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Sam Shepard is the best known, and has proved the most enduring, of those American dramatists who began their careers in the radical and alternative theater movements of the 1960s. Although his plays have become thoroughly mainstream, something of the aura of those early years still clings to his work.
The short story is the only genre that can be considered uniquely American. The genre began as sketches, or tales, as in the classic tale “Rip Van Winkle.” The genre remained undefined until Edgar Allan Poe’s well-known 1842 review of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Twice-Told Tales. Since Poe’s review, in which he distinguished short fiction from other genres, the American short story has evolved both in form and in content. Like other genres, the short story has evolved through various movements and traditions such as realism, modernism, and postmodernism; however, it has remained unique because of publishing opportunities that differ from longer works such as the novel. The short story genre shares elements of fiction with the novel, traditionally consisting of characteristics such as plot, character, setting, point of view, theme, and writing style. Although the short story shares elements of literature and writing devices with other literary genres, avenues for publication differ greatly. Unlike a novel, a short story is not published as a single entity. It is usually presented with works by other authors in a journal or magazine or in a collection of previously published stories by one author. The rise in popular magazines during the 1920s gave rise to the short story, as the magazines provided a publication outlet. During the second half of the 20th century the short story became less commercial and more literary, paving the way for artistic stories such as one appropriately called “The New Yorker Story.” However, as it became less commercial, the short story fell from popularity and became somewhat obscure in the manner in which poetry remains. Because short stories do not sell, publishers are hesitant to produce them. But during the 1970s, American universities began teaching creative writing classes, and the short story provided a suitable genre for teaching the art of fiction writing. Hence, the American short story experienced a renaissance, and a wave of literary journals emerged. About this time, minimalism was one of the styles most often used in the short story. Raymond Carver built on what Ernest Hemingway had started in America, and the short story took on a new form. During the latter half of the 20th century and early 21st century, women and ethnic writers were given more opportunities to publish short fiction, and the short story reflected progress in civil rights issues. Currently, the rise in technological advances has brought even more opportunities for publication, and more and more American authors are publishing short stories online, now a respected publication venue.
Born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on 5 March 1948, Leslie Marmon Silko emerged in the late twentieth century to make her mark in a history of storytellers. Silko's work was recognized by the Native Writers' Circle of the Americas lifetime achievement award in 1994. In addition, she has been named a Living Cultural Treasure by the New Mexico Humanities Council, a title that befits the way her work strives for multiple perspectives while remaining true to the concept of storytelling embedded in her Laguna Pueblo ancestry.
With his characteristic blend of whimsy and high seriousness, Charles Simic once remarked: “There are three ways of thinking about the world. You can think about the Cosmos (as the Greeks did), you can think about History (as the Hebrews did), and since the late eighteenth century you can think about Nature. The choice is yours. Where do you prefer to find (or not find) the meaning of your life? And do you include God on the menu? I myself fancy the cosmic angle. The brain-chilling infinities and silences of modern astronomy and Pascalian thought impress me deeply, except that I'm also a child of History. I've seen tanks, piles of corpses, and people strung from lampposts with my own eyes. As for Nature so-called, it's a product of Romantic utopias: noble savage, Rousseau, earthly paradise in the manner of Gauguin, the projects of Charles Fourier, our Transcendentalists, and so forth” (The Unemployed Fortune-Teller, 1994). Simic's qualifications and quips—“Until we resolve these questions, a nap in a hammock on a summer afternoon is highly recommended”—suggest that his three worldviews are tentative rather than dogmatic. While steeped in tradition, his own views, in fact, run counter to traditional assumptions about an orderly, meaningful, divinely created cosmos; a linear concept of history proceeding from genesis and fall to judgment and salvation; and a pastoral view of nature.
James A. Lewin
What makes Isaac Bashevis Singer so exceptional? He is not only the sole writer working primarily in Yiddish to have won a Nobel Prize but also the only Yiddish writer included in the canon of American literature. Of course, Singer benefited from good, timely English translations. But he may have jumped out of the pack of acknowledged Yiddish masters of fiction because of a resonance in his work with ingrained American interests and values. His conjunction of spiritualism and sexuality definitely piqued the interest of readers of magazines ranging from Commentary to Playboy. On a deeper level, his commitment to conservative traditionalism also corresponds with an American yearning for basic moral clarity. Ironically, however, Singer's vision of ethical truth questions the assumptions of the tradition from which he developed. More of a muted reactionary than a homespun conservative, Singer responds to cultural and moral crisis with an aesthetic of storytelling. Singer reminds us that the pursuit of redemption, though heartbreaking and unrequited, cannot be abandoned.
