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Stephen Crane was born in Newark, New Jersey, on 1 November 1871, the fourteenth and last child of Rev. Jonathan Townley Crane (Methodist by denomination) and Mary Helen Peck Crane (an activist in the temperance movement). Eight of his brothers and sisters survived infancy. Crane's early years were spent in the cities of Newark, Bloomington, and Paterson, New Jersey, as his father moved from church to church in the way of Methodist ministers. In 1878 the Reverend Crane accepted a post at Drew Methodist Church in Port Jervis, New York, and there young Stephen lived for some five years, wandering about in the woods of neighboring counties and, from time to time, listening to veterans of the New York 124th Regiment, who often gathered in a park at the center of Port Jervis to swap stories about their service in the Civil War. (It was likely here that Crane's fascination with the war began in earnest, and he may have drawn on the Port Jervis veterans' recollections when writing The Red Badge of Courage.) Reverend Crane died in 1880, leaving Stephen and his siblings to be raised by their mother, whose devotion to the church her husband had served increased as the years rolled by; she died in 1891, after suffering a mental breakdown of uncertain duration and severity. Readers have been known to chuckle at the thought of so pious a father and mother giving birth to so irreverent a son as Stephen Crane. But the son seems less to have been in rebellion against his parents, whom he loved, than simply attuned to the knowing urbanity and cleverness that characterized the younger set in New York City, where he would make his start in the 1890s.
Robert Creeley arose from a generation of poets who came to consciousness during the Great Depression and World War II and for whom these events formed a vast awareness of loss. Creeley in particular felt loss on a national and a personal scale; before he was five, his father had died of pneumonia and one of his eyes was blinded in a freak automobile accident. His family was originally working class. Creeley's paternal grandfather was a wealthy farmer, but the wealth, forfeited in a family scandal, was not passed on to the next generation. That brief brush with fortune raised Creeley's father out of the working class long enough to pursue an M.D. By the time Creeley was born on 21 May 1926 in West Acton, Massachusetts, his father had his own clinic and the family maintained chauffeurs and maids; however, it all disappeared when his father died. The family income dropped precipitously, and his mother was left with only her public health nurse's salary to support Creeley and his older sister. Critics have made much of the effect of the loss of his eye at the age of four on later themes of loss and betrayal in his poetry. The accident, which occurred when he was two, involved an errant load of coal that drove a shard of glass into Creeley's left eye. The injury was increasingly problematic until, after his father's death, his mother had the eye removed under circumstances he later considered a betrayal of trust. On what seemed like a routine visit to the hospital where she worked, she checked him in and the eye was taken out.
Kathryn W. Kemp
In Letters from an American Farmer (1782), a writer calling himself J. Hector St. John provides a firsthand view of the lives of ordinary Americans in the latter part of the eighteenth century. Because the author, a native of France named Michel-Guilliaume de Crèvecoeur, opposed the American Revolution, his work received scant attention until the twentieth century, when scholars recognized the value of its descriptions of the colonial world, including rural life, Indians, the frontier, the whaling communities of New England, slavery, and the flora and fauna of the Middle Colonies.
Sandra L. Beckett
Crossover literature transcends the conventionally recognized boundaries within the fiction market, blurring the borderline between adult literature and children’s literature. Books may cross from child to adult or adult to child audiences, or they may be explicitly published for both audiences. Crossover literature is by no means a recent phenomenon, but it received a high profile and a great deal of media attention with the unprecedented success of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books in the late 1990s. It was at that time that the term “crossover” was adopted by critics, the media, and the publishing industry. New words were also coined in other languages to refer to this literature. Although the genre includes adult fiction read by young readers (adult-to-child crossover), which has a much longer historical precedent, the term is often used to refer only to children’s and young adult books that appeal to adults (child-to-adult crossover).
