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Dina Ripsman Eylon
Gertrude Stein, the expatriate American avant-garde author, poet, and playwright, was born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, on 3 February 1874. During her lifetime she was known as the “American eccentric in Paris” who collected and supported postmodernist and cubist art. Although a prolific writer and speaker, her literary contribution was marginalized and seldom recognized. At the age of sixty, astounding her friends and foes alike, she achieved international acclaim when her book, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933), became a sensational best-seller. Scholars later considered Stein one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century, often dubbed as “the Mother of Modernism.” Stein's influence on a younger generation of writers like Ernest Hemingway, Sherwood Anderson, and Roger Wright has been underestimated and rarely explored. Known as “always a writer's writer,” she continues to inspire original writing, testing and challenging traditional literary and linguistic forms.
Gerald Stern was born in Pittsburgh in 1925. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 1947 with a degree in English, and moved on to get a master's degree at Columbia University and to attend the University of Paris. He spent the next twenty years teaching high school and college, while writing but not publishing. He published his first poem, The Pineys, in 1969, long after all of the literary movements of his own generation. It was not until 1977, however, with the award-winning Lucky Life, that Stern finally emerged onto the scene of American poetry. He has since received numerous awards and recognitions, including grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Book Award for Poetry for his more recent This Time: New and Selected Poems (1998).
Emily R. Grosholz
Anne Stevenson, like T. S. Eliot, W. H. Auden, and Sylvia Plath, is a poet whose literary life belongs both to the United States and to Great Britain. Born in Cambridge, England, on 3 January 1933 to American parents (Louise Destler Stevenson and the moral philosopher Charles Stevenson), she was raised in the United States and received her B.A. degree from the University of Michigan in 1954. But her first marriage (which produced her daughter) was to an English businessman, and her second (which produced her two sons) brought her to Oxford, where her husband was a distinguished Sinologist. She then lived with her third husband, a farmer-poet, in the Welsh border country. Subsequently, after several sojourns in Cambridge, she and her husband Peter Lucas, a Darwin scholar, have divided their time between a house in Durham and a seventeenth-century cottage in North Wales.
There are two ways to describe the career of Wallace Stevens. One would be this: after having been born in Reading, Pennsylvania, in 1879, Stevens attended Harvard University and New York Law School; he began working in 1908 in the insurance industry, and in 1934 he was named vice president of the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company, where he continued to work virtually until the day of his death in 1955. The other way of describing his career would be this: after publishing Harmonium in 1923, Stevens wrote no poems for almost a decade; but after his second book, Ideas of Order, appeared in 1935, he wrote consistently and in comparative obscurity for the rest of his life. His Collected Poems (1954) received the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize after his death in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1955
Robert Stone has written that “the first law of heaven is that nothing is free,” and there are reasons enough to believe that he came by this hard truth early and ungently. He was born on 21 August 1937 in Brooklyn, New York, to a schizophrenic mother, Gladys Grant Stone, and an absent father, C. Homer Stone. By the age of six the young Stone found himself boarded in St. Ann's Marist academy—a quasi-orphanage, in his case—where physical and psychological brutality from both students and priests was daily fare. When his mother was well enough, Stone lived with her, taking trips to make “new starts” in various parts of the country, at least one of which ended with a stay in a homeless shelter. Despite, or perhaps in part because of such early dislocations of the spirit, the boy began to write stories that from the start garnered attention and praise, and which were obviously a welcome outlet for his stifled ambitions and for the active imagination that had hitherto served largely as a refuge.
Lorinda B. Cohoon
Harriet Beecher Stowe's reputationas an author of American literature is directly connected to Uncle Tom's Cabin; or, Life among the Lowly (1852), her first and best-known novel. With this text, Stowe gave American literature a novel that influenced the abolitionist movement, contributed to American iconography, and explored possibilities for women's involvement in political life. Stowe's text also offered fruitful material for puzzling over the quality of her writing and its peculiar power. During the nineteenth century, reviewers and critics debated Stowe's literary reputation, alternately praising her for her bold choices of subjects or criticizing her for her texts' artistic flaws. As the nature and importance of American literature were established in the early part of the twentieth century, literary historians either neglected to mention Stowe or compared her unfavorably to nineteenth-century male writers such as Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville. These writers were seen as having written far superior material, especially in the areas of style and originality. In the late twentieth century and in the first few years of the twenty-first century critics have renewed their interest in Stowe's writing, focusing on her feminism, her talents as a regional writer, and the relevance of her travel narratives and other texts to cultural studies. Participants in ongoing discussions of representations of race in the nineteenth century continue to grapple with Stowe's characterizations of people of color. Whether celebrated or berated, Stowe's contributions to American literature cannot be ignored.