David Jeddie Smith was born on 19 December 1942 in Portsmouth, Virginia. He graduated from the University of Virginia, and was then educated at Southern Illinois University, where he earned an M.A. degree. He received a Ph.D. in 1976 from Ohio University, where he was able to write a creative writing dissertation. His poetry has earned him many awards and recognitions, including fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Lyndhurst Foundation. He was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for both Goshawk, Antelope (1979) and Dream Flights (1981).
Aaron K. DiFranco
In promoting a life close to nature and exploring the relation between the inner mind and the outer world, Gary Snyder falls into the tradition of American romanticism following Thoreau and Whitman. But whereas the transcendentalists perceived nature as symbolic and looked through it to find spiritual truths, Snyder emphasizes how the spiritual takes shape within the real, physical, and imaginative interactions between elements that make up the ecology of one's place. His engagement with the natural world and resistance to the monoculture of Western commercial industrialism have turned him toward environmental activism as well as philosophical meditations as lucid and penetrating as those of Emerson or John Muir. His work champions the idea of wilderness, where the multiplicity of nature and culture—inherently interconnected—can manifest itself in all its forms.
Steven P. Schneider
Born in Fresno, California, on 12 April 1952, Gary Soto is one of the most prominent Mexican-American writers of his generation. Soto's grandparents were born in Mexico, migrated to the United States, and worked in the fields and factories of Fresno. His father, Manuel Soto, was killed tragically in an accident at work when Soto was five years old. Soto's mother, Angie Trevino Soto, raised him, his older brother Rick, and his younger sister Debra in Fresno, located in the San Joaquin Valley, the setting of much of Soto's writing.
South Asian American visual culture is a diverse field of visual art, created by artists who are first-, second- and third-generation immigrants from Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh, among other diasporic locations (e.g., Kenya). South Asian American artists work in a range of media forms, including photography, sculpture, installation, video, painting, and drawing. Collectively, these artworks are frequently exhibited in museums and galleries as depictions of contemporary South Asian immigrant life. However, a close reading of individual works produces a more dynamic picture. Instead of viewing South Asian American visual culture solely in terms of artists’ own immigrant biographies, scholarship and museum practices have begun to focus on how its aesthetic and political contributions have been central to the representation of racialized, gendered, and sexualized immigrant bodies in the United States since the turn of the millennium. Drawing across archival collections, aesthetic histories, and digital media forms, artists create works that link the colonial documentation of “native” bodies on the subcontinent with the surveillance and documentation of immigrant bodies by the US state. Alongside artists, academics and activists also work to produce curatorial interventions through exhibitions that generate feminist and queer critiques of the relation between nation-state and diaspora. Emphasizing the transnational ties of capital and labor that bind together the subcontinent with the United States, South Asian American visual culture creates new frameworks for the relationship between race, visuality, and representation.
Thomas Ærvold Bjerre
Southern Gothic is a mode or genre prevalent in literature from the early 19th century to this day. Characteristics of Southern Gothic include the presence of irrational, horrific, and transgressive thoughts, desires, and impulses; grotesque characters; dark humor, and an overall angst-ridden sense of alienation. While related to both the English and American Gothic tradition, Southern Gothic is uniquely rooted in the South’s tensions and aberrations. During the 20th century, Charles Crow has noted, the South became “the principal region of American Gothic” in literature. The Southern Gothic brings to light the extent to which the idyllic vision of the pastoral, agrarian South rests on massive repressions of the region’s historical realities: slavery, racism, and patriarchy. Southern Gothic texts also mark a Freudian return of the repressed: the region’s historical realities take concrete forms in the shape of ghosts that highlight all that has been unsaid in the official version of southern history. Because of its dark and controversial subject matter, literary scholars and critics initially sought to discredit the gothic on a national level. Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849) became the first Southern Gothic writer to fully explore the genre’s potential. Many of his best-known poems and short stories, while not placed in a recognizable southern setting, display all the elements that would come to characterize Southern Gothic.
