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American literature,literature in English produced in what is now the United States of America.
American writing began with the work of English adventurers and colonists in the New World chiefly for the benefit of readers in the mother country. Some of these early works reached the level of literature, as in the robust and perhaps truthful account of his adventures by Captain John SmithSmith, John,
c.1580–1631, English colonist in America, b. Willoughby, Lincolnshire, England. A merchant's apprentice until his father's death in 1596, he thereafter lived an adventurous life, traveling, fighting in wars against the Turks in Transylvania and Hungary, and
..... Click the link for more information. and the sober, tendentious journalistic histories of John WinthropWinthrop, John,
1588–1649, governor of the Massachusetts Bay colony, b. Edwardstone, near Groton, Suffolk, England. Of a landowning family, he studied at Trinity College, Cambridge, came into a family fortune, and became a government administrator with strong Puritan
..... Click the link for more information. and William BradfordBradford, William,
1590–1657, governor of Plymouth Colony, b. Austerfield, Yorkshire, England. As a young man he joined the separatist congregation at Scrooby and in 1609 emigrated with others to Holland, where, at Leiden, he acquired a wide acquaintance with theological
..... Click the link for more information. in New England. From the beginning, however, the literature of New England was also directed to the edification and instruction of the colonists themselves, intended to direct them in the ways of the godly.
The first work published in the Puritan colonies was the Bay Psalm Book (1640), and the whole effort of the divines who wrote furiously to set forth their views—among them Roger WilliamsWilliams, Roger,
c.1603–1683, clergyman, advocate of religious freedom, founder of Rhode Island, b. London. A protégé of Sir Edward Coke, he graduated from Pembroke College, Cambridge, in 1627 and took Anglican orders.
..... Click the link for more information. and Thomas HookerHooker, Thomas,
1586–1647, Puritan clergyman in the American colonies, chief founder of Hartford, Conn., b. Leicestershire, England. A clergyman, he was ordered to appear before the court of high commission for nonconformist preaching in England and fled (1630) to Holland.
..... Click the link for more information. —was to defend and promote visions of the religious state. They set forth their visions—in effect the first formulation of the concept of national destiny—in a series of impassioned histories and jeremiads from Edward JohnsonJohnson, Edward,
1881–1959, Canadian tenor and operatic manager, b. Guelph, Ont. As Eduardo di Giovanni, he sang in Italian opera houses (1912–19). In 1920 he joined the Chicago Opera Company and in 1922, the Metropolitan.
..... Click the link for more information. 's Wonder-Working Providence (1654) to Cotton MatherMather, Cotton
, 1663–1728, American Puritan clergyman and writer, b. Boston, grad. Harvard (B.A., 1678; M.A., 1681); son of Increase Mather and grandson of Richard Mather and of John Cotton.
..... Click the link for more information. 's epic Magnalia Christi Americana (1702).
Even Puritan poetry was offered uniformly to the service of God. Michael WigglesworthWigglesworth, Michael,
1631–1705, American clergyman and poet, b. England, grad. Harvard, 1651. His family emigrated to New England in 1638. A devoted minister at Malden, Mass., he also practiced medicine and wrote didactic poetry.
..... Click the link for more information. 's Day of Doom (1662) was uncompromisingly theological, and Anne BradstreetBradstreet, Anne (Dudley),
c.1612–1672, early American poet, b. Northampton, England, considered the first significant woman author in the American colonies. She came to Massachusetts in the Winthrop Puritan group in 1630 with her father, Thomas Dudley, and her husband,
..... Click the link for more information. 's poems, issued as The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America (1650), were reflective of her own piety. The best of the Puritan poets, Edward TaylorTaylor, Edward,
c.1642–1729, American poet and clergyman, b. England, considered America's foremost colonial poet. He immigrated to America in 1668 and graduated from Harvard in 1671. From then until his death, he served as Congregational minister for Westfield, Mass.
..... Click the link for more information. , whose work was not published until two centuries after his death, wrote metaphysical verse worthy of comparison with that of the English metaphysical poet George HerbertHerbert, George,
1593–1633, one of the English metaphysical poets. Of noble family, he was the brother of Baron Herbert of Cherbury. He was graduated from Cambridge.
..... Click the link for more information. .
Sermons and tracts poured forth until austere Calvinism found its last utterance in the words of Jonathan EdwardsEdwards, Jonathan,
1703–58, American theologian and metaphysician, b. East Windsor (then in Windsor), Conn. He was a precocious child, early interested in things scientific, intellectual, and spiritual.
