger for open, lesscanonical genres as vehicles for theirpostmodern visions. The rise of global,

multiethnic, and women’s literature — worksin which writers reflect on experiences shapedby culture, color, and gender — has endowedautobiography and memoir with special allure.While the boundaries of the terms are debated,a memoir is typically shorter or more limited inscope, while an autobiography makes someattempt at a comprehensive overview of thewriter’s life.

Postmodern fragmentation has renderedproblematic for many writers the idea of a fin-ished self that can be articulated successfullyin one sweep. Many turn to the memoir in theirstruggles to ground an authentic self. Whatconstitutes authenticity, and to what extent thewriter is allowed to embroider upon his or hermemories of experience in works of nonfiction,are hotly contested subjects of writers’ conferences.

Writers themselves have contributed pene-trating observations on such questions inbooks about writing, such as The Writing Life(1989) by Annie Dillard. Noteworthy memoirsinclude The Stolen Light (1989) by Ved Mehta.Born in India, Mehta was blinded at the age ofthree. His account of flying alone as a youngblind person to study in the United States isunforgettable. Irish American Frank McCourt’smesmerizing Angela’s Ashes (1996) recalls his

childhood of poverty, family alcoholism, andintolerance in Ireland with a surprising warmthand humor. Paul Auster’s Hand to Mouth (1997)tells of poverty that blocked his writing and poi-soned his soul.

The Short Story: New DirectionsThe story genre had to a degree lost its lus-

ter by the late l970s. Experimental metafictionstories had been penned by Donald Barthelme,Robert Coover, John Barth, and William Gassand were no longer on the cutting edge. Large-circulation weekly magazines that had show-cased short fiction, such as the SaturdayEvening Post, had collapsed.

It took an outsider from the PacificNorthwest — a gritty realist in the tradition ofErnest Hemingway — to revitalize the genre.Raymond Carver (l938-l988) had studied underthe late novelist John Gardner, absorbingGardner’s passion for accessible artistry fusedwith moral vision. Carver rose above alcoholismand harsh poverty to become the most influen-tial story writer in the United States. In his col-lections Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?(l976), What We Talk About When We Talk AboutLove (l981), Cathedral (l983), and Where I’mCalling From (l988), Carver follows confusedworking people through dead-end jobs, alco-holic binges, and rented rooms with an under-stated, minimalist style of writing that carriestremendous impact.

Linked with Carver is novelist and storywriter Ann Beattie (1947- ), whose middle-classcharacters often lead aimless lives. Her storiesreference political events and popular songs,and offer distilled glimpses of life decade bydecade in the changing United States. Recentcollections are Park City (l998) and PerfectRecall (2001).

Inspired by Carver and Beattie, writers craft-ed impressive neorealist story collections in themid-l980s, including Amy Hempel’s Reasons to



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Live (1985), David Leavitt’s FamilyDancing (l984), Richard Ford’sRock Springs (l987), Bobbie AnnMason’s Shiloh and Other Stories(1982), and Lorrie Moore’s Self-Help (l985). Other noteworthy fig-ures include the late Andre Dubus,author of Dancing After Hours(l996), and the prolific JohnUpdike, whose recent story collec-tions include The Afterlife andOther Stories (l994).

Today, as is discussed later inthis chapter, writers with ethnicand global roots are informing thestory genre with non-Western andtribal approaches, and storytellinghas commanded critical and popu-lar attention. The versatile, primaltale is the basis of severalhybridized forms: novels that areconstructed of interlinking shortstories or vignettes, and creativenonfictions that interweave historyand personal history with fiction.

The Short Short Story: Sudden or Flash Fiction

The short short is a very briefstory, often only one or two pageslong. It is sometimes called “flashfiction” or “sudden fiction” afterthe l986 anthology Sudden Fiction,edited by Robert Shapard andJames Thomas.

In short short stories, there islittle space to develop a character.Rather, the element of plot is cen-tral: A crisis occurs, and asketched-in character simply has toreact. Authors deploy clever narra-tive or linguistic patterns; in somecases, the short short resembles a

prose poem.Supporters claim that short

shorts’ “reduced geographies”mirror postmodern conditions inwhich borders seem closer togeth-er. They find elegant simplicity inthese brief fictions. Detractors seeshort shorts as a symptom of cul-tural decay, a general loss of read-ing ability, and a limited attentionspan. In any event, short shortshave found a certain niche: Theyare easy to forward in an e-mail,and they lend themselves to elec-tronic distribution. They make man-ageable in-class readings and mod-els for writing assignments.

Drama Contemporary drama mingles

realism with fantasy in postmodernworks that fuse the personal andthe political. The exuberant TonyKushner (l956- ) has won acclaimfor his prize-winning Angels inAmerica plays, which vividly renderthe AIDS epidemic and the psychiccost of closeted hom*osexuality inthe 1980s and 1990s. Part One:Millennium Approaches (1991) andits companion piece, Part Two:Perestroika (1992), together lastseven hours. Combining comedy,melodrama, political commentary,and special effects, they inter-weave various plots and marginal-ized characters.

Women dramatists have attainedparticular success in recent years.Prominent among them is BethHenley (1952- ), from Mississippi,known for her portraits of southernwomen. Henley gained national



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recognition for her Crimes of the Heart (l978),which was made into a film in l986, a warm playabout three eccentric sisters whose affectionhelps them survive disappointment and despair.Later plays, including The Miss FirecrackerContest (1980), The Wake of Jamey Foster (l982),The Debutante Ball (l985), and The Lucky Spot(l986), explore southern forms of socializing —beauty contests, funerals, coming-out parties,and dance halls.

Wendy Wasserstein (1950-2006), from NewYork, wrote early comedies including WhenDinah Shore Ruled the Earth (l975), a parody ofbeauty contests. She is best known for The HeidiChronicles (l988), about a successful womanprofessor who confesses to deep unhappinessand adopts a baby. Wasserstein continuedexploring women’s aspirations in The SistersRosensweig (l991), An American Daughter(1997), and Old Money (2000).

Younger dramatists such as African AmericanSuzan-Lori Parks (1964- ) build on the successesof earlier women. Parks, who grew up on variousarmy bases in the United States and Germany,deals with political issues in experimental workswhose timelessness and ritualism recall Irish-born writer Samuel Beckett. Her best-knownwork, The America Play (1991), revolves aroundthe assassination of President Abraham Lincolnby John Wilkes Booth. She returns to this themein Topdog/Underdog (2001), which tells the storyof two African-American brothers named Lincolnand Booth and their lifetime of sibling rivalry.

REGIONALISMpervasive regionalist sensibility has gainedstrength in American literature in the pasttwo decades. Decentralization expresses

the postmodern U.S. condition, a trend most evi-dent in fiction writing; no longer does any oneviewpoint or code successfully express thenation. No one city defines artistic movements,as New York City once did. Vital arts communities

have arisen in many cities, and electronic tech-nology has de-centered literary life.

As economic shifts and social change redefineAmerica, a yearning for tradition has set in. Themost sustaining and distinctively American mythspartake of the land, and writers are turning to theCivil War South, the Wild West of the rancher, therooted life of the midwestern farmer, the south-western tribal homeland, and other localizedrealms where the real and the mythic mingle. Ofcourse, more than one region has inspired manywriters; they are included here in regions forma-tive to their vision or characteristic of theirmature work.

The NortheastThe scenic Northeast, region of lengthy win-

ters, dense deciduous forests, and low ruggedmountain chains, was the first English-speakingcolonial area, and it retains the feel of England.Boston, Massachusetts, is the cultural power-house, boasting research institutions and scoresof universities. Many New England writers depictcharacters that continue the Puritan legacy,embodying the middle-class Protestant workethic and progressive commitment to socialreform. In the rural areas, small, independentfarmers struggle to survive in the world of globalmarketing.

Novelist Joyce Carol Oates sets many of hergothic works in upstate New York. Richard Russo(1949- ), in his appealing Empire Falls (2001),evokes life in a dying mill town in Maine, the statewhere Stephen King (1947- ) locates his popularhorror novels.

The bittersweet fictions of Massachusetts-based Sue Miller (1943- ), such as The GoodMother (1986), examine counterculturelifestyles in Cambridge, a city known for culturaland social diversity, intellectual vitality, and tech-nological innovation. Another writer fromMassachusetts, Anita Diamant (1951- ), earnedpopular acclaim with The Red Tent (1997), a fem-



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inist historical novel based on the biblical storyof Dinah.

Russell Banks (1940- ), from poor, rural NewHampshire, has turned from experimental writ-ing to more realistic works, such as Affliction(1989), his novel about working-class NewHampshire characters. For Banks, acknowledg-ing one’s roots is a fundamental part of one’sidentity. In Affliction, the narrator scorns peoplewho have “gone to Florida, Arizona, andCalifornia, bought a trailer or a condo, turnedtheir skin to leather playing shuffleboard all dayand waited to die.” Banks’s recent works includeCloudsplitter (1998), a historical novel about the19th-century abolitionist John Brown.

The striking stylist Annie Proulx (1935- ) craftsstories of struggling northern New Englanders inHeart Songs (1988). Her best novel, The ShippingNews (1993), is set even further north, inNewfoundland, Canada. Proulx has also spentyears in the West, and one of her short storiesinspired the 2006 movie “Brokeback Mountain.”

William Kennedy (1928- ) has written a denseand entwined cycle of novels set in Albany, innorthern New York State, including his acclaimedIronweed. The title of his insider’s history ofAlbany gives some idea of his gritty, colloquialstyle and teeming cast of often unsavory charac-ters: O Albany! Improbable City of PoliticalWizards, Fearless Ethnics, SpectacularAristocrats, Splendid Nobodies, and UnderratedScoundrels (1983). Kennedy has been hailed asan elder statesman of a small Irish-American lit-erary movement that includes the late MaryMcCarthy, Mary Gordon, Alice McDermott, andFrank McCourt.

Three writers who studied at Brown Universityin Rhode Island around the same time and tookclasses with British writer Angela Carter areoften mentioned as the nucleus of a “next gen-eration.” Donald Antrim (1959- ) satirizes acade-mic life in The Hundred Brothers (1997), set in anenormous library from which one can see home-

less people. Rick Moody (1961- ) is best knownfor his novel The Ice Storm (1994). The novels ofJeffrey Eugenides (1960- ) include Middlesex(2002), which narrates the experience of a her-maphrodite. Impressive stylists with off-centervisions bordering on the absurd, Antrim, Moody,and Eugenides carry further the opposite tradi-tions of John Updike and Thomas Pynchon. Oftenlinked with these three younger novelists is theexuberant postmodernist David Foster Wallace(1962- ). Wallace, who was born in Ithaca, NewYork, gained acclaim for his complex serio-comicnovel The Broom of the System (1987) and thepop culture-saturated stories in Girl WithCurious Hair (1989).

The Mid-AtlanticThe fertile Mid-Atlantic states, dominated by

New York City with its great harbor, remain agateway for waves of immigrants. Today theregion’s varied economy encompasses finance,commerce, and shipping, as well as advertisingand fashion. New York City is the home of thepublishing industry, as well as prestigious art gal-leries and museums.

Don DeLillo (1936- ), from New York City,began as an advertising writer, and his novelsexplore consumerism among their many themes.Americana (1971) concludes: “To consume inAmerica is not to buy, it is to dream.” DeLillo’sprotagonists seek identities based on images.White Noise (1985) concerns Jack Gladney andhis family, whose experience is mediated by various texts, especially advertisem*nts. Onepassage suggests DeLillo’s style: “…the empti-ness, the sense of cosmic darkness. Master-card, Visa, American Express.” Fragments ofadvertisem*nts that drift unattached through thebook emerge from Gladney’s media-parrotingsubconscious, generating the subliminal whitenoise of the title. DeLillo’s later novels includepolitics and historical figures: Libra (1988) envi-sions the assassination of President John F.


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Kennedy as an explosion of frus-trated consumerism; Underworld(1997) spins a web of interconnec-tions between a baseball game anda nuclear bomb in Kazakhstan.

In multidimensional, polyglotNew York, fictions featuring a shad-owy postmodern city abound. Anexample is the labyrinthine NewYork trilogy City of Glass (1985),Ghosts (1986), and The LockedRoom (1986) by Paul Auster (1947- ).In this work, inspired by SamuelBeckett and the detective novel, anisolated writer at work on a detec-tive story addresses Paul Auster,who is writing about Cervantes. Thetrilogy suggests that “reality” is buta text constructed via fiction, thuserasing the traditional borderbetween reality and illusion.Auster’s trilogy, in effect, self-deconstructs. Similarly, Kathy Acker(1948-1997) juxtaposed passagesfrom works by Cervantes andCharles Dickens with science fic-tion in postmodern pastiches suchas Empire of the Senseless (1988), aquest through time and space foran individual voice.

New York City hosts many groupsof writers with shared interests.Jewish women include noted essay-ist Cynthia Ozick (1928- ), who hailsfrom the Bronx, the setting of hernovel The Puttermesser Papers(l997). Her haunting novel TheShawl (1989) gives a young moth-er’s viewpoint on the Holocaust.The droll, conversational CollectedStories (l994) of Grace Paley (1922- )capture the syncopated rhythms ofthe city.

Younger writers associated withlife in the fast lane are JayMcInerney (1955- ), whose Story ofMy Life (1988) is set in the drug-driven youth culture of the boom-time 1980s, and satirist TamaJanowitz (1957- ). Their portraits ofloneliness and addiction in theanonymous hard-driving city recallthe works of John Cheever.

Nearby suburbs claim the imagi-nations of still other writers. MaryGordon (1949- ) sets many of herfemale-centered works in herbirthplace, Long Island, as doesAlice McDermott (l953- ), whosenovel Charming Billy (1998)dissects the failed promise of analcoholic.

Mid-Atlantic domestic realistsinclude Richard Bausch (1945- ),from Baltimore, author of In theNight Season (1998) and the storiesin Someone to Watch Over Me(l999). Bausch writes of fragment-ed families, as does Anne Tyler(1941- ), also from Baltimore,whose eccentric characters negoti-ate disorganized, isolated lives. Amaster of detail and understatedwit, Tyler writes in spare, quiet lan-guage. Her best-known novelsinclude Dinner at the HomesickRestaurant (1982) and TheAccidental Tourist (1985), whichwas made into a film in l988. TheAmateur Marriage (2004) sets adivorce against a panorama ofAmerican life over 60 years.

African Americans have madedistinctive contributions. Feministessayist and poet Audre Lorde’sautobiographical Zami: A New



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Spelling of My Name (l982) is anearthy account of a black woman’sexperience in the United States.Bebe Moore Campbell (l950- ),from Philadelphia, writes feistydomestic novels including YourBlues Ain’t Like Mine (l992). GloriaNaylor (l950- ), from New York City,explores different women’s lives inThe Women of Brewster Place(1982), the novel that made hername.

Critically acclaimed John EdgarWideman (l941- ) grew up inHomewood, a black section ofPittsburgh, Pennsylvania. HisFaulknerian Homewood Trilogy —Hiding Place (1981), Damballah(1981), and Sent for You Yesterday(1983) — uses shifting viewpointsand linguistic play to render blackexperience. His best-known shortpiece, “Brothers and Keepers”(1984), concerns his relationshipwith his imprisoned brother. In TheCattle Killing (l996), Widemanreturns to the subject of hisfamous early story “Fever” (l989).His novel Two Cities (l998) takesplace in Pittsburgh andPhiladelphia.

David Bradley (1950- ), also fromPennsylvania, set his historicalnovel The Chaneysville Incident(l981) on the “underground rail-road,” a network of citizens whoprovided opportunity and assis-tance for southern black slaves tofind freedom in the North at thetime of the U.S. Civil War.

Trey Ellis (1962 - ) has writtenthe novels Platitudes (1988), HomeRepairs (1993), and Right Here,

Right Now (1999), screenplaysincluding “The Tuskegee Airmen”(1995), and a l989 essay “The NewBlack Aesthetic” discerning a newmultiethnic sensibility among theyounger generation.

