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Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869–1935) was the first great modernist American poet. He grew up during a period of prettified poetry and rejected its archaisms and artificialities out of hand. For a long time, the diction of his verse was thought to be too much in the common grain, too plainspoken, to be deserving of publication alongside the work of such once-eminent practitioners as Thomas Bailey Aldrich and Richard Watson Gilder. Robinson was revolutionary too in his concentration on ordinary people as subjects for poetry. He was forced to pay for publication of his first book, The Torrent and the Night Before (1896). “There is very little tinkling water, and there is not a red-bellied robin in the whole collection,” he wrote a friend. Instead there were incisive short glimpses, some in restrictive sonnet form, of the people he observed around him—among them the elderly clerks at a dry goods store.
The overwhelming critical attention received by Richard Rodriguez’s Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez (1982) has eclipsed the complexity and diversity of his work as well as the discussion on his impact on Latina/o studies and autobiography studies. A great deal of bibliography dedicated to Rodriguez is the result of the ideological battles the book was engaged in during the 1980s. The political context in which the book was used (mostly to oppose affirmative action and bilingual education) defined the rest of Rodriguez’s work, as some critics considered his positions on education almost treasonous. Lee Bebout summarizes those reactions in “Postracial Mestizaje: Richard Rodriguez’s Racial Imagination in an America Where Everyone Is Beginning to Melt,” as he mentions how most critics saw Rodriguez’s work as the result of a colonized mind, a mannequin for white America. “Tomas Rivera, Ramon Saldívar, William Nericcio, and others critiqued Rodriguez’s thinking, and sometimes Rodriguez himself, as the result of a colonized mind, blind to history and structural inequalities, and playing the role of a “Mexican” mannequin in the mind of white America.”
In an interview with scholar José Antonio Gurpegui in Camino Real, Rodriguez admitted “I do see myself—in some more complicated way—as truly being a traitor to memory, if not exactly a traitor to Mexico or to Latin America. I do think I betrayed my family, betrayed my mother and father by becoming someone new—a ‘gringo.’” If we place his work in this context, Rodriguez’s work brings urgency and new significance to Latina/o studies in the 21st century by highlighting the unresolved contradictions that memory, culture, and identity posit as vehicles of agency. His approach to autobiography redefines traditional notions of identity, race, and language, and offers critical notions of subject formation beyond cultural nationalism, proposing queer paradigms that complicate and challenge writing as a clear vehicle for self-empowerment. His writing, queer to cultural nationalism, is deeply committed to the exploration of autobiography as discontinuous space—a space of disruptive transgression where words are barely a ghostly shell; a floating dream in search of an identity.
Not long before his premature deathin 1963 at the age of fifty-five, Theodore Roethke (pronounced “Rett-key”) gave a reading in Seattle, which was reported in the local press anonymously under the title “Voice of Balder Through Mouth of Groucho.” It described the overweight poet “straining out of his tux like a precocious panda,” and compared him to a juggler: the poet as a sort of vaudeville act who, at intervals, smuggled in readings from his greatest poems.
Henry Roth, one of the twentieth century's most important Jewish authors, is known primarily for his first novel and masterpiece, Call It Sleep (1934), the story of a young Jewish boy named David Schearl growing up in a New York ghetto in the years before World War I. Sixty years would pass before the publication of his next major work, the first volume of Mercy of a Rude Stream, intended to be a series of six novels portraying the artistic, sexual, spiritual, and emotional development from childhood to old age of the protagonist, Ira Stigman. Both Call It Sleep and Mercy of a Rude Stream portray the immigrant experience, specifically that of the eastern European Jew, as an attempt to escape the trauma of one's social and familial environments. Both are also intensely psychological novels, exploring the development of an extremely perceptive and sensitive protagonist seeking enlightenment and personal redemption. Perhaps most importantly, both are great acts of memory and confession, not only for the protagonists but for the author himself.