Mark Strand was born in Summerside, Prince Edward Island, Canada, on 11 April 1934. Sandwiched between the celebrated generation of American poets born in 1927—John Ashbery, Adrienne Rich, W. S. Merwin, Galway Kinnell, James Wright, and Donald Hall, among others—and those of the 1940s, Strand once joked that he, Charles Wright, and Charles Simic comprise a “generation of three.” Strand's parents left Canada when he was four, and he was raised and educated mainly in the United States and South America, returning to Nova Scotia for summers until he was twelve.
Early Chinese and Japanese American male writers between 1887 and 1938 such as Yan Phou Lee, Yung Wing, Sadakichi Hartmann, Yone Noguchi, and H. T. Tsiang accessed dominant US publishing markets and readerships by presenting themselves and their works as cultural hybrids that strategically blended enticing Eastern content and forms with familiar Western language and structures. Yan Phou Lee perpetrated cross-cultural comparisons that showed that Chinese were not unlike Europeans and Americans. Yung Wing appropriated and then transformed dominant American autobiographical narratives to recuperate Chinese character. Sadakichi Hartmann and Yone Noguchi combined poetic traditions from Japan, Europe, and America in order to define a modernism that included cosmopolitans such as themselves. And H. T. Tsiang promoted Marxist world revolution by experimenting with fusions of Eastern and Western elements with leftist ideology. Although these writers have been discounted by some critics as overly compromising in their attempts to reach Western readers, they accomplished laudable cultural work in their particular historical circumstances and provide insights into the varied and complicated negotiations of Asian American identity during the exclusion era.
William Styron's best writing resonates with an emotional honesty that strives for a greater, universal truth. In his fiction Styron has relied on memories of his Virginia childhood and early adult life in New York City and Europe as starting points for broader novels. With his nonfiction, he has been more engaged in the political and social events of his time. Regardless of the form, his writing has always attracted attention—and often controversy.
May Swenson was born on 28 May 1913 in Logan, Utah, to Dan and Margaret (Helberg) Swenson. She attended Utah State Agricultural College, not far from her home; her father was an assistant in the college's Woodwork Department. The eldest of a large Mormon family, she became skeptical of her faith while in college.
Charles Robert Baker
The novels of Booth Tarkington were read by millions of Americans around the turn of the twentieth century, though today his name is known mostly to historians of American literature and to those of the oldest generation whose youthful reading included Tarkington's delightful series of the boyhood adventures of Penrod. His best-known adult novel, The Magnificent Ambersons (1918), has found readers through the decades as well.
Edward Halsey Foster
Allen Tate—born John Orley Allen Tate on 19 November 1899 in Winchester, a rural town in Kentucky—was descended from old southern stock. A defender of the agrarian South against the urban, industrialized North, he was best known as a poet and a novelist, but he was also a distinguished editor, teacher, and critic, whose contributions to the New Criticism helped to make it the dominant American critical discourse at midcentury. Tate's father was a businessman whose turbulent character was matched by his extravagant financial speculations. Tate's mother, in contrast, was a Virginia aristocrat, the descendent of genteel patrician families. The parents were very different temperamentally, and during Tate's childhood they separated. Tate's mother took charge of her shy, intellectually inclined son, even moving with him to college and keeping house there for him.
Arnold E. Sabatelli
James Tate is arguably one of the most influential poets of his generation. In 1967 he won the coveted Yale Younger Poets Award, one of the youngest writers ever to receive that honor. (He was a graduate student at the Iowa Writers Workshop at the time.) His book The Lost Pilot, published the same year, set the tone for the body of his poetry. Surreal, funny, irreverent, and at times almost wholly inaccessible, Tate's poetry has not strayed far from the approach and tone of his earliest work.
Adam Scott Miller
During his lifetime of eighty-seven years, Edward Taylor, a Puritan minister and poet, wrote more than forty thousand lines of verse. Much of Taylor's poetry is devotional and was composed during the course of frequent meditative exercises. As a result, he chose to keep his work private but left his manuscripts to his grandson, who eventually deposited them in the Yale University library. They remained there until their discovery in 1937. Subsequent critical attention has declared Taylor's verse to be colonial America's best poetry.