Writers from Washington, D.C.,four hours’ drive south from NewYork City, include Ann Beattie(1947- ), whose short stories werementioned earlier. Her slice-of-lifenovels include Picturing Will(1989), Another You (l995), and MyLife, Starring Dara Falcon (1997).

America’s capital city is home tomany political novelists. Ward Just(1935- ) sets his novels inWashington’s swirling military,political, and intellectual circles.Christopher Buckley (1952- )spikes his humorous political satirewith local details; his Little GreenMen (1999) is a spoof about officialresponses to aliens from outerspace. Michael Chabon (1963- ),who grew up in the Washingtonsuburbs but later moved toCalifornia, depicts youths on thedazzling brink of adulthood in TheMysteries of Pittsburgh (1988); hisnovel inspired by a comic book, TheAmazing Adventures of Kavalierand Clay (2000), mixes glamourand craft in the manner of F. ScottFitzgerald.

The SouthThe South comprises disparate

regions in the southeastern UnitedStates, from the cool AppalachianMountain chain and the broadMississippi River valley to thesteamy cypress bayous of the Gulf



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Coast. Cotton and the plantationculture of slavery made the Souththe richest section in the countrybefore the U.S. Civil War (1860-1865). But after the war, the regionsank into poverty and isolation thatlasted a century. Today, the South ispart of what is called the Sun Belt,the fastest growing part of theUnited States.

The most traditional of theregions, the South is proud of itsdistinctive heritage. Enduringthemes include family, land, histo-ry, religion, and race. Much south-ern writing has a depth and human-ity arising from the devastatinglosses of the Civil War and soulsearching over the region’s legacyof slavery.

he South, with its rich oraltradition, has nourished manywomen storytellers. In the

upper South, Bobbie Ann Mason(1940- ) from Kentucky, writes ofthe changes wrought by mass cul-ture. In her most famous story,“Shiloh” (1982), a couple mustchange their relationship or sepa-rate as housing subdivisionsspread “across western Kentuckylike an oil slick.” Mason’sacclaimed short novel In Country(1985) depicts the effects of theVietnam War by focusing on aninnocent young girl whose fatherdied in the conflict.

Lee Smith (1944- ) brings thepeople of the AppalachianMountains into poignant focus,drawing on the well of Americanfolk music in her novel The Devil’sDream (l992). Jayne Anne Phillips

(1952- ) writes stories of misfits —Black Tickets (1979) — and anovel, Machine Dreams (1984), setin the hardscrabble mountains ofWest Virginia.

The novels of Jill McCorkle(1958- ) capture her North Carolinabackground. Her mystery-en-shrouded love story Carolina Moon(1996) explores a years-old suicidein a coastal village where relentlesswaves erode the foundations fromderelict beach houses. The lushnative South Carolina of DorothyAllison (1949- ) features in hertough autobiographical novelBastard Out of Carolina (1992),seen through the eyes of a dirt-poor, illegitimate 12-year-oldtomboy nicknamed Bone. Missis-sippian Ellen Gilchrist (1935- ) setsmost of her colloquial CollectedStories (2000) in small hamletsalong the Mississippi River and inNew Orleans, Louisiana.

Southern novelists mining maleexperience include the acclaimedCormac McCarthy (l933- ), whoseearly novels such as Suttree (1979)are archetypically southern tales ofdark emotional depths, ignorance,and poverty, set against the greenhills and valleys of easternTennessee. In l974, McCarthymoved to El Paso, Texas, and beganto plumb western landscapes andtraditions. Blood Meridian: Or theEvening of Redness in the West(1985) is an unsparing vision of TheKid, a 14-year-old from Tennesseewho becomes a cold-hearted killerin Mexico in the 1840s. McCarthy’sbest-selling epic Border Trilogy —




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All the Pretty Horses (1992), TheCrossing (1994), and Cities of thePlain (1998) — invests the desertbetween Texas and Mexico withmythic grandeur.

Other noted authors are NorthCarolinian Charles Frazier (1950- ),author of the Civil War novel ColdMountain (1997); Georgia-born PatConroy (1945- ), author of TheGreat Santini (1976) and BeachMusic (1995); and Mississippi nov-elist Barry Hannah (1942- ), knownfor his violent plots and risk-takingstyle.

A very different Mississippi-bornwriter is Richard Ford (1944- ), whobegan writing in a Faulknerian veinbut is best known for his subtlenovel set in New Jersey, TheSportswriter (1986), and its sequel,Independence Day (l995). The lat-ter is about Frank Bascombe, adreamy, evasive drifter who losesall the things that give his lifemeaning – a son, his dream of writ-ing fiction, his marriage, lovers andfriends, and his job. Bascombe issensitive and intelligent — hischoices, he says, are made “todeflect the pain of terrible regret”— and his emptiness, along withthe anonymous malls and bald newhousing developments that he end-lessly cruises through, mutely tes-tify to Ford’s vision of a nationalmalaise.

Many African-American writershail from the South, includingErnest Gaines from Louisiana,Alice Walker from Georgia, andFlorida-born Zora Neale Hurston,whose 1937 novel, Their Eyes Were

Watching God, is considered to bethe first feminist novel by anAfrican American. Hurston, whodied in the 1960s, underwent a crit-ical revival in the 1990s. IshmaelReed, born in Tennessee, set Mumbo Jumbo (1972) in New Orleans. Margaret Walker(1915-1998), from Alabama,authored the novel Jubilee (1966)and essays On Being Female, Black,and Free (1997).

Story writer James AlanMcPherson (l943- ), from Georgia,depicts working-class people inElbow Room (1977); A Region NotHome: Reflections From Exile(2000), whose title reflects hismove to Iowa, is a memoir. Chicago-born ZZ Packer (1973- ),McPherson’s student at the IowaWriters’ Workshop, was raised inthe South, studied in the mid-Atlantic, and now lives in California.Her first work, a volume of storiestitled Drinking Coffee Elsewhere(2003), has made her a rising star.Prolific feminist writer bell hooks(born Gloria Watkins in Kentucky in1952) gained fame for cultural cri-tiques including Black Looks: Raceand Representation (l992) andautobiographies beginning withBone Black: Memories of Girlhood(1996).

Experimental poet and scholarof slave narratives (Freeing theSoul, l999), Harryette Mullen (1953- )writes multivocal poetry collec-tions such as Muse & Drudge(1995). Novelist and story writerPercival Everett (1956- ), who wasoriginally from Georgia, writes sub-



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tle, open-ended fiction; recent volumes areFrenzy (l997) and Glyph (1999).

Many African-American writers whose familiesfollowed patterns of internal migration wereborn outside the South but return to it for inspi-ration. Famed science-fiction novelist OctaviaButler (l947- ), from California, draws on thetheme of bondage and the slave narrative tradi-tion in Wild Seed (l980); her Parable of the Sower(l993) treats addiction. Sherley Anne Williams(l944- ), also from California, writes of interracialfriendship between southern women in slavetimes in her fact-based historical novel DessaRose (l986). New York-born Randall Kenan (l963- )was raised in North Carolina, the setting of hisnovel A Visitation of Spirits (l989) and his storiesLet the Dead Bury Their Dead (l992). His Walkingon Water: Black American Lives at the Turn of theTwenty-First Century (1999) is nonfiction.

The MidwestThe vast plains of America’s midsection —

much of it between the Rocky Mountains and theMississippi River — scorch in summer and freezein scouring winter storms. The area was openedup with the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825,attracting Northern European settlers eager forland. Early 20th-century writers with roots in theMidwest include Ernest Hemingway, F. ScottFitzgerald, Sinclair Lewis, and Theodore Dreiser.

Midwestern fiction is grounded in realism.The domestic novel has flourished in recentyears, portraying webs of relationships betweenkin, the local community, and the environment.Agribusiness and development threaten familyfarms in some parts of the region, and some nov-els sound the death knell of farming as a way of life.

Domestic novelists include Jane Smiley (1949-),whose A Thousand Acres (1991) is a contempo-rary, feminist version of the King Lear story. Thelost kingdom is a large family farm held for fourgenerations, and the forces that undermine it

are a concatenation of the personal and the polit-ical. Kent Haruf (1943- ) creates stronger char-acters in his sweeping novel of the prairie,Plainsong (1999).

Michael Cunningham (1952- ), from Ohio,began as a domestic novelist in A Home at theEnd of the World (1990). The Hours (1998), madeinto a movie, brilliantly interweaves VirginiaWoolf’s Mrs. Dalloway with two women’s lives indifferent eras. Stuart Dybek (1942- ) has writtensparkling story collections including I Sailed WithMagellan (2003), about his childhood on theSouth Side of Chicago.

Younger urban novelists include JonathanFranzen (1959- ), who was born in Missouri andraised in Illinois. Franzen’s best-sellingpanoramic novel The Corrections (2001) — titledfor a downturn in the stock market — evokesmidwestern family life over several generations.The novel chronicles the physical and mentaldeterioration of a patriarch suffering fromParkinson’s disease; as in Smiley’s A ThousandAcres, the entire family is affected. Franzen pitsindividuals against large conspiracies in TheTwenty-Seventh City (1988) and Strong Motion(1992). Some critics link Franzen with DonDeLillo, Thomas Pynchon, and David FosterWallace as a writer of conspiracy novels.

The Midwest has produced a wide variety ofwriting, much of it informed by internationalinfluences. Richard Powers (1957- ), fromIllinois, has lived in Thailand and TheNetherlands. His challenging postmodern novelsinterweave personal lives with technology.Galatea 2.2 (1995) updates the mad scientisttheme; the scientists in this case are computerprogrammers.

frican-American novelist Charles Johnson(1948- ), an ex-cartoonist who was born in

Illinois and moved to Seattle,Washington, draws on disparate traditions suchas Zen and the slave narrative in novels such asOxherding Tale (1982). Johnson’s accomplished,



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picaresque novel Middle Passage (1990) blendsthe international history of slavery with a sea taleechoing Moby-Dick. Dreamer (1998) re-imaginesthe assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Robert Olen Butler (1945- ), born in Illinois anda veteran of the Vietnam War, writes aboutVietnamese refugees in Louisiana in their ownvoices in A Good Scent From a Strange Mountain(1992). His stories in Tabloid Dreams (1996) —inspired by zany news headlines — were enlargedinto the humorous novel Mr. Spaceman (2000), inwhich a space alien learns English from watchingtelevision and abducts a bus full of tourists inorder to interview them on his spaceship.

Native-American authors from the regioninclude part-Chippewa Louise Erdrich, who hasset a series of novels in her native North Dakota.Gerald Vizenor (1935- ) gives a comic, postmod-ern portrait of contemporary Native-Americanlife in Darkness at Saint Louis Bearheart (1978)and Griever: An American Monkey King in China(1987). Vizenor’s Chancers (2000) deals withskeletons buried outside of their homelands.

Popular Syrian-American novelist MonaSimpson (1957- ), who was born in Wisconsin, isthe author of Anywhere But Here (1986), a look atmother-daughter relationships.

The Mountain WestThe western interior of the United States is a

largely wild area that stretches along the majes-tic Rocky Mountains running slantwise fromMontana at the Canadian border to the hills ofTexas on the U.S. border with Mexico. Ranchingand mining have long provided the region’s economic backbone, and the Anglo tradition in the region emphasizes an independent frontier spirit.

Western literature often incorporates con-flict. Traditional enemies in the 19th-centuryWest are the cowboy versus the Indian, thefarmer/settler versus the outlaw, the rancherversus the cattle rustler. Recent antagonists

include the oilman versus the ecologist, thedeveloper versus the archaeologist, and the citi-zen activist versus the representative of nuclearand military facilities, many of which are housedin the sparsely populated West.

One writer has cast a long shadow over west-ern writing, much as William Faulkner did in theSouth. Wallace Stegner (1909-1993) records thepassing of the western wilderness. In his mas-terpiece Angle of Repose (1971), a historianimagines his educated grandparents’ move to the“wild” West. His last book surveys his life in theWest as a writer: Where the Bluebird Sings to theLemonade Springs (1992). For a quarter century,Stegner directed Stanford University’s writingprogram; his list of students reads like a “who’swho” of western writing: Raymond Carver, KenKesey, Thomas McGuane, Larry McMurtry, N.Scott Momaday, Tillie Olsen, and Robert Stone.Stegner also influenced the contemporaryMontana school of writers associated withMcGuane, Jim Harrison, and some works ofRichard Ford, as well as Texas writers likeMcMurtry.

ovelist Thomas McGuane (1939- ) typicallydepicts one man going alone into a wildarea, where he engages in an escalating

conflict. His works include The Sporting Club(1968) and The Bushwacked Piano (1971), inwhich the hero travels from Michigan to Montanaon a demented mission of courtship. McGuane’senthusiasm for hunting and fishing has led criticsto compare him with Ernest Hemingway.Michigan-born Jim Harrison (1937- ), likeMcGuane, spent many years living on a ranch. Inhis first novel, Wolf: A False Memoir (1971), aman seeks to view a wolf in the wild in hopes ofchanging his life. His later, more pessimistic fic-tion includes Legends of the Fall (1979) and TheRoad Home (1998).

In Richard Ford’s Montana novel Wildlife(1990), the desolate landscape counterpoints afamily’s breakup. Story writer, eco-critic, and



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nature essayist Rick Bass (1958- ),born in Texas and educated as apetroleum geologist, writes of ele-mental confrontations betweenoutdoorsmen and nature in hisstory collection In the LoyalMountains (1995) and the novelWhere the Sea Used To Be (1998).

Texan Larry McMurtry (1936- )draws on his ranch childhood inHorseman, Pass By (1961), madeinto the movie Hud in 1963, anunsentimental portrait of therancher’s world. Leaving Cheyenne(1963) and its successor, The LastPicture Show (1966), which wasalso made into a film, evoke thefading of a way of life in Texas smalltowns. McMurtry’s best-knownwork is Lonesome Dove (1985), anarchetypal western epic novelabout a cattle drive in the 1870sthat became a successful televisionminiseries. His recent worksinclude Comanche Moon (1997).

The West of multiethnic writersis less heroic and often more for-ward looking. One of the best-known Chicana writers is SandraCisneros (1954- ). Born in Chicago,Cisneros has lived in Mexico andTexas; she focuses on the large cul-tural border between Mexico andthe United States as a creative,contradictory zone in whichMexican-American women mustreinvent themselves. Her best-sell-ing The House on Mango Street(1984), a series of interlockingvignettes told from a young girl’sviewpoint, blazed the trail for otherLatina writers and introduced read-ers to the vital Chicago barrio.

Cisneros extended her vignettes ofChicana women’s lives in WomanHollering Creek (1991). Pat Mora(1942- ) offers a Chicana view inNepantla: Essays From the Land inthe Middle (1993), which addressesissues of cultural conservation.

Native Americans from theregion include the late JamesWelch, whose The Heartsong ofCharging Elk (2000) imagines ayoung Sioux who survives the Battleof Little Bighorn and makes a life inFrance. Linda Hogan (l947- ), fromColorado and of Chickasaw her-itage, reflects on Native-Americanwomen and nature in novels includ-ing Mean Spirit (1990), about the oilrush on Indian lands in the 1920s,and Power (1998), in which anIndian woman discovers her owninner natural resources.

The SouthwestFor centuries, the desert

Southwest developed underSpanish rule, and much of the pop-ulation continues to speak Spanish,while some Native-American tribesreside on ancestral lands. Rainfallis unreliable, and agriculture hasalways been precarious in theregion. Today, massive irrigationprojects have boosted agriculturalproduction, and air conditioningattracts more and more people tosprawling cities like Salt Lake Cityin Utah and Phoenix in Arizona.

In a region where the desertecology is so fragile, it is not sur-prising that there are many environ-mentally oriented writers. Theactivist Edward Abbey (1927-1989)



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celebrated the desert wildernessof Utah in Desert Solitaire: A Seasonin the Wilderness (1968).