William H. Pritchard
Philip Roth's literary career is extra-ordinary in a number of ways other than its continued production of surprising, vital, imaginative works. It began when his first book, Goodbye, Columbus, a novella and five stories, won the National Book Award for 1959; it reached a peak of notoriety ten years later when Portnoy's Complaint became not only a best-seller but also a portent of the decay of American youth. (Students now came to college, declared Vice President Spiro T. Agnew, with pot and Portnoy secreted in their suitcases.) The career's most recent stage, beginning in 1993, shows a writer in his seventh decade who brought out no less than six novels, all of them distinctive, three of them possible examples of masterwork. At his seventieth birthday in March 2003, he stood as a writer who has exhibited astonishing staying power, but also one who has deepened, extended, and invariably transformed himself.
Jan Heller Levi
Muriel Rukeyser's category-defying work has yet to be fully acknowledged and integrated in the canon of twentieth-century American literature. For a continually growing audience, however, she is essential reading, and contemporary poets have hailed her influence. Adrienne Rich says that she found in Rukeyser “the poet I most needed in the struggle to make my poems and live my life.” Galway Kinnell commented that Rukeyser was the one who discovered “the language of crisis” for the twentieth century. Anne Sexton referred to Rukeyser as “Muriel, mother of everyone.”
Abram C. Van Engen
The Salem witch trials have gripped American imaginations ever since they occurred in 1692. At the end of the 17th century, after years of mostly resisting witch hunts and witch trial prosecutions, Puritans in New England suddenly found themselves facing a conspiracy of witches in a war against Satan and his minions. What caused this conflict to erupt? Or rather, what caused Puritans to think of themselves as engaged, at that moment, in such a cosmic battle? These are some of the mysteries that the Salem witch trials have left behind, taken up and explored not just by each new history of the event but also by the literary imaginations of many American writers.
The primary explanations of Salem set the crisis within the context of larger developments in Puritan society. Though such developments could be traced to the beginning of Puritan settlement in New England, most commentators focus on shifts occurring near the end of the century. This was a period of intense economic change, with new markets emerging and new ways of making money. It was also a time when British imperial interests were on the rise, tightening and expanding an empire that had, at times, been somewhat loosely held together. In the midst of those expansions, British colonists and settlers faced numerous wars on their frontiers, especially in northern New England against French Catholics and their Wabanaki allies. Finally, New England underwent, resented, and sometimes resisted intense shifts in government policy as a result of the changing monarchy in London. Under James II, Massachusetts Bay lost its original charter, which had upheld the Puritan way for over fifty years. A new government imposed royal rule and religious tolerance. With the overthrow of James II in the Glorious Revolution, the Massachusetts Bay government carried on with no official charter or authority from 1689 until 1691. When a new charter arrived during the midst of the Salem witch hunt, it did not restore all the privileges, positions, or policies of the original “New England Way,” and many lamented what they had lost. In other words, in 1692, New England faced economic, political, and religious uncertainty while suffering from several devastating battles on its northern frontier. All of these factors have been used to explain Salem.
When Governor William Phips finally halted the trials, nineteen had been executed, five had died in prison, and one man had been pressed to death for refusing to speak. Protests began almost immediately with the first examinations of the accused, and by the time the trials ended, almost all agreed that something had gone terribly wrong. Even so, the population could not necessarily agree on an explanation for what had occurred. Publishing any talk of the trials was prohibited, but that ban was quickly broken. Since 1695, interpretations have rolled from the presses, and American literature—in poems, plays, and novels—has attempted to make its own sense and use of what one scholar calls the mysterious and terrifying “specter of Salem.”
J. D. Salinger's biography is in many ways a nonbiography, for the writer's fiercely defended privacy has thwarted nearly all biographical efforts since the 1950s. Thus, the information available about Salinger's life is largely that which was available in the 1950s and 1960s, before he withdrew from public life and stopped publishing. Although he published into the 1960s, Salinger began to resist his status as a public figure in the early 1950s; he has never agreed to a conventional interview, has forbidden his publisher from putting his photograph on his books—his photograph appears only on the first two editions of his first book—and has denied permission to reprint his work in anthologies. It seems both unfortunate and admirable that one of America's most beloved and enduring writers would decide to disappear from view, leaving only his earlier works behind. (Although he has not published anything since 1965, Salinger reportedly continues to write for pleasure.)
