David S. Reynolds
The richest period in American literary history, the American Renaissance (1830–1865) produced Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, and Emily Dickinson. A distinction is traditionally made between the so-called light or optimistic authors (Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman) and the dark or gloomy ones (Poe, Hawthorne, and Melville), with Emily Dickinson, occupying a middle ground, shifting between the light and the dark. Optimistic themes included nature’s miraculous beauty, spiritual truths behind the physical world, the primacy of the poetic imagination, and the potential divinity of each individual. Pessimistic ones included haunted minds, perverse or criminal impulses, doubt, and ambiguity. Americans probed these themes with special intensity largely because of the nation’s Puritan heritage. Calvinist preachers from John Cotton through Jonathan Edwards had devoted their lives to probing ultimate questions about death, God, and human nature. When this metaphysical impulse collided with 19th-century skepticism and secularism, the result was literature that ranged from the exhilarating to the disquieting, from Emerson’s affirmations to the ambiguities of Hawthorne and Melville. The American authors were strongly influenced by foreign literature, from the ancients to the Romantics. This transnational influence mingled with the styles and idioms of an emerging popular culture that was distinctively American, divided between conventional, sentimental-domestic writings and sensational or grotesquely humorous ones. Integrating themes and images from this variegated popular culture, the major authors also projected in their works the paradoxes of a nation that promoted both individualism and union, that touted freedom but tolerated chattel slavery, that preached equality but witnessed widening class divisions and the oppression of women, blacks, and Native Americans. These oppressed groups produced a literary corpus of their own that was once neglected but that has assumed a significant place in the American canon.
Anthologies, in the broadest sense of collections of independent texts, have always played an important role in preserving and spreading the written word, and collections of short forms, such as proverbs, wise sayings, and epigraphs, have a long history. The literary anthology, however, is of comparatively recent provenance, having come to prominence only during the long 18th century, when the modern concept of “literature” itself emerged. Since that time, it has been a fundamental part of literary culture: not only have literary texts been published in anthologies, but also the genre of the anthology has done much to shape their form and content, and to influence the ways in which they are read and taught, particularly as literary criticism has developed in tandem with the rise of the anthology. The anthology has also stimulated innovation in many periods and places by providing a model for writers of different genres of literature to emulate, and it has been argued that the form of the novel is much indebted to the anthology. This is connected to its close association with the figure of the reader. Furthermore, anthologies have helped to define what literature is, and been crucial to the canonization of texts, authors, and genres, and the consolidation of literary traditions. It is therefore not surprising that they were at the heart of the theoretical and pedagogical debates within literary studies known as the canon wars, which raged during the 1980s and 1990s. In this role, they contributed much to discussions concerning the theories and politics of identity, and to such approaches as feminism and race studies. The connection between the anthology and literary theory extends beyond this, however: theory itself has been subject to widespread anthologization, which has affected its practice and reception; the form of theoretical writing can in certain respects be understood as anthological; and the anthology is an important object of theoretical attention. For instance, given the potential which the digital age holds to transform how texts are disseminated and consumed, and the importance of finding ways to classify and navigate the digital archive, anthology studies is likely to figure largely in the Digital Humanities.
Born in the lower Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa (1942–2004) was a prolific writer, scholar, and activist. Her corpus of work includes essays, books, edited volumes, children’s literature, and fiction/autohistorias. Anzaldúa’s life and writing are at the forefront of critical theory as it interacts with feminism, Latinx literature, spirituality, spiritual activism, queer theory, and expansive ideas of queerness and articulations of alternative, non-Western epistemologies and ontologies. The geographical proximity to the US–Mexican border figures prominently throughout in her work, as does her theorization of metaphorical borderlands and liminal spaces. Her oft-cited text Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza is included in many university courses’ reading lists for its contributions to discourses of hybridity, linguistics, intersectionality, and women of color feminism, among others. Anzaldúa began work on her more well-known theories prior to the publication of Borderlands/La Frontera and continued to develop these theories in her post-Borderlands/La Frontera writing, both published and unpublished. After her sudden death due to complications of diabetes in 2004, Anzaldúa’s literary estate was housed in the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection at the University of Texas, Austin in 2005.