..... Click the link for more information. . In the other colonies writing was usually more mundane and on the whole less notable, though the journal of the Quaker John WoolmanWoolman, John,
1720–72, American Quaker leader, b. near Mt. Holly, N.J. Originally a tailor and shopkeeper, Woolman was recorded a minister (1743) by the Burlington, N.J., Meeting.
..... Click the link for more information. is highly esteemed, and some critics maintain that the best writing of the colonial period is found in the witty and urbane observations of William ByrdByrd, William,
1674–1744, American colonial writer, planter, and government official; son of William Byrd (1652–1704). After being educated in England, he became active in the politics of colonial America.
..... Click the link for more information. , a gentleman planter of Westover, Virginia.
A New Nation and a New Literature
The approach of the American Revolution and the achievement of the actual independence of the United States was a time of intellectual activity as well as social and economic change. The men who were the chief molders of the new state included excellent writers, among them Thomas JeffersonJefferson, Thomas,
1743–1826, 3d President of the United States (1801–9), author of the Declaration of Independence, and apostle of agrarian democracy. Early Life
Jefferson was born on Apr. 13, 1743, at "Shadwell," in Goochland (now in Albemarle) co.
..... Click the link for more information. and Alexander HamiltonHamilton, Alexander,
1755–1804, American statesman, b. Nevis, in the West Indies. Early Career
He was the illegitimate son of James Hamilton (of a prominent Scottish family) and Rachel Faucett Lavien (daughter of a doctor-planter on Nevis and the estranged
..... Click the link for more information. . They were well supported by others such as Philip FreneauFreneau, Philip
, 1752–1832, American poet and journalist, b. New York City, grad. Princeton, 1771. During the American Revolution he served as soldier and privateer. His experiences as a prisoner of war were recorded in his poem The British Prison Ship (1781).
..... Click the link for more information. , the first American lyric poet of distinction and an able journalist; the pamphleteer Thomas PainePaine, Thomas,
1737–1809, Anglo-American political theorist and writer, b. Thetford, Norfolk, England. The son of a working-class Quaker, he became an excise officer and was dismissed from the service after leading (1772) agitation for higher salaries.
..... Click the link for more information. , later an attacker of conventional religion; and the polemicist Francis HopkinsonHopkinson, Francis,
1737–91, American writer and musician, signer of the Declaration of Independence, b. Philadelphia. A practicing lawyer, Hopkinson was also an accomplished poet, essayist, and musician and is considered the first native American composer of a secular
..... Click the link for more information. , who was also the first American musical composer.
The variously gifted Benjamin FranklinFranklin, Benjamin,
1706–90, American statesman, printer, scientist, and writer, b. Boston. The only American of the colonial period to earn a European reputation as a natural philosopher, he is best remembered in the United States as a patriot and diplomat.
..... Click the link for more information. forwarded American literature not only through his own writing but also by founding and promoting newspapers and periodicals. Many literary aspirants, such as John TrumbullTrumbull, John,
1750–1831, American poet, b. Westbury (now Watertown), Conn. He passed the entrance examinations to Yale when he was seven, but did not enter until he was thirteen.
..... Click the link for more information. , Timothy DwightDwight, Timothy,
1752–1817, American clergyman, author, educator, b. Northampton, Mass., grad. Yale, 1769. He renounced legal for theological studies and after 1783 was pastor for 12 years of a Congregational church at Greenfield Hill, Conn.
..... Click the link for more information. , Joel BarlowBarlow, Joel
, 1754–1812, American writer and diplomat, b. Redding, Conn., grad. Yale, 1778. He was one of the Connecticut Wits and a major contributor to their satirical poem The Anarchiad (1786–87).
..... Click the link for more information. , and the other Connecticut WitsConnecticut Wits
or Hartford Wits,
an informal association of Yale students and rectors formed in the late 18th cent. At first they were devoted to the modernization of the Yale curriculum and declaring the independence of American letters.
..... Click the link for more information. , used English models. The infant American theater showed a nationalistic character both in its first comedy, The Contrast (1787), by Royall TylerTyler, Royall,
1757–1826, American jurist, author, and playwright, b. Boston, grad. Harvard, 1776. He served in the colonial army during the American Revolution and later in the suppression of Shays's Rebellion.
