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Early Japanese American Literature, 1815–1900  

Andrew Way Leong

Early Japanese American literature is not just the sum total of literary works written by the first persons of Japanese descent in the United States. Nor is it just a set of texts where two pre-existing categories of “Japanese” and “American” national literature happened to overlap. Early Japanese American literature is best understood as an ideological terrain, an arena where later, taken-for-granted ideas about the boundaries of identities and literatures known as “Japanese” and “Japanese American” were first constructed. Due to the enduring legacies of single-nation and monolingual approaches to the study of modern literatures, only a handful of scholars have devoted serious comparative attention to the long history and formal breadth of literary production by persons of Japanese descent who traveled to or resided within the continental United States. In linguistic terms, early Japanese American literary production includes works written in Japanese, English, and other languages, such as classical Chinese, German, and Russian. In historical terms, the emergence of early Japanese American literature extends from travel narratives produced by castaways in the 1820s to the publication of full-fledged literary magazines and newspaper sections in the 1890s. In formal terms, early Japanese American literature includes literary forms that readers more familiar with European contexts might associate with early modernity, such as phrasebooks, essays on education, spiritual autobiographies, and diplomatic guides.


Edwards, Jonathan  

Jane Beal

Jonathan Edwards is perhaps bestknown for his sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God (1741). The occasion for it was a Sunday service on 8 July 1741 in a church in Enfield, Connecticut. Edwards reportedly read his message in a level voice, as usual, without gesticulation or outburst. Yet his words had a very powerful effect on the congregation listening to him, members of which were brought to tears, and on a generation of New England readers who received the sermon in published form later that same year. Apparently, the power of his rhetoric was not solely in his delivery, whether spoken or written, but in the strength of his conviction.



Gabriele Rippl

Ekphrasis is a Greek term whose etymological meaning is “to speak out” or “to show in full.” Debates on ekphrasis go back to classical antiquity and Homer’s lines on Hephaestos making Achilles’ shield in Book 18 of the epic The Iliad (8th century bce). Ekphrasis was considered a mode of speaking capable of bringing absent things before the listener’s inner eye by aiming at enargeia, a vivid quality of language producing evidentia (evidence) and rousing emotions through lively, precise, and detailed verbal descriptions. Over the centuries, the term underwent a considerable narrowing-down of its original meaning and eventually, during the Second Sophistic, came to designate the description of works of art. However, ancient ekphrasis, in the broader sense of detailed and lively description, had a rich afterlife throughout the Middle Ages (e.g., in Geoffrey Chaucer), the Renaissance (e.g., in Shakespeare), Neoclassicism (in Joseph Addison’s essays and Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s “Laocoön”), and even into the Romantic Age (e.g., in William Wordsworth and George Gordon Byron). In its narrower sense as verbal representation/evocation of or response to a work of art or visual object, it is a ubiquitous phenomenon in 19th-, 20th-, and 21st-century literature, be it poetry or narrative fiction. Many modernist, postmodernist, and post-postmodernist literary texts are replete with ekphrases, but these ekphrases very often question any mimetic or illusionist aesthetic and no longer exclusively follow the paragonal model: instead of competing with one another, ekphrastic word-image configurations are more adequately described as intermedial constellations and collaborations. As a pertinent feature of 20th- and 21st-century poetry and narrative fiction—examples are novels by Julian Barnes, Antonia Susan Byatt, Teju Cole, Siri Hustvedt, or Donna Tartt—ekphrasis has also attracted the attention of literary scholars and theoreticians of culture. Due to the many attempts to conceptualize and theorize ekphrasis, any attempt to give a simple definition will not suffice. In the 1980s and 1990s scholars such as Murray Krieger, William John Thomas Mitchell, and James Heffernan theorized ekphrasis: while Krieger saw ekphrasis as a symptom of the semiotic desire for the natural sign and Mitchell discussed ekphrasis within a paragonal framework of socio-cultural power relations, Heffernan defined ekphrasis as the verbal representation of visual representation. Included among the seminal concepts and definitions of ekphrasis in the early 21st century are approaches from phenomenology and cognitive poetics or new reception aesthetics, the digital humanities, postcolonial and transcultural studies, and the environmental humanities. By going beyond questions of representation that have dominated ekphrastic criticism for a long time, functions of ekphrasis, in particular socio-cultural and ethical functions, have gained new attention.