When situating 20th-century Australian poetry within world literary space, critical histories often map it against the Anglo-American tradition and find it wanting. In particular, and despite the strong reputations that poets such as Judith Wright and A. D. Hope continue to enjoy, there is a tendency to regard Australian poetry from the Second World War until the mid-1960s as variously complacent, insular, or retrograde: representative of what John Tranter in his introduction to The New Australian Poetry in 1979 called “a moribund poetic culture.” Certainly, there was a turning away from avant-garde experimentalism in the immediate postwar period (as there was in Britain and the United States), but in Australia, this has been linked to a discrediting of modernism as a result of the Ern Malley hoax. In the Malley “affair,” as Michael Heyward dubbed it, two conservative poets hoodwinked the editor of the avant-garde journal Angry Penguins with a suite of poems written by a wholly invented working-class surrealist. As a result, according to Wright (among others), Australian poets became less adventurous in favor of more traditional forms. On top of this, recent revisionist accounts of the hoax have virtually canonized “Malley” himself as a bona fide modernist and so exacerbated a sense of lost opportunity after the mid-1940s. Yet modernizing impulses may take many forms, and it is an overstatement to suggest that innovation had ceased, or that the poetry of this period was somehow disengaged from the rest of the world or from international literary-political debates. A reassessment shows that Australian poets were keenly engaged with the questions of their time but also dealt with the persistent, unresolved problem of how to become “unprovincial,” overcoming a cultural cringe that now gravitated away from Britain and toward America. In fact, for Australian literature prior to the emergence of Patrick White, poetry, rather than beating a retreat, actually led the way forward. It is time, then, to reconsider the poetry of the postwar era within its own cultural ecologies, acknowledging that Australian poetic modernism, while it remains contested, may also be distinctive.
Clint J. Terrell
Jimmy Santiago Baca is a poet, memoirist, novelist, essayist, filmmaker, and activist who began his literary career in Florence State Prison, Arizona, where he was incarcerated from 1974 to 1979. Baca spent most of his adolescent years between orphanages, stints of homelessness, and time in juvenile detention facilities. He credits learning to read and write in prison as the galvanization of his journey from illiteracy to worldly poet, and his endorsement of literacy as an avenue for individual and community empowerment echoes the black nationalist political thought of Malcolm X. In addition to an overarching theme of literacy, he also maintains a critical awareness to the politics of land ownership. He is of Chicano and Apache descent and often draws on his Indigenous heritage, as well as his prison experience, to critique the colonial settler ideology that associates private property with personal liberty. He is among the gallery of canonized Chicano pinto (prisoner) poets like Ricardo Sánchez and Raúl Salinas who discovered their talents while incarcerated. His poetry and prose are in harmony with prisoner discourse that indicts the state for economic injustices and contextualizes crimes as economic necessity instead of demonizing the individual. Similar to Sánchez and Salinas, Baca’s poetic voice can be both figural and visceral in the same breath. But distinct from these pinto poets, Baca’s poetic introduces a proliferation of personas that go back and forth between a poet who wants to love and make peace and a pugnacious identity that was nurtured by the violence of life in various state institutions, particularly prison. He has published eighteen books that include poetry, memoir, fiction, creative non-fiction, essay collections, and chapbooks. He is an active writer and frequently has additional publications in various stages of production, showing us that the negotiation of his traumatic past is never fully complete. Indeed, he continues to push his boundaries as a writer and challenges any preconceived notions about the literary limits of a prison cultivated intellectual.