Because he was born in Tennessee and much of his work is set there, Peter Taylor is unquestionably a southern writer. But his fiction differs from that of the other significant writers of the southern literary renaissance of the 1920s through the 1960s in its focus on urban and suburban settings of the Upper South rather than on the rural life of the Deep South. Taylor was younger than William Faulkner, the great master of southern and, indeed, of American fiction, and younger than the members of the South's two preeminent literary groups, the Fugitive poets and the Agrarians. As a result, the shadows of the Civil War and Reconstruction fall less boldly upon his work than on the work of those older writers, who had one foot in the nineteenth century and one in the twentieth. Taylor's sympathetic concern with the circumstances of blacks and women place him firmly in the twentieth century. (His other large theme of class shows up in almost every period and school of American literature.)
Tekhne, or techne, is derived from the Greek term technê, meaning art, craft, technique, or skill, and plays an important role in Ancient Greek philosophy (in, for instance, Xenophon, Plato, Aristotle) where it is most often opposed to epistêmê, meaning knowledge. The legacy of the various Greek philosophical negotiations with, and distinctions between, technê and epistêmê leave a lasting mark on European thought and knowledge from the medieval period through to the early modern period and into modern philosophy from Emmanuel Kant onwards up to and including 20th-century phenomenology (Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger) and its subsequent legacy, particularly in French philosophy.
So, for instance, in Plato’s Protagoras, the myth of Epimetheus and Prometheus describes the latter’s theft of the technê of fire as a result of the former’s forgetfulness with regard to the bestowal of attributes to human beings. Here technê emerges as skill or technique but also as a more general founding moment of humankind’s technical and technological capacities. In The Republic Plato opposes the knowledge of reality and truth (of ideal forms) to the representational status of dramatic poetry (as a technê poietike or productive technique) and by extension to arts and literature in general. In this context the latter have a degraded status in relation to knowledge or truth, and this sets the stage for attempts that will be made by later philosophy to distance itself from aesthetic form or literary discourse.
In Aristotle technê emerges within the distinction between art as productive technique and theoretical knowledge on the one hand (theoria) and action on the other (praxis). Aristotle’s distinctions have an influential afterlife in the medieval period and into the early modern, in particular in Emmanuel Kant’s definition of art as a skill or capacity for the production of things. The legacy of this long negotiation of Greek technê as art, productive technique, technical skill, or technology finds its way into 20th-century German phenomenology; in Edmund Husserl’s account of the rise of the scientific worldview and instrumental rationality in The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology (1938) and in Martin Heidegger’s discourse on technological modernity, art, and the philosophical-poetic saying of being as it is developed from the 1930s onwards.
The legacy of German phenomenological thinking relating to tekhne, understood as a fundamental dimension of both artistic and technological production, has a particularly strong afterlife in post–World War II French structuralism, poststructuralism, and contemporary philosophy. The influence of Husserl’s understanding of technicity can be traced directly in various ways into the work of, for instance, Jean-François Lyotard, Michel Foucault, and Jacques Derrida. Similarly, both Husserlian and Heideggerian discourse on tekhne find their way in the thinking of technology, ecotechnicity, and technics of contemporary philosophers such as Jean-Luc Nancy. Nancy’s discourse on the technicity of art yields an affirmation of the irreducible plurality of aesthetic techniques and, in particular, a reorientation of possible ways of understanding the place of literature in the age of digital information technology.
Time is not a strictly literary category, yet literature is unthinkable without time. The events of a story unfold over time. The narration of that story imposes a separate order of time (chronological, discontinuous, in medias res). The reading of that narrative may take its own sweet time. Then there is the fact that literature itself exists in time. Transmitted across generations, literary texts cannot help but remind us of how times have changed. In doing so, they also show us how prior historical moments were indelibly shaped by their own specific philosophies and technologies of timekeeping—from the forms of sacred time that informed medieval writing; to the clash between national time and natural history that preoccupied the Romantics; to the technological standardization of time that shaped 19th-century literature; to the theories of psychological time that emerged in tandem with modernism; to the fragmented and foreshortened digital times that underlie postmodern fiction. Time, in short, shapes literature several times over: from reading experience to narrative form to cultural context. In this way, literature can be read as a peculiarly sensitive timepiece of its own, both reflecting and responding to the complex and varied history of shared time.
Over the course of the 20th century, literary time has become an increasingly prominent issue for literary critics. Time was first installed at the heart of literary criticism by way of narrative theory and narratology, which sought to explain narrative’s irreducibly temporal structure. Soon, though, formalist and phenomenological approaches to time would give way to more historically and politically attuned methods, which have emphasized modern time’s enmeshment in imperialism, industrial capitalism, and globalization. In today’s critical landscape, time is a crucial and contested topic in a wide range of subfields, offering us indispensable insights into the history and ideology of modernity; the temporal politics of nationalism, colonialism, and racial oppression; the alternate timescales of environmental crisis and geological change; and the transformations of life and work that structure postmodern and postindustrial society.