Trained as a biologist, BarbaraKingsolver (1955- ) offers awoman’s viewpoint on theSouthwest in her popular trilogyset in Arizona: The Bean Trees(1988), featuring Taylor Greer, atomboyish young woman who takesin a Cherokee child; Animal Dreams(1990); and Pigs in Heaven (1993).The Poisonwood Bible (1998) con-cerns a missionary family in Africa.Kingsolver addresses politicalthemes unapologetically, admitting,“I want to change the world.”

The Southwest is home to thegreatest number of Native-American writers, whose worksreveal rich mythical storytelling, aspiritual treatment of nature, anddeep respect for the spoken word.The most important fictionaltheme is healing, understood asrestoration of harmony. Other top-ics include poverty, unemployment,alcoholism, and white crimesagainst Indians.

Native-American writing is morephilosophical than angry, however,and it projects a strong ecologicalvision. Major authors include thedistinguished N. Scott Momaday,who inaugurated the contemporaryNative-American novel with HouseMade of Dawn; his recent worksinclude The Man Made of Words(1997). Part-Laguna novelist LeslieMarmon Silko, the author ofCeremony, has also publishedGardens in the Dunes (1999), evok-ing Indigo, an orphan cared for by a

white woman at the turn of the 20th century.

Numerous Mexican-Americanwriters reside in the Southwest, asthey have for centuries. Distinctiveconcerns include the Spanish lan-guage, the Catholic tradition, folk-loric forms, and, in recent years,race and gender inequality, genera-tional conflict, and politicalactivism. The culture is stronglypatriarchal, but new female Chicanavoices have arisen.

The poetic nonfiction bookBorderlands/La Frontera: The NewMestiza (1987), by Gloria Anzaldúa(1942- ), passionately imagines ahybrid feminine consciousness ofthe borderlands made up of strandsfrom Mexican, Native-American,and Anglo cultures. Also noteworthyis New Mexican writer DeniseChavez (1948- ), author of the storycollection The Last of the MenuGirls (l986). Her Face of an Angel(1994), about a waitress who hasbeen working on a manual for wait-resses for 30 years, has been calledan authentically Latino novel inEnglish.

California LiteratureCalifornia could be a country all

its own with its enormous multieth-nic population and huge economy.The state is known for spawningsocial experiments, youth move-ments (the Beats, hippies,techies), and new technologies(the “dot-coms” of Silicon Valley)that can have unexpected consequences.

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San Francisco, enjoys a liberal,even utopian literary tradition seenin Jack London and John Steinbeck.It is home to hundreds of writers,including Native American GeraldVizenor, Chicana Lorna DeeCervantes, African Americans AliceWalker and Ishmael Reed, andinternationally minded writers likeNorman Rush (1933- ), whose novelMating (1991) draws on his yearsin Africa.

Northern California houses arich tradition of Asian-Americanwriting, whose characteristicthemes include family and genderroles, the conflict between genera-tions, and the search for identity.Maxine Hong Kingston helped kin-dle the renaissance of Asian-American writing, at the same timepopularizing the fictionalized mem-oir genre.

Another Asian-American writerfrom California is novelist Amy Tan,whose best-selling The Joy LuckClub became a hit film in 1993. Itsinterlinked story-like chaptersdelineate the different fates offour mother-and-daughter pairs.Tan’s novels spanning historicalChina and today’s United Statesinclude The Hundred Secret Senses(1995), about half-sisters, and TheBonesetter’s Daughter (2001),about a daughter’s care for hermother. The refreshing, witty GishJen (1955- ), whose parents emi-grated from Shanghai, authored thelively novels Typical American(1991) and Mona in the PromisedLand (1996).

Japanese-American writers in-

clude Karen Tei Yamash*ta (1951- ),born and raised in California, whosenine-year stay in Brazil inspiredThrough the Arc of the Rain Forest(1990) and Brazil-Maru (1992). HerTropic of Orange (1997) evokespolyglot Los Angeles. Japanese-American fiction writers build onthe early work of Toshio Mori,Hisaye Yamamoto, and JaniceMirikitani.

Southern California literaturehas a very different tradition asso-ciated with the newer city of LosAngeles, built by boosters and landdevelopers despite the obviousproblem of lack of water resources.Los Angeles was from the start acommercial enterprise; it is notsurprising that Hollywood andDisneyland are some of its best-known legacies to the world. As ifto counterbalance its shiny facade,a dystopian strain of SouthernCalifornia writing has flourished,inaugurated by Nathanael West’sHollywood novel, The Day of theLocust (1939).

Loneliness and alienation stalkthe creations of Gina Berriault(1926–1999), whose characters ekeout stunted lives lived in rentedrooms in Women in Their Beds(1996). Joan Didion (1934- ) evokesthe free-floating anxiety ofCalifornia in her brilliant essaysSlouching Towards Bethlehem(1968). In 2003, Didion pennedWhere I Was From, a narrativeaccount of how her family movedwest with the frontier and settled inCalifornia. Another Angelino,Dennis Cooper (1953- ), writes cool



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novels about an underworld of numb, alienatedmen.

Thomas Pynchon best captured the strangecombination of ease and unease that is LosAngeles in his novel about a vast conspiracy ofoutcasts, The Crying of Lot 49. Pynchon inspiredthe prolific postmodernist William Vollmann(l959- ), who has gained popularity with youthful,counterculture readers for his long, surrealisticmeta-narratives such as the multivolume SevenDreams: A Book of North American Landscapes,inaugurated with The Ice-Shirt (1990), aboutVikings, and fantasies like You Bright and RisenAngels: A Cartoon (1987), about a war betweenvirtual humans and insects.

Another ambitious novelist living in SouthernCalifornia is the flamboyant T. Coraghessan Boyle(1948- ), known for his many exuberant novelsincluding World’s End (1987) and The Road toWellville (1993), about John Harvey Kellogg,American inventor of breakfast cereal.

Mexican-American writers in Los Angelessometimes focus on low-grade racial tension.Richard Rodriguez (1944- ), author of Hunger ofMemory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez(1982), argues against bilingual education andaffirmative action in Days of Obligation: AnArgument With My Mexican Father (l992). LuisRodriguez’s (1954- ) memoir of macho Chicanogang life in Los Angeles, Always Running (1993),testifies to the city’s dark underside.

The Latin-American diaspora has influencedHelena Maria Viramontes (1954- ), born andraised in the barrio of East Los Angeles. Herworks portray that city as a magnet for a vast andgrowing number of Spanish-speaking immi-grants, particularly Mexicans and CentralAmericans fleeing poverty and warfare. In power-ful stories such as “The Cariboo Café” (1984),she interweaves Anglos, refugees from deathsquads, and illegal immigrants who come to theUnited States in search of work.

The NorthwestIn recent decades, the mountainous, densely

forested Northwest, centered around Seattle inthe state of Washington, has emerged as a cul-tural center known for liberal views and a pas-sionate appreciation of nature. Its most influen-tial recent writer was Raymond Carver.

David Guterson (1956- ), born in Seattle,gained a wide readership when his novel SnowFalling on Cedars (1994) was made into a movie.Set in Washington’s remote, misty San JuanIslands after World War II, it concerns aJapanese American accused of a murder. InGuterson’s moving novel East of the Mountains(1999), a heart surgeon dying of cancer goesback to the land of his youth to commit suicide,but discovers reasons to live. The penetratingnovel Housekeeping (1980) by MarilynneRobinson (1944- ) sees this wild, difficult territo-ry through female eyes. In her luminous, long-awaited second novel, Gilead (2004), an uprightelderly preacher facing death writes a family history for his young son that looks back as far asthe Civil War.

Although she has lived in many regions, AnnieDillard (1945- ) has made the Northwest her ownin her crystalline works such as the brilliantpoetic essay entitled “Holy the Firm” (1994),prompted by the burning of a neighbor child. Herdescription of the Pacific Northwest evokes botha real and spiritual landscape: “I came here tostudy hard things — rock mountain and salt sea— and to temper my spirit on their edges.” Akinto Henry David Thoreau and Ralph WaldoEmerson, Dillard seeks enlightenment in nature.Dillard’s striking essay collection is Pilgrim atTinker Creek (1974). Her one novel, The Living(1992), celebrates early pioneer families besetby disease, drowning, poisonous fumes, giganticfalling trees, and burning wood houses as theyimperceptibly assimilate with indigenous tribes,Chinese immigrants, and newcomers from the East.


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Sherman Alexie (1966- ), aSpokane/Coeur d’Alene Indian, isthe youngest Native-American nov-elist to achieve national fame.Alexie gives unsentimental andhumorous accounts of Indian lifewith an eye for incongruous mix-tures of tradition and pop culture.His story cycles includeReservation Blues (1995) and TheLone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight inHeaven (1993), which inspired theeffective film of reservation lifeSmoke Signals (1998), for whichAlexie wrote the screenplay. SmokeSignals is one of the very fewmovies made by Native Americansrather than about them. Alexie’srecent story collection is TheToughest Indian in the World(2000), while his harrowing novelIndian Killer (1996) recalls RichardWright’s Native Son.


riters from the English-speaking Caribbean

islands have been shapedby the British literary curriculumand colonial rule, but in recentyears their focus has shifted fromLondon to New York and Toronto.Themes include the beauty of theislands, the innate wisdom of theirpeople, and aspects of immigrationand exile — the breakup of family,culture shock, changed genderroles, and assimilation.

Two forerunners merit mention.Paule Marshall (1929- ), born inBrooklyn, is not technically a global

writer, but she vividly recalls herexperiences as the child ofBarbadian immigrants in Brooklynin Brown Girl, Brownstones (1959).Dominican novelist Jean Rhys(1894-1979) penned Wide SargassoSea (1966), a haunting and poeticrefiguring of Charlotte Brontë’sJane Eyre. Rhys lived most of herlife in Europe, but her book waschampioned by American feministsfor whom the “madwoman in theattic” had become an iconic figureof repressed female selfhood.

Rhys’s work opened the way forthe angrier voice of Jamaica Kincaid(1949- ), from Antigua, whoseunsparing autobiographical worksinclude the novels Annie John(1985), Lucy (1990), and TheAutobiography of My Mother(1996). Born in Haiti but educatedin the United States, EdwidgeDanticat (l969- ) came to attentionwith her stories Krik? Krak! (1995),entitled for a phrase used by story-tellers from the Haitian oral tradi-tion. Danticat evokes her nation’stragic past in her historical novelThe Farming of the Bones (1998).

Many Latin American writersdiverge from the views commonamong Chicano writers with rootsin Mexico, who have tended to beromantic, nativist, and left wing intheir politics. In contrast, Cuban-American writing tends to be cos-mopolitan, comic, and politicallyconservative. Gustavo PérezFirmat’s memoir, Next Year inCuba: A Chronicle of Coming of Agein America (1995), celebratesbaseball as much as Havana. The




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title is ironic: “Next year in Cuba” isa phrase of Cuban exiles clinging totheir vision of a triumphant return.The Pérez Family (1990), byChristine Bell (1951- ), warmly por-trays confused Cuban families —at least half of them named Pérez— in exile in Miami. Recent worksof novelist Oscar Hijuelos (1951- )include The Fourteen Sisters ofEmilio Montez O’Brien (1993),about Cuban Irish Americans, andMr. Ives’ Christmas (1995), thestory of a man whose son has died.

Writers with Puerto Rican rootsinclude Nicholasa Mohr (1938- ),whose Rituals of Survival: AWoman’s Portfolio (1985) presentsthe lives of six Puerto Ricanwomen, and Rosario Ferré (1938- ),author of The Youngest Doll (1991).Among the younger writers isJudith Ortiz Cofer (1952- ), authorof Silent Dancing: A PartialRemembrance of a Puerto RicanChildhood (1990) and The LatinDeli (1993), which combines poetrywith stories. Poet and essayistAurora Levins Morales (1954- )writes of Puerto Rico from a cos-mopolitan Jewish viewpoint.

The best-known writer withroots in the Dominican Republic isJulia Alvarez (1950- ). In How theGarcía Girls Lost Their Accents(1991), upper-class Dominicanwomen struggle to adapt to NewYork City. ¡Yo! (1997) returns to theGarcía sisters, exploring identitythrough the stories of 16 charac-ters. Junot Diaz (1948- ) offers amuch harsher vision in the storycollection Drown (1996), about

young men in the slums of NewJersey and the Dominican Republic.

Major Latin American writerswho first became prominent in theUnited States in the 1960s —Argentina’s Jorge Luis Borges,Colombia’s Gabriel GarcíaMárquez, Chile’s Pablo Neruda, andBrazil’s Jorge Amado — introducedU.S. authors to magical realism,surrealism, a hemispheric sensibil-ity, and an appreciation of indige-nous cultures. Since that first waveof popularity, women and writers ofcolor have found audiences, amongthem Chilean-born novelist IsabelAllende (1942- ). The niece ofChilean president Salvador Allende,who was assassinated in 1973,Isabel Allende memorialized hercountry’s bloody history in La casade los espíritus (l982), translated asThe House of the Spirits (1985).Later novels (written and pub-lished first in Spanish) include EvaLuna (1987) and Daughter ofFortune (1999), set in the Californiagold rush of 1849. Allende’s evoca-tive style and woman-centeredvision have gained her a wide read-ership in the United States.


any writers from the Indiansubcontinent have madetheir home in the United

States in recent years. BharatiMukherjee (1940- ) has written anacclaimed story collection, TheMiddleman and Other Stories(1988); her novel Jasmine (1989)



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tells the story of an illegal immi-grant woman. Mukherjee wasraised in Calcutta; her novel TheHolder of the World (1993) imaginespassionate adventures in 17th-cen-tury India for characters inNathaniel Hawthorne’s The ScarletLetter. Leave It to Me (1997) followsthe nomadic struggles of a girlabandoned in India who seeks herroots. Mukherjee’s haunting story“The Management of Grief” (1988),about the aftermath of a terroristbombing of a plane, has taken onnew resonance since September11, 2001.

Indian-born Meena Alexander(1951- ), of Syrian heritage, wasraised in North Africa; she reflectson her experience in her memoirFault Lines (1993). Poet and storywriter Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni(1956- ), born in India, has writtenthe sensuous, women-centerednovels The Mistress of Spices (1997)and Sister of My Heart (1999), aswell as story collections includingThe Unknown Errors of Our Lives(2001).

Jhumpa Lahiri (1967- ) focuseson the younger generation’s con-flicts and assimilation in Interpreterof Maladies: Stories of Bengal,Boston, and Beyond (1999) and hernovel The Namesake (2003). Lahiridraws on her experience: HerBengali parents were raised inIndia, and she was born in Londonbut raised in the United States.

Southeast Asian-American au-thors, especially those from Koreaand the Philippines, have foundstrong voices in the last decade.

Among recent Korean-Americanwriters, pre-eminent is Chang-raeLee (1965- ). Born in Seoul, Korea,Lee’s remarkable novel NativeSpeaker (1995) interweaves publicideals, betrayal, and private des-pair. His moving second novel, AGesture Life (1999), explores thelong shadow of a wartime atrocity— the Japanese use of Korean“comfort women.”

Theresa Hak Kyung Cha (1951-1982), born in Korea, blends pho-tographs, videos, and historicaldocuments in her experimentalDictee (l982) to memorialize thesuffering of Koreans underJapanese occupying forces.Malaysian-American poet ShirleyGeok-lin Lim, of ethnic Chinesedescent, has written a challengingmemoir, Among the White MoonFaces (l996). Her autobiographicalnovel is Joss and Gold (2001), whileher stories are collected in TwoDreams (l997).

Philippine-born writers includeBienvenido Santos (1911-1996),author of the poetic novel Scent ofApples (1979), and JessicaHagedorn (l949- ), whose surreal-istic pop culture novels areDogeaters (l990) and The Gangsterof Love (1996). In very differentways, they both are responding tothe poignant autobiographicalnovel of Filipino-American migrantlaborer Carlos Bulosan (1913–1956),America Is in the Heart (1946).