Eliot, T. S.  

Philip Hobsbaum

Thomas Stearns Eliot was born on 26 September 1888 in St. Louis. The Eliots originally hailed from Somerset in England and settled in America in the late seventeenth century. They began as a Boston family, but Eliot's grandfather, William Greenleaf Eliot, settled in Missouri in 1834 to preach as a Unitarian minister, dying the year before Eliot was born. Eliot's father, Henry Ware Eliot, a prosperous manufacturer of bricks, was in his forties by the time his wife, Charlotte, gave birth to their last child, T. S. Eliot, who had four elder sisters and a brother.


Elkin, Stanley  

David Ryan

The writer Stanley Elkin is perhaps known best for his prodigious ear for comedy, although his work is equally admired for its virtuosic prose: its legato phrasing and staccato rhythms, its unique mixture of high and low idioms, its mastery over extending metaphors, and its singular ability to push language to extremes rarely matched in American literature. Born to Phil Elkin and Zelda Feldman in Brooklyn, New York, on 11 May 1930, he spent most of his childhood in Chicago, Illinois, eventually studying English at the University of Illinois, where he earned his bachelor's degree in 1952, a master's degree in 1953, and a doctorate in 1961. In 1960 Elkin became an instructor in English at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, where he would remain for the rest of his life, becoming assistant professor in 1962, associate professor in 1966, and full professor in 1969. In 1983 Elkin was appointed Merle Kling Professor of Modern Letters at the university. Diagnosed in 1972 with multiple sclerosis, Elkin remained remarkably prolific despite his illness, writing ten novels, two collections of novellas, a collection of essays, and three scripts in his lifetime. He received numerous awards, including the Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Foundation Award in 1980 for his novel The Living End (1979). The Dick Gibson Show (1971), Searches and Seizures (1973), and The MacGuffin (1991) were nominated for the National Book Award in fiction. Searches and Seizures received the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in 1974. The 1976 film Alex and the Gypsy was based on one of the novellas contained in Searches and Seizures. He was awarded two National Book Critics Circle Awards in fiction: the first came in 1982 for his novel George Mills (1982), about a one-thousand-year lineage of cursed losers all named George Mills, and the second in 1995, posthumously, for Mrs. Ted Bliss (1995), a novel published that year about a widow at an elderly retirement village who finds herself involved with a drug ring.


Ellison, Ralph  

William R. Nash

Although he published relatively little (several stories, two collections of essays, some prefaces, and one novel) in his lifetime, Ralph Ellison indisputably ranks among the most important writers of the twentieth century. His National Book Award–winning novel, Invisible Man (1952), is a masterpiece of form and content that set a standard by which all subsequent American philosophical novels have been judged. An African American who believed firmly in integration, Ellison created in Invisible Man a portrait of a black man who resolves his identity crisis by recognizing and embracing his link to American society, even as he acknowledges the injustice that white America has done him and all his fellow blacks. Because of his integrationist views, Ellison often appeared out of step with prevailing currents of the African-American literary canon, especially in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the architects of the Black Aesthetic derided him as an irrelevant Uncle Tom. With the rise of multiculturalism and the reassessment of definitions of identity and race in the 1980s and 1990s, however, Ellison regained an unchallenged position of prominence in American letters. Regardless of whether his popularity was waxing or waning, Ellison never wavered from his intellectual course, always arguing that blacks were integral to any true sense of American identity and that one could not sever the ties that bind black and white culture in America. In many ways a prophet, he was among the clearest observers of life in twentieth-century America, where race was central to virtually all discussions of personal and national identity.