Crossover literature is an extensive body of diverse, intergenerational works with a very long history. Borders between children’s and adult fiction have been more porous, or even non-existent, in certain cultures and time periods. Fairy tales, Middle Eastern tales, and fables have always appealed to mixed-age audiences. Children have been appropriating adult books for centuries. Classics like Robinson Crusoe and Les Trois Mousquetaires (The Three Musketeers) virtually passed into the children’s library. While almost every genre can cross age boundaries, the novel, and in particular the children’s and young adult novel, has monopolized attention. Moreover, crossover fiction is often equated with the fantasy novel, which played a key role in drawing public and critical attention to this literature. In most countries today, fantasy remains the dominant crossover genre. However, other genres, including short fiction, fairy tales, poetry, graphic novels, picturebooks, and comics commonly transcend age boundaries.
Initially, many saw crossover literature as merely a marketing and mass media phenomenon, but it also received critical acclaim. Crossover fiction in the early 21st century is recognized as a distinct literary genre and marketing category. It plays a major role in the publishing industry and in contemporary culture. Crossover books are responsible for hugely successful multi-generation-spanning, cross-media franchises, such as Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, The Twilight Saga, and The Hunger Games. Crossover literature is part of a broader cultural trend in which books, movies, television shows, video games, and so forth are increasingly reaching across age groups.
Writer Gil Cuadros (1962–1996) composed an influential collection of short stories and poems, City of God (1994), that recounts the experiences of gay Chicano life in the age of AIDS. Learning he was HIV-positive after the death of his lover due to AIDS, he wrote to grapple with the enormity of his loss. Cuadros developed an aesthetic vocabulary for relating the richly complex experience of a seropositive queer Latinidad. Seeking to represent the unrepresentable, his work ranges from unflinchingly stark and minimalist to amorphously dark and surreal, exposing and exploring the cross-currents of race, violence, love, and sex ever haunted by an awareness of mortality. Concerned with making visible a queer literary chicanidad, Cuadros crafted poems and stories that are grounded in physicality and developed a vocabulary of sensation and sensuality. The stories reveal the body as a source of knowledge. While not the subject of extensive critical work, Cuadros’s writing is drawing more extensive attention. Earlier criticism focuses on the tension that Cuadros’s writing generates as it explores the racial and social ambivalence of queer Latinx desire. These analyses privilege the formation of queer mestizo subjectivity and read the body as a contested text. Following developments in queer theory, more recent critics foreground aesthetic and thematic ambiguity as part of a complicated dynamic between legibility and disciplinary social repression. Cuadros’s darkly ambivalent aesthetics perform what it means to be gay, Chicano, and living with AIDS, foregrounding new relations as aesthetics, politics, form, and content bleed into each other.
Ricardo L. Ortiz
Cuba’s historical relationship with the United States predates both countries’ emergence into full political sovereignty and consists of forms of political, economic, and cultural interaction and exchange that have intimately bound the two societies since well before the 19th century. The United States spent the 1800s emerging as an independent nation and increasingly as a regional power in the western hemisphere. Populations from smaller neighboring societies were emerging from colonial rule and often sought protection in the United States from colonial oppression, even as they saw the United States’ own imperial ambitions as a looming threat. Cuban-American literature therefore can trace its roots to a collection of key figures who sought refuge in the United States in the 19th century, but it did not flourish until well into the 20th when geopolitical conditions following World War II and extending into the Cold War era made the United States a natural destination for a significant population of Cubans fleeing Fidel Castro’s Communist Revolution. Most arrived first as refugees, then as exiles, and finally as immigrants settling into homes and making families and lives in their new country. This population has also produced a robust literary culture all its own with deep ties and important contributions to the greater US literary tradition. Cuban-American literary production has proliferated into the 21st century, exploring complex themes beyond national and cultural identity, including gender, sexuality, race, class, and ideology.
Poet of satire, love, and lower-case letters, Edward Estlin Cummings was born on 14 October 1894 at his home at 104 Irving Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts, to the Reverend Edward Cummings and Rebecca Haswell Cummings. To distinguish between the two Edwards, the son was called by his middle name, becoming known as Estlin to family and friends. It was much later that he chose to be known professionally as E. E. Cummings, and although it was believed for many years that he had legally changed his name to reflect the use of lowercase letters that became his poetic signature (e. e. cummings), he did not.