Robert M. Dowling
Carl Sandburg was a poet, political activist, journalist, biographer, historian, traveling troubadour, honorary Ph.D. many times over, and two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize. He published eleven books of poetry over a sixty-year period, and though he also published songbooks, children's books, compilations of his journalism, a six-volume biography of Abraham Lincoln, and a lengthy novel, he continues to be remembered best as the United States' great “Poet of the People.” His finest collections of poetry include Chicago Poems (1916); Cornhuskers (1918); Smoke and Steel (1920); Slabs of the Sunburnt West (1922); Good Morning, America (1928); The People, Yes (1936); his Pulitzer Prize–winning Complete Poems (1950), which contains previously unpublished work; and his final performance, Honey and Salt (1963). Sandburg's great passion for American history ultimately inspired his monumental biography of Abraham Lincoln, which appeared in two installments: the two-volume Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years (1926) and the four-volume Abraham Lincoln: The War Years (1939), which won him a second Pulitzer Prize. His only novel, Remembrance Rock (1948), is a sweeping glance at America's past, covering the period from the Puritans' landing at Plymouth Bay to World War II and the dawn of the atomic age.
Although scholars generally agree that satire cannot be defined in a categorical or exhaustive way, there is a consensus regarding its major features: satire is a mode, rather than a genre; it attacks historically specific targets, who are real; it is an intentional and purposeful literary form; its targets deserve ridicule on the basis of their behavior; and satire is both humorous and critical by its nature. The specificity and negativity of satire are what separates it from comedy, which tends to ridicule general types of people in ways that are ultimately redemptive. Satire is also rhetorically complex, and its critiques have a convoluted or indirect relation to the views of the author. Satire’s long history, which is not straightforwardly linear, means that it is impossible to catalogue all of the views on it from antiquity through to modernity. Modern criticism on satire, however, is easier to summarize and has often made use of ancient satirical traditions for its own purposes—especially because many early modern theorists of satire were also satirists. In particular, modern satire has generated an internal dichotomy between a rhetorical tradition of satire associated with Juvenal, and an ethical tradition associated with Horace. Most criticism of satire from the 20th century onward repeats and re-inscribes this binary in various ways. The Yale school of critics applied key insights from the New Critics to offer a rhetorical approach to satire. The Chicago school focused on the historical nature of satirical references but still presented a broadly formalist account of satire. Early 21st century criticism has moved between a rhetorical approach inflected by poststructural theory and a historicism grounded in archival research, empiricism, and period studies. Both of these approaches, however, have continued to internally reproduce a division between satire’s aesthetic qualities and its ethical or instrumental qualities. Finally, there is also a tradition of Menippean satire that differs markedly in character from traditional satire studies. While criticism of Menippean satire tends to foreground the aesthetic potential of satire over and above ethics, it also often focuses on many works that are arguably not really satirical in nature.
Frederick Ethan Fischer
Delmore Schwartz was the poet of nighttime New York, who at age twenty-five published In Dreams Begin Responsibilities (1938), a collection of poems, a verse drama, and the title story, to much acclaim—“more than has come to any other American poet of his generation since Auden,” wrote F. O. Matthiessen. A poet of consciousness, of intellect, and of city speech, Schwartz joins what he calls “the priceless particulars”—potatoes, subway grates, “The Beautiful American Word, Sure”—with ideas and abstractions, Time, History, Guilt. Into his poems enter Socrates, Freud, Marx, Orpheus, or Abraham, as a chorus that comments on the poet's origins.