Noted Vietnamese-Americanfilmmaker and social theorist TrinhMinh-Ha (1952- ) combines story-telling and theory in her feminist



Photo © Miriam Berkley

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work Woman, Native, Other (1989).From China, Ha Jin (1956- ) hasauthored the novel Waiting (1999),a sad tale of an 18-year separationwhose realistic style, typical ofChinese fiction, strikes Americanears as fresh and original.

The newest voices come fromthe Arab-American community.Lebanese-born Joseph Geha (1944-)has set his stories in Through andThrough (1990) in Toledo, Ohio;Jordanian-American Diana Abu-Jaber (1959- ), born in New York,has written the novel Arabian Jazz(1993).

Poet and playwright ElmazAbinader (1954- ), is author of amemoir, Children of the Roojme: A

Family’s Journey From Lebanon(1991). In “Just Off Main Street”(2002), Abinader has written of herbicultural childhood in 1960s small-town Pennsylvania: “…my familyscenes filled me with joy andbelonging, but I knew none of itcould be shared on the other sideof that door.”

American literature has tra-versed an extended, winding pathfrom pre-colonial days to contem-porary times. Society, history, tech-nology all have had a telling impacton it. Ultimately, though, there is aconstant — humanity, with all itsradiance and its malevolence, itstradition and its promise. ■



Photo © Marion Ettlinger /CORBIS OUTLINE

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GLOSSARYAbolitionism: An active movement to end slavery inthe U.S. North before the Civil War in the 1860s.

Allusion: An implied or indirect reference in a lit-erary text to another text.

Beatnik: The artistic and literary rebellion againstestablished society of the 1950s and early 1960s,associated with Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, andothers. “Beat” suggests holiness (“beatification”)and suffering (“beaten down”).

Boston Brahmins: Influential and respected 19th-century New England writers who maintained thegenteel tradition of upper-class values.

Calvinism: A strict theological doctrine of theFrench Protestant church reformer John Calvin(1509-1564) and the basis of Puritan society. Calvinheld that all humans were born sinful and only God’sgrace (not the church) could save a person from hell.

Canon: An accepted or sanctioned body of literaryworks considered to be permanently established andof high quality.

Captivity narrative: An account of capture byNative-American tribes, such as those created bywriters Mary Rowlandson and John Williams in colo-nial times.

Character writing: A popular 17th- and 18th-centu-ry literary sketch of a character who represents agroup or type.

Chekhovian: Similar in style to the works of theRussian author Anton Pavlovitch Chekhov. Chekhov(1860-1904), one of the major short story writers anddramatists of modern times, is known for both hishumorous one-act plays and his full-lengthtragedies.

Civil War: The war (1861-1865) between the north-ern U.S. states, which remained in the Union, andthe southern states, which seceded and formed theConfederacy. The victory of the North ended slaveryand preserved the Union.

Conceit: An extended metaphor. The term is used tocharacterize aspects of Renaissance metaphysicalpoetry in England and colonial poetry, such as that ofAnne Bradstreet, in colonial America.

Cowboy poetry: Verse based on oral tradition, andoften rhymed or metered, that celebrates the tradi-tions of the western U.S. cattle culture. Its subjectsinclude nature, history, folklore, family, friends, andwork. Cowboy poetry has its antecedents in the bal-lad style of England and the Appalachian South.

Domestic novel: A novel about home life and fami-ly that often emphasizes the personalities and attrib-utes of its characters over the plot. Many domesticnovels of the 19th and early 20th centuries employeda certain amount of sentimentality — usually ablend of pathos and humor.

Enlightenment: An 18th-century movement thatfocused on the ideals of good sense, benevolence,and a belief in liberty, justice, and equality as thenatural rights of man.

Existentialism: A philosophical movement embrac-ing the view that the suffering individual must cre-ate meaning in an unknowable, chaotic, and seem-ingly empty universe.

Expressionism: A post-World War I artistic move-ment, of German origin, that distorted appearancesto communicate inner emotional states.

Fabulist: A creator or writer of fables (short narra-tives with a moral, typically featuring animals ascharacters) or of supernatural stories incorporatingelements of myth and legend.

Faulknerian: In a style reminiscent of WilliamFaulkner (1897-1962), one of America's major 20th-century novelists, who chronicled the decline anddecay of the aristocratic South. Unlike earlierregionalists who wrote about local color, Faulknercreated literary works that are complex in form andoften violent and tragic in content.

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Faust: A literary character who sold his soul to thedevil in order to become all-knowing, or godlike; pro-tagonist of plays by English Renaissance dramatistChristopher Marlowe (1564-1593) and GermanRomantic writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832).

Feminism: The view, articulated in the 19th centu-ry, that women are inherently equal to men anddeserve equal rights and opportunities. More recent-ly, feminism is a social and political movement thattook hold in the United States in the late 1960s andsoon spread globally.

Fugitives: Poets who collaborated in The Fugitive, amagazine published between 1922 and 1928 inNashville, Tennessee. The collaborators, includingsuch luminaries as John Crowe Ransom, RobertPenn Warren, and Allen Tate, rejected “northern”urban, commercial values, which they felt had takenover America, and called for a return to the land andto American traditions that could be found in theSouth.

Genre: A category of literary forms (novel, lyricpoem, epic, for example).

Global literature: Contemporary writing from themany cultures of the world. Selections include litera-ture ascribed to various religious, ideological, andethnic groups within and across geographic bound-aries.

Hartford Wits: A conservative late 18th-century lit-erary circle centered at Yale College in Connecticut(also known as the Connecticut Wits).

Hip-hop poetry: Poetry that is written on a page butperformed for an audience. Hip-hop poetry, with itsroots in African-American rhetorical tradition,stresses rhythm, improvisation, free association,rhymes, and the use of hybrid language.

Hudibras: A mock-heroic satire by English writerSamuel Butler (1612-1680). Hudibras was imitatedby early American revolutionary-era satirists.

Iambic: A metrical foot consisting of one short syl-lable followed by one long syllable, or of oneunstressed syllable followed by one stressed syllable.

Image: Concrete representation of an object, orsomething seen.

Imagists: A group of mainly American poets, includ-ing Ezra Pound and Amy Lowell, who used sharpvisual images and colloquial speech; active from1912 to 1914.

Iowa Writers’ Workshop: A graduate program increative writing at the University of Iowa in whichtalented, generally young writers work on manu-scripts and exchange ideas about writing with eachother and with established poets and prose writers.

Irony: A meaning, often contradictory, concealedbehind the apparent meaning of a word or phrase.

Kafkaesque: Reminiscent of the style of Czech-bornnovelist and short story writer Franz Kafka (1883-1924). Kafka’s works portray the oppressiveness ofmodern life, and his characters frequently find them-selves in threatening situations for which there is noexplanation and from which there is no escape.

Knickerbocker School: New York City-based writ-ers of the early 1800s who imitated English andEuropean literary fashions.

Language poetry: Poetry that stretches language toreveal its potential for ambiguity, fragmentation, andself-assertion within chaos. Language poets favoropen forms and multicultural texts; they appropriateimages from popular culture and the media, andrefashion them.


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McCarthy era: The period of the Cold War (late1940s and early 1950s) during which U.S. SenatorJoseph McCarthy pursued American citizens whomhe and his followers suspected of being members orformer members of, or sympathizers with, theCommunist party. His efforts included the creation of“blacklists” in various professions — rosters of peo-ple who were excluded from working in those fields.McCarthy ultimately was denounced by his Senatecolleagues.

Metafiction: Fiction that emphasizes the nature offiction, the techniques and conventions used to writeit, and the role of the author.

Metaphysical poetry: Intricate type of 17th-centuryEnglish poetry employing wit and unexpectedimages.

Middle Colonies: The present-day U.S. mid-Atlanticstates — New York, New Jersey, Maryland,Pennsylvania, and Delaware — known originally forcommercial activities centered around New York Cityand Philadelphia.

Midwest: The central area of the United States, fromthe Ohio River to the Rocky Mountains, includingthe Prairie and Great Plains regions (also known asthe Middle West).

Minimalism: A writing style, exemplified in theworks of Raymond Carver, that is characterized byspareness and simplicity.

Mock-epic: A parody using epic form (also known asmock-heroic).

Modernism: An international cultural movementafter World War I expressing disillusionment withtradition and interest in new technologies andvisions.

Motif: A recurring element, such as an image,theme, or type of incident.

Muckrakers: American journalists and novelists(1900-1912) whose spotlight on corruption in busi-ness and government led to social reform.

Multicultural: The creative interchange of numer-ous ethnic and racial subcultures.

Myth: A legendary narrative, usually of gods andheroes, or a theme that expresses the ideology of aculture.

Naturalism: A late 19th- and early 20th-century lit-erary approach of French origin that vividly depictedsocial problems and viewed human beings as help-less victims of larger social and economic forces.

Neoclassicism: An 18th-century artistic movement,associated with the Enlightenment, drawing on clas-sical models and emphasizing reason, harmony, andrestraint.

New England: The region of the United States com-prising the present-day northeastern states ofMaine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts,Rhode Island, and Connecticut and noted for its earlyindustrialization and intellectual life. Traditionally,New England is the home of the shrewd, indepen-dent, thrifty “Yankee” trader.

New Journalism: A style of writing made popular inthe United States in the 1960s by Tom Wolfe, TrumanCapote, and Norman Mailer, who used the tech-niques of story-telling and characterization of fictionwriters in creating nonfiction works.

Objectivist: A mid-20th-century poetic movement,associated with William Carlos Williams, stressingimages and colloquial speech.

Old Norse: The ancient Norwegian language of thesagas, virtually identical to modern Icelandic.

Oral Tradition: Transmission by word of mouth; tra-dition passed down through generations; verbal folktradition.

Plains Region: The middle region of the UnitedStates that slopes eastward from the RockyMountains to the Prairie.



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Poet Laureate: An individual appointed as a con-sultant in poetry to the U.S. Library of Congress for aterm of generally one year. During his or her term,the Poet Laureate seeks to raise the national con-sciousness to a greater appreciation of poetry.

Poetry slam: A spoken-word poetry competition.

Postmodernism: A media-influenced aesthetic sen-sibility of the late 20th century characterized byopen-endedness and collage. Postmodernism ques-tions the foundations of cultural and artistic formthrough self-referential irony and the juxtapositionof elements from popular culture and electronic tech-nology.

Prairie: The level, unforested farm region of themidwestern United States.

Primitivism: A belief that nature provides truer andmore healthful models than does culture. An exam-ple is the myth of the “noble savage.”

Puritans: English religious and political reformerswho fled their native land in search of religious free-dom, and who settled and colonized New England inthe 17th century.

Reformation: A northern European political andreligious movement of the 15th through 17th cen-turies that attempted to reform Catholicism; eventu-ally gave rise to Protestantism.

Reflexive: Self-referential. A literary work is reflex-ive when it refers to itself.

Regional writing: Writing that explores the cus-toms and landscape of a region of the United States.

Revolutionary War: The War of Independence,1775-1783, fought by the American colonies againstGreat Britain.

Romance: Emotionally heightened, symbolic Americannovels associated with the Romantic period.

Romanticism: An early 19th-century movement thatelevated the individual, the passions, and the innerlife. Romanticism, a reaction against neoclassicism,stressed strong emotion, imagination, freedom fromclassical correctness in art forms, and rebellionagainst social conventions.

Saga: An ancient Scandinavian narrative of histori-cal or mythical events.

Salem Witch Trials: Proceedings for alleged witch-craft held in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692.Nineteen persons were hanged and numerous oth-ers were intimidated into confessing or accusingothers of witchcraft.

Self-help book: A book telling readers how toimprove their lives through their own efforts. Theself-help book has been a popular American genrefrom the mid-19th century to the present.

Separatists: A strict Puritan sect of the 16th and17th centuries that preferred to separate from theChurch of England rather than reform. Many of thosewho first settled America were Separatists.

Slave narrative: The first black literary prose genrein the United States, featuring accounts of the livesof African Americans under slavery.

South: A region of the United States comprising thestates of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia,Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, NorthCarolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, andWest Virginia, as well as eastern Texas.

Surrealism: A European literary and artistic move-ment that uses illogical, dreamlike images andevents to suggest the unconscious.

Syllabic versification: Poetic meter based on thenumber of syllables in a line.

Synthesis: A blending of two senses; used by EdgarAllan Poe and others to suggest hidden correspon-dences and create exotic effects.


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Tall tale: A humorous, exaggerated story commonon the American frontier, often focusing on cases ofsuperhuman strength.

Theme: An abstract idea embodied in a literarywork.

Tory: A wealthy pro-English faction in America at thetime of the Revolutionary War in the late 1700s.

Transcendentalism: A broad, philosophical move-ment in New England during the Romantic era(peaking between 1835 and 1845). It stressed therole of divinity in nature and the individual’s intu-ition, and exalted feeling over reason.

Trickster: A cunning character of tribal folk narra-tives (for example those of African Americans andNative Americans) who breaks cultural codes ofbehavior; often a culture hero.

Vision song: A poetic song that members of someNative-American tribes created when purifyingthemselves through solitary fasting and meditation.



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Abbey, Edward 148Abinader, Elmaz 155“Above Pate Valley” (Gary Snyder) 86“Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight” (Vachel Lindsay) 57Absalom, Absalom! (William Faulkner) 72Abu-Jaber, Diana 155Accidental Tourist, The (Anne Tyler) 142Acker, Kathy 142Actual, The (Saul Bellow) 103Adams, Abigail 25Adams, Henry 53Address to the Negroes of the State of New York, An

(Jupiter Hammon) 13Adventures of Augie March, The (Saul Bellow) 103Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain) 40, 48-49Affliction (Russell Banks) 140Affluent Society, The (John Kenneth Galbraith) 101Afterlife and Other Stories, The (John Updike) 139Age of Innocence, The (Edith Wharton) 53Aiiieeeee! (Frank Chin, ed.) 94Albee, Edward 117, 119Alcott, Bronson 27, 28Alcott, Louisa May 27Alexander, Meena 154Alexie, Sherman 152Ali, Agha Shahid 127Allen, Donald 86, 89Allende, Isabel 153Allison, Dorothy 144All My Sons (Arthur Miller) 98All the King’s Men (Robert Penn Warren) 98All the Pretty Horses (Cormac McCarthy) 144All the Sad Young Men (F. Scott Fitzgerald) 70Alurista 91Alvarez, Julia 153Always Running (Luis Rodriguez) 151Amateur Marriage, The (Anne Tyler) 142Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, The (Michael Chabon) 143Ambassadors, The (Henry James) 52America Is in the Heart (Carlos Bulosan) 154American, The (Henry James) 52Americana (Don DeLillo) 141American Buffalo (David Mamet) 119American Daughter, An (Wendy Wasserstein) 140American Dream, The (Edward Albee) 117American Geography (Jedidiah Morse) 21“American Liberty” (Philip Freneau) 20American Pastoral (Philip Roth) 111American Poetry in the Twentieth Century (Kenneth Rexroth) 87American Primitive (Mary Oliver) 130American Tragedy, An (Theodore Dreiser) 47, 54-55, 57, 78America Play, The (Suzan-Lori Parks) 140

Ammons, A.R. 80, 130Among the White Moon Faces (Shirley Geok-lin Lim) 154Anaya, Rudolfo 91, 116Ancient Evenings (Norman Mailer) 110Anderson, Laurie 95Anderson, Sherwood 55, 71, 75Andrews, Bruce 95Angela’s Ashes (Frank McCourt) 138Angelou, Maya 91, 93, 116Angels in America: Part One: Millennium Approaches

(Tony Kushner) 139Angels in America: Part Two: Perestroika (Tony Kushner) 139Angle of Repose (Wallace Stegner) 147Animal Dreams (Barbara Kingsolver) 149Annie John (Jamaica Kincaid) 152Another Country (James Baldwin) 102Another You (Ann Beattie) 143Antin, David 95Antrim, Donald 141Anywhere But Here (Mona Simpson) 147Anzaldúa, Gloria 91, 149“Appalachian Book of the Dead” (Charles Wright) 125Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans, An