Emerson, Ralph Waldo  

Sheldon W. Liebman

By 1860, the United States hadachieved what few Europeans and even fewer Americans of an earlier generation would have thought possible: a level of literary excellence so surprising that it took more than half a century to acknowledge it. By that year, half a dozen writers—Poe, Hawthorne, Emerson, Melville, Thoreau, and Whitman—had written such an astonishing number of important works that the preceding decade or so has come to be called the American Renaissance. However, at that point in the nineteenth century, Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882) was the only one of these writers who had attained a degree of popularity commensurate with his later literary reputation. Even after the 1860s, his fame continued to grow, prompting a dozen or so memoirs, biographies, and studies between the time of his death and the revival of attention that was accorded the aforementioned writers shortly after World War I. He was also known widely in Europe, especially in England, where he was lauded by the most important members of the literary establishment: the essayist Thomas Carlyle, the poet-critic Matthew Arnold, and the novelist George Eliot


Environments in Western American Literature  

Susan Kollin

Western American literature is a diverse body of writing that documents human responses to the ecological changes that have reshaped the region over the years. The literature includes narratives of contact and encounter, nonfiction nature essays, borderlands literature, popular Westerns, hard-boiled detective narratives, Dust Bowl novels, eco-memoirs, climate change fiction, and other genres. At a time when the West faces a number of environmental crises, a survey of the region provides insights into how we arrived at this point by addressing key moments in the environmental past, including struggles over land use, conflicts over resources, the historical meanings of eco-disaster, and efforts at finding solutions to these problems. In settler colonial imaginaries, the region appears as a space of promise and possibility. It offers a retreat from a hyper-modernizing world and serves as a bulwark against changes taking place elsewhere. In this way, the region is also a shifting terrain associated with the nation’s moving frontiers and contact zones, as Europeans continually pushed beyond the spaces of their previous settlements. Before the West was called the West, however, it was home to hundreds of tribal groups who did not configure the land through this geographical lens. Likewise, for some Hispanics, it was known as Aztlán, the mythic land of the ancient Aztecs, and also el Norte. Beginning in the mid-19th century, Chinese immigrants called the area in what is present-day California “gold mountain,” while from 1733 to 1867, parts of the West from Alaska to California were recognized as “Russian America.” As a place that calls forth diverse memories about encounters and conflicts, stories about dispossession and recovery, and dreams of enrichment and tales of going bust, the West remains a contested terrain whose literature carries traces of the economies and ecologies of the people who have made it their home.


Erdrich, Louise  

Amanda Fields

Louise Erdrich was born in LittleFalls, Minnesota, in 1954, the eldest of seven children raised in Wahpeton, North Dakota, not far from the Turtle Mountain Reservation, where their mother was born. Her parents, of German-American and Ojibwe (Chippewa) descent, taught at the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) school. Erdrich attended Dartmouth College, graduating in 1976, after which she earned her M.A. degree in creative writing at Johns Hopkins University. Since then she has written eight adult novels, one nonfiction book, three children's books, and two poetry collections. She received the National Book Critics Circle Award for her first novel, Love Medicine (1984), and she was a finalist for the National Book Award for The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse (2001). In addition, Erdrich's children's book The Birchbark House (1999), which she illustrated, was a finalist for the National Book Award for young people's literature. She also edited the 1993 edition of The Best American Short Stories


Eugenics, Reproduction, and Asian American Literature  

Asha Nadkarni

Asian American literature has capaciously explored the issues of gender, sexuality, and reproduction that have been so foundational to Asian American racial formation. It has likewise engaged, directly or indirectly, with “eugenics,” a pseudoscience by which nation states sought to improve their populations through managing reproduction. Eugenics, a term coined by Charles Darwin’s cousin Sir Francis Galton in 1883, spans the late 19th to the early 21st centuries, where it continues in the form of population control and the “new” eugenics of genetic and reproductive technologies. In some national sites eugenics was aligned with feminist movements for birth control, whereas in others, such as the United States, they were largely opposed. Nonetheless, eugenic feminists argued that women’s right reproduction was the necessary mechanism by which women should gain rights within the state; as a formation, moreover, eugenic feminism specifically targeted Asian American women as standing in the way of US feminist advance. As such, one of the key ways eugenics was practiced in the United States in relationship to Asian populations was through immigration policy. The history of Asian exclusion in the United States therefore speaks to a larger eugenic project predicated on the notion that Asian immigrants embodied a public health threat in terms of diseases and deviant sexualities of various sorts. The 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act opened up Asian immigration to the United States and also gave rise to a new set of stereotypes, gendered and otherwise, about Asian Americans as model minorities. Asian American literature has critically mined these issues, with some Asian American literature acceding to eugenics by stressing an assimilationist politics and with other works challenging it by critiquing eugenics’ reproductive logic of purity.


