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Stafford, Jean  

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.


Stafford, William  

Robin Kemp

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.


Stegner, Wallace  

Lani Wolf

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.


Steinbeck, John  

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.


Stein, Gertrude  

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.


Stern, Gerald  

Kimberly Lewis

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).


Stevenson, Anne  

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.


Stevens, Wallace  

James Longenbach

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


Stone, Robert  

Cates Baldridge

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.


Stowe, Harriet Beecher  

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.


Strand, Mark  

Andrew Zawacki

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.


Strategic Hybridity in Early Chinese and Japanese American Literature  

Floyd Cheung

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.



Daniel Hartley

Modern style emerged from the ruins of the premodern “separation of styles” (high, middle, and low). Whereas, previously, only the nobility could be represented in the high style and commoners in the low, modern style harbors a democratic, generic potential: in principle, anyone can write about anything in any way he or she likes. The history of modern style, as a central critical and compositional principle, is thus deeply imbricated with modern democracy and capitalist modernity. It has a unique relationship to the history of realism, which was itself premised upon the demise of the separation of styles. Many critics (e.g., Erich Auerbach, Roland Barthes, and Fredric Jameson) stress the way in which, as a concept and linguistic practice, style connects the body to a generic, Utopian potential of the everyday. Feminist critics, such as Hélène Cixous and Luce Irigaray, have pursued style’s relationship to the body to delineate a specifically feminine mode of writing [écriture féminine]. Marxist critics, such as Raymond Williams, have argued that style should be understood as a linguistic mode of social relationship. The corollary is that social contradictions are experienced by writers as problems of style (e.g., in Thomas Hardy: how to unite the “educated” style of the urban ruling class with the “customary” style of the rural working class into a single artistic whole). Other critics (e.g., Franco Moretti, Roberto Schwarz) have extended this logic to the scale of “world literature:” they identify stylistic discontinuity as a feature of peripheral world literature that seeks to imitate European realist forms; it is caused by a mismatch between prevailing modes of production and dominant ideologies at the core and the (semi-)periphery of the capitalist world-system. Free indirect style, which merges narrator and character into a new, third voice, has been identified as a key feature of prose fiction in the world-systemic core—the symbolic embodiment of modern, bourgeois forms of power (an “impersonal intimacy”). Finally, “late style”—a concept associated with Theodor W. Adorno and Edward W. Said—has become an influential way of characterizing works of artistic maturity written as the author approaches old age and death (though it is certainly not limited to biological maturity). It is a style in which form and subjectivity become torn from one another, the latter freeing itself only then to subtract itself (rather than “express” itself). Style thus hovers between the impersonality of the demos and the grave.


Styron, William  

Paul Sullivan

William Styron's best writing resonates with an emotional honesty that strives for a greater, universal truth. In his fiction Styron has relied on memories of his Virginia childhood and early adult life in New York City and Europe as starting points for broader novels. With his nonfiction, he has been more engaged in the political and social events of his time. Regardless of the form, his writing has always attracted attention—and often controversy.



Ian Balfour

The sublime as an aesthetic category has an extraordinarily discontinuous history in Western criticism and theory, though the phenomena it points to in art and nature are without historical limit, or virtually so. The sublime as a concept and phenomenon is harder to define than many aesthetic concepts, partly because of its content and partly because of the absence of a definition in the first great surviving text on the subject, Longinus’s On the Sublime. The sublime is inflected differently in the major theorists: in Longinus it produces ecstasy or transport in the reader or listener; in Burke its main ingredient is terror (but supplemented by infinity and obscurity); and in Kant’s bifurcated system of the mathematical and dynamic sublime, the former entails a cognitive overload, a breakdown of the imagination, and the ability to represent, whereas in the latter, the subject, after first being threatened, virtually, by powerful nature outside her or him, turns inward to discover a power of reason able to think beyond the realm of the senses. Many theorists testify to the effect of transcendence or exaltation of the self on the far side of a disturbing, disorienting experience that at least momentarily suspends or even annihilates the self. A great deal in the theoretical-critical texts turns on the force of singularly impressive examples, which may or may not exceed the designs of the theoretical axioms they are meant to exemplify. Examples of sublimity are by no means limited to nature and art but spill over into numerous domains of cultural and social life. The singular force of the individual examples, it is argued, nonetheless tends to work out similarly in certain genres conducive to the sublime (epic, tragedy) but somewhat differently from one genre to another. The heyday of the theory and critical engagement with the sublime lasts, in Western Europe and a little beyond, from the late 17th century to the early 19th century. But it does not simply go away, with sublime aesthetic production and critical reflection on the sublime present in the likes of Baudelaire, Nietzsche, and—to Adorno’s mind—in the art of modernism generally, in its critical swerve from the canons of what had counted as beauty. The sublime flourished as a topic in theory of criticism of the poststructuralist era, in figures such as Lyotard and Paul de Man but also in Fredric Jameson’s analysis of the cultural logic of late capitalism. The then current drive to critique the principle and some protocols of representation found an almost tailor-made topic in Enlightenment and Romantic theory of the sublime where, within philosophy, representation had been rendered problematic in robust fashion.