(Lydia Child) 43“Applicant, The” (Sylvia Plath) 83Appointment in Samarra (John O’Hara) 102Arabian Jazz (Diana Abu-Jaber) 155Ariel (Sylvia Plath) 83Armantrout, Rae 122Armies of the Night, The (Norman Mailer) 107, 109Arrowsmith (Sinclair Lewis) 72, 73Arthur Mervyn (Charles Brockden Brown) 22Ashbery, John 80, 88, 122Ash-Wednesday (T.S. Eliot) 64As I Lay Dying (William Faulkner) 72Assistant, The (Bernard Malamud) 104Atlantis (Mark Doty) 128“At Melville’s Tomb” (Hart Crane) 68“At the Fishhouses” (Elizabeth Bishop) 85“At the Gym” (Mark Doty) 128Atwood, Margaret 124Auster, Paul 138, 142Autobiography (Benjamin Franklin) 16, 18Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (James Weldon Johnson) 59Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, The (Ernest Gaines) 111Autobiography of My Mother, The (Jamaica Kincaid) 152Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table, The (Oliver Wendell Holmes) 33Awake and Sing! (Clifford Odets) 78Awakening, The (Kate Chopin) 50, 51Awful Rowing Toward God, The (Anne Sexton) 83Ayumi: A Japanese American Anthology (Janice Mirikitani, ed.) 94



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Babbitt (Sinclair Lewis) 60, 72, 73Baca, Jimmy Santiago 125Baldwin, James 46, 102Baldwin, Joseph 49Bambara, Toni Cade 115Banks, Russell 140Baraka, Amiri (LeRoi Jones) 91, 93, 117-118Barks, Coleman 129Barren Ground (Ellen Glasgow) 58Barth, John 105, 108,109-110, 113, 138Barthelme, Donald 108, 138Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel, The (David Rabe) 119Bass, Rick 148Bastard Out of Carolina (Dorothy Allison) 144Baumgardner, Jennifer 137Bausch, Richard 142Beach Music (Pat Conroy) 145Bean Trees, The (Barbara Kingsolver) 149Bear, The (William Faulkner) 49Beattie, Ann 138, 143Beautiful and the Damned, The (F. Scott Fitzgerald) 70Bech: A Book (John Updike) 106Bech at Bay (John Updike) 106Bech Is Back (John Updike) 106Bell, Christine 153Bellefleur (Joyce Carol Oates) 114Bell Jar, The (Sylvia Plath) 83Bellow, Saul 101, 103-104, 109, 116Beloved (Toni Morrison) 115Beneath a Single Moon 94Berriault, Gina 150Berryman, John 82, 84Beverley, Robert 13Bidart, Frank 132Biglow Papers, First Series (James Russell Lowell) 33Big Money, The (John Dos Passos) 73Billy Bathgate (E.L. Doctorow) 113Bishop, Elizabeth 68, 82, 85, 121, 122, 133Black Boy (Richard Wright) 75Blackburn, Paul 86“Black Cat, The” (Edgar Allan Poe) 42Black Looks (bell hooks) 145“Black Snake, The” (Mary Oliver) 131Black Tickets (Jayne Anne Phillips) 144Bless Me, Ultima (Rudolfo Anaya) 116Blithedale Romance, The (Nathaniel Hawthorne) 27, 38Blonde (Joyce Carol Oates) 114Blood Meridien (Cormac McCarthy) 144Bloodsmoor Romance, A (Joyce Carol Oates) 114Bloom, Alan 104Bloudy Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience, The

(Roger Williams) 10“Blue Hotel, The” (Stephen Crane) 54Blue Notes (Yusef Komunyakaa) 134

Blue Pastures (Mary Oliver) 130Bluest Eye, The (Toni Morrison) 114Bly, Robert 89, 129Bone Black (bell hooks) 145Bonesetter’s Daughter, The (Amy Tan) 150Bonfire of the Vanities, The (Tom Wolfe) 108Book of Daniel, The (E.L. Doctorow) 112Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza

(Gloria Anzaldúa) 149Bostonians, The (Henry James) 52Boston Marriage (David Mamet) 119Boyle, T. Coraghessan 151Brackenridge, Hugh Henry 20Bradford, William 6-7, 9Bradley, David 143Bradstreet, Anne 7, 24“Brahma” (Ralph Waldo Emerson) 28Brautigan, Richard 108Brazil-Maru (Karen Tei Yamash*ta) 150Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Truman Capote) 107Brent, Linda (see Jacobs, Harriet)“Bride Comes to Yellow Sky, The” (Stephen Crane) 54Bride of the Innisfallen, The (Eudora Welty) 100Bridge, The (Hart Crane) 68Bridge of San Luis Rey, The (Thornton Wilder) 78Bridget Jones’s Diary (Helen Fielding) 137Brief and True Report of the New-Found Land of Virginia, A

(Thomas Hariot) 4Brigadier and the Golf Widow, The (John Cheever) 105Bright Lights, Big City (Jay McInerney) 112“British Prison Ship, The” (Philip Freneau) 20“Broken Heart, The” (James Merrill) 80Brooks, Gwendolyn 81, 133Broom of the System, The (David Foster Wallace) 141“Brothers and Keepers” (John Edgar Wideman) 143Brown, Charles Brockden 15, 21, 22Brown, Dan 136Brown, James Willie, Jr. (see Komunyakaa, Yusef)Brown Girl, Brownstones (Paule Marshall) 152Brownson, Orestes 27Bryant, William Cullen 21Buckley, Christopher 143Bullet Park (John Cheever) 106Bulosan, Carlos 154Buried Child (Sam Shepard) 118Burroughs, William 79, 87, 107Bushnell, Candace 137Bushwacked Piano, The (Thomas McGuane) 147Butler, Octavia 146Butler, Robert Olen 147Byrd, William 12-13


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Cable, George Washington 50, 51Caine Mutiny, The (Herman Wouk) 97Call of the Wild, The (Jack London) 54“Camouflaging the Chimera” (Yusef Komunyakaa) 133Campbell, Bebe Moore 142Cane (Jean Toomer) 74-75Cannery Row (John Steinbeck) 74Cantos, The (Ezra Pound) 63Capote, Truman 107, 111, 113, 136“Cariboo Café, The” (Helena Maria Viramontes) 151Carolina Moon (Jill McCorkle) 144Carpenter’s Gothic (William Gaddis) 108Carver, Raymond 138, 147, 151Casas, Bartolomé de las 4“Cask of Amontillado, The” (Edgar Allan Poe) 41Cass Timberlane (Sinclair Lewis) 73Catcher in the Rye, The (J.D. Salinger) 101, 106Catch-22 (Joseph Heller) 97Cathedral (Raymond Carver) 138Cather, Willa 58Cattle Killing, The (John Edgar Wideman) 143Centaur, The (John Updike) 106Ceremony (Leslie Marmon Silko) 116, 149Cervantes, Lorna Dee 91, 92, 127, 150Cha, Theresa Hak Kyung 154Chabon, Michael 143“Chambered Nautilus, The” (Oliver Wendell Holmes) 33Chancers (Gerald Vizenor) 147Chandler, Raymond 42Chaneyville Incident, The (David Bradley) 143Channing, William Ellery 27Charlotte Temple (Susanna Rowson) 25Charming Billy (Alice McDermott) 142Chavez, Denise 149Cheever, John 101, 105-106, 142Chesnutt, Charles Waddell 58, 59“Chicago” (Carl Sandburg) 56Chickamauga (Charles Wright) 125“Chickamauga” (Charles Wright) 126Child, Lydia 43, 45“Children of Light” (Robert Lowell) 81Children of the Roojme (Elmaz Abinader) 155Children’s Hour, The (Lillian Hellman) 99Chimera (John Barth) 109Chin, Frank 94Chopin, Kate 50Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt (Anne Rice) 136“Chronic Meanings” (Bob Perelman) 95Cisneros, Sandra 116, 148Cities of the Plain (Cormac McCarthy) 144City in Which I Love You, The (Li-Young Lee) 127City of Glass (Paul Auster) 142City of God (E.L. Doctorow) 113“Civil Disobedience” (Henry David Thoreau) 11, 30

Clampitt, Amy 90“Clan Meeting: Births and Nations: A Blood Song”

(Michael S. Harper) 93Clemens, Samuel (see Twain, Mark)Clifton, Lucille 127Closing of the American Mind, The (Alan Bloom) 104Cloudsplitter (Russell Banks) 141Cofer, Judith Ortiz 153Cold Mountain (Charles Frazier) 145Cole, Henri 128Collected Stories (Ellen Gilchrist) 144Collected Stories (Grace Paley) 142Collected Stories (Katherine Anne Porter) 100Collins, Billy 132Color Purple, The (Alice Walker) 112, 115, 116Comanche Moon (Larry McMurtry) 148Come Back, Dr. Caligari (Donald Barthleme) 108Common Sense (Thomas Paine) 19Complete Stories, The (Flannery O’Connor) 103“Concord Hymn” (Ralph Waldo Emerson) 27Coney Island of the Mind, A (Lawrence Ferlinghetti) 87Confessions of Nat Turner, The (William Styron) 113“Congo, The” (Vachel Lindsay) 57Conjure Woman, The (Charles Waddell Chesnutt) 59Conquest of Canaan, The (Timothy Dwight) 19Conroy, Pat 145Contrast, The (Royall Tyler) 20Cooper, Dennis 150Cooper, James Fenimore 14, 15, 21, 23-24, 36, 38, 48Coover, Robert 108, 112, 138Coquette, The (Hannah Foster) 25Corners (David Rabe) 119Corrections, The (Jonathan Franzen) 146Corso, Gregory 87Cotton, Ann 24Counterlife, The (Philip Roth) 111Country Music (Charles Wright) 125Country of the Pointed Firs (Sarah Orne Jewett) 50Couples (John Updike) 106“Courtship of Miles Standish, The”

(Henry Wadsworth Longfellow) 33Cowboys (Sam Shepard) 118Crane, Hart 29, 68Crane, Stephen 47, 53-54, 72Creeley, Robert 86Crèvecoeur, Hector St. John de 18Crimes of the Heart (Beth Henley) 139Crossing, The (Cormac McCarthy) 144“Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” (Walt Whitman) 31Crossing Guard, The (David Rabe) 119Crucible, The (Arthur Miller) 98Crying of Lot 49, The (Thomas Pynchon) 108, 109, 151Cryptogram, The (David Mamet) 119Cullen, Countee 69, 74


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Cummings, Edward Estlin (e.e. cummings) 68Cunningham, Michael 146Curse of the Starving Class (Sam Shepard) 118Curtain of Green, A (Eudora Welty) 100Custom of the Country, The (Edith Wharton) 53

Dacey, Philip 96“Daddy” (Sylvia Plath) 83Daisy Miller (Henry James) 52Damballah (John Edgar Wideman) 143Dancing After Hours (Andre Dubus) 139Dangling Man (Saul Bellow) 103Danticat, Edwidge 152Darkness at Saint Louis Bearheart (Gerald Vizenor) 147Darkness Visible (William Styron) 113Daughter of Fortune (Isabel Allende) 153Da Vinci Code, The (Dan Brown) 136Day of Doom, The (Michael Wigglesworth) 8Day of the Locust, The (Nathanael West) 150Days of Obligation (Richard Rodriguez) 151“Deacon’s Masterpiece, or, The Wonderful One-Hoss Shay,

The” (Oliver Wendell Holmes) 33“Dead, The” (Billy Collins) 132Dean’s December, The (Saul Bellow) 103Death Comes for the Archbishop (Willa Cather) 58Death of a Salesman (Arthur Miller) 98, 101, 119Death of Jim Loney, The (James Welch) 116“Death of the Ball Turret Gunner, The” (Randall Jarrell) 80Debutante Ball, The (Beth Henley) 140Declaration of Sentiments (Elizabeth Cady Stanton) 43Delicate Balance, A (Edward Albee) 117DeLillo, Don 137, 141, 146Deliverance (James Dickey) 85Delta Wedding (Eudora Welty) 100“Democratic Vistas” (Walt Whitman) 31Desert Solitaire (Edward Abbey) 148Des Imagistes (Ezra Pound) 63Desire Under the Elms (Eugene O’Neill) 77Dessa Rose (Sherley Anne Williams) 146Devil’s Dream, The (Lee Smith) 144Dharma Bums, The (Jack Kerouac) 107Diamant, Anita 140Diamond, Jared 136Diary (Samuel Sewall) 9Diaz, Junot 153Dickey, James 82, 85Dickinson, Emily 14, 29, 34-35, 36, 85, 122Dictee (Theresa Hak Kyung Cha) 154Dictionary (Noah Webster) 21Didion, Joan 150Different Mirror, A (Ronald Takaki) 116Dillard, Annie 138, 151Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant (Anne Tyler) 142diPrima, Diane 86

Direction of Poetry (Robert Richman, ed.) 96“Disillusionment of Ten O’Clock” (Wallace Stevens) 66“Displaced Person, The” (Katherine Anne Porter) 103Divakaruni, Chitra Banerjee 154“Diving Into the Wreck” (Adrienne Rich) 85Dobyns, Stephen 131Doctorow, E.L. 97, 112-113Dogeaters (Jessica Hagedorn) 154Doolittle, Hilda (H.D.) 63, 66, 90Dorn, Ed 86Dos Passos, John 60, 72, 73, 112Doty, Mark 128-129Douglas, Susan 137Douglass, Frederick 45, 46Dove, Rita 90, 91, 93, 124, 132Dreamer (Charles Johnson) 146Dream of the Unified Field, The (Jorie Graham) 123Dream Songs (John Berryman) 84Dreiser, Theodore 47, 48, 53, 54-55, 70, 72, 75, 78, 103, 146Drinking Coffee Elsewhere (ZZ Packer) 145Drown (Junot Diaz) 153Du Bois, W.E.B. 58, 59, 74Dubus, Andre 139Dunbar, Paul Laurence 58Duncan, Robert 86Dunn, Stephen 126Dust Tracks on a Road (Zora Neale Hurston) 76Dutchman (Amiri Baraka) 118Dwight, Timothy 19Dybek, Stuart 146

East of Eden (John Steinbeck) 74East of the Mountains (David Guterson) 151Eberhart, Richard 80Echoes Down the Corridor (Arthur Miller) 99Edgar Huntley (Charles Brockden Brown) 22Edwards, Jonathan 11-12Eigner, Larry 86Elbow Room (James Alan McPherson) 145Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, The (Tom Wolfe) 108Eliot, T.S. 61, 63-64, 65, 67, 80, 81, 89Ellis, Bret Easton 112Ellis, Trey 143Ellison, Ralph 46, 101, 102Elmer Gantry (Sinclair Lewis) 73Elsie Venner (Oliver Wendell Holmes) 33Emerson, Ralph Waldo 14, 18, 26, 27, 28-29, 30, 31, 32, 37, 39,

130, 131, 151“Emperor of Ice-Cream, The” (Wallace Stevens) 66Empire Falls (Richard Russo) 140Empire of the Senseless (Kathy Acker) 142Endless Life (Lawrence Ferlinghetti) 87End of the Road, The (John Barth) 109 Enemies: A Love Story (Isaac Bashevis Singer) 105


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Equiano, Olaudah 13, 45Erdrich, Louise 91, 92-93, 116, 127, 147Estate, The (Isaac Bashevis Singer) 104Ethan Frome (Edith Wharton) 53Eugenides, Jeffrey 141“Eutaw Springs” (Philip Freneau) 20Eva Luna (Isabel Allende) 153“Evangeline” (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow) 33“Evening Thought, An” (Jupiter Hammon) 13Everett, Percival 145Everything That Rises Must Converge

(Flannery O’Connor) 103Executioner’s Song, The (Norman Mailer) 110Explanation of America, An (Robert Pinsky) 133