The Expanded Market for Fiction in American Periodicals, 1865–1914  

Charles A. Johanningsmeier

During the years between 1865 and 1914, the United States became a nation of periodical readers as a greatly expanded number of newspapers and magazines—many of which contained fictional sketches, short stories, and novels—became cheaper and much more easily accessible to readers almost everywhere in the country. Many factors contributed to this tremendous expansion. For one thing, various technological innovations, including those related to typesetting, printing, and even paper making, made it possible to greatly increase periodical production while simultaneously lowering production costs. In addition, the rapid and extensive growth of the nation’s railroads, public libraries, and postal service made it much easier for periodicals to reach readers in markets that before the Civil War had not been well served. The overall result was that after the Civil War, many periodicals began to address particular market niches, although there was also a good deal of overlap. Story papers, genteel monthly magazines, women’s magazines, children’s periodicals, regional magazines, religious publications, magazines focused on particular ethnic and racial groups, and a small number of avant-garde magazines had their own distinct viewpoints and published particular types of fiction. The periodicals that reached the greatest number of markets and covered them most thoroughly, however, were local newspapers. By the 1880s, in hopes of attracting women readers to their advertising, many individual papers had begun to regularly publish fiction among their news stories and other features. In mid-decade, S. S. McClure and Irving Bacheller founded their respective newspaper syndicates and began selling fiction to multiple newspapers, in widely scattered markets, for simultaneous publication, thereby exposing a highly heterogeneous national audience of readers to high-quality fiction by prominent authors. Building on this model, a number of low-cost, mass-market monthly magazines, all of which prominently featured fiction by well-known writers, were founded in the 1890s to address this same national readership. The significantly expanded production and distribution of periodicals featuring fiction during the late 19th and early 20th centuries benefited many people but possibly none more so than fiction authors and readers. There were undoubtedly drawbacks for some authors and readers in the development of this new periodical industry and its extensive market reach, but in general the new system aided members of both groups. The higher number of periodicals being produced required a substantial increase in the supply of fiction, which allowed many more people to make their living writing such material. In addition, more readers than ever before could now afford (and have easy access to) a wider selection of the types of fiction they desired.