The year 1922 has been known as the annus mirabilis (“miracle year”) of Anglo-American literary modernism, chiefly because of the near-simultaneous publication of T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” James Joyce’s Ulysses, and Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room. The distinctive historical character of 1922 remains an ongoing concern: the year was at once a time of traumatic memory of World War I and a moment of renewed ambition for the radical experiments of modernism. During the war, Eliot, Joyce, and Woolf had enjoyed an unusual opportunity to revise and extend their aesthetic ambitions. Each of their works registers the more defiant provocation of postwar literature, but each confronts the powerful resistance of cultural and political authorities who saw the efforts, especially of Eliot and Joyce, as both meaningless and dangerous. The postwar period also saw the rapid expansion of new technologies (especially in transport and telecommunications) and a consumer society keen to enjoy the availability of freshly circulating material goods. D. H. Lawrence described the end of war as both a relief and a menace. This double valence captures the contrast between searing memories of battlefield death and anticipation of pleasure and plenitude in the Jazz Age. The central figures in this entry are at once newly confident in the adversarial mission of modernism and fully aware of the social complacency and cultural conservatism arrayed against them. The immediate felt disturbance of these works came through their formal challenge, in particular through the intersecting uses of many-voiced and multi-perspectival montage, an assemblage of fragmentary views, and a diversity of speaking tones. This conspicuous technique appears in closely related terms within the early films of Dziga Vertov and the postwar philosophy of logical atoms developed by Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein. But the formal inventiveness exhibited during the year is no more prominent than the social concern. Especially as in 21st century, historical studies of the period have recovered the depth of interest in questions of race, empire, sexual debility, and social failure.
It is generally agreed that the post–World War II period produced the most significant American drama and theater. This included Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie (1945), A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955); Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman (1949) and The Crucible (1953); and Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh (1946) and Long Day’s Journey into Night (written 1941, produced 1956). It was also the time when American theatrical production, characterized by a hybrid blend of realistic and modernist techniques known as “the American style,” was most influential. This period of extraordinary accomplishment would not have occurred without the particular theatrical developments that preceded it. American theater had gotten off to a slow start during the 18th and early 19th centuries, partly because of an anti-theatrical prejudice in the puritan roots of the Northeast, where most US cities were located, and the copyright situation, which made it much more profitable for theatrical managers to pirate English plays than to produce new American ones. During the mid-19th century, some native melodramas achieved popular success, but none entered the permanent repertoire except as curiosities.
Toward the end of the 19th century, the realism of Henrik Ibsen and George Bernard Shaw began to have an impact, and by the 1920s, realism was the dominant dramatic and theatrical idiom of the American stage. At the same time, the impact of modernist techniques such as expressionism was being felt, and Eugene O’Neill and Susan Glaspell were writing avant-garde modernist plays such as O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones (1920) and The Hairy Ape (1922) and Glaspell’s The Verge (1921), which paved the way for O’Neill’s great experiments of the 1920s and 1930s, such as Strange Interlude (1928) and Mourning Becomes Electra (1931). For playwrights like Williams and Miller, it was a natural development to create a drama that united both of these strains, anchoring their plays in a realistic idiom but suffusing them with expressionist techniques that made it possible to dramatize a character’s consciousness on stage in juxtaposition with the external reality they must negotiate.
The final decades of the 20th century may be characterized not so much by individual playwrights as by dramatic and theatrical developments. Escaping the intense commercial pressure of Broadway, the off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway theaters fostered the development of feminist and other experimental drama as well as the careers of playwrights such as Sam Shepard, Adrienne Kennedy, Maria Irene Fornés, and Lynn Nottage. Edward Albee, August Wilson, Ntozake Shange, and David Mamet came from alternative or regional theaters to achieve popular success on Broadway as well as critical acclaim. At the turn of the 21st century, American drama and theater reflected the heightened awareness of gender identity and ethnicity in the 1990s and the broadly eclectic aesthetics that would be evident in the next decades, a drama that is epitomized in Tony Kushner’s Angels in America (1992), which combines realistic characters, sociopolitical commentary, humor, and sentiment with fantasy, myth, and epic.
Thomas S. Hart
The facts of Henry David Thoreau's short life are simple enough. He was born David Henry Thoreau in Concord, Massachusetts, on 12 July 1817. He grew up in Concord and graduated at age twenty from Harvard, after what was by most accounts a fairly ordinary academic career. He briefly tried teaching, and then worked sporadically in the family pencil-making business and as a surveyor, while devoting most of his time to writing, which he considered his true career, despite its having brought him only modest success. He died of tuberculosis at age forty-four on 6 May 1862 in his family's home in Concord.