Fable for Critics, A (James Russell Lowell) 33Face of an Angel (Denise Chavez) 149“Facing It” (Yusef Komunyakaa) 134Facts, The (Philip Roth) 111Falconer (John Cheever) 106“Fall of the House of Usher, The” (Edgar Allan Poe) 41Fame (Arthur Miller) 99Family Dancing (David Leavitt) 138Family Moskat, The (Isaac Bashevis Singer) 105“Family Reunion” (Louise Erdrich) 93Farewell to Arms, A (Ernest Hemingway) 71Farming of Bones, The (Edwidge Danticat) 152Faulkner, William 8, 49, 61, 62, 69, 71-72, 111, 112, 147Fault Lines (Meena Alexander) 154Federalist Papers, The 19Feminine Mystique, The (Betty Friedan) 90, 107Fences (August Wilson) 120Ferlinghetti, Lawrence 79, 86, 87Ferré, Rosario 153“Fever” (John Edgar Wideman) 143“Few Don’ts of an Imagiste, A” (Ezra Pound) 63Fielding, Helen 137Figured Wheel, The (Robert Pinsky) 133Firebird (Mark Doty) 128Fire Next Time, The (James Baldwin) 102Firmat, Gustavo Pérez 152“Fish R Us” (Mark Doty) 128Fitzgerald, F. Scott 54, 60, 61, 69, 70, 71, 72, 78, 143, 146Fixer, The (Bernard Malamud) 104Flanagan, Caitlin 137Flappers and Philosophers (F. Scott Fitzgerald) 70Floating Opera, The (John Barth) 109“Flowering Judas” (Katherine Anne Porter) 99Flowering Judas (Katherine Anne Porter) 100F.O.B. (David Henry Hwang) 116Fools Crow (James Welch) 116Ford, Richard 138, 145, 147For the Union Dead (Robert Lowell) 8242nd Parallel, The (John Dos Passos) 73

For Whom the Bell Tolls (Ernest Hemingway) 71Foster, Hannah 25Four Quartets (T.S. Eliot) 64Fourteen Sisters of Emilio Montez O’Brien, The

(Oscar Hijuelos) 153Franklin, Benjamin 14, 15, 16-18, 22, 33Franny and Zooey (J.D. Salinger) 107Franzen, Jonathan 146Frazier, Charles 145Freeing the Soul (Harryette Mullen) 145Freeman, Mary Wilkins 50Freneau, Philip 20-21, 25, 33, 130Frenzy (Percival Everett) 145Friedan, Betty 90, 107From Here to Eternity (James Jones) 97From the Terrace (John O’Hara) 102Frost, Robert 29, 65, 66, 130Fuller, Margaret 27, 33, 34, 43

Gaddis, William 108Gaines, Ernest 111, 145Galatea 2.2 (Richard Powers) 137, 146Galbraith, John Kenneth 101Gallagher, Tess 125Gangster of Love, The (Jessica Hagedorn) 154Gardens in the Dunes (Leslie Marmon Silko) 149Gardner, John 112, 113-114, 138Garland, Hamlin 55Garrison, William Lloyd 21, 46Gass, William 108, 138Geha, Joseph 155“George the Third’s Soliloquy” (Philip Freneau) 20“Gerontion” (T.S. Eliot) 64Gesture Life, A (Chang-rae Lee) 154Ghosts (Paul Auster) 142Ghost Writer, The (Philip Roth) 110Gilead (Marilynne Robinson) 151Gilbert, Sandra 90Gilchrist, Ellen 144Giles Goat-Boy (John Barth) 108, 109Gilman, Charlotte Perkins 51Ginsberg, Allen 79, 82, 86, 87, 88, 107, 118Gioia, Dana 96Giovanni, Nikki 91Girl With Curious Hair (David Foster Wallace) 141Gizzi, Peter 134Gladwell, Malcolm 136Glasgow, Ellen 58Glass Menagerie, The (Tennessee Williams) 99Glengarry Glen Ross (David Mamet) 119Glück, Louise 90, 124-125, 127Glyph (Percival Everett) 145“Gold Bug, The” (Edgar Allan Poe) 41Golden, Arthur 136


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Golden Apples, The (Eudora Welty) 100Golden Bowl, The (Henry James) 52Golden Boy (Clifford Odets) 78Gonzales, Rodolfo 92Goodbye, Columbus (Philip Roth) 101, 110“Good Country People” (Flannery O’Connor) 103 Good Man Is Hard To Find, A (Flannery O’Connor) 103Good Mother, The (Sue Miller) 140Good Scent From a Strange Mountain, A

(Robert Olen Butler) 147Gordon, Caroline 111Gordon, Mary 141, 142Go Tell It on the Mountain (James Baldwin) 102Graham, Jorie 90, 123-124, 125, 135Grandissimes, The (George Washington Cable) 50Grapes of Wrath, The (John Steinbeck) 61, 72, 74Gravity’s Rainbow (Thomas Pynchon) 97, 109Great American Novel, The (Philip Roth) 110Great Gatsby, The (F. Scott Fitzgerald) 54, 57, 70, 78Great God Brown, The (Eugene O’Neill) 77Great Santini, The (Pat Conroy) 145Grendel (John Gardner) 113Griever (Gerald Vizenor) 147Grimké, Angelina 43Grimké, Sarah 43Grisham, John 136Gubar, Susan 90Guterson, David 151Guy Domville (Henry James) 52

Habit of Being, The (Flannery O’Connor) 103Hagedorn, Jessica 154Halliday, Mark 131Hamlet, The (William Faulkner) 72Hammett, Dashiell 42, 99Hammon, Jupiter 13Hand to Mouth (Paul Auster) 138Hannah, Barry 145Hansberry, Lorraine 101Hariot, Thomas 4Harjo, Joy 128Harlot’s Ghost (Norman Mailer) 110Harmonium (Wallace Stevens) 65Harper, Michael S. 91, 93, 94, 132, 133Harris, George Washington 49Harrison, Jim 147Harte, Bret 50, 51Haruf, Kent 146Hass, Robert 125Hawthorne, Nathaniel 8, 14, 22, 27, 36, 37-38, 43, 50, 154Hazard of New Fortunes, A (William Dean Howells) 51H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) 90Heartsong of Charging Elk, The (James Welch) 148Heart Songs (Annie Proulx) 141

Heidi Chronicles, The (Wendy Wasserstein) 140Hejinian, Lyn 95, 122Heller, Joseph 97, 103Hellman, Lillian 97, 99Hemingway, Ernest 48, 60, 61, 69, 70-71, 72, 110, 138, 146, 147 Hempel, Amy 138Henderson the Rain King (Saul Bellow) 103Henley, Beth 139“Her Kind” (Anne Sexton) 83Herzog (Saul Bellow) 103Hidden Persuaders, The (Vance Packard) 101Hiding Place (John Edgar Wideman) 143Hijuelos, Oscar 116, 153Hirsch, Ed 132Hirshfield, Jane 129-130Historia de la Nueva México (Gaspar Pérez de Villagrá) 91History and Present State of Virginia, The (Robert Beverley) 13History of My Heart (Robert Pinsky) 133History of New York (Washington Irving) 23History of the Condition of Women in Various Ages and Nations

(Lydia Child) 43History of the Dividing Line (William Byrd) 13History of the Indians (Bartolemé de las Casas) 4History of the Standard Oil Company (Ida M. Tarbell) 55History of Woman Suffrage (Elizabeth Cady Stanton) 43Hobomok (Lydia Child) 43Hogan, Linda 148Holder of the World, The (Bharati Mukherjee) 154Hollander, John 80“Hollow Men, The” (T.S. Eliot) 64Holmes, Oliver Wendell 32, 33“Holy the Firm” (Annie Dillard) 151Home at the End of the World, A (Michael Cunningham) 146Home Repairs (Trey Ellis) 143Hooks, Bell (bell hooks) 145Hooper, Johnson 49Horseman, Pass By (Larry McMurtry) 148Hosseini, Khaled 136Hours, The (Michael Cummingham) 146Housebreaker of Shady Hill, The (John Cheever) 105Housekeeping (Marilynne Robinson) 151House Made of Dawn (N. Scott Momaday) 116, 149House of Mirth, The (Edith Wharton) 53House of Seven Gables, The (Nathaniel Hawthorne) 37House of the Spirits, The (Isabel Allende) 153House on Mango Street, The (Sandra Cisneros) 148House on Marshland, The (Louise Glück) 124Howard, Richard 80Howe, Susan 123Howells, William Dean 51, 55Howl (Allen Ginsberg) 79, 82, 88“How Serfdom Saved the Women’s Movement”

(Caitlin Flanagan) 137How the García Girls Lost Their Accents (Julia Alvarez) 153


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Hughes, Langston 69Hugo, Richard 82, 84, 133Human Stain, The (Philip Roth) 111Humboldt’s Gift (Saul Bellow) 103“Hummingbird Pauses at the Trumphet Vine” (Mary Oliver) 131Hundred Brothers, The (Donald Antrim) 141Hundred Secret Senses, The (Amy Tan) 150Hunger of Memory (Richard Rodriguez) 151Hurlyburly (David Rabe) 119Hurston, Zora Neale 76, 103, 115, 145Hutchinson, Anne 24Hwang, David Henry 116

I Am Joaquin (Rodolfo Gonzales) 92Iceman Cometh, The (Eugene O’Neill) 78Ice-Shirt, The (William Vollmann) 151Ice Storm, The (Rick Moody) 141“Ichabod” (John Greenleaf Whittier) 34“Idea of Order at Key West, The” (Wallace Stevens) 66Ideas of Order (Wallace Stevens) 65Idiots First (Bernard Malamud) 104I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Maya Angelou) 93, 116“Improvised Poetics” (Allen Ginsberg) 86Inada, Lawson 91“In a Station of the Metro” (Ezra Pound) 63Incident at Vichy (Arthur Miller) 98Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (Harriet Jacobs) 45In Cold Blood (Truman Capote) 107, 136“In Cold Storm Light” (Leslie Marmon Silko) 92In Country (Bobbie Ann Mason) 144Independence Day (Richard Ford) 145Indian Killer (Sherman Alexie) 152Indian Lawyer, The (James Welch) 116Infinite Jest (David Foster Wallace) 137“in Just” (Edward Estlin Cummings) 68Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or

Gustavas Vassa, the African, The (Olaudah Equiano) 13Interpreter of Maladies (Jhumpa Lahiri) 154In the Boom Boom Room (David Rabe) 119In the Heart of the Heart of the Country (William Gass) 108In the Loyal Mountains (Rick Bass) 147In the Night Season (Richard Bausch) 142Invisible Man (Ralph Ellison) 101, 102“Irises” (Li-Young Lee) 127Iron Heel, The (Jack London) 55Ironweed (William Kennedy) 112, 141Irving, John 112Irving, Washington 14, 21, 22-23, 24, 33I Sailed With Magellan (Stuart Dybek) 146

Jacobs, Harriet 45James, Henry 51-52, 53, 62Janowitz, Tama 112, 142Jarman, Mark 125

Jarrell, Randall 80, 85Jasmine (Bharati Mukherjee) 153Jauss, David 96Jazz (Toni Morrison) 115Jazz Poetry Anthology, The (Yusef Komunyakaa, ed.) 134Jeffers, Robinson 67-68Jefferson, Thomas 18, 19, 20, 21Jen, Gish 150Jenkins, Jerry B. 136Jewett, Sarah Orne 50“Jewish Cemetery at Newport, The”

(Henry Wadsworth Longfellow) 33“Jilting of Granny Weatherall, The”

(Katherine Anne Porter) 100Jin, Ha 155Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (August Wilson) 120“Johnny Appleseed” (Vachel Lindsay) 57Johnson, Charles 146Johnson, James Weldon 58, 59, 69Jones, James 97Jones, LeRoi (see Baraka, Amiri)Joss and Gold (Shirley Geok-lin Lim) 154Journal (John Winthrop) 9Journal (John Woolman) 11Journal (Sarah Kemble Knight) 9Joy Luck Club, The (Amy Tan) 116, 150JR (William Gaddis) 108Jubilee (Margaret Walker) 145“Jug of Rum, The” (Philip Freneau) 21Juneteenth (Ralph Ellison) 102Jungle, The (Upton Sinclair) 55Just, Ward 143“Just Off Main Street” (Elmaz Abinader) 155

Kate Vaiden (Reynolds Price) 112Kelly, Brigit Pegeen 124Kenan, Randall 146Kennedy, William 112, 141Kerouac, Jack 49, 79, 87, 101, 107Kesey, Ken 108, 147Key Into the Languages of America, A (Roger Williams) 10Kincaid, Jamaica 115, 152King, Martin Luther, Jr. 30, 107, 146King, Stephen 42, 140Kingsolver, Barbara 148Kingston, Maxine Hong 94, 113, 116, 150“Kitchenette Building” (Gwendolyn Brooks) 81Kitchen God’s Wife, The (Amy Tan) 116Kite Runner, The (Khaled Hosseini) 136 Kizer, Carolyn 90Knight, Sarah Kemble 9, 24Koch, Kenneth 88Komunyakaa, Yusef 125, 133-134Krik? Krak! (Edwidge Danticat) 152


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Kumin, Maxine 90, 130Kushner, Tony 139Kyger, Joanne 86

La casa de los espíritus (Isabel Allende) 153LaHaye, Tim 136Lahiri, Jhumpa 154Land of Unlikeness (Robert Lowell) 81“Language” Poetries: An Anthology (Douglas Messerli, ed.) 95Last of the Menu Girls, The (Denise Chavez) 149Last Picture Show, The (Larry McMurtry) 148Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor, The (John Barth) 109Latin Deli, The (Judith Ortiz Cofer) 153Lauterbach, Ann 122Leaf and the Cloud, The (Mary Oliver) 130Leaning Tower, The (Katherine Anne Porter) 100Leather-Stocking Tales (James Fenimore Cooper) 24, 38Leave It to Me (Bharati Mukherjee) 154Leaves of Grass (Walt Whitman) 31, 67Leaving Cheyenne (Larry McMurtry) 148Leavitt, David 138Lee, Chang-rae 154Lee, Li-Young 127-128“Legend of Sleepy Hollow, The” (Washington Irving) 22

Legends of the Fall (Jim Harrison) 147Leithauser, Brad 96Less Than Zero (Bret Easton Ellis) 112“Letter From a Region of My Mind” (James Baldwin) 102Letters (John Barth) 109Letters From an American Farmer

(Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur) 18Let the Dead Bury Their Dead (Randall Kenan) 146Levertov, Denise 85, 86, 90Levine, Lawrence 116Levine, Philip 82, 84-85, 133Lewis, Meriwether 21Lewis, Sinclair 60, 69, 72, 73, 74, 75, 146Libra (Don DeLillo) 141Lie Down in Darkness (William Styron) 113Life on the Mississippi (Mark Twain) 49Life Studies (Robert Lowell) 82“Ligeia” (Edgar Allan Poe) 41Light in August (William Faulkner) 72Lim, Shirley Geok-lin 127, 154Lindsay, Vachel 56-57Literature of Their Own, A (Elaine Showalter) 90Little Foxes, The (Lillian Hellman) 99Little Green Men (Christopher Buckley) 143“Little Rabbit Dead in the Grass, A” (Mark Doty) 128Live or Die (Anne Sexton) 83Lives of the Heart, The (Jane Hirshfield) 129Living, The (Annie Dillard) 151Locked Room, The (Paul Auster) 142Lolita (Vladimir Nabokov) 105

London, Jack 47, 48, 53, 54, 55, 149Lonely Crowd, The (David Riesman) 101Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, The

(Sherman Alexie) 152Lonesome Dove (Larry McMurtry) 148Long and Happy Life, A (Reynolds Price) 112Long Day’s Journey Into Night (Eugene O’Neill) 78Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth 32-33Longstreet, Augustus 49Look Homeward, Angel (Thomas Wolfe) 111Loon Lake (E.L. Doctorow) 113Lorde, Audre 90, 94, 142Lord Weary’s Castle (Robert Lowell) 81Lost in the Funhouse (John Barth) 109Lovecraft, H.P. 42Love Medicine (Louise Erdrich) 117“Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, The” (T.S. Eliot) 64Lowell, Amy 63, 90Lowell, James Russell 32, 33, 50Lowell, Robert 80, 81-82, 83, 86, 121“Luck of Roaring Camp, The” (Bret Harte) 50Lucky Spot, The (Beth Henley) 140Lucy (Jamaica Kincaid) 152“Luke Havergal” (Edwin Arlington Robinson) 57