While Poe is a foundational figure in Southern Gothic, William Faulkner (1897–1962) arguably looms the largest. His fictional Yoknapatawpha County was home to the bitter Civil War defeat and the following social, racial, and economic ruptures in the lives of its people. These transformations, and the resulting anxieties felt by Chickasaw Indians, poor whites and blacks, and aristocratic families alike, mark Faulkner’s work as deeply Gothic. On top of this, Faulkner’s complex, modernist, labyrinthine language creates in readers a similarly Gothic sense of uncertainty and alienation. The generation of southern writers after Faulkner continued the exploration of the clashes between Old and New South. Writers like Tennessee Williams (1911–1983), Carson McCullers (1917–1967), and Flannery O’Connor (1925–1964) drew on Gothic elements. O’Connor’s work is particularly steeped in the grotesque, a subgenre of the Gothic. African American writers like Zora Neale Hurston (1891–1960) and Richard Wright have had their own unique perspective on the Southern Gothic and the repressed racial tensions at the heart of the genre. Southern Gothic also frames the bleak and jarringly violent stories by contemporary so-called Rough South writers, such as Cormac McCarthy, Barry Hannah, Dorothy Allison, William Gay, and Ron Rash. A sense of evil lurks in their stories and novels, sometimes taking on the shape of ghosts or living dead, ghouls who haunt the New Casino South and serve as symbolic reminders of the many unresolved issues still burdening the South to this day.
Julie Buckner Armstrong
Southern literature provides numerous, diverse responses to the civil rights era. Produced during the movement itself and continuing into the 21st century, southern civil rights writing appears as poetry, drama, memoir, graphic narrative, short stories, and novels, including literary fiction and bestsellers. Movement-related works commemorate events, places, and people both famous and unknown. Authors speak of political awakening to systemic racism and violence. They consider the effectiveness of organizing tactics and the ethical implications of resistance strategies. They write compellingly about the ways segregation, protest, race relations, and sweeping social changes affect individuals and their relationships. Southern literature also exists in complex relationship to the civil rights era due in part to both terms’ fluid, evolving definitions. “Southern literature” can refer to works written in and about the American South, yet both of these categories remain more dynamic than static. The South is demarcated geographically as the United States’ southeastern and south central tier and historically as a region with ties to the former Confederacy. The South’s vexed legacy of slavery and segregation plays a role in defining a regional identity that some consider to be distinctive in terms of dialect, food culture, and an emphasis on conservative views of family, community, religion, place, and history. Many scholars, however, see constructions of a distinct southern identity with an accompanying literature as outmoded, particularly in an era of shifting demographics within the US and globalization more broadly. Like “southern literature,” the “civil rights era” resists rigid definition. The movement itself can refer to the period from the US Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision desegregating public schools to the 1965 Voting Rights Act—an era focused on specific civil rights leadership, goals, and, notably, the American South. Alternatively, one can define the movement more comprehensively to look at what happened before and after “the King years,” referring to the period’s iconic figure Martin Luther King Jr. This version of civil rights extends the movement to points North and West, includes Black Power (typically focused on the late 1960s and early 1970s), and links it to contemporaneous human rights and post-colonial struggles. Authors from the American South respond to this broader story by connecting the movement to issues such as immigration; policing and incarceration; economic and environmental justice; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights. Here writers depict a dynamic, multifaceted South that continues striving to transform political ideals into realities.
Southern poetry embraces dichotomous elements: it contains poems lauding the Confederacy, and also poems deeply critical and mournful of the racist violence, oppression, and racist terrorism that characterize the region’s history. Yet a common thread runs through Southern poetry—attention to the land, the rural South as a character in its own right, and with that attention to the land a quality of haunting and being haunted by the history of the South: the violence of colonization, enslavement, the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow. Twentieth-century poet Etheridge Knight, born in Mississippi, lyrically describes the earth of Mississippi merging with the graves of his ancestors, calling him home to a place where, as a black man, he is not safe. Nineteenth-century poet Sidney Lanier, born in Georgia and, like Knight, a man who had experienced imprisonment, shapes in his poetry a mythical country where trees and rivers and indigenous crops become forces superseding the human; but Lanier, a soldier for the Confederacy, does not mention enslavement in his poetry. In Southern poetry, this blind spot—the white Southern poet who does not see or reflect upon the racist violence of enslavement, Jim Crow, lynching—is often submerged into a poetry melancholic and obsessed with unnamable violence and loss, even as African American poets of the South often name this loss in terms of personal memory. Myth—of the aristocratic, agrarian South—in white Southern poetry, and memory—of personal risk and suffering—in African American Southern poetry, can be understood together as a common pull to write the land, albeit from different perspectives.