The Black Arts movement heralded an important turn in the history of African American literature. Between 1965 and 1975, a loose confederation of African American poets, playwrights, artists, and intellectuals set out to remake the world in their own image. Fed up with what they considered to be the oppressive logic of Euro-American cultural standards, these practitioners theorized and executed a program of black aesthetic self-determination. Contemporary critics followed suit, emphasizing Black Arts’ conjoined investments in nationalist politics and radical poetics—the discursive level at which the movement reshaped African American letters. That remained the dominant way of understanding the movement until the early 21st century, when scholars began examining Black Arts’ publishing networks and institutions, or the material conditions for creative expression. Since then, scholars have shown how the movement’s effort to redefine the black voice was achieved through a concomitant effort to redesign the black text. Their research has pointed to the need for historicizing the politics of design in this moment of literary transformation. For Black Arts publishers, the work of photographers, illustrators, and graphic designers was important not only for bringing specific literary texts to life but for inviting everyday readers into a robust, race-affirming literary culture.
Lourdes Casal (1936–1981), award-winning poet, fiction writer, editor, social psychologist, and activist, contributed to the articulation of multiple interdisciplinary fields including Cuban studies, Latina/o, Latin American, black, and women’s studies, yet her work has not received the attention it deserves because she published different kinds of writing in two languages, each directed to disparate, sometimes conflicting or overlapping, audiences. Alternatively, it could be said that her writing addresses an emergent readership more visible today decades after her death, who see—as she did—the need for dialogue across disciplinary, linguistic, and political divisions. Although Casal has remained in print primarily in Latina/o literary anthologies, Casal made her living as a social scientist and a psychology professor, and she remained engaged with Cuba through editorial work and what scholars call today “publicly engaged scholarship.” Casal’s work exemplifies a transnational attention to both homeland (Cuba) and residence (New York) that has become a distinguishing quality of Latina/o literature.
In 1978, Lourdes Casal defined herself in “Memories of a Black Cuban Childhood” as learning to assert herself as an “Hispanic Black” (p. 62). In an interview with Margaret Randall that prefaces translations of her poetry into English, she defines herself as a “Latina,” and she asserts her claim to speak as a Cuban, despite living outside the island. During the Cold War, this combination of identifiers constituted a paradox, which Casal asserted both against the mainstream of the Cuban exile community and against heteronormative cultural nationalisms. Casal’s bilingualism and skillful diplomacy provided her with the salvoconducto to weave across multiple borders, despite the walls that became almost impossible to scale after the United States broke off diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961 and Cuba began relocating people to the Military Units to Aid Production (UMAP) camps in the mid-1960s. A queer feminist of African, Chinese, and European descent, Casal’s writings and editorial projects map the participation of a diverse group of Cuban exiles in the articulation of latinidad; yet even as she becomes legible in certain ways, she remains largely illegible, precisely because she ventured into uncharted, sometimes life-threatening, border spaces, in step with an unexpected ideological itinerary.
The Chicana/o gang story begins with the literary appearance of the pachuco/a figure in newspapers, rumors, gossip, and the vernacular and folkloric imaginations of Mexicans, Chicanas/os and Anglos from El Paso, Tejas, to East Los Angeles and even Fowler, California, in such works as Beatrice Griffith’s American Me (1948) and José Montoya’s “El Louie” (1972). It evolves to include tell-all stories by former Mexican Mafia and Nuestra Familia members, who detail their disenchantments with these pinto organizations and the very real dangers they represent. Complementing these literary representations of the pachuco and the cholo figure is Hollywood’s cinematic rendering of them in early Chicana/o gang stories, such as Kurt Neuman’s The Ring (1952), and in later films, such as Taylor Hackford’s Blood In, Blood Out (1993). Despite the different narrative forms, all these gang stories, with few exceptions, operate as cautionary tales of lives wasted away in gang membership. Some stories moralize; others simply seek to render a realist representation of gang life without judgment; still others seek to contextualize gang membership in complex ways to subtextually call for addressing the root causes of these “social problems.”
Most of these narratives fall into one of two primary ideological camps. The first is the dominant camp; it seeks to represent gang life as deviant and destructive and functions to socialize Chicanos/as through these cautionary tales. The second is the insurgent camp, in which gang members represent themselves as products of the socioeconomic conditions of the barrio; it therefore relies heavily on understanding gang life as part of a barriocentric vernacular capitalism that renders those stories inherently valuable.
