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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.
Twenty-first-century understandings of how disability figures in Asian American literature and the representation of Asian American individuals have greatly evolved. Earlier, highly pejorative characterizations associated with the 19th-century “Oriental” or “yellow peril” as a carrier of disease whose body needed to be quarantined and excluded. Later, the model minority myth typecast Asian Americans as having extreme intellectual abilities to the point of freakishness. Disability studies asserts that having an “imperfect” disabled body is nothing to hide and questions beliefs in norms of behavior and experience. Focusing on disability in Asian American literature opens a new path to reflect on Asian American identity and experience in ways that break away from the racial types and narrative trajectories of immigrant success that have often been seen as defining what it is to be Asian American. Integrating a disability studies perspective into Asian American studies provides a compelling and necessary means of critiquing stereotypes such as the model minority myth, as well as to reread many classic texts of Asian American literature with attentiveness to difference, impairment, and loss.
Bernadine Marie Hernández
Since the early 21st century, there has been an emergence of scholarship and theorizing of Latina sexualities within the social sciences, humanities, and interdisciplinary programs, such as Chicanx studies, Latinx studies, American studies, and feminist studies. However, cultural production has long been interrogating the way that Latina sexuality has been represented, as well as pathologized and racialized. While there is a plethora of information regarding sexuality of women in Latin America, this article deals with the discursive and material construction of Latina sexuality for US Latinas and Chicanas who were born in the United States or migrated to the United States. At the foundation, sexuality and sexuality studies has been a subcategory of LGBT studies and later queer theory. Mainly used as a signifier for identity categories, sexuality is predicated on sexual preference and romantic desires; however, it is also used to refer to identities that exceed heteronormative, homosexual, bisexual, or asexual identities. However, Latina sexuality intersects with not only race but also modes of power and control that situate it within a larger context of technologies of power. Sexuality is tied to larger power structures; therefore, Latina sexuality takes sex and sexuality out of the private sphere to help us understand the intersectional relations of race, gender, and class.
Gloria Anzaldúa and Cherrie Moraga brought together feminists of color to explore sexuality, gender, and class in their foundational collection This Bridge Called My Back: Writings By Radical Women of Color (1981) and Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1987) in the context of interlocking and co-constitutive systems of oppression. Inspired by this collection of women of color writing, tatiana de la tierra, a Latina lesbian born in Colombia, published the first international Latina lesbian magazine: Esto no tiene nombre. It was distributed in the United States and Latin American and explored excessive Latina sexuality by theorizing eroticism; the magazine challenged the “Latina lesbian” stereotype. The Sexuality of Latinas (1993), edited by Norma Alarcón, Ana Castillo, and Cherríe Moraga, looks at the self-examination of five hundred years of hidden sexuality and sexual violence. In “Sexuality and Discourse: Notes From a Chicana Survivor” in Chicana Lesbians: The Girls Our Mothers Warned Us About (1991), Emma Pérez takes sexuality as the marker of many of the problems Chicanas face. The racism and sexism Chicanas face is not the only problem, however: the racism Chicanos face adds layers of struggle to an already hostile situation. She utilizes a “conquest triangle” that builds off the Oedipus complex but adds that in addition to the white father (the colonizer) and the India mother who is imbricated in the violence of miscegenation, there is a castrated mestizo Chicano son who will never be able to be as superior as the white man. In 1987, Juanita Diaz-Coto edited and published one of the first edited collections through the Latina Lesbian History Project on Latina sexuality titled Compañeras: Latina Lesbians: An Anthology, which she published under her pseudonym Juanita Ramos. This collection featured oral histories, essays, poetry, short stories, and art by and about Latina lesbians in both Spanish and English, featuring the work of forty-seven women born in ten different Latin American countries that addressed Latina sexuality and lesbianism and also confronted the ways that culture and migration informed the enunciation of sexuality for Latinas.
The foundational and early writings of Latina and Chicana feminists laid the groundwork for our ability to contemplate and discuss Latina sexuality as racialized, gendered, transnational, and diasporic sexualities. It also sets the stage to think historically about Latinas and their bodies in relations to cultural representation, borders and migration, the family, reproductive health, and transness.
