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Lynn Orilla Scott
Among contemporary African-American writers, Ishmael Reed is one of the most innovative, prolific, and controversial. To date he has published nine novels, five collections of poems, four collections of essays, and four plays. He has also authored three television productions, an opera, and a “gospera.” Some of his poetry has been set to music and produced on record. A sampling of his fiction, poetry, and essays has been collected in The Reed Reader (2000). As a teacher, a cultural activist, and especially an editor and publisher, Reed has been an advocate of multiculturalism in American literature since the early 1970s. His experimental work, which draws from myth, history, popular culture, and African-American oral culture, can be classified as “populist postmodernist.” The most characteristic attribute of his work is its aggressive, provocative, and sometimes outrageous humor.
Pearl Amelia McHaney
The myths of southern women include mammies, belles, ladies, and mulattos. In southern fiction, drama, poetry, and memoir, these categories of women are both perpetuated and disrupted. Much southern literature also portrays these stereotypes as independent women deliberately confronting the systems of oppression including patriarchy, slavery, and racism. Such independent women struggle for and often attain agency. Other literary characters are more succinctly called rebels, openly fighting against class, social, economic, and racist constraints. Many representations of women in southern literature were popularized in the 19th century by northerner Harriet Beecher Stowe in Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) and in the 20th century by southerner Margaret Mitchell in Gone with the Wind (1936). Between these two novels, with new publications of 19th-century fictions by African Americans, and from the 1940s into the 21st century, concurrent with modernism, feminism, and increased publication opportunities, women in southern literature are often depicted seeking agency, finding voice, and acting independently. Representations of antebellum southern women as mothers, black and white, illustrate the enormous difficulties of birthing and nurturing children to adulthood. Mothers, daughters, sisters, and young girls (black and white) in the 20th century evidence a diminishing presence of the southern past as well as vastly changing family dynamics. In southern literature of the 21st century, women vigorously explore their sexualities, races, ethnicities, social and economic classes confluent with a redefined global south, climate change, drug epidemics, and political activism. Women in 21st-century southern literature successfully challenge the hegemony of white authors and white characters and the binary of black and white.
The most discussed and cited works of Asian American writing in literary studies include mainly novels, memoirs, short fiction, essays, and plays. To use Sau-ling Wong’s terms Necessity and Extravagance, the study of prose narrative has become a Necessity in the establishment of an Asian American literary canon, while poetry appears to occupy the status of the Extravagant—not excluded, but not as important or basic as prose. However, considering Asian American studies through the framework of not just poetry as a genre but also the poetic as a mode leads to some fresh understandings of canonical narratives, as well as criticism and theory. The power of poetry and the poetic do lie in their alignment with Extravagance, especially in their play with rules and expectations of language, convention, and form. Poems by Asian American writers point to the underside of play, the ways in which play can threaten minority subjects. At the same time the poems enact their own forms of play, through literary allusion and figurative language, for example. Asian American poetry and the Asian American poetic harness the energies of recreation and enjoyment to build and repurpose literary and discursive forms that articulate racial, ethnic, and gendered perils and promises.
Adrienne Rich has earned a place in American literature as the leading feminist poet of the twentieth century. Most critics agree that she has accomplished what no woman writer has done before: to speak—in poetry—with a public voice. Although some aspects of her verse might be considered in the confessional mode, she demands that her poetry be more than a personal expression. As a result of her prose as well as her verse, she has developed a wide, international readership. A feminist trailblazer at a time when one was needed, Rich moves beyond feminism to speak her poetic truth and unabashedly allies that truth with politics. In forging her identity as poet, public intellectual, nurturer of other women, and advocate for causes, she challenges women to seek a larger, more equitable world for themselves and others.
Examining fiction and nonfiction written explicitly by and for members of right-wing movements provides a deeper understanding of points of affinity as well as contention in the midst of increased polarization in United States political culture. Primary materials include fiction penned by conservative politicians and pundits, fiction written by right-wing agitators, and nonfiction movement literature such as periodicals, advice books, and tactical instruction guides. Since the middle of the 20th century, right-wing literature has sustained and motivated an increasingly formidable political force that undermines democratic ideals and encourages reformatory or revolutionary action.