..... Click the link for more information. , and in the dramas of William DunlapDunlap, William
, 1766–1839, American dramatist and theatrical manager, b. Perth Amboy, N.J. Inspired by the success of The Contrast by Royall Tyler, he began to write plays for the American Company (see Hallam, Lewis).
..... Click the link for more information. . The first American novel, The Power of Sympathy (1789), by William Hill Brown, only shortly preceded the Gothic romance, Wieland (1799), by the first professional American novelist, Charles Brockden BrownBrown, Charles Brockden,
1771–1810, American novelist and editor, b. Philadelphia, considered the first professional American novelist. After the publication of Alcuin: A Dialogue (1798), he wrote such novels as Edgar Huntly (1799), Arthur Mervyn
..... Click the link for more information. .
Recognition in Europe, and especially in England, was coveted by every aspiring American writer and was first achieved by two men from New York: Washington IrvingIrving, Washington,
1783–1859, American author and diplomat, b. New York City. Irving was one of the first Americans to be recognized abroad as a man of letters, and he was a literary idol at home.
..... Click the link for more information. , who first won attention by presenting American folk stories, and James Fenimore CooperCooper, James Fenimore,
1789–1851, American novelist, b. Burlington, N.J., as James Cooper. He was the first important American writer to draw on the subjects and landscape of his native land in order to create a vivid myth of frontier life.
..... Click the link for more information. , who wrote enduring tales of adventure on the frontier and at sea. By 1825 William Cullen BryantBryant, William Cullen
, 1794–1878, American poet and newspaper editor, b. Cummington, Mass. The son of a learned and highly respected physician, Bryant was exposed to English poetry in his father's vast library.
..... Click the link for more information. had made himself the leading poet of America with his delicate lyrics extolling nature and his smooth, philosophic poems in the best mode of romanticismromanticism,
term loosely applied to literary and artistic movements of the late 18th and 19th cent. Characteristics of Romanticism
Resulting in part from the libertarian and egalitarian ideals of the French Revolution, the romantic movements had in common only a
..... Click the link for more information. . Even more distinctly a part of the romantic movement were such poets as Joseph Rodman DrakeDrake, Joseph Rodman,
1795–1820, American poet and satirist, b. New York City. Under the name "The Croakers," he and his friend Fitz-Greene Halleck wrote a series of light satirical verses for the New York Evening Post (1819, first complete ed. 1860).
..... Click the link for more information. , Fitz-Greene HalleckHalleck, Fitz-Greene
, 1790–1867, American poet, b. Guilford, Conn. He was joint author, with Joseph Rodman Drake, of the humorous lampoons "Croaker Papers," most of which were printed in the New York Evening Post in 1819.
..... Click the link for more information. , and Henry Wadsworth LongfellowLongfellow, Henry Wadsworth,
1807–82, American poet, b. Portland, Maine, grad. Bowdoin College, 1825. He wrote some of the most popular poems in American literature, in which he created a new body of romantic American legends.
..... Click the link for more information. , who won the hearts of Americans with glib, moralizing verse and also commanded international respect.
Ralph Waldo EmersonEmerson, Ralph Waldo
, 1803–82, American poet and essayist, b. Boston. Through his essays, poems, and lectures, the "Sage of Concord" established himself as a leading spokesman of transcendentalism and as a major figure in American literature.
..... Click the link for more information. and Henry David ThoreauThoreau, Henry David
, 1817–62, American author and naturalist, b. Concord, Mass., grad. Harvard, 1837. Thoreau is considered one of the most influential figures in American thought and literature.
..... Click the link for more information. stood at the center of transcendentalismtranscendentalism
[Lat.,=overpassing], in literature, philosophical and literary movement that flourished in New England from about 1836 to 1860. It originated among a small group of intellectuals who were reacting against the orthodoxy of Calvinism and the rationalism of the
..... Click the link for more information. , a movement that made a deep impression upon their native land and upon Europe. High-mindedness, moral earnestness, the desire to reform society and education, the assertion of a philosophy of the individual as superior to tradition and society—all these were strongly American, and transcendentalists such as Emerson, Thoreau, Margaret FullerFuller, Margaret,
1810–50, American writer, lecturer, and public intellectual, b. Cambridgeport (now part of Cambridge), Mass. She was one of the most influential personalities in the American literary circles of her day.
..... Click the link for more information. , and Bronson AlcottAlcott, Bronson
, 1799–1888, American educational and social reformer, b. near Wolcott, Conn., as Amos Bronson Alcox. His meager formal education was supplemented by omnivorous reading while he gained a living from farming, working in a clock factory, and as a peddler in
..... Click the link for more information. insisted upon such principles.