The result of the first camp’s lens is that Chicana/o gang fiction (that which is represented by outsiders and non-gang members) and other fictionalized gang narratives often rely on oversimplified snippets or sketches of life in the barrio. They thus create inauthentic, one-dimensional, or stereotypical representations of Chicana/o gang members and the barrio itself. This leads to the continued barrioization (Villa) of Chicana/o life and Chicanas/os themselves. Most mainstream Hollywood Chicana/o gang films reproduce these logics. In fact, the majority of Hollywood Chicano gang films are set in East Los Angeles or the “greater Eastside”—an area that includes Northeast Los Angeles, Echo Park, Boyle Heights, and the unincorporated area of Los Angeles east of the Los Angeles River. What this means is that East Los Angeles remains Hollywood’s localized “heart of darkness.”
By contrast, the second ideological camp relies on lived experience or what I term a “barrio-biographics” that privileges the barrio as the site of and cultural foundation for the gang member’s narrative and her or his epistemological and ontological formation, creating a “barriological” framework (Villa). These barrio-biographics are the core literary forces that drive authentic Chicana/o gang stories. It should also be noted, however, that pinta/o narratives differ from Chicana/o street gang narratives in that pinta/o narratives foreground the experience of imprisonment and the author’s or main character’s interactions with the carceral state as an added layer of their own epistemological and ontological formations in the barrio.
Chicana/o gang narratives, broadly defined to include pinta/o stories and gang films, operate as cautionary tales but also as tales of coming into a “complete literacy,” as Luis J. Rodríguez would describe it. This complete literacy, in turn, allows Chicana/o gang members to articulate their own lives and choices, and complicates any impulse to moralize or render Chicana/o gang figures simply as “deviants.” Thus these Chicana/o gang figures and their narratives remain part of a history of real, realist, and fictive representations of themselves in the American imagination that provides them the space to contest their own cultural significations. Overall, some narratives celebrate and glamorize the Chicana/o gang figure as a revolutionary in the fight against white supremacy, while others that see this figure as regressive, violent, and, arguably, equally oppressive.
The 19th century featured two opposed yet interconnected historical trends: the growth of a multigenerational and deeply rooted Chinese American community; and the development of the cultural prejudices and fears comprised by the Yellow Peril narrative. Those xenophobic fears produced violence, social and political movements, and legal exclusions, culminating in the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and its many follow-up laws and policies, all designed as much to destroy the existing Chinese American community as to restrict future immigration. But out of that period of exclusion and oppression came some of the first Chinese American literary and cultural works published in both Mandarin/Cantonese and English: the personal and collective poems carved into the walls of the Angel Island Immigration Station by detainees; auto-ethnographic memoirs of Chinese American life and community such as Yung Wing’s My Life in China and America (1909); and the journalistic, autobiographical, and fictional works of Edith Maude Eaton/Sui Sin Far, the first Chinese American professional creative writer. These works both reflect and transcend the realities of the Exclusion era, helping contemporary audiences understand those histories, connect them to later Chinese American writers, and analyze the exclusionary debates and proposals of the early 21st century.
