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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.
Often called the “dean of Western writers,” Wallace Stegner is remembered as a teacher, writer, historian, and conservationist who privileged the idea of place, particularly wilderness as place, in the formation of personal and national identity.
Stephen K. George
John Steinbeck, author of such classics as Of Mice and Men (1937), The Grapes of Wrath (1939), and East of Eden (1952), remains firmly planted in the souls of his readers today. Ironically he is more popular with critics abroad than in his own country, yet he is read in more classrooms from Maine to California than any other American novelist. As Arthur Miller contends, no other author, “with the possible exception of Mark Twain, … so deeply penetrated the political life of the country” as Steinbeck did with the publication of The Grapes of Wrath. This epic novel, which even today registers number thirty-four on one list of America's fifty most banned books, continues to shape our view of the Great Depression, to enlarge our imaginations and social conscience concerning that era, and to provoke debate on our continued moral responsibilities toward the downtrodden. For many readers, John Steinbeck is not only the quintessential American, he is on the shortlist of authors whose work actually influences the way we live and see our world.
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.