Faulkner, William  

Charles Hannon and Ethan King

William Faulkner (1897–1962) is widely considered the most important and influential writer from the US South. Although his novels often depict a provincial region of the Deep South (the fictional Yoknapatawpha County), Faulkner is much more than just a Southern writer. He is at once an American writer and a global one. In addition to documenting the fraught racial histories and consequences of colonialism and slavery, his novels address the economic, cultural, and technological transformations of modernity, elaborating the effects that the rapidly changing modern world had on identity, region, history, race, sex, gender, politics, and temporality. Yet, his professed goal as a writer was simple: to get at the truth of “the human heart in conflict with itself.” His unorthodox style and experimental narrative structure, not to mention his deep investment in representing human consciousness, positioned him as a writer of high literary modernism alongside other international writers such as James Joyce. His novels The Sound and the Fury (1929) and As I Lay Dying (1930) attempted to represent individual psychology by experimentally collating different narrative sections through different narrators, each providing aspects of and perspectives on the plot. Although these works did not find success initially, Sanctuary (1931), a novel about violence, sex, and crime, attracted considerable attention not only for its sensational plot, but also for its filmic techniques. After publishing Light in August (1932) and working several stints as a scriptwriter in Hollywood, Faulkner published Absalom, Absalom! (1936), which is thought by many to be his masterpiece. Told and retold from competing perspectives, the story of Thomas Sutpen, the brutal would-be founder of a Southern dynasty, weaves a complex historiographic web, calling into question the ways people create and transmit history and meaning. Absalom retains the artistic and philosophical interests of his earlier novels but shifts from private psychology to the social psychology of the South upon confronting the traumas and racial complexities of its own past and present. After World War II, Faulkner’s work became slightly less experimental, as he continued to sketch out the people and history of Yoknapatawpha County. During this time, he wrote, among other works, three novels about the social and economic rise of a poor white family named Snopes against the backdrop of the decline of the region’s aristocratic families (The Hamlet [1940], The Town [1957], and The Mansion [1959]); a novelized collection of short stories that offered a composite history of a plantation and its descendants (Go Down, Moses [1942]); and an antiracist novel (Intruder in the Dust [1948]). Although he was well known in international literary spheres, Faulkner’s national reputation only cemented itself upon the publication in 1946 of an anthology of his writings, The Portable Faulkner, put together by Malcolm Cowley. In 1950, Faulkner was the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature. He continued writing until his death in 1962, having published nineteen novels and numerous short stories that are still revered today.


Filipino American Literature  

Jeffrey Arellano Cabusao

The large body of Filipino American literature has helped to define and challenge the boundaries of the Asian American literary canon. Documenting various waves of Filipino migration to the United States as a result of US-Philippine colonial relations beginning at the turn of the 20th century, Filipino American literature includes genres such as autobiography, novels, short stories, poetry, creative nonfiction (letter writing and essays), and graphic literature. While Filipino American literature shares common themes with other forms of Asian American literature (exile, displacement, racist exclusion), it is distinguished by its inability to adhere to an immigrant-assimilationist paradigm. Filipino American literature provides insight into the experiences of Filipino colonial and neocolonial subjects who have migrated from the periphery to the center. The unique historical and geopolitical framework of US-Philippine relations recasts themes such as the search for identity and “home,” the seduction of assimilation, and postcolonial resistance to US orientalist discourse. At the heart of the Filipino American writer’s discovery that she is a part of, yet apart from, Asian America is the task of confronting her unique location as informed by the Filipino collective experience of racial/national subordination. For Filipino Americans, racism and US colonial/neocolonial control of the Philippines are inextricably intertwined. Filipino Americans, the second largest Asian American group in the United States and the largest Asian American group in the state of California, constitute a major segment of the Filipino diaspora which is over twelve million—a majority of whom labor as Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs). More than 5000 Filipinos depart the Philippines daily as a strategy for economic survival. US-Philippine neocolonial relations, together with the traumatic global dispersal of Filipinos, function as the political unconscious of contemporary forms of Filipino American literature. These works grapple with heterogeneity, difference, displacement, and diverse strategies of decolonization—from exploring the complexity of Filipino American identity (intersection of race, gender, sexuality, class) to articulating the yearning to belong. For contemporary writers, Filipino American identity and the concept of decolonization are contested terrains—both still in the process of becoming.


Film Theory in the United States and Europe  

Warren Buckland

Since the 1960s, film theory has undergone rapid development as an academic discipline—to such an extent that students new to the subject are quickly overwhelmed by the extensive and complex research published under its rubric. “Film Theory in the United States and Europe” presents a broad overview of guides to and anthologies of film theory, followed by a longer section that presents an historical account of film theory’s development—from classical film theory of the 1930s–1950s (focused around film as an art), the modern (or contemporary) film theory of the 1960s–1970s (premised on semiotics, Marxism, feminism, and psychoanalysis), to current developments, including the New Lacanians and cognitive film theory. The second section ends with a very brief overview of film and/as philosophy. The article covers the key figures and fundamental concepts that have contributed to film theory as an autonomous discipline within the university. These concepts include ontology of film, realism/the reality effect, formalism, adaptation, signification, voyeurism, patriarchy, ideology, mainstream cinema, the avant-garde, suture, the cinematic apparatus, auteur-structuralism, the imaginary, the symbolic, the real, film and emotion, and embodied cognition.