Olga L. Herrera
Sandra Cisneros is one of the best-known and most influential Chicana authors in American literature. Beginning with her first chapbook publication in 1980, the poetry collection Bad Boys, Cisneros has written and published fiction, poetry, and essays with a distinct Chicana feminist consciousness. Drawing on her experience as an only daughter in a large Mexican American family, Cisneros challenges patriarchal hierarchies in Latino/a culture in her work, as well as those grounded in race, class, and gender in US culture more generally. As part of a larger Chicana feminist intellectual critique of gender roles within Latino/a culture, Cisneros’s fiction and poetry examine the social roles for women in marriage and motherhood and identify the archetypal figures of the Virgin of Guadalupe, La Malinche, and La Llorona as sources of oppression within discourse and practice. Innovative in form and language, her work explores the influence of these figures on the lives of women and imagines new, more liberating possibilities in the recuperation of their agency, self-determination, and independence. Cisneros joins this revisionary work with one of her primary thematic concerns, the Chicana writer’s need to break with cultural expectations in order to establish herself and develop her talents. Her innovations in genre and language, such as the hybrid poetic prose used in The House on Mango Street, demonstrate formally the results of a Chicana feminist resistance to class-inflected literary conventions. From the publication of The House on Mango Street (1984) through the poetry collections My Wicked Wicked Ways (1987) and Loose Woman (1994) and the short story collection Woman Hollering Creek (1991), to the publication of Caramelo or Puro Cuento (2002) and her book of essays, A Home of My Own (2014), Cisneros explores with depth and compassion the struggles of Latina women to break down patriarchal conventions and create for themselves a space for self-expression and creativity.
In 1898, U.S. imperialism spread beyond the continent’s borders and took possession of Puerto Rico during the Spanish–American War. This began the repeated waves of migration from the island to the mainland. In New York City (the main destination, along with Chicago), Puerto Ricans settled in East Harlem and the South Bronx, while the Lower East Side became the immigrant neighborhood par excellence. Adaptation strategies, common to previous immigrant communities, ensued, especially regarding the urban context and the reinvention of spaces. During the 1960s, authors such as Piri Thomas or Pedro Juan Soto began to narrate this complex experience, always in an unsteady balance between Puerto Rico and the United States. This first phase of literary output culminated the following decade (a period of deep economic and social crisis) in the so-called Nuyorican Experience, where “nuyorican” stands for “New York Puerto Rican”—a neologism that sums up the community's condition of “divided self” and defines the social and cultural horizon of a new generation of artists. In their works, poet-performer Pedro Pietri and writer Nicholasa Mohr expressed their peculiar view and sense of the city, both surreal and realistic, ironic and passionate.
Theresa Delgadillo and Leila Vieira
Latinx literature in the Midwest encompasses work created by authors from a variety of backgrounds, with authors of Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Cuban descent predominating in literature that takes locations throughout the region as its settings. Although much work focuses on Chicago, the multiple Latinidades of the region appear in fiction and poetry from across the region. Regarding genre, most of this literature falls into the categories of novel, short story, and poetry; however, works such as prose poems, novels in verse, heavily footnoted fiction, or metaliterary texts challenge genre boundaries and reveal Latinx literary innovation. This literature emerges from the history and experience of Latinx migration to the region, which dates back to the beginning of the 20th century, and, not surprisingly, that history often figures in the literature. Spanish-language Latinx literature about the Midwest also exists, and like its English-language counterpart, often addresses transnational experiences. Major publishers have made the work of Latinx authors in the Midwest well-known, yet there are also vibrant cultures of small press, community, and collective publishing, and self-publishing, through which Latinx authors have shared their talents with wider audiences in and beyond the region.
Some of the themes addressed by Latinx literature in the Midwest are migration, with characters coming both from other regions of the United States and directly from Latin America; labor, mostly industrial and agricultural work, but also involving characters in the service sector and professionals; belonging and the question of what and where home is and how to create this space in the Midwest; environment and gentrification; transnationalism, often evoking different ethnic backgrounds from the present; family relationships; gender and sexuality, focusing on what it means to be Latinx and part of the LGBTQ community and situations of discrimination with families and workplaces; race, including Afro-Latinx characters; and religion and spirituality, looking not only to Catholicism, but also to Judaism and African diaspora–inspired systems of Orisha worship.