Men as diverse as James Russell LowellLowell, James Russell,
1819–91, American poet, critic, and editor, b. Cambridge, Mass. He was influential in revitalizing the intellectual life of New England in the mid-19th cent. Educated at Harvard (B.A., 1838; LL.B., 1840), he abandoned law for literature.
..... Click the link for more information. , Boston "Brahmin," poet, and critic, and John Greenleaf WhittierWhittier, John Greenleaf
, 1807–92, American Quaker poet and reformer, b. near Haverhill, Mass. Whittier was a pioneer in regional literature as well as a crusader for many humanitarian causes. Early Life
Whittier received a scanty education but read widely.
..... Click the link for more information. , the bucolic poet, joined in support of the abolitionist cause. The more worldly and correct Oliver Wendell HolmesHolmes, Oliver Wendell,
1809–94, American author and physician, b. Cambridge, Mass., grad. Harvard (B.A., 1829; M.D., 1836); father of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. He began his medical career as a general practitioner but shifted into the academic field, becoming professor
..... Click the link for more information. reflected the vigorous intellectual spirit of the time, as did the historians William Hickling PrescottPrescott, William Hickling,
1796–1859, American historian, b. Salem, Mass. He entered his father's law office, but was compelled by a serious eye injury to abandon law.
..... Click the link for more information. , George BancroftBancroft, George,
1800–1891, American historian and public official, b. Worcester, Mass. He taught briefly at Harvard and then at the Round Hill School in Northampton, Mass., of which he was a founder and proprietor. He then turned definitively to writing. His article (Jan.
..... Click the link for more information. , Francis ParkmanParkman, Francis,
1823–93, American historian, b. Boston. In 1846, Parkman started a journey along the Oregon Trail to improve his health and study the Native Americans. On his return to Boston he collapsed physically and moved to Brattleboro, Vt.
..... Click the link for more information. , and John Lothrop MotleyMotley, John Lothrop,
1814–77, American historian and diplomat, b. Dorchester, Mass. Author of two novels concerning Thomas Morton (1839 and 1849), as well as a number of articles for the North American Review.
..... Click the link for more information. . Their solemn histories were as distinctly American as the broadly humorous writing that became popular early in the 19th cent. This was usually set forth as the sayings of semiliterate, often raffish, and always shrewd American characters like Hosea Biglow (James Russell Lowell), Artemus WardWard, Artemus,
pseud. of Charles Farrar Browne,
1834–67, American humorist, b. Waterford, Maine. As a reporter on the Cleveland Plain Dealer, he began in 1858 a series of "Artemus Ward's Letters" that made him famous on both sides of the Atlantic.
..... Click the link for more information. (Charles Farrar Browne), Petroleum Vesuvius NasbyNasby, Petroleum V.,
pseud. of David Ross Locke,
1833–88, American journalist and satirist, b. Vestal, N.Y. Locke was editor of the Findlay, Ohio, Jeffersonian when he first became prominent by publishing (1861) in it the Nasby letters.
..... Click the link for more information. (David Ross Locke), Josh BillingsBillings, Josh,
pseud. of Henry Wheeler Shaw,
1818–85, American humorist and lecturer, b. Lanesboro, Mass. After a roving life as farmer, explorer, and coal miner, he settled in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., as an auctioneer and real estate dealer.
..... Click the link for more information. (Henry Walker Shaw), and Sut Lovingood (G. W. Harris).
Far removed from these humorists in spirit and style was Edgar Allan PoePoe, Edgar Allan,
1809–49, American poet, short-story writer, and critic, b. Boston. He is acknowledged today as one of the most brilliant and original writers in American literature.
..... Click the link for more information. , whose skilled and emotional poetry, clearly expressed aesthetic theories, and tales of mystery and horror won for him a more respectful audience in Europe than—originally, at least—in America. A number of seminal works of American literature were written during the 1850s. These include Nathaniel HawthorneHawthorne, Nathaniel,
1804–64, American novelist and short-story writer, b. Salem, Mass., one of the great masters of American fiction. His novels and tales are penetrating explorations of moral and spiritual conflicts.