Patrick A. Smith
E. L. Doctorow was born on 6 January 1931 in the Bronx, New York, the second child of David and Rose Doctorow. His parents, both second-generation Russian-Jewish immigrants, and his grandfather, who had settled in New York City from Russia, instilled in him a passion for books, intellectual curiosity, and an appreciation for history—no doubt punctuated by his having lived through the worst years of the Great Depression—that would influence him in his career as a writer.
Monica F. Cohen
When Victorian writers talked about the home, they invoked a range of contested ideas and complex affects about the material and imagined space where self and society meet. Emerging as a fully developed ideology by the middle of the 19th century, domesticity organized beliefs about the family, gender identity, sexuality, subject formation, socioeconomic class, work, civilization, and empire. As an ideology, Victorian domesticity pivots on two figures: the figure of separate spheres and the figure of the domestic woman. The binary logic of separate spheres identifies a private domain where femininity, leisure, feeling, and an ethic of care coalesce in opposition to a public domain where masculinity, work, industry, endurance, and an ethic of achievement preside. Governing the private sphere, the idealized middle-class domestic woman exercises a moral authority that derives from her naturally self-sacrificial spirit, a socioeconomic authority in managing a labor-intensive household, and a creative authority in using the materials of private life representing the family’s social status as a matter of financial and ethical respectability. In this sense, the home provided a rhetoric and narrative form for mapping an individual’s accommodation of social categories and economic forces. For better or worse, the image of the family hearth’s comfort, coziness and good cheer—its status as a haven in a heartless world—presided over a large swath of the Victorian imagination despite ripped patches that exposed domestic violence, sexual transgression, gender subordination, and socioeconomic coercion. For every sentimental Dickensian Christmas feast displaying a repentant miser breaking bread with a disabled waif, there were equally popular stories in which children are beaten, wives incarcerated, and households blighted by industrial suffering and bureaucratic indifference. Victorian domesticity thus relied on both mythologizing and demythologizing energies.
Lorgia García Peña
The formation of Dominican identity has been linked to the historical nexus that placed Dominicans in relationship to Haiti, Spain, and the United States. The foundational literature of the 19th century sought to shape national identity as emerging from racial hybridity through notions of mestizaje that obscured Dominican African roots. In the early to mid-20th century, at the hands of the Trujillo intelligentsia, these myths shaped legal, educational, and military structures, leading to violence and disenfranchisement. Since the death of Trujillo in 1961, Dominican writers, artists, and scholars have been articulating other ways of being Dominican that include Afro-Dominican episteme and accounts for the experiences of colonialisms, bordering, and diasporic movements. These articulations of dominicanidad have led to a vibrant, exciting, and incredibly diverse literary production at home and abroad.
Robert M. Dowling
John Roderigo Dos Passos was a major twentieth-century American novelist and self-styled “chronicler” of the American scene. He is best known for his contributions to the literary avant-garde of the 1920s and 1930s, most notably Three Soldiers (1921), Manhattan Transfer (1925), and the U.S.A. trilogy—The 42nd Parallel (1930), 1919 (1932), and The Big Money (1936). The most influential American reviewers of the early to mid-twentieth century, Edmund Wilson, Malcolm Cowley, and Granville Hicks, all welcomed Dos Passos as a foremost contributor to the modern American tradition. Dos Passos combined the artistic practices of literary naturalism and modernism and, significantly, foresaw many of the literary agendas that dominated postmodern writing in the late twentieth century. Just before the eruption of World War II, Dos Passos effected a notorious shift in his political views from radical to reactionary and subsequently alienated many friends and critics on the Left. By the 1950s—a period in which literary stature depended largely on the extent to which an author challenged, rather than affirmed, the conservative establishment—Dos Passos had fallen so low in the eyes of the literary elite that James T. Farrell ironically remarked, “Dos Passos's liberalism has so decayed that his lifetime of work is not as important as two short stories and a wooden novel by Lionel Trilling.” Trilling's single novel, The Middle of the Journey (1947), is no longer widely read, and Dos Passos's work is—but definitely not his lifetime's worth.