The Fireside Poets  

Paul Johnston

The terms “Fireside Poets” or “Schoolroom Poets” are used to designate a group of five poets—William Cullen Bryant, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Greenleaf Whittier, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and James Russell Lowell—who were popular in America in the latter half of the 19th century. Their poetry was read both around household firesides, often aloud by a mother or father to the gathered family, and in schoolrooms, where they inculcated wisdom and morals and patriotic feeling in America’s young. While they continued to be taught in K-12 classrooms well into the 20th century, they lost their standing first with critics and then with college and university professors with the coming of modernism in the early decades of the 20th century. Despite scattered attempts to restore both their critical reputations and their place in the curriculum, they continue to have only a marginal place in the minds of those most familiar with poetry. The Postmodern/New Historicist challenges to modernism find little of interest in them—Belknap’s A New Literary History of America (2009), for instance barely mentions them—while the neo-Victorian turn toward socially conscious literature, which might be expected to retrieve them, has so far paid them little mind, though some attention has recently been given to their environmental and Native American themes. But this marginalization may more reflect the marginalization of poetry as a whole in American society at large than a true estimate of their worth to common readers. While young students no longer read Longfellow’s Evangeline or Bryant’s “The Chambered Nautilus,” these poets may yet form the vanguard of a restoration of the enjoyment of poetry in America.


Fitzgerald, F. Scott  

Paul Sullivan

The quick rise to fame in the 1920s and the sad, slow fall into drunkenness have often overshadowed F. Scott Fitzgerald's remarkable literary achievements. By age thirty he had written three novels, three volumes of short stories, and a play to become the leading writer of his generation. Two of these works—This Side of Paradise (1920) and The Great Gatsby (1925)—remain iconic American novels, and the latter is considered by many to be the best novel of the twentieth century. Such sudden success would have been difficult for any writer to sustain. In Fitzgerald's case, however, it was the money his success brought him, not the pressure of his reputation, that proved his undoing: with it he could have everything he ever wanted, and he did, in abundance.


The Flores Magón Brothers and Magonismo on the Borderlands  

Luis A. Marentes

Early critics of the Porfirio Díaz regime and editors of the influential newspaper Regeneración, Ricardo and Enrique Flores Magón escaped to the United States in 1904. Here, with Ricardo as the leader and most prolific writer, they founded the Partido Liberal Mexicano (PLM) in 1906 and facilitated oppositional transnational networks of readers, political clubs, and other organizations. From their arrival they were constantly pursued and imprisoned by coordinated Mexican and US law enforcement and private detective agencies, but their cause gained US radical and worker support. With the outbreak of the 1910 Mexican Revolution the PLM splintered, with many members joining Madero’s forces, while the Flores Magón brothers and the PLM nucleus refused to compromise. They had moved beyond a liberal critique of a dictatorship to an anarchist oppositional stance to the state and private property. While not called Magonismo at the time, their ideological and organizational principles left a legacy in both Mexico and the United States greatly associated with the brothers. During World War I, a time of a growing nativist red scare in the United States, they turned from a relative nuisance to a foreign radical threat to US authorities. Ricardo died in Leavenworth federal penitentiary in 1922 and Enrique was deported to Mexico, where he promoted the brothers’ legacy within the postrevolutionary order. Although the PLM leadership opposed the new regime, their 1906 Program inspired much of the 1917 Constitution, and several of their comrades played influential roles in the new regime. In the United States many of the networks and mutual aid initiatives that engaged with the Flores Magón brothers continued to bear fruit, well into the emergence of the Chicana/o Movement.