..... Click the link for more information. 's novel The Scarlet Letter (1850), depicting the gloomy atmosphere of early Puritanism; Herman MelvilleMelville, Herman,
1819–91, American author, b. New York City, considered one of the great American writers and a major figure in world literature. Early Life and Works
..... Click the link for more information. 's Moby-Dick (1851), which infused into an adventure tale of whaling days profound symbolic significance; and the rolling measures of Walt WhitmanWhitman, Walt
(Walter Whitman), 1819–92, American poet, b. West Hills, N.Y. Considered by many to be the greatest of all American poets, Walt Whitman celebrated the freedom and dignity of the individual and sang the praises of democracy and the brotherhood of man.
..... Click the link for more information. 's Leaves of Grass (1st ed. 1855), which employed a new kind of poetry and proclaimed the optimistic principles of American democracy.
The Literature of a Split and a Reunited Nation
The rising conflict between the North and the South that ended in the Civil War was reflected in regional literature. The crusading spirit against Southern slavery in Harriet Beecher StoweStowe, Harriet Beecher,
1811–96, American novelist and humanitarian, b. Litchfield, Conn. With her novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, she stirred the conscience of Americans concerning slavery and thereby influenced the course of American history.
..... Click the link for more information. 's overwhelmingly successful novel Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) can be compared with the violent anti-Northern diatribes of William Gilmore SimmsSimms, William Gilmore,
1806–70, American novelist, b. Charleston, S.C. He wrote prolifically, both prose and poetry, but it is for his historical romances about his own state that he is remembered and often compared with James Fenimore Cooper.
..... Click the link for more information. . While the Civil War was taking its inexorable course, the case for reunion was set forth by President Abraham LincolnLincoln, Abraham
, 1809–65, 16th President of the United States (1861–65). Early Life
Born on Feb. 12, 1809, in a log cabin in backwoods Hardin co., Ky. (now Larue co.), he grew up on newly broken pioneer farms of the frontier.
..... Click the link for more information. in that purest and most exact statement of American political ideals, the Gettysburg Address.
Once the war was over, literature gradually regained a national identity amid expanding popularity, as writings of regional origin began to find a mass audience. The stories of the California gold fields by Bret HarteHarte, Bret
(Francis Brett Harte) , 1836–1902, American writer of short stories and humorous verse, b. Albany, N.Y. At 19 he went to California, where he tried his hand at teaching, clerking, and mining.
..... Click the link for more information. , the rustic novel (The Hoosier Schoolmaster; 1871) of Edward EgglestonEggleston, Edward,
1837–1902, American author, Methodist clergyman, b. Vevay, Ind., educated in frontier schools. Before 1870 he was a Bible agent, a farm worker, a circuit rider in Minnesota and Indiana, and a journalist in Chicago.
..... Click the link for more information. , the rhymes of James Whitcomb RileyRiley, James Whitcomb,
1849–1916, American poet, b. Greenfield, Ind., known as the Hoosier poet. He was at various times a traveling actor, a sign painter, and a newspaperman. Under the name "Benj. F.
..... Click the link for more information. , the New England genre stories of Sarah Orne JewettJewett, Sarah Orne,
1849–1909, American novelist and short-story writer, b. South Berwick, Maine. Her studies of small-town New England life are perceptive, sympathetic, and gently humorous.
..... Click the link for more information. and Mary E. Wilkins FreemanFreeman, Mary Eleanor Wilkins,
1852–1930, American author, b. Randolph, Mass. Her stories and novels paint a picture of Massachusetts and Vermont still under the influence of Puritanism, in her view, a philosophy made rigid by time.
..... Click the link for more information. , the sketches of Louisiana by George W. CableCable, George Washington,
1844–1925, American author, b. New Orleans. He is remembered primarily for his early sketches and novels of creole life, which established his reputation as an important local-color writer.
..... Click the link for more information. , even the romance of the Old South woven by the poetry of Henry TimrodTimrod, Henry,
1828–67, American poet, b. Charleston, S.C., studied at the Univ. of Georgia. He was known as "the laureate of the Confederacy." Timrod became editor of the Columbia South Carolinian
..... Click the link for more information. and Sidney LanierLanier, Sidney
, 1842–81, American poet and musician, b. Macon, Ga., grad. Oglethorpe College 1860. His first work, the novel Tiger-Lilies (1867), was based on his experiences as a Confederate soldier in the Civil War.
..... Click the link for more information. and the fiction of Thomas Nelson PagePage, Thomas Nelson,
1853–1922, American author and diplomat, b. Hanover co., Va. His novels and stories are sentimental idealizations of the Old South. Among his novels are On Newfound River (1891