Science fiction (SF) emerges as a distinct literary and cultural genre out of a familiar set of world-famous texts ranging from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) to Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek (1966–) to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (2008–) that have, in aggregate, generated a colossal, communal archive of alternate worlds and possible future histories. SF’s dialectical interplay between utopian optimism and apocalyptic pessimism can be felt across the genre’s now centuries-long history, only intensifying in the 20th century as the clash between humankind’s growing technological capabilities and its ability to use those powers safely or wisely has reached existential-threat propositions, not simply for human beings but for all life on the planet. In the early 21st century, as in earlier cultural moments, the writers and critics of SF use the genre’s articulation of different societies and different possible futures as the occasion to reflect on our own present, in ways that range from full-throated defense of the status quo to the ruthless denunciation of all institutions that currently exist in the name of some other, better world. SF’s global popularity has grown to the point where it now looms quite large over cultural production generally, becoming arguably the most popular narrative genre in existence, particularly in the sorts of SF action spectacles that have dominated the global box office of the first two decades of the 21st century. It has also become increasingly difficult to tell the difference between the things we used to think of as SF and the advanced communication, transportation, and entertainment technologies that have become so ubiquitous and familiar that we now take them for granted, as well as the growing prevalence of political, economic, and ecological crises now erupting out of the pages of our science fictions, like our very worst dreams come to life.
Migration was a key tool for building the social, cultural, and economic infrastructures of the “British Dominions” throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Between 1840 and 1940, an estimated 15 million people left the British Isles for overseas destinations. Such displacement of people contributed both to what scholars term the “imperial diaspora” and the “labor diaspora” driven by economic necessity between 1840 and 1914. Print culture (and its practitioners) was crucial to these diasporas. And members of a highly skilled, mobile “printing diaspora” who could help construct and promote political and cultural identities through the agency of print were, from the outset, high on the preferred occupation list.
Scottish printers were key players in such printing diaspora networks, both locally and internationally: individuals circulated between regional and overseas sites, acting as transmitters of print values and trade skills and becoming central to the expansion of labor interests in new territories. Such international circulation of highly skilled workers played its part in the development of 19th-century Anglophone print economies. Over the course of the long 19th century, either through their own initiative or supported by emigration and removal grant schemes, Scottish printers circulated across the English-speaking colonial world, setting up businesses, engaging in labor and union politics, and creating the print culture infrastructures that sustained social, communal, and national communication and identity.
Sample data drawn from UK typographical union records offer some insight into the extraordinarily high levels of local, regional, and international mobility of skilled Scottish print trade workers during the 19th century. Such peregrinations were common. Indeed, the tramping tradition among skilled artisanal workers was one that dated back several centuries. Part of the so-called tramping system, which organized trade guilds and print trade unions in Britain used throughout the 19th century, it was a means of organizing and controlling labor activity in local and regional areas. The typographical unions in Ireland and Britain (England, Scotland, and Wales) that developed from the midcentury onward encouraged such mobility among union members as a means of monitoring and controlling supply and demand for labor. Tramping typographers also acted as union missionaries, starting up unions in unserved towns along these regional networks and playing key roles as informants, cultural transmitters, and social networkers.
Tramping, though, was only a part of the picture of worker mobility in the 19th-century Scottish printing trade diaspora. Printers participated in a communication and trade network that encompassed and supported skills transfer and personal mobility between printing centers locally, regionally, and internationally. They also were responsible for supporting cultural identities that linked overseas communities back to Scotland. Through them, trade, labor, and cultural practices and values were exported overseas and integrated into indigenous settings. Such migration also facilitated insertion of trade skills into local and general spaces and the transfer of knowledge and skills between incomer and indigenous workers. The various forms in which such identities were effectively supported and monitored shaped regional, national, and transnational flows of Scottish skills and labor traditions throughout the English-speaking world in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
For most of the Asian and Asian American writers published in the United States from 1937–1946, “fascism” was the most salient, global state of emergency, not the Japanese American incarceration. H. T. Tsiang, Ayako Ishigaki, and Carlos Bulosan had deep ties to the political left, and they used antifascism—a dominant rubric of the political left at the time—to connect the authoritarian nature of Imperial Japan to the violent nature of the racism they encountered in the United States. By simultaneously accessing the Second Sino-Japanese War, their lived experiences in the United States, and the contradictions of US global power, they labored to overcome the split across Asian American communities produced by US foreign policy and Japanese militarism. By placing the work of Asian and Asian American writers within wider discourses of fascism and empire in the period, one sees the valence of antifascism as a vehicle of solidarity within their transnational politics, as well as the stakes of resituating that rubric into Asian American critique.