Folk and Blues Methods in American Literature and Criticism  

Taylor Black

Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in the fall of 2016. News of this drew predictable reactions from fans and naysayers who, each in their own way, either praised or lamented the judgment of the Nobel Committee’s decision to honor a songwriter and performer for a prize traditionally reserved for novelists, poets, and playwrights. Despite arguments about whether or not Dylan’s work is or is not sufficiently literary, his award confirmed something that, at least for Americans, has always been true: that popular music is as important a part of American literature as anything written in between the covers of a book. The folk and blues traditions from which Dylan emerges as a musical artist are also major sources of mythopoetic cultural production operating at the heart of American culture. These are first and foremost oral traditions, offered up in the form of songs and tales (and everything in between) and passed down from person to person, across regions, and through time. A folk and blues approach to American literature is one that understands there are no originary, primary folk and blues texts. It is also one that necessarily envisions a tradition as belonging to the future rather than the past. The American folk and blues method is, in other words, one of invention and adaptation, and its embedded notion of a tradition is something that is always shifting according to practice. Instead of only searching out primary textual examples of form, a folk and blues–influenced literary critical approach is drawn to figures—like Robert Johnson, Nina Simone, Woody Guthrie, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan—who are practitioners of folk and blues traditions. These performers are also experts in and vectors of folk and blues cultures. A prescriptive notion of an artistic tradition is determined based on what it was. In folk and blues, a tradition is what it does. There are also conventionally literary figures who seem to benefit from and understand the musical roots of American literature. Authors such as Edgar Allan Poe, Flannery O’Connor, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Nikki Giovanni, and Toni Morrison incorporate musical elements into their plays, novels, stories, and poems in such a way as to make these otherwise written forms sound American. Folk and blues idioms and aesthetics encircle these authors’ literary works and enhance their meanings. A critical approach to such artists is in search of these meanings. This involves listening and developing a feeling for folk and blues traces in song and prose. The historical echoes of the many folk and blues myths, figures, and refrains that float around the nation’s culture are resurrected, from generation to generation, in its art. In the end, a folk and blues method seeks out these originators and reproducers of folk and blues traditions, insisting on an interpretive practice that is closer to hearing than reading.


Folklore in the United States  

Simon J. Bronner

Folklore in the United States, also known as “American folklore,” consists of traditional knowledge and cultural practices engaged by inhabitants of North America below Canada and above Mexico, states of Alaska and Hawaii, and the territories of American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and U.S. Virgin Islands. Scholarly and public awareness of American folklore primarily in the contiguous United States followed corpuses of myths, folk tales, and epics in Europe during the 18th century. Although European scholars considered much of the American material, especially in ballads and songs, to be derivatives of European traditions brought by settlers, many traditional forms such as tall tales, hero legends, and indigenous native customs in North America appeared distinctive. In Euro-centered folklore theory, the United States purportedly lacked a peasant class and a shared racial and ethnic stock that fostered the production of folklore. Also affecting perceptions of American folklore was the status of the United States as a relatively young nation, compared to the ancient legacies of European, African, and Asian civilizations. Further, geographically the country’s boundaries had moved since its inception to include an assortment of landscapes and peoples. Primary folkloristic attention in 17th-century colonial North America was the otherness of Native American groups and their various myths, songs, and rituals. A major question was whether these myths, songs, and rituals reflected a unified culture diffused from Asia or a varied indigenous tribal lore. In the 19th century, awareness turned to the persistence and adaptation of expressive songs and stories of European settlers, enslaved Africans, and Southwest Mexicans. Narratives and buildings appeared to show signs of transplantation from the Old World, although as the New Republic emerged in the 19th century, intrepid Americanists presented cultural evidence of ethnic mixing that formed New World hybrids such as folk tales, games, and barns. Although folklore in the United States was popularly associated with localized rural practices, folklorists in the 20th century pointed out emergent American traditions that suggested urban, regional, and national identities. Notable examples of distinctive expressions in the United States included the cowboy and railroader song, urban legend, and regional food. The rise of industrialism, transportation technology, and digital communication in the United States raised concerns that commercial popular culture had displaced folklore, but folklorists found that residents maintained folklore as a significant expression of various small-group or subcultural identities. Among the contexts that fostered folkloric production are college campuses, summer camps, and slumber parties. In a society like the United States that lacks collective public rites of passage to enter adulthood, folklore in the form of narrative and ritual in these contexts functioned to guide youths to adult responsibilities. The digital culture of the Internet that became widespread in the 21st century also provided frames for folkloric communication through the conduit of the social network. Although often circulating globally, many combined visual-verbal “memes” and “creepypastas” projected national anxieties. In this period, Americans could be heard and viewed using folklore rhetorically to refer to the veracity and significance of cultural knowledge in an uncertain, rapidly changing, individualistic society. Folklore frequently referred to the expressions of this knowledge in story, song, speech, custom, and craft as meaningful for what it conveyed and enacted about tradition in a socially dispersed, mobile, and future-oriented country.