From the colonial period through to the present day, the U.S. South has been seen as aberrant or at least different, as separate from, the rest of the nation. Often thought of as backward and strange, the South has also been figured as the nation’s Other, home to anything that the United States disavows: racism, sexism, religious fundamentalism, poverty, and so on. While a debate rages in the field of southern studies about what and where the South exactly is—even whether the South should be spoken of as a solid geography—contemporary literature from the region continues to present the multiple meanings of place today. Indeed, in the 21st century particularly, southern literature is expanding and diversifying more than ever. Identifiable are three dominant trends in contemporary literature from the South. First, and perhaps most dominant, is the narrative of racial memory; this work explores the impacts and legacies of race relations in the region, from slavery and Native American removal through to Jim Crow and beyond. Second is the narrative of the southern environment; these narratives are stories that contemplate and focus on the region’s diverse landscapes, from mountainous Appalachia to the Mississippi Delta to the swampy Gulf. They are also narratives that engage with the dramatic effects of climate change and ecological disaster, highly pertinent in the contemporary era of the Anthropocene. Third, are narratives of an (un)changing South; this writing reflexively and critically explores the meaning of the region in a time of globalization and migration. When the population of the South—which has always been a diverse one—is changing in both dramatic and incremental ways, the stories and narratives of the region are clearly adapting too. Southern literature continues to ask complex questions about what the South means in today’s United States.
Asian American poetry flourished in the first two decades of the 21st century. In 2004, the Asian American literary organization Kundiman hosted their inaugural workshop-based retreat at the University of Virginia, connecting poets from the United States and North America across generations. (The retreat continues to be held annually at Fordham University and has included fiction writers, as fellows and faculty, since 2017.) The first year of Kundiman’s retreat coincided with the publication of Asian American Poetry: The Next Generation, edited by Victoria Chang, which introduced emerging poets Kazim Ali, Cathy Park Hong, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Srikanth Reddy, and Paisley Rekdal, among others, to a broader audience of readers and critics and, at the same time, urged a reassessment of the contemporary poetry field. Both events signaled an emergent generation’s desire to find community and acknowledgment for their work. Not only were these goals accomplished, but the collectivization of young Asian American poets and critical attention from universities and other cultural institutions also evinced how powerfully the impact of a previous generation of Asian American poets had been felt. That generation arguably began with the publication of Cathy Song’s Yale Younger Poets Prize–winning book Picture Bride in 1982 and grew to include Marilyn Chin, Li-Young Lee, Garrett Hongo, and Agha Shahid Ali, whose work can be found in Norton anthologies of poetry and various other canon-defining projects. The critical and cultural acceptance these poets enjoyed at the end of the 20th century blazed a trail for Asian American poets of the 21st century, who increasingly balance the lyric conventions of emotional expressiveness and imagistic language with audacious political subjectivity. In doing so, Asian American poets of the 21st century have opened up conceptions of lyric, particularly regarding voice, to incorporate questions of identity, immigration and migration, and American cultural experience. Contemporary Asian American poets frequently reimagine the lyric tradition through a distinctly Asian American political imagination.
Writer Gil Cuadros (1962–1996) composed an influential collection of short stories and poems, City of God (1994), that recounts the experiences of gay Chicano life in the age of AIDS. Learning he was HIV-positive after the death of his lover due to AIDS, he wrote to grapple with the enormity of his loss. Cuadros developed an aesthetic vocabulary for relating the richly complex experience of a seropositive queer Latinidad. Seeking to represent the unrepresentable, his work ranges from unflinchingly stark and minimalist to amorphously dark and surreal, exposing and exploring the cross-currents of race, violence, love, and sex ever haunted by an awareness of mortality. Concerned with making visible a queer literary chicanidad, Cuadros crafted poems and stories that are grounded in physicality and developed a vocabulary of sensation and sensuality. The stories reveal the body as a source of knowledge. While not the subject of extensive critical work, Cuadros’s writing is drawing more extensive attention. Earlier criticism focuses on the tension that Cuadros’s writing generates as it explores the racial and social ambivalence of queer Latinx desire. These analyses privilege the formation of queer mestizo subjectivity and read the body as a contested text. Following developments in queer theory, more recent critics foreground aesthetic and thematic ambiguity as part of a complicated dynamic between legibility and disciplinary social repression. Cuadros’s darkly ambivalent aesthetics perform what it means to be gay, Chicano, and living with AIDS, foregrounding new relations as aesthetics, politics, form, and content bleed into each other.