Space is a fundamental, ineliminable dimension of existence, which manifests itself in every aspect of material, psychological, and social life. It is also a purely dimensional category, in the sense that it cannot be directly perceived. All representations, therefore, have a necessary spatial dimension and all representations of space require a medium (like objects and events) through which its presence can be made manifest. Moreover, spatial concepts are essential tools for rational thought, indeed, quite possibly a foundational element of rationality itself. Spatial metaphors consequently permeate every aspect of thinking, including topics that are not usually taken to have an intrinsically spatial dimension—from the spatialization of time that Zeno exploited and Henri Bergson complained about to the heavily spatialized vocabulary of information technology (with its computer domains, IP addresses, etc.). This combination of existential importance and cognitive adaptability helps to explain space’s enduring appeal as a focus of critical attention in literary studies but also the difficulty of the subject: the multifariousness and polysemy of spatial terms leads to much confusion between different modes of spatiality and much reliance on loose and often mixed metaphors. It is important, then, for literary critics and theorists to attend closely to the zones of overlap and confusion that might cloud spatial analyses in order to maximize the explanatory potential of the cluster of analytic tools that fall under the heading of spatial analysis. This has become especially apparent in the wake of the spatial turn that took place in literary theory and criticism toward the end of the 20th century.
Benito Rial Costas
At the end of the 15th century, printed books were known and read throughout Europe, and the modern structure of this new product was defined. However, in many Spanish cities, printing and selling books depended on the work of itinerant printers with scarce economic and technical possibilities and professional skills. The limited industrial, technical, and economic development and the lack of good communications produced a map of Spain with small and dispersed printing offices spread over many different places. Spanish printing quality could not compete with that of other countries. These limitations determined the character of the works that the Spanish printing offices produced. On the one hand, many Spanish printed books were made by and for the local clergy and royal officials, and, in many senses, they followed objectives and productive patterns that were not distant from the purposes of handwritten books. On the other hand, Spanish literature and translations into Spanish and Catalan of important Latin and Italian texts were the other main feature of Spanish 15th-century printing history. The Spanish printing offices could not offer anything to the European book market, and they could not even offer certain books to the Spanish market that booksellers brought from abroad.
Spanish-language Chicano literary production is rich in tradition and scope. This article intends to provide a brief comprehensive summary of the Chicano literary representation of some of the most important writers and works written in Spanish. Most critics of Chicano literature will agree the Mexican American or Chicano had its symbolic birth in 1848, at the end of the Mexican-American War. It is important, however, to begin by talking about this as a literary tradition that predates the war: Spanish colonization and Mexican independence from Spain are important in establishing an essential foundation for this literature. Representative Chicano literature in Spanish will be highlighted from the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries, with those from the second half of the 20th (1965 to 1990s) receiving more emphasis. It is during this period that Spanish-language Chicano literature offered its most important contributions: not only in the number of texts produced but more importantly in how this literature reflected the social and cultural manifestation of the Chicano ethos. (Note that the term “Mexican American literature” will be used to describe work leading up to the Chicano Movement, approximately 1965; “Chicano literature” will be used to identify the Chicano’s new post-1965 political and social consciousness.)
The concepts of spectacle and détournement are closely associated with the Paris-based postwar avant-garde movement known as the Situationist International. Spectacle is meant to work as a concept that critiques not this or that aspect of media culture, but its totality. It reveals the spectacle as the double, in the world of consumption, of capitalist commodity production. Détournement is the practice which opposes spectacle by refusing all forms of private property in the production of cultural works. While the Situationist International expired as a movement in 1972, these concepts were subsequently taken up by others, although most often shorn of the revolutionary impulse their linkage was meant to forge. This is why it is important to stress the origins of these concepts in both Western Marxism and also in the radical avant-garde movements of the prewar period. Guy Debord, a central animating presence in the Situationist International, was drawing on militant Marxist thinkers such as Georg Lukács and Henri Lefebvre, as well as the lesser-known Belgian branch of the Surrealist avant-garde. Understood as keys to a unified critical theory and practice, spectacle and détournement can be retrieved from merely descriptive studies of literature and media, and also from more narrowly formalist avant-garde literary practices.
The term “speculative fiction” has three historically located meanings: a subgenre of science fiction that deals with human rather than technological problems, a genre distinct from and opposite to science fiction in its exclusive focus on possible futures, and a super category for all genres that deliberately depart from imitating “consensus reality” of everyday experience. In this latter sense, speculative fiction includes fantasy, science fiction, and horror, but also their derivatives, hybrids, and cognate genres like the gothic, dystopia, weird fiction, post-apocalyptic fiction, ghost stories, superhero tales, alternate history, steampunk, slipstream, magic realism, fractured fairy tales, and more. Rather than seeking a rigorous definition, a better approach is to theorize “speculative fiction” as a term whose semantic register has continued to expand. While “speculative fiction” was initially proposed as a name of a subgenre of science fiction, the term has recently been used in reference to a meta-generic fuzzy set supercategory—one defined not by clear boundaries but by resemblance to prototypical examples—and a field of cultural production. Like other cultural fields, speculative fiction is a domain of activity that exists not merely through texts but through their production and reception in multiple contexts. The field of speculative fiction groups together extremely diverse forms of non-mimetic fiction operating across different media for the purpose of reflecting on their cultural role, especially as opposed to the work performed by mimetic, or realist narratives.