Comparing and contrasting fiction with movement nonfiction written by conservatives of the Cold War era illuminates how right-wing politics shifted away from pessimistic accounts of the supposed decline of Western civilization. In the 1960s, conservative book clubs advertised fiction in which heroes typically were ordinary white businessmen whose love of country led them to fight “un-American” foes, often depicted as sexual deviants, racialized immigrants, or a combination of the two. The fiction, then, presented a means of transcending abstract, erudite discussions of the presumed “suicide of the West” that preoccupied conservative intellectuals. Likewise, more radical nonfiction offered a hopeful, less fatalistic sense of right-wing plight. While an urgent tone characterized both fiction and nonfiction in the Cold War era, the fiction and some smaller political publications illuminated a difference between using doomsday rhetoric and deploying an apocalyptic narrative in which readers could see themselves taking action in social dramas and political conflicts. This rejection of fatalistic passivity corresponded with the postwar persistence of American anti-Semitism that coded communism as Jewish, with anti-integration efforts that framed racial concerns as parental ones, and with the rise of the New Right, which de-emphasized economic imperatives to thwart the supposed anticommunist evil that plagued America.
Instead of economic concerns, the New Right began politicizing social issues to inaugurate a cultural conservatism, which went beyond conserving and defending a right-wing version of the American way of life and went on the offensive in the 1970s and 1980s. Right-wing fiction of the Culture Wars not only reflected this shift but also ushered it in. In the midst of and after the Reagan Revolution, male protagonists in right-wing fiction were more socially outcast and persecuted than their Cold War counterparts and therefore more action-oriented from the start. Macho serial fiction and novels penned by right-wing provocateurs in the anti-abortion and white supremacist movements fomented militant insurgency and revolution.
Meanwhile, mainstream publishers created imprints specifically designed to cater to conservative readership, especially women. An industry boom in conservative Christian fiction emerged with orchestrated efforts to challenge educational curricula and with increased popularity in homeschooling. The trajectory of influential conservative women’s writing went from atheistic free-market novels and prim advice books on how to negotiate assertiveness and subservience in holy matrimony to political conspiracy books and increasingly vicious attacks on particular liberals presumed to be agents (not dupes) of the antichrist. In recent years, women and right-wing pundits have published commercially successful young adult and children’s literature expressly with conservative themes. In the post-9/11 era, narrating state power involved capitalizing on a sense of trauma by integrating feelings of imminent conflict with the daily rhythms of society. Right-wing literature in the United States reflected and promoted this disjointed temporality.
Rita Indiana Hernández (b. June 11, 1977, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic) is a Dominican writer, musician, and performer. In addition to her popularity as a singer-songwriter, she is widely regarded as one of the most important Dominican authors of her generation. Her literary career began in the 1990s with short works included in zines such as Vetas. By 2001, she had self-published three books: two collections of short stories—Rumiantes (1998) and Ciencia succión (2001)—and one novella, La estrategia de Chochueca (2000). A second novel, Papi, followed in 2005. About that time, she began experimenting with musical and visual projects as part of different performance groups, such as Casifull and Miti Miti. In 2009, she was the youngest Dominican author to be honored in the Santo Domingo Book Fair, where she was also booked as a musical performer. Her popularity as a musician grew even more after the 2010 release of the album El juidero, recorded with her band Rita Indiana y los Misterios. She subsequently published two more novels, Nombres y animales (2013) and La mucama de Omicunlé (2015). Scholarly interest in her writing and her music has centered on the way they give voice to contemporary subjectivities and put forth imaginaries of citizenship, social relationships, and belonging that depart from institutionalized discourses of identity. Rita Indiana has stated on various occasions that she sees her literary projects and her musical projects as intertwined endeavors. This is evident not just in the thematic unity between them but also in the aesthetic strategies she uses. In her work, she references mass media, Dominican popular cultural production, and global youth cultures to highlight the interplay between the local and the global in the postmodern Caribbean. Rita Indiana also explores issues pertaining to the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, class, and migratory status. Since approximately the middle of the 2000s, Rita Indiana’s work has been embraced increasingly by critics. She was also named one of the one hundred most influential Latino/a personalities by the Spanish newspaper El País.
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.
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.
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.