Ricardo L. Ortiz
Cuba’s historical relationship with the United States predates both countries’ emergence into full political sovereignty and consists of forms of political, economic, and cultural interaction and exchange that have intimately bound the two societies since well before the 19th century. The United States spent the 1800s emerging as an independent nation and increasingly as a regional power in the western hemisphere. Populations from smaller neighboring societies were emerging from colonial rule and often sought protection in the United States from colonial oppression, even as they saw the United States’ own imperial ambitions as a looming threat. Cuban-American literature therefore can trace its roots to a collection of key figures who sought refuge in the United States in the 19th century, but it did not flourish until well into the 20th when geopolitical conditions following World War II and extending into the Cold War era made the United States a natural destination for a significant population of Cubans fleeing Fidel Castro’s Communist Revolution. Most arrived first as refugees, then as exiles, and finally as immigrants settling into homes and making families and lives in their new country. This population has also produced a robust literary culture all its own with deep ties and important contributions to the greater US literary tradition. Cuban-American literary production has proliferated into the 21st century, exploring complex themes beyond national and cultural identity, including gender, sexuality, race, class, and ideology.
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.
Lars Boje Mortensen
Medieval European literature is both broader and deeper in its basis than what is usually offered in literary histories with their focus only on a narrow canon and on vernacular languages. One way to see this bigger canvas is to consider technical and statistical book-historical factors together with the authority of the two Roman Empires (Western and Eastern) and of their religious hierarchies (the papacy and the patriarchate). A coordinated reading of developments in the Latin West and the Greek East—though rarely directly related—brings out some main features of intellectual and literary life in most of Europe. With this focus, a literary chronology emerges—as a supplement to existing narratives based on either national or formal (genre) concerns: the period c. 600 to c. 1450 can be considered a unity in book-historical terms, namely the era dominated the hand-written codex. It is also delimited by the fate of the Roman Empire with the Latin West effectively separated from the Greek Empire by c. 600 and the end of Constantinople in 1453. Within this broad framework, three distinctive phases of book- and intellectual history can be discerned: the exegetical (c. 600–c. 1050), the experimental (c. 1050–c. 1300), and the critical (c. 1300–c. 1450). These three headings should be understood as a shorthand for what was new in each phase, not as a general characteristic, especially because exegesis in various forms continued to lie at the heart of reading and writing books in all relevant languages.
Edward Halsey Foster
Queer theory, a subject of much controversy among academics and literary critics in recent decades, raises crucial questions regarding the reception and creation of literary texts. Advocates of queer theory claim that both heterosexuality and homosexuality are socially constructed and that there is nothing “natural” about any sexual identity. Literary works traditionally seen as expressions of their authors' feeling or presence, as is the case with lyric poems, must now be reconceived as political discourse. The individual and his or her writings are no longer considered to be “essentially” gay or straight but instead are components in a broad political discourse. Queer theory is by no means universally accepted—its critics include such well-known scholars as Rictor Norton (b. 1945) and the best-selling author Camille Paglia (b. 1947)—but the vast majority of academic literary studies of gay writers follow its dictates.
Christopher Buck and Derik Smith
Robert Hayden was made poet laureate of Senegal in 1966 and ten years later became America’s first black poet laureate. He was acclaimed as “People’s Poet” early in his career, but he was largely ignored by the American literary establishment until late in life. In his poetics of history and his nuanced representations of black life, Hayden’s art showed that the African American experience was quintessentially American, and that blackness was an essential aspect of relentlessly heterogeneous America. As he figured it in his late-in-life poem, “[American Journal],” national identity was best metaphorized in “bankers grey afro and dashiki long hair and jeans / hard hat yarmulka mini skirt.” Hayden’s archetypal efforts to demonstrate the kaleidoscopic quality of both black and American identity produced an art that transcended propagandistic categories of race and nation, and pathed the way for a large cadre of late 20th and early 21st century poets who, like Hayden, understand themselves to be simultaneously black and American, but ultimately human.