Jesús F. de la Teja
Juan Nepomuceno Seguín (1806–1890) was the leading Mexican-Texan military figure of the Texas Revolution (1835–1836) to participate on the Texas side of the struggle. He was the only Mexican Texan to serve in the Senate of the Republic of Texas and was the last Mexican Texan to serve as mayor of San Antonio until the 1980s. Having fled to Mexico to avoid violence at the hands of enemies he made during his tenure as mayor, he commanded an auxiliary cavalry company of fellow Mexican-Texan exiles in the Mexican army until the end of the US-Mexico War. During his effort to reestablish himself in Texas in the 1850s he wrote his memoirs of the Texas Revolution. He was one of only three Mexican Texans to do so, and the only one to have them published during his lifetime. Seguín returned to Mexico on the eve of the US Civil War to participate in Mexico’s civil conflicts. In about 1870 he permanently settled in Nuevo Laredo, where he died in 1890.
Mary Louise Kete
To survey the history of sentimental literature in America is to gain insight into some of the most critical moments in American culture. As Thomas Paine's influential essay of 1776 explained, it is on the grounds of “common sense” that the colonial Englishman would be able to “generously enlarge his views beyond the present day” and so imagine and ultimately fight for independence. And the existence of common sense, Paine and his audience understood, was proved by the recognition that all people respond to the loss of their children in the same way. Sentimentality—featuring broken homes restored, dying children revived, and lost lovers found through the power of shared emotions—is a way to remind readers that at root we are all lost children, no matter how vast may seem the differences made apparent by logic and circumstance. Sentimentality expresses the utopian impulse to abolish boundaries and expand community upon which the ideological force of American identity depends. In other words, it is a term for a discursive mode, not a genre nor a historical period, that is used to construct a shared or common sensibility that hides the traces of its invention under the cloak of tradition.
Susan David Bernstein and Julia McCord Chavez
Serialization, a publication format that came to dominate the Victorian literary marketplace following its deft adoption by marketing master Charles Dickens in the 1830s, is a transcendent form. It moves across not only print formats and their temporal cycles of distribution (daily or weekly installments in periodicals, monthly part-issue numbers, volumes), but also historical time and place. The number and varieties of serial publications multiplied during the middle of the 19th century due to the improved technology of printing, the cheaper cost of paper production, and the abolition of taxes on advertising. Moreover, serialization continues to be a staple in popular culture today; the long-form serial on television may be the most obvious descendent of the Victorian novel issued in parts. The history of the Victorian serial in its many forms spans from its roots in the 18th century to its reconfiguration following the advent of radio, television, and the internet. The most prevalent accounts of the serial have focused on the economics of the literary marketplace and print culture including the sharp increase of periodicals at midcentury. In recent years, scholars have come to understand the serial as a reflection of historically specific concepts of time and space, as an important location of experimentation and collaboration, as a book technology that fosters critical thinking and active reading, and as an object of transatlantic, even global, circulation. New studies of serial forms include digital approaches to analysis, web-based resources that facilitate serial reading, and comparative work on 21st-century media that underscores the continued role of serialization to create imagined communities within cultural life.
As Australia and New Zealand gradually emerged as independent nation-states around the turn of the 20th century, the serial issue of literature became steadily less prevalent and influential. During the colonial era itself, with the local book industry still in its infancy, periodical publishers assumed a crucial role in the distribution of literary material and the formation of cultural identity. Trends already apparent in the metropolitan print market in the later 19th century were thus found in even more marked form at the Australasian periphery. Though prose fiction was by no means the only literary genre to be issued in installments, novels and short stories dominated to an overwhelming extent. And, while monthly literary magazines also had a significant qualitative role to pay, general weekly newspapers (or, more accurately, “news miscellanies”) were quantitatively the much more important venue in terms of both supply and readership. It is necessary to distinguish three major sources of provision, each constrained by distinct business practices and intellectual property regimes:
(A) metropolitan fiction, initially supplied through informal “borrowing” from British periodicals, but later distributed in broadcast fashion by British syndication bureaus like Tillotson’s of Bolton, supported locally by agents such as Gordon & Gotch in Melbourne;
(B) colonial fiction of local color by local authors, often for little remuneration, and typically flagged by phrases such as “specially written” for the local press; and
(C) other peripheral fiction, including from the British provinces, from other British colonies, and, last but not least, because of the lack of international copyright protection, from America (with New York story papers such as Robert Bonner’s Ledger or Street & Smith’s Weekly common sources).