Nancy Kang and Silvio Torres-Saillant
Dominican American literature comprises the body of creative writing in various genres by US-based authors of Dominican ancestry. Here, “Dominican” refers to people who trace their origins by birth or descent to the Dominican Republic, not to the island of Dominica in the Anglophone West Indies. “Dominican American,” in turn, applies to writers born, raised, and/or socialized in the United States, who received their schooling in general and, in particular, their literary education in this country irrespective of the extent of their involvement in the life of their ancestral homeland. Writing by Dominicans in the United States has a long history. Its existence reaches back at least to the first half of the 19th century, shining forth meaningfully in the 1990s, and showing little sign of abatement in the early decades of the 21st century.
While this article concerns itself primarily with Dominican American writing, it seeks to answer predictable questions regarding the rapport of this corpus with the literary production of Dominican Republic-based writers and Dominican authors who have settled in the United States largely as immigrants, using Spanish as their literary language. The article distinguishes Dominican American literature from the writings of people who, beginning in the 19th century, came to the United States from the Dominican Republic as travelers, adventurers, and individual settlers, having left home for political or economic reasons. They could be exiles escaping danger or immigrants seduced by the possibility of enhancing their lives in the proverbial “land of milk and honey.” They tended to regard their time in the United States as temporary and yearned for the change of fortune—political or economic—that would bring them back home. However, having had their return either thwarted or delayed, they would often build families or raise any offspring that came with them to the receiving society. Their children, US-born or brought to the land while young enough to be socialized as US citizens, became Dominican American by default.
US-born children of foreign parents who have pursued writing as a vocation have been able to vie for recognition in the American literary mainstream. English speakers by virtue of their US upbringing, they would have their ears attuned to the rhythms of US literature writ large. Dominican American writers in the 21st century have shown their mettle, making themselves heard in the ethnically partitioned map of the country’s letters. As with other Caribbean-descended American writers, they typically inhabit their US citizenship with an awareness of the contested nature of their civic belonging. Family legacies, personal memories, and their own process of self-discovery keep them reminded of the effects of US foreign policy on the land of their forbears. As a result, their texts tend to reflect not only an ethnic American voice, but also a diasporic perspective.
On 14 August 1834, a nineteen-year-old Harvard student walked down a Boston wharf to board the brig Pilgrim. He was wearing the loose duck trousers and tarpaulin hat of a sailor, for which he had exchanged his usual silk cap, kid gloves, and tight dress coat. Richard Henry Dana was about to embark on the adventure of his life—a two-year working voyage to California and back. He had decided to sail “before the mast” as an ordinary seaman, living forward in the ship for over two years with men who could hardly be more different from him. This breech of the boundary surrounding educated society shocked his friends. It was an audacious decision.
Jayson Gonzales Sae-Saue
Daniel Cano is a Mexican American author of three novels, Pepe Rios (1991), Shifting Loyalties (1995), and Death and the American Dream (2009). Among literary critics, Cano is recognized mainly for his second novel. This work loosely reproduces his experiences as a Mexican American who comes from a proud military family, becomes a soldier who comes of political age while fighting in the Vietnam War and must deal with the trauma of his combat experiences afterward. Thematically and politically aligned with other Chicana/o narratives about the conflict, Shifting Loyalties articulates a staunch anti-war political ethos. It does so, in part, by assessing historical and social grievances of minorities in the United States and then linking those complaints to the historical condition of the Vietnamese against whom they must fight. It further articulates its political protests by narrating the protracted trauma of the war for ethnic Americans and working-class soldiers and their families, including the ordeals these communities faced in fighting for democratic rights abroad while lacking full rights at home. In this way, Shifting Loyalties imagines political protests according to the cross-racial contradictions of class difference across the nation and across the Pacific.