Food in Asian American Literary and Cultural Studies  

Timothy K. August

The study of food in Asian American literary and cultural studies is particularly concerned with the political significance of rhetorically linking of identity and cuisine. Addressing the ways eating, cooking, and preparing food is represented in a number of literary works and cultural texts, these academic studies investigate how culinary and literary tastes serve as boundaries that define and manage racial expression. Indeed, Asian American studies scholars approach food by taking culinary taste, ethnicity, and racialized labor as co-constitutive, rather than given. For the ways Asian American chefs, cooks, eaters, and food workers engage food, in part, defines their cultural position, both internally and to the US population at large. The performative force of these acts is transformed by writers and artists into personal and sensual histories, that for various gendered, linguistic, and economic reasons would otherwise be silenced. Further, Asian American authors and artists can strategically use an interest in food and cuisine to convey the complexity, multiplicity, and history of Asian American identities and politics. Recently the study of food has been transformed into a critical practice used to combat the challenges Asian Americans endure surrounding the question of authenticity. Stories of culinary ethnic affiliation are marketable, and Frank Chin’s calls of “food pornography” loom whenever a predominately white audience wolfs down overly saccharine stories of Asian American culinary solidarity. But in the same breath the genre is also commercially viable because of its unique ability to communicate culturally specific stories in ways that are appealing to younger generations unfamiliar with, or who want to learn more about, customs, traditions, and historical events. Indeed, these stories are unique insofar as they can provide material histories that explain how socioeconomic institutions reproduce racial inequity; yet remain palatable for those outside the ethnic group, even if these readers are those whose subject position comes under review. This article will serve as a reminder, then, that culinary writing remains a robust literary form that makes use of its market appeal to write about Asian America in a manner that is at once personal, material, and historically potent, while the study of this work recognizes that the rhetoric that becomes attached to culinary acts is a unique, active, and, at times, combative, discursive space. The study of food in Asian American studies has been invested in demonstrating how the rhetorical linking of identity and cuisine is a politically significant act. As the “event of eating” is impossible to describe without using expressive language that catalogues communal values, the ways cultural producers write about cuisine is a unit of analysis that can be compared across national traditions, genres, and media. By historically situating how eating, cooking, and preparing food is represented in a number of literary works, academic studies of Asian Americans, food, and literary culture show how culinary and literary tastes serve as boundaries that define and manage racial expression. The ways Asian American chefs, cooks, eaters, and food workers engage food, in part, defines their cultural position, both internally and to the US population at large. The material force of these performative acts has been refashioned, aesthetically, by writers and artists to counter the persistence of the perpetual foreigner stereotype, as Asian American authors and artists leverage a general interest in their food and cuisine to convey the complexity, multiplicity, and history of Asian American identities and politics. Asian American studies scholars approach food by taking culinary taste, ethnicity, and racialized labor as co-constitutive, rather than given. This approach recognizes a unique and active Asian American culinary space, while opposing pernicious stereotypes that seek to limit the power of alimentary images and Asian American ways of life. In this light, the study of food has been transformed into a critical practice used to combat the challenges Asian Americans endure surrounding the question of authenticity. Faced with articulating the parameters of their community, often without the benefit of institutional power, Asian Americans have turned to food to tell not only “who they are” but to communicate sensual and complex histories that for various gendered, linguistic, and economic reasons would otherwise be silenced.