The fuzzy set field understanding of speculative fiction arose in response to the need for a blanket term for a broad range of narrative forms that subvert the post-Enlightenment mindset: one that had long excluded from “Literature” stories that departed from consensus reality or embraced a different version of reality than the empirical-materialist one. Situated against the claims of this paradigm, speculative fiction emerges as a tool to dismantle the traditional Western cultural bias in favor of literature imitating reality, and as a quest for the recovery of the sense of awe and wonder. Some of the forces that contributed to the rise of speculative fiction include accelerating genre hybridization that balkanized the field previously mapped with a few large generic categories; the expansion of the global literary landscape brought about by mainstream culture’s increasing acceptance of non-mimetic genres; the proliferation of indigenous, minority, and postcolonial narrative forms that subvert dominant Western notions of the real; and the need for new conceptual categories to accommodate diverse and hybridic types of storytelling that oppose a stifling vision of reality imposed by exploitative global capitalism. An inherently plural category, speculative fiction is a mode of thought-experimenting that includes narratives addressed to young people and adults and operates in a variety of formats. The term accommodates the non-mimetic genres of Western but also non-Western and indigenous literatures—especially stories narrated from the minority or alternative perspective. In all these ways, speculative fiction represents a global reaction of human creative imagination struggling to envision a possible future at the time of a major transition from local to global humanity.
Despite the prominent work produced by Sri Lankan American writers Michael Ondaatje and Rienzi Crusz since the 1970s, Sri Lankan American literature and culture has maintained a doubly marginalized position in Asian America due to the historical disregard of South Asian America and the dominance of Indian America. Literary and cultural work by writers and artists of the first and second generations reveal how Sri Lankan America is, to use Rajiv Shankar’s phrase, “a part, yet apart” of the South Asian American milieu as well as postcolonial Sri Lankan studies. First-generation writers initially reflect on the common diasporic theme of nostalgia for the land of origin, but their larger body of work is not directly related to “Sri Lankan” topics. For instance, Ondaatje, who gained prominence as a “Canadian postmodernist,” kept Sri Lanka largely peripheral in his early poetry until his 1982 memoir Running in the Family. However, after the outbreak of the Sri Lankan civil war between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), presaged by the state-sanctioned pogrom of Tamils known as the Black July riots of 1983 that occasioned a second wave of immigration to North America, the volatile political background at home and the national “betrayal” by the Sinhalese Buddhist government became a major thematic motif for Sri Lankan American writing. Indran Amirthanayagam’s 1993 poetry collection The Elephants of Reckoning reveals a new responsibility embraced by the diasporic writer—to recognize that “the dead have tongues” and to pose the question: “What are they saying?” Shyam Selvadurai’s Funny Boy (1994) reiterates Amirthanayagam’s position, becoming a blueprint for a new generation of Sri Lankan American writers and popular cultural artists invested in social justice vis-à-vis not only race, ethnicity, and citizenship but also politics of gender and sexuality. Second-generation Sri Lankan American writing such as V. V. Ganeshananthan’s novel Love Marriage (2008) experiments with new archival forms by mediating traumatic “inherited memories” of the civil war, pointing to the future directions of the Sri Lankan American literary and cultural terrain.
Christopher Jane Corkery
West meets East in the work of Jean Stafford. In her characters and plots, privilege, too, meets deprivation, nature the world of human relations, and genius the world of the utterly ordinary. Jean Stafford was born into a family that had no inkling of her gifts and no aptitude for encouraging them. Born on 1 July 1915, Stafford lived with her family in Covina, California, until she was six. John Stafford, her father, who had inherited a large sum of money in his youth, took the family to San Diego when he tired of a walnut farming endeavor, and in the course of a year lost all of his money on the stock market. For the rest of her dependent years, Jean Stafford's family was to know poverty intimately, and she was to feel herself socially ostracized because of it.
Born in Hutchinson, Kansas, in 1914, William Edgar Stafford moved frequently with his family during his childhood. The Great Depression bore heavily on the family; Stafford's biographer Judith Kitchen (1989) writes that young William's newspaper route was “at one point the family's only source of income” (p. 3). Despite these difficulties, the book-loving family remained close. Stafford completed high school and pursued further education at junior colleges, later working as a waiter to put himself through the University of Kansas.