Cano’s first novel, Pepe Rios, similarly engages the author’s personal history. It draws largely from his uncles’ oral stories about his grandfather Maximiano Cano’s life in Mexico during the national revolution (1910–1920) and his subsequent migration to the United States. As such, Pepe Rios narrates the experiences of the Cano patriarch, refigured in the image of the novel’s eponymous hero, during his search for justice when the Mexican nation became a battlefield of conflicted and corrupted national ideologies. Yet his figurative identity as a soldier-turned-immigrant also narrates a potential shared point of origin for much of the Los Angeles community. Indeed, the novel locates in the violent and complex politics of the Mexican Revolution a starting point for conceptualizing and imaging modern Mexican American life, including the transnational and politically messy genealogies that generated a large-scale exodus of Mexican immigrants to the United States in the early 20th century.
The sequel to Pepe Rios, Death and the American Dream, follows its protagonist’s integration into lower-middle-class life in the United States after his escape from Mexico, including his involvement in early labor movements in California. The narrative begins with Pepe’s arrival in Los Angeles and his investigative work regarding exploitation of Mexican and Mexican American labor in the region. In the course of this narrative action, the novel articulates corporate, state, and union fraud and misconduct on an international scale in the 1920s. Collectively, this criminality and corruption ensured a steady flow of cheap workers from the south to satiate starving US labor markets in the north. As such, the novel provides a rare historical account of the West Side of Los Angeles in relation to labor history in the hemisphere. The novel relates how this area in particular experienced a construction boom in the 1920s, during an era of immigration restrictions for Asian workers, and how the history of Mexican labor immigration and Mexican American labor exploitation made this economic explosion possible.
Ellie D. Hernández
The work of writer, historian, and theorist Emma Pérez encompasses a broad intersectional approach to the study of Chicanas. Her life’s work crosses disciplinary boundaries by working with history and literary fiction. Noted for her dedicated study of gender and sexuality, Pérez also demonstrates a commitment to feminist studies, Chicana studies, and especially Latinx LGBTQ communities. Her complex interlaced approach brings together a powerful critique of the problems within the historical discipline and redirects her concerns for the erasures of Chicana lesbians from the historical record and cultural archive by writing novels that revise the past. Furthermore, in her theoretical work, particularly her groundbreaking book, The Decolonial Imaginary: Writing Chicanas Back into History (1999), Pérez revises the representation of Chicanas by revisiting the history of colonialism and devising a theoretical approach that aims to recast Chicana subjectivity. In her theory of the “decolonial imaginary,” she identifies a set of conditions that presumptively casts Chicanas in a subservient or sexualized role that cannot be easily undone without changing the representations of these conditions, specifically the representations of conquest and colonialism. Likewise, Pérez’s effort to rework the colonial past is performed by her inclusion of Chicanas and Chicana lesbians in her literary works. Her first book of fiction, the novel Gulf Dreams (1996), is unique for its portrayal of sexual violence, racial ambivalences, and romantic love. In her second book, the historical novel Forgetting the Alamo, or Blood Memory (2009), she explores deep same-sex love, complex political histories revolving around differential regard for the lives of women and people of color, and gritty depictions of hardship, loss, historical memory, and the complexities of forgiveness. In the larger scope of Chicana/o literature, Pérez bears no claim to idealizing Chicana/o culture; rather she harmonizes the good with the bad and lets the reader decide what is real. Trained as a historian, Emma Pérez understands that changing the historical past requires reassessing reality, and her work accomplishes this goal.
The presence of coloniality is critical for the explication, and reflection, on racialized and subalternized relations of dominance/subordination. The Spanish invasion in 1492 was the first marker and constitutive element of modernity. In 1992 Peruvian sociologist Anibal Quijano introduced the category of coloniality of power, further developed by Walter Mignolo. This epistemic change not only constituted a pattern of continual production of racialized identities and an unequal hierarchy whereby European identities and knowledge were considered superior to all others in what amounted to a caste system but also generated mechanisms of social domination that preserved this social classification into the present. Coloniality is not limited to the colonial period, which ended for most of Latin America in the first quarter of the 19th century. Despite political independence from Spain or Portugal, the pattern elaborated by Quijano continues to our day, structuring processes of racialization, subalternization, and knowledge production. This is the reason Mignolo labels it a “matrix of power.”