MacDonald, John D. 42Macdonald, Ross 42Machine Dreams (Jayne Anne Phillips) 144Mac Low, Jackson 95Madwoman in the Attic, The

(Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar) 90Maggie: A Girl of the Streets (Stephen Crane) 47, 54Magic Barrel, The (Bernard Malamud) 104Magnalia Christi Americana (Cotton Mather) 10Mailer, Norman 97, 107, 109, 110, 113, 116Main Street (Sinclair Lewis) 73Main-Travelled Roads (Hamlin Garland) 55Malamud, Bernard 101, 104, 116Maltese Falcon, The (Hammett, Dashiell) 99Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, The (Oscar Hijuelos) 116Mamet, David 119“Management of Grief, The” (Bharati Mukherjee) 154ManifestA (Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards) 137Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, The (Sloan Wilson) 101Man Made of Words, The (N. Scott Momaday) 149Manor, The (Isaac Bashevis Singer) 104Mansion, The (William Faulkner) 72Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (August Wilson) 120Marble Faun, The (Nathaniel Hawthorne) 38“Marriage” (Gregory Corso) 87Marriage Play (Edward Albee) 117Marrow of Tradition, The (Charles Waddell Chesnutt) 59Marshall, Paule 152Martin Eden (Jack London) 47, 54, 57


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Mason, Bobbie Ann 138, 144Mason & Dixon (Thomas Pynchon) 109Masters, Edgar Lee 56, 57Mather, Cotton 10Mating (Norman Rush) 150M. Butterfly (David Henry Hwang) 116McCarthy, Cormac 144McCarthy, Mary 141McCorkle, Jill 144McCourt, Frank 138, 141McDermott, Alice 141, 142McGuane, Thomas 147McInerney, Jay 112, 142McKay, Claude 69McMurtry, Larry 147, 148McPherson, James Alan 145McPherson, Sandra 128Meadowlands (Louise Glück) 124Mean Spirit (Linda Hogan) 148Medea (Robinson Jeffers) 68Mehta, Ved 138Melville, Herman 8, 14, 22, 23, 24, 27, 32, 36, 37, 38-40, 49Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden) 136Mencken, H.L. 21Merrill, James 80Merwin, W.S. 89, 122Messerli, Douglas 95Metrical History of Christianity (Edward Taylor) 8Mexico City Blues (Jack Kerouac) 107M’Fingal (John Trumbull) 20Miami and the Siege of Chicago (Norman Mailer) 110Michaels, Meredith 137Mickelsson’s Ghosts (John Gardner) 114Middleman and Other Stories, The (Bharati Mukherjee) 153Middle Passage (Charles Johnson) 146Middlesex (Jeffrey Eugenides) 141“Midnight Consultation, A” (Philip Freneau) 20Millay, Edna St. Vincent 90Miller, Arthur 97, 98-99, 101, 116, 119Miller, Sue 140Millett, Kate 90, 110Mills, C. Wright 101Mills of the Kavanaughs, The (Robert Lowell) 81Minh-Ha, Trinh 154“Minister’s Black Veil, The” (Nathaniel Hawthorne) 38“Miniver Cheevy” (Edwin Arlington Robinson) 57Mirikitani, Janice 91, 94, 150Miss Firecracker Contest, The (Beth Henley) 140Mistress of Spices, The (Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni) 154Moby-Dick (Herman Melville) 8, 36, 37, 38-40, 146Modern Chivalry (Hugh Henry Brackenridge) 20Modern Instance, A (William Dean Howells) 51Mohr, Nicholasa 153Momaday, N. Scott 116, 147, 149

Mommy Myth, The (Susan Douglas and Meredith Michaels) 137Mona in the Promised Land (Gish Jen) 150Month of Sundays, A (John Updike) 106Moody, Rick 141Moon Lake (Eudora Welty) 100Moore, Lorrie 138Moore, Marianne 68, 85Mora, Pat 148Morales, Aurora Levins 153Mori, Toshio 150Morrison, Toni 46, 76, 114-115, 116Morse, Jedidiah 21Mosquito Coast, The (Paul Theroux) 112Mourning Becomes Electra (Eugene O’Neill) 78Moviegoer, The (Walker Percy) 112Mr. Ives’ Christmas (Oscar Hijuelos) 153Mr. Sammler’s Planet (Saul Bellow) 103Mr. Spaceman (Robert Olen Butler) 147Mukherjee, Bharati 153-154“Mule Heart” (Jane Hirshfield) 129Mules and Men (Zora Neale Hurston) 76Mullen, Harryette 145Mumbo Jumbo (Ishmael Reed) 145Murray, Judith Sargent 25Muse & Drudge (Harryette Mullen) 145Museums and Women (John Updike) 106Music School, The (John Updike) 106My Alexandria (Mark Doty) 128My Antonia (Willa Cather) 58“My Kinsman, Major Molineux” (Nathaniel Hawthorne) 38My Life (Lyn Hejinian) 122My Life, Starring Dara Falcon (Ann Beattie) 143My Life As a Man (Philip Roth) 110“My Lost Youth” (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow) 33Mysteries of Pittsburgh, The (Michael Chabon) 143Mysteries of Winterthurn (Joyce Carol Oates) 114Myths and Texts (Gary Snyder) 82

Nabokov, Vladimir 105, 108Nafisi, Azar 136Naked and the Dead, The (Norman Mailer) 97Naked Lunch, The (William Burroughs) 87Namesake, The (Jhumpa Lahiri) 154Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (Edgar Allan Poe) 36Narrative of Sojourner Truth (Sojourner Truth) 43Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American

Slave (Frederick Douglass) 46Native Son (Richard Wright) 75, 152Native Speaker (Chang-rae Lee) 154Natural, The (Bernard Malamud) 104Nature (Ralph Waldo Emerson) 28Naylor, Gloria 143Necromance (Rae Armantrout) 122Negative Blues (Charles Wright) 125


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“Negro Speaks of Rivers, The” (Langston Hughes) 69“Neighbour Rosicky” (Willa Cather) 58Neon Vernacular (Yusef Komunyakaa) 134Nepantla: Essays From the Land in the Middle

(Sandra Cisneros) 148New American Poetry, 1945-1960 (Donald Allen, ed.) 86New and Selected Poems (Mary Oliver) 130“New Black Aesthetic, The” (Trey Ellis) 143New Criticism, The (John Crowe Ransom) 77New Life, A (Bernard Malamud) 104“New Poem, The” (Charles Wright) 89Next Year in Cuba (Gustavo Pérez Firmat) 152Nickel Mountain (John Gardner) 114Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry (Jane Hirshfield) 129Nine Stories (J.D. Salinger) 1071984 (George Orwell) 551919 (John Dos Passos) 73Nobody Knows My Name (James Baldwin) 102Noon Wine (Katherine Anne Porter) 100Norris, Frank 53, 55Norton Anthology of Literature by Women, The

(Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar) 90Notebook, 1967-68 (Robert Lowell) 82

O Albany! (William Kennedy) 141Oates, Joyce Carol 97, 114, 140“O Black and Unknown Bards” (James Weldon Johnson) 59O’Connor, Flannery 100, 102-103, 115October Light (John Gardner) 112, 114Octopus, The (Frank Norris) 55Odets, Clifford 72, 78Of Mice and Men (John Steinbeck) 74“Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others” (W.E.B. Du Bois) 59Of Plymouth Plantation (William Bradford) 6O’Hara, Frank 88, 118, 132O’Hara, John 101-102“Old Ironsides” (Oliver Wendell Holmes) 33Old Man and the Sea, The (Ernest Hemingway) 71Old Money (Wendy Wasserstein) 140Old Neighborhood, The (David Mamet) 119Olds, Sharon 126Oleanna (David Mamet) 119Oliver, Mary 130-131Olsen, Tillie 147Olson, Charles 86Omensetter’s Luck (William Gass) 108“On Being Brought From Africa to America”

(Phillis Wheatley) 25On Being Female, Black, and Free (Margaret Walker) 145On Boxing (Joyce Carol Oates) 114Once Upon a Time: A Floating Opera (John Barth) 109One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Ken Kesey) 108O’Neill, Eugene 69, 77-78On Moral Fiction (John Gardner) 114On the Road (Jack Kerouac) 49, 87, 101, 107

“Open Boat, The” (Stephen Crane) 54Opening of the American Mind, The (Lawrence Levine) 116O Pioneers! (Willa Cather) 58Oppenheimer, Joel 86Optimist’s Daughter, The (Eudora Welty) 100Organization Man, The (William Whyte) 101Ormond (Charles Brockden Brown) 22Orphan, The (David Rabe) 119Ortiz, Simon 91, 92, 125Orwell, George 55Our Nig (Harriet Wilson) 45Our Town (Thornton Wilder) 78“Outcasts of Poker Flat, The” (Bret Harte) 50“Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking” (Walt Whitman) 31Outre-Mer (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow) 33Oxherding Tale (Charles Johnson) 146Ozick, Cynthia 142

Packard, Vance 101Packer, ZZ 145Paine, Thomas 19Pale Fire (Vladimir Nabokov) 105Pale Horse, Pale Rider (Katherine Anne Porter) 100Paley, Grace 142Palmer, Michael 95Papers on Art and Literature (Margaret Fuller) 34Parable of the Sower (Octavia Butler) 146Paradise (Toni Morrison) 115Park City (Ann Beattie) 138Parker, Theodore 27Parks, Suzan-Lori 140Parts of a World (Wallace Stevens) 66Paterson (William Carlos Williams) 67, 75Patrimony: A True Story (Philip Roth) 111Pearl of Orr’s Island, The (Harriet Beecher Stowe) 50Pentimento (Lillian Hellman) 99Percy, Walker 112Perelman, Bob 95Pérez Family, The (Christine Bell) 153Perfect Recall (Ann Beattie) 138“Persimmons” (Li-Young Lee) 127“Peter Quince at the Clavier” (Wallace Stevens) 66Phillips, Jayne Anne 144Piano Lesson, The (August Wilson) 120Picture Bride (Cathy Song) 94Pictures of Fidelman (Bernard Malamud) 104Picturing Will (Beattie, Ann) 143Pigs in Heaven (Barbara Kingsolver) 149Pike, Zebulon 21Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (Annie Dillard) 151“Pilot of Hatteras, The” (Philip Freneau) 21Pinsky, Robert 132-133Pioneers, The (James Fenimore Cooper) 23Plainsong (Kent Haruf) 146Plath, Sylvia 82-83, 85, 90



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Platitudes (Trey Ellis) 143Playing in the Dark (Toni Morrison) 115Pnin (Vladimir Nabokov) 105Poe, Edgar Allan 14, 22, 27, 32, 35, 36, 40-42, 113Poems 1957-1967 (James Dickey) 85“Poet, The” (Ralph Waldo Emerson) 26, 31Poisonwood Bible, The (Barbara Kingsolver) 149“Political Litany, A” (Philip Freneau) 20Poor Richard’s Almanack (Benjamin Franklin) 16“Poppies” (Mary Oliver) 131Porter, Katherine Anne 97, 99-100, 103Portnoy’s Complaint (Philip Roth) 110Portrait of a Lady, The (Henry James) 52Possessing the Secret Joy (Alice Walker) 116Pound, Ezra 60, 63, 65, 66, 67, 71, 89, 90Power (Linda Hogan) 148Power Elite, The (C. Wright Mills) 101Powers, Richard 137, 146“Premature Burial, The” (Edgar Allan Poe) 41Price, Reynolds 112Price, The (Arthur Miller) 98Pricksongs & Descants (Robert Coover) 108Princess Casamassima, The (Henry James) 52Problems (John Updike) 106Promise of Rest, The (Reynolds Price) 112Proulx, Annie 141Public Burning, The (Robert Coover) 108, 112“Purloined Letter, The” (Edgar Allan Poe) 41Puttermesser Papers, The (Cynthia Ozick) 142Pynchon, Thomas 97, 105, 108-109, 110, 113, 138, 141, 146, 150

Quasha, George 95

Rabbit, Run (John Updike) 106Rabbit at Rest (John Updike) 106Rabbit Is Rich (John Updike) 106Rabbit Redux (John Updike) 106Rabbit Remembered (John Updike) 106Rabe, David 119Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers (Tom Wolfe) 108Ragtime (E.L. Doctorow) 112Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters (J.D. Salinger) 107Raisin in the Sun, A (Lorraine Hansberry) 101Ralph Waldo Emerson (Oliver Wendell Holmes) 33Ransom, John Crowe 76, 77, 80Ravelstein (Saul Bellow) 103“Raven, The” (Edgar Allan Poe) 41Reading Lolita in Teheran (Azar Nafisi) 136Reasons To Live (Amy Hempel) 138Reason Why, The (Arthur Miller) 99Red Badge of Courage, The (Stephen Crane) 54Redeemed Captive, The (John Williams) 9Red Tent, The (Anita Diamant) 140“Red Wheelbarrow, The” (William Carlos Williams) 66Reed, Ishmael 94, 115, 145, 150

Region Not Home, A (James Alan McPherson) 145Rembrandt’s Hat (Bernard Malamud) 104Reservations Blues (Sherman Alexie) 152Resurrection, The (John Gardner) 114Rexroth, Kenneth 86, 87Rhys, Jean 152Rice, Anne 136Rich, Adrienne 81, 82, 85-86, 116“Richard Cory” (Edwin Arlington Robinson) 57Richards, Amy 137Richman, Robert 96Riesman, David 101Right Here, Right Now (Trey Ellis) 143Right Stuff, The (Tom Wolfe) 108Rios, Alberto 91, 92, 124“Rip Van Winkle” (Washington Irving) 22Rise of Silas Lapham, The (William Dean Howells) 51Rituals of Survival (Nicholasa Mohr) 153“River of Bees, The” (W.S. Merwin) 122Road Home, The (Jim Harrison) 147Road to Wellville, The (T. Coraghessan Boyle) 151Roan Stallion (Robinson Jeffers) 68Roberts, Nora 136Robinson, Edwin Arlington 29, 57Robinson, Marilynne 151Rock Garden, The (Sam Shepard) 118Rock Springs (Richard Ford) 138Rodriguez, Luis 151Rodriguez, Richard 151Roethke, Theodore 82, 84Rogers, Pattiann 130Roger’s Version (John Updike) 106“Roofwalker, The” (Adrienne Rich) 85Rose (Li-Young Lee) 127Roth, Philip 101, 110-111, 116Rowlandson, Mary 9-10Rowson, Susanna 25Rush, Norman 150Russo, Richard 140

S. (John Updike) 106Sabbatical: A Romance (John Barth) 109Sacred Wood, The (T.S. Eliot) 64Sailing Alone Around the Room (Billy Collins) 132Salinas, Luis Omar 92Salinger, J.D. 101, 106-107Same Door, The (John Updike) 106Sandburg, Carl 56Santos, Bienvenido 154Scalapino, Leslie 122Scarlet Letter, The (Nathaniel Hawthorne) 8, 36, 37, 154Scent of Apples (Bienvenido Santos) 154Schnackenberg, Gjertrud 90, 96, 132Schwerner, Armand 95Scoundrel Time (Lillian Hellman) 99



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Seascape (Edward Albee) 117Sea-Wolf, The (Jack London) 48, 54Seize the Day (Saul Bellow) 101, 104Selected Poems (James Dickey) 85Self-Help (Lorrie Moore) 138Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror (John Ashbery) 88“Self-Reliance” (Ralph Waldo Emerson) 28Sent for You Yesterday (John Edgar Wideman) 143“Seven Dreams: A Book of North American Landscapes”