All three types represented important influences in the process of negotiating community affiliation during the lengthy transition from colony to nation, but, though the first was undoubtedly most pervasive, in literary terms at least the second was by far the most valuable. The historical details concerning the cultural role of the press indeed serve to cast doubt on the more generic theorization concerning center/periphery relations found in the work of scholars advocating a “world literature” approach, who tend to focus exclusively on the market for books. To sum up in the words of Clara Cheeseman (1852–1943), a New Zealand serial novelist of the final decades of the 19th century whose fiction was exceptional in finding an outlet among the London publishers: “It is to the old newspapers that we must go if we want to see the beginning of colonial fiction . . . there are in the dusty files of these [the Australasian and the Sydney Mail] and other journals many stories of colonial life which have never struggled out of the papers into book form” (“Colonials in Fiction,” NZ Illustrated Magazine 7 (1903): 273–282, here 274). As early 21st-century research in this field attests, with the long-term commitment of both governments to making their press heritages digitally accessible via the “Trove” and “Papers Past” websites of the National Libraries of Australia and New Zealand, respectively, this task has now become a good deal less formidable.
The study of settler colonialism has evolved from a nearly exclusive examination of the interplay of Indigeneity and white settler colonial domination to an engagement that has become attentive to questions of racialized migration. Because British settler colonies violently displaced Indigenous peoples without widespread exploitation of their labor, racialized migrant labor has played an important role in establishing and developing settler colonies, from the exploitation of enslaved and convict labor, to indentured and contract labor, and to contemporary iterations of guest and undocumented labor. The reliance on hyper-exploitable, deportable, or disposable classes of migrants has been an integral logic of settler colonialism in North America, rendering Indigenous communities even more vulnerable to dislocation, dispossession, and environmental harm. Asian North American cultural representation offers a rich site to explore settler colonial logics of land dispossession, resource extraction, relocation, urban redevelopment, and incarceration. In particular, Asian North American cultural production has often recycled settler colonial tropes that both denigrate and romanticize Indigenous cultures in claims for belonging that attempt to challenge the racial logics of civil, social, and political exclusion. In North America, the projection of a heroic “pioneer” identity aims to recover early Asian labor from historical obscurity by demonstrating its vital contributions to developing the settler nation. These expressions reinforce the value of Western civilization and industry over an empty, uncivilized, and unproductive Indigenous world. Asian American invocations of “local” identity in Hawai‘i similarly assert a romanticized identification with Indigenous cultures that obscures Asian Americans’ structural dominance and active role in the dispossession of Native Hawaiians. Alternatively, Asian North American cultural producers have also become strong voices in social and cultural movements to prioritize Indigenous self-determination, ecological protection, and decolonial anti-capitalism. Critical approaches to Asian North American representation have become increasingly attuned to reckoning with colonial complicity, exploring the ethics of responsibility, indebtedness, and solidarity with Indigenous communities.
Ellen McGrath Smith
Anne Sexton is one of the most charged and memorable personalities in American literature. Her image as a taboo-breaking, glamorous New England housewife-turned-poet has made her a cultural icon for two generations in the United States and beyond. Her image has led many conservative critics to dismiss much of her work as extreme and sensationalistic while overlooking Sexton's incomparable flashes of imagery and insight. At the other extreme, her image has drawn many readers who admittedly read little poetry before Sexton's, expanding the audience for American poetry. In between these two extremes fall readers who, for many reasons, see Anne Sexton as a key player in the emergence at mid-century of a more personal and direct type of poetry, often referred to as confessional poetry, a term coined in 1959 by the critic M. L. Rosenthal in his review of Robert Lowell's groundbreaking collection of personal poetry, Life Studies (1959).