Central American–American literature represents the nature of colonialized violence suffered by U.S. Central Americans and constitutes racialized and subalternized migrants as a form of interpellating agency deployed in the name of the excluded subjects. Novelist Mario Bencastro’s Odyssey to the North, Sandra Benítez’s Bitter Grounds, Francisco Goldman’s The Divine Husband, and the EpiCentro poets mobilize in different fashions and directions the inner contradictions of identitary and decolonial issues in reaction to colonialized perceptions of textual subjectivities—or their traces—manifested in their respective discursive practices. These phenomena cannot be understood outside of the historical flux generated by the coloniality of power.
Stephen Hong Sohn
Asian American speculative fiction is an admittedly unwieldy literary category. This body of literature includes such diverse works as Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange, Wesley Chu’s Time Salvager, and S.P. Somtow’s Darker Angels. Central to analyzing such works is identifying their key genre conventions, which primarily involve reality-defying elements or tropes employed in fictional worlds. Chu’s Time Salvager, for instance, envisions a future temporality in which individuals can use time travel technologies. Three generic figures common in Asian American speculative fiction—the ghost, the vampire, and the cyborg, respectively—are depicted in Lan Samantha Chang’s Hunger, Julie Kagawa’s The Immortal Rules, and Ken Liu’s “The Regular.” Crucial to understanding Asian American speculative fiction is the need to scrutinize the manner by which the protagonists of these fictions attain incredible power through supernatural abilities. The influence these characters hold also comes with the burden of responsibility, leaving them to wrestle with ambivalence and moral choices to protect or to harm, to recognize or to dismiss. In this sense, Asian American speculative fiction can be fruitfully analyzed through the social justice paradigms that have long dominated critical and scholarly conversations.
There is something coolly inaccessible about the fiction—and the person—of Don DeLillo. By any measure—productivity, longevity, influence, scope—a dominant novelist of his era, DeLillo nevertheless resists the expectations of celebrity: public appearances, promotional Web sites, prestigious university appointments, conference readings, talk-show blitzes; even his interviews can be dense and forbidding. In an era of tell-all glamour, what little DeLillo, born on 20 November 1936, has offered of his autobiography rarely figures in his fiction—his Italian immigrant family; his love of the street life of his native Bronx; his fascination with the ritual theater of his Catholicism; his indifference toward his own formal education (he “slept through” high school and “didn't study much of anything” while earning a 1958 communication arts degree from Fordham); his initial experience of serious literature—Faulkner and then gloriously Joyce—while, at age eighteen, killing time as a summer playground attendant; his five-year stint as copywriter for the Manhattan advertising firm of Ogilvie and Mather; his 1964 decision to quit, not to write (although he had published two stories) but rather to abandon work he found unfulfilling; his long struggle to write his first novel, which would not be published until his mid-thirties. Since then he has maintained a spectacularly low-key lifestyle. Since his marriage in 1975 to designer Barbara Bennett, DeLillo has lived in the suburbs of New York City and traveled some, but mostly he has written, a dozen novels as well as a scattering of essays, stories, and experimental plays.
Kathryn W. Kemp
The two-volume work Democracy in America (1835, 1840) grew out of a nine-month trip to the United States early in the career of a distinguished French statesman and writer, Alexis de Tocqueville. Convinced that democracy in some form would soon replace the old authoritarian systems of administration, he saw the United States as a case study of this new form of government. He wrote for a French audience, which he hoped would draw useful lessons from his observations of Jacksonian America. Tocqueville's book has become a standard resource for students of American history and government and has inspired many other works, including a documentary television series.