(William Vollmann) 151Seven Guitars (August Wilson) 120Sewall, Samuel 9Sex and the City (Candace Bushnell) 137Sexton, Anne 82, 83, 85, 90Sexual Politics (Kate Millett) 90, 110Shame of the Cities, The (Lincoln Steffens) 55Shapard, Robert 139Shaw, Irwin 97Shawl, The (Cynthia Ozick) 142Shepard, Sam 118-119“Shiloh” (Bobbie Ann Mason) 144Shiloh and Other Stories (Bobbie Ann Mason) 138Ship of Fools (Katherine Anne Porter) 100Shipping News, The (Annie Proulx) 141“Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, The”

(Ernest Hemingway) 71Showalter, Elaine 90Silent Dancing (Judith Ortiz Cofer) 153Silko, Leslie Marmon 91, 92, 116, 130, 149Simic, Charles 89, 131Simpson, Mona 147Sinclair, Upton 53, 55, 73Singer, Isaac Bashevis 101, 104-105, 116“Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” (Jonathan Edwards) 12Sister of My Heart (Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni) 154Sisters Rosensweig, The (Wendy Wasserstein) 140Situation of Poetry, The (Robert Pinsky) 133Sketch Book of Geoffrye Crayon (Washington Irving) 22, 33Skin of Our Teeth, The (Thornton Wilder) 78Slaughterhouse-Five (Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.) 97Slaves of New York (Tama Janowitz) 112Slouching Towards Bethlehem (Joan Didion) 150Smiley, Jane 146Smith, Lee 144Smoke Signals (Sherman Alexie) 152“Snow Bound” (John Greenleaf Whittier) 34Snow Falling on Cedars (David Guterson) 151“Snows of Kilimanjaro, The” (Ernest Hemingway) 71Snyder, Gary 82, 86, 129“Some Considerations on the Keeping of Negroes”

(John Woolman) 11Someone to Watch Over Me (Richard Bausch) 142Some People, Places, and Things That Will Not Appear in

My Next Novel (John Cheever) 105

Something To Remember Me By (Saul Bellow) 103Song, Cathy 91, 94“Song of Hiawatha, The” (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow) 33“Song of Myself” (Walt Whitman) 31Song of Solomon (Toni Morrison) 115Son of the Wolf, The (Jack London) 54“Soonest Mended” (John Ashbery) 122Sophie’s Choice (William Styron) 113Soto, Gary 91, 92Sot-Weed Factor, The (John Barth) 109Souls of Black Folk, The (W.E.B. Du Bois) 59Sound and the Fury, The (William Faulkner) 62, 72Source (Mark Doty) 128Spahr, Juliana 134Speed-the-Plow (David Mamet) 119Spelling Book (Noah Webster) 21Spicer, Jack 86Spoon River Anthology (Edgar Lee Masters) 56Sporting Club, The (Thomas McGuane) 147Sportswriter, The (Richard Ford) 145Spy, The (James Fenimore Cooper) 15Stanton, Elizabeth Cady 43“Star Quilt” Roberta Hill Whiteman 92Status Seekers, The (Vance Packard) 101Steffens, Lincoln 55Stegner, Wallace 147Stein, Gertrude 60, 61, 62, 71, 75Steinbeck, John 61, 67, 72, 74, 149Stevens, Wallace 29, 65-66, 89Sticks and Bones (David Rabe) 119Still Life With Oysters and Lemon (Mark Doty) 128Stolen Light, The (Ved Mehta) 138Stone, Robert 147“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” (Robert Frost) 65Story of My Life (Jay McInerney) 142Stowe, Harriet Beecher 42, 44-45, 50Strand, Mark 89, 131Strange Interlude (Eugene O’Neill) 77, 78Streetcar Named Desire, A (Tennessee Williams) 99Strong Measures (Philip Dacey and David Jauss, eds.) 96Strong Motion (Jonathan Franzen) 146Styron, William 113Sudden Fiction (Robert Shapard and James Thomas, eds.) 139Sula (Toni Morrison) 115Summer (Edith Wharton) 53Sun Also Rises, The (Ernest Hemingway) 61, 71“Sunday Morning” (Wallace Stevens) 66Sunlight Dialogues, The (John Gardner) 114Suttree (Cormac McCarthy) 144Swarm (Jorie Graham) 124Swenson, May 90Sze, Arthur 129Tabloid Dreams (Robert Olen Butler) 147Takaki, Ronald 116



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Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque (Edgar Allan Poe) 42Tales of the Jazz Age (F. Scott Fitzgerald) 70Tamar (Robinson Jeffers) 68Tan, Amy 116, 150Tar Baby (Toni Morrison) 115Tarbell, Ida M. 55Tate, Allen 76, 80, 111Taylor, Edward 7-8, 9“Teeth Mother Naked at Last, The” (Robert Bly) 89Tell My Horse (Zora Neale Hurston) 76Tenants, The (Bernard Malamud) 104Tender Buttons (Gertrude Stein) 62Tender Is the Night (F. Scott Fitzgerald) 70Ten North Frederick (John O’Hara) 102Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America, The

(Anne Bradstreet) 7Their Eyes Were Watching God (Zora Neale Hurston) 76, 145Theroux, Paul 112Thin Man, The (Hammett, Dashiell) 99Third Life of Grange Copeland, The (Alice Walker) 116Third World Women (Janice Mirikitani, ed.) 94“Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” (Wallace Stevens) 66This Side of Paradise (F. Scott Fitzgerald) 61, 70Thomas, James 139Thomas and Beulah (Rita Dove) 93, 124Thoreau, Henry David 11, 14, 26, 27, 29-30, 32, 35, 50, 130, 151Thorpe, Thomas Bangs 49Those the River Keeps (David Rabe) 119Thousand Acres, A (Jane Smiley) 146Three Soldiers (John Dos Passos) 60Three Tall Women (Edward Albee) 117Through and Through (Joseph Geha) 155Through the Arc of the Rain Forest (Karen Tei Yamash*ta) 150“Throwing Salt on a Path” (Arthur Sze) 129“Tide Rises, the Tide Falls, The”

(Henry Wadsworth Longfellow) 33Tidewater Morning, A (William Styron) 113Tidewater Tales, The (John Barth) 109Timebends: A Life (Arthur Miller) 99Time To Greez! (Janice Mirikitani, ed.) 94Tiny Alice (Edward Albee) 117To Bedlam and Part Way Back (Anne Sexton) 83“To My Dear and Loving Husband” (Anne Bradstreet) 7Too Far To Go (John Updike) 106Toomer, Jean 74-75Topdog/Underdog (Suzan-Lori Parks) 140Tortilla Flat (John Steinbeck) 74“To S.M., a Young African Painter, on Seeing His Works”

(Phillis Wheatley) 25Total Syntax (Barrett Watten) 95“To the Engraver of My Skin” (Mark Doty) 128-129Toughest Indian in the World, The (Sherman Alexie) 152Tower Beyond Tragedy, The (Robinson Jeffers) 68Town, The (William Faulkner) 72

Transatlantic Sketches (Henry James) 52Triumph of Achilles, The (Louise Glück) 124Tropic of Orange (Karen Tei Yamash*ta) 150Trout Fishing in America (Richard Brautigan) 108 True and Historical Narrative of the Colony of Georgia, A 13True West (Sam Shepard) 118Trumbull, John 20Truth, Sojourner 43-44“Tuskegee Airmen, The” (Trey Ellis) 143Twain, Mark (Samuel Clemens) 23, 27, 33, 48-49, 51, 52, 76Twenty-Seventh City, The (Jonathan Franzen) 146Two Cities (John Edgar Wideman) 143Two Dreams (Shirley Geok-lin Lim) 154Two Trains Running (August Wilson) 120Tyler, Anne 142Tyler, Royall 20Typee (Herman Melville) 36, 38, 40Typical American (Gish Jen) 150

Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Harriet Beecher Stowe) 42, 44-45, 77Uncle Tom’s Children (Richard Wright) 75Underworld (Don DeLillo) 141Unfinished Woman, An (Lillian Hellman) 99United States (Laurie Anderson) 95Unknown Errors of Our Lives, The

(Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni) 154Updike, John 101, 106, 111, 139, 141Up From Slavery (Booker T. Washington) 58U.S.A. (John Dos Passos) 72, 73, 112

V (Thomas Pynchon) 108Van Duyn, Mona 90Van Vechten, Carl 74Van Wagener, Isabella (see Truth, Sojourner)Vassa, Gustavus (see Equiano, Olaudah)“Vegetable Air, The” (Cathy Song) 94Victim, The (Saul Bellow) 103Villagrá, Gaspar Pérez de 91Vineland (Thomas Pynchon) 109Violent Bear It Away, The (Flannery O’Connor) 103Viramontes, Helena Maria 151Virginia (Ellen Glasgow) 58“Virtue of Tobacco, The” (Philip Freneau) 21Visitation of Spirits, A (Randall Kenan) 146Vizenor, Gerald 147, 149Voight, Ellen Bryant 133Vollmann, William 138, 151Vonnegut, Kurt, Jr. 97“Voyages” (Hart Crane) 68



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Waiting (Ha Jin) 155Waiting for Lefty (Clifford Odets) 78Wake of Jamey Foster, The (Beth Henley) 140Walden, or, Life in the Woods (Henry David Thoreau) 29, 40Walker, Alice 97, 112, 115-116, 145, 150Walker, Margaret 145Walking on Water (Randall Kenan) 146Wallace, David Foster 137, 141, 146Want Bone, The (Robert Pinsky) 133“Want Bone, The” (Robert Pinsky) 133Wapshot Scandal, The (John Cheever) 105“Warning, The” (Robert Creeley) 86Warren, Mercy Otis 25Warren, Robert Penn 76, 80, 81, 97, 98, 99, 100, 112Washington, Booker T. 58-59Wasserstein, Wendy 140Waste Land, The (T.S. Eliot) 61, 63, 64Watch on the Rhine (Lillian Hellman) 99Waterworks, The (E.L. Doctorow) 113Watkins, Gloria (see Hooks, Bell)Watten, Barrett 95Way Some People Live, The (John Cheever) 105Way to Rainy Mountain, The (N. Scott Momaday) 116“Way to Wealth, The” (Benjamin Franklin) 16Webster, Noah 15, 21Welch, James 116, 130, 148Welch, Lew 86Welty, Eudora 97, 100, 103West, Nathanael 103, 150Whalen, Phil 86Wharton, Edith 52-53“What Thou Lovest Well, Remains American”

(Richard Hugo) 84What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

(Raymond Carver) 138Wheatley, Phillis 25When Dinah Shore Ruled the Earth (Wendy Wasserstein) 140“When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d”

(Walt Whitman) 31Where I’m Calling From (Raymond Carver) 138Where I Was From (Joan Didion) 150Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs

(Wallace Stegner) 147Where the Sea Used To Be (Rick Bass) 148White Collar (C. Wright Mills) 101“White Heron, The” (Sarah Orne Jewett) 50Whiteman, Roberta Hill 92White Noise (Don DeLillo) 137, 141White Pine (Mary Oliver) 130Whitman, Walt 14, 29, 30-32, 33, 35, 36, 49, 67, 122, 128Whittier, John Greenleaf 33-34, 50Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Edward Albee) 117“Why I Live at the P.O.” (Eudora Welty) 100Whyte, William 101

Wideman, John Edgar 116, 143Wide Net, The (Eudora Welty) 100Wide Sargasso Sea (Jean Rhys) 152Wieland (Charles Brockden Brown) 22Wife of His Youth, The (Charles Waddell Chesnutt) 59Wigglesworth, Michael 8Wilbur, Richard 80, 81 Wilder, Thornton 78“Wild Honey Suckle, The” (Philip Freneau) 21Wild Iris, The (Louise Glück) 125Wildlife (Richard Ford) 147Wild Seed (Octavia Butler) 146Williams, John 9Williams, Jonathan 86Williams, Roger 10Williams, Sherley Anne 146Williams, Tennessee 97, 99Williams, William Carlos 62, 63, 66-67, 68, 82, 90Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? (Raymond Carver) 138Wilson, August 116, 119-120Wilson, Harriet 45Wilson, Sloan 101Winesburg, Ohio (Sherwood Anderson) 55Wings of the Dove, The (Henry James) 52Winter in the Blood (James Welch) 116Winthrop, John 9, 10Wise Blood (Flannery O’Connor) 103Wolf: A False Memoir (Jim Harrison) 147Wolfe, Thomas 111Wolfe, Tom 108, 112, 113Woman, Native, Other (Trinh Minh-Ha) 155Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories

(Sandra Cisneros) 116, 148Woman in the Nineteenth Century (Margaret Fuller) 34Woman’s Bible, The (Elizabeth Cady Stanton) 43Woman Warrior, The (Maxine Hong Kingston) 116Women in Praise of the Sacred (Jane Hirshfield, ed.) 129Women in Their Beds (Gina Berriault) 150Women of Brewster Place, The (Gloria Naylor) 143“Women of Dan Dance With Swords in Their Hands To Mark

the Time When They Were Warriors, The” (Audre Lorde) 94Whitlow, Robert 136Wick, Lori 136Woolman, John 11Words for the Wind (Theodore Roethke) 84World According to Garp, The (John Irving) 112World of Apples, The (John Cheever) 105World’s End (T. Coraghessan Boyle) 151World’s Fair (E.L. Doctorow) 113“World Without Objects Is a Sensible Emptiness, A”

(Richard Wilbur) 80Wouk, Herman 97Wright, C.D. 125Wright, Charles 89, 125-126




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Wright, James 131

Wright, Richard 46, 72, 75, 152

Writing From the New Coast: Technique

(Juliana Spahr and Peter Gizzi, eds.) 134

Writing Life, The (Annie Dillard) 128

Yamamoto, Hisaye 150

Yamash*ta, Karen Tei 150

“Yellow Wallpaper, The” (Charlotte Perkins Gilman) 51¡Yo! (Julia Alvarez) 153

You Bright and Risen Angels: A Cartoon (William Vollmann) 151

Youngest Doll, The (Rosario Ferré) 153

“Young Goodman Brown” (Nathaniel Hawthorne) 38

“Young Housewife, The” (William Carlos Williams) 66-67

Young Lions, The (Irwin Shaw) 97

Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine (Bebe Moore Campbell) 142

Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (Andre Lorde) 142

Zuckerman Bound (Philip Roth) 111



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(PDF) 14347869 American Literature Outline Of - DOKUMEN.TIPS (2024)


What is the synopsis of Outline of American Literature? ›

The Outline of American literature, newly revised, traces the paths of American narrative, fiction, poetry and drama as they move from pre-colonial times into the present, through such literary movements as romanticism, realism and experimentation.

What is the main theme of American literature? ›

Independence, individualism, freedom, nationalism, and slavery were the prominent themes of this era. American writers like Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry also used similes and metaphors in their writings to show the American audience that independence from Great Britain was necessary.

What is the basic outline of the story? ›

A story outline is a structured plan that guides you as you write your manuscripts. It typically includes a summary of the major events of the plot, the main characters and their motivations, the setting, and any other main themes or ideas that the story explores.

What is the synopsis of outline? ›

Outline is a novel about writing and talking, about self-effacement and self-expression, about the desire to create and the human art of self-portraiture in which that desire finds its universal form.

What is the synopsis of the American novel? ›

The American is the story of a self-made American millionaire, Christopher Newman, whose guilelessness and forthrightness are set in contrast to the arrogance and cunning of a family of French aristocrats, the Bellegardes, whose daughter he unsuccessfully seeks to marry.

What is American literature an overview? ›

Lesson Summary. American literature is a general term for the entire literary canon of what is now the United States of America, dating back to long before the area was a single country. It has evolved significantly over time, starting with the ancient oral traditions of Native American groups.

What is the plot summary of the American? ›

The American, published in 1877, is a novel by Henry James that tells the story of Christopher Newman, a wealthy American businessman who travels to Europe in search of culture and refinement. While in Paris, Newman falls in love with Claire de Cintré, a young widow from an aristocratic French family.

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