Shiamin Kwa

Thinking about surface and its historiography in the early 21st century is a way of thinking about ways of seeing in the world, and how people define themselves in relation to the things around them. From literary texts to the decorative arts, from graphic narratives to digital stories, and from film to the textile arts, the ways of reading those texts frequently raise questions about interactions with surfaces. Theories of surface have been engaged in many ways since their invocation by French theorists in the final decades of the twentieth century. They have a steady but by no means identical presence in the field of visual studies, history of architecture, and film studies; they have found an application in discussions of race and identity; they have enjoyed an early 21st century turn in the spotlight under the auspices of a broadly defined call for a “surface reading.” This critical move defines surface as worthy of scrutiny in its own right, rather than as something that needs to be “seen through,” and makes its most profound claims less by reactivating attention to reading surfaces, which arguably has been done all along, but by a shifting away from a model of interpretation that makes claims for authoritative symptomatic readings by an all-knowing interpreter.


Swenson, May  

Joy Arbor

May Swenson was born on 28 May 1913 in Logan, Utah, to Dan and Margaret (Helberg) Swenson. She attended Utah State Agricultural College, not far from her home; her father was an assistant in the college's Woodwork Department. The eldest of a large Mormon family, she became skeptical of her faith while in college.


Sympathy and Empathy  

Rae Greiner

Sympathy and empathy are complex and entwined concepts with philosophical and scientific roots relating to issues in ethics, aesthetics, psychology, biology, and neuroscience. For some, the two concepts are indistinguishable, the two terms interchangeable, but each has a unique history as well as qualities that make both concepts distinct. Although each is associated with feeling, especially the capacity to feel with others or to imaginatively put oneself “in their shoes,” the concepts’ sometimes shared, sometimes divergent histories reveal more complicated origins, as well as vexed and ongoing relations to feeling and emotion and to the ethical value of emotional sharing. Though empathy regularly is considered the more advanced and egalitarian of the two, it shares with sympathy a controversial role in historical debates regarding questions of an inborn or divine moral sense, prosocial behavior and the development of human communities, the relation of sensation to unconscious mental processes, brain matter, and neurons, and animal/human difference. In literary criticism, sympathy and empathy have been key components of aesthetic movements such as sentimentalism, realism, and modernism, and of literary techniques like free indirect discourse (FID), which are thought (by some) to enhance readerly intimacy and closeness to novelistic characters and perspectives. Both concepts have also received their fair share of suspicion, as the capacity to feel, or imagine feeling, the emotions of others remains a controversial basis for ethics.


Tarkington, Booth  

Charles Robert Baker

The novels of Booth Tarkington were read by millions of Americans around the turn of the twentieth century, though today his name is known mostly to historians of American literature and to those of the oldest generation whose youthful reading included Tarkington's delightful series of the boyhood adventures of Penrod. His best-known adult novel, The Magnificent Ambersons (1918), has found readers through the decades as well.


Tate, Allen  

Edward Halsey Foster

Allen Tate—born John Orley Allen Tate on 19 November 1899 in Winchester, a rural town in Kentucky—was descended from old southern stock. A defender of the agrarian South against the urban, industrialized North, he was best known as a poet and a novelist, but he was also a distinguished editor, teacher, and critic, whose contributions to the New Criticism helped to make it the dominant American critical discourse at midcentury. Tate's father was a businessman whose turbulent character was matched by his extravagant financial speculations. Tate's mother, in contrast, was a Virginia aristocrat, the descendent of genteel patrician families. The parents were very different temperamentally, and during Tate's childhood they separated. Tate's mother took charge of her shy, intellectually inclined son, even moving with him to college and keeping house there for him.