The poet known to readers as H.D. is a kind of constellation that has not yet really been brought into focus. There is the H.D. of imagism, the short-lived movement of the mid-1910s that cast a long shadow over American poetry; this H.D. is chiefly a poet of craft and technique. There is the H.D. who belongs to the history of women's writing, and in whom feminist literary scholars have taken an interest quite distinct from the interest that attaches to her imagist phase. There is the H.D. whom contemporary literary critics—in particular, the “queer theorists”—might regard as a kind of pioneer in the struggle against hetero-normative sexuality. There is H.D., the author of experimental fictions in the high modernist mode. There is H.D., the disciple and analysand of, and also commentator on, Sigmund Freud. There is, too, an H.D. who properly belongs to the history of film: she edited the influential journal of film criticism in which Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein's famous essays on montage first appeared; she wrote essays on film theory; and she acted alongside Paul Robeson in an experimental silent film, Borderlands (1930). And there is H.D., author of an unprecedented kind of epic poem, Helen in Egypt (1961), into which passed her imagist sense of concision and craft, her lifelong fascination with the classical world, and her many experiments with narrative. She is the sort of writer often described as a “poet's poet,” which is to say—among other things—a poet with relatively few readers. And yet her place in the history of twentieth-century American literature has never been in doubt, nor is it ever likely to be.
James Dickey liked to conceive of his life as a series of cyclical journeys in which he departed from the securities and prohibitions of home, struggled through trials in order to penetrate to a source of power, and then returned home to deliver the fruits of his quest to others. The main catalyst for this conception was his journey to the Philippines and Japan during World War II. He once observed: “I remember almost every day that I was in the war, and I think almost everything that I've done is influenced, at least to some degree, either directly or indirectly, most probably directly, by the fact that I was in the war” (Hart, p. 65). Before his service in the Army Air Corps, Dickey had been a mediocre student whose main interests were dating southern girls, running the high hurdles on the track team, and playing football. The war shook him out of his intellectual torpor, dispelled many of the traditional values he had acquired from his affluent parents in Atlanta, and convinced him to pursue the vocation of a writer. When he returned to the United States from the Pacific, he transferred from Clemson Agriculture and Military College, where he had been an engineering cadet for a semester, and enrolled in Vanderbilt University, a center of the Southern Literary Renaissance, where he soon earned a reputation as the best poet and one of the best literature students on campus. The metamorphosis caused by the war became the seed narrative in most of Dickey's major works.
A clear sign of literary malady: The experienced reader begins to take Emily Dickinson for granted, failing to feel the insoluble, salutary shock of her poetry. And the cure for this malady: try paraphrasing any poem by Dickinson. If you do, you'll quickly learn that you will probably never be able to satisfactorily summarize—or maybe even fully understand—Dickinson's recondite, elated originality. The writing will faithfully resist any effort to possess it completely; her poetry belongs to Dickinson only. Marvelously, though, many readers have been able to borrow it, admire it, and glean wisdom from the lapidary brio of the author. Although writing in literary seclusion in western Massachusetts during the mid to late nineteenth century, Dickinson invented a poetry both unprecedented in form and long-lasting in impact. She wrote as if to bid farewell to the Victorians and to urge on the modernists.
Joan Didion is an accomplished writer of essays, political journalism, and novels. A distinctive literary voice, she is known for her subjective yet unsentimental essays, her harrowing novels, and her astute political criticism.
Among the most distinctive forms of American writing is the meditative essay, as initiated by the nineteenth-century authors Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Annie Dillard is a more recent practitioner of this tradition. Often relying on the natural world as a backdrop for her philosophical discourse, Dillard explodes the minutiae of science and environment into broad, spiritual speculation. Dillard was born on 30 April 1945, the eldest of three daughters in a well-off Pittsburgh family. By her own account, her parents were hilarious individualists, as engrossed with the details of life as Dillard would become. They taught her the value of a good joke and the importance of self-reliance. Her father introduced her to On the Road by Jack Kerouac, whose autobiographical style greatly informed Dillard's later methods of writing. Despite their maverick personalities, Dillard's parents were of an affluent, country-club set that disturbed Dillard in her teens. She began to rebel, at one point abandoning her Presbyterian roots and thus beginning a lifelong inquiry into the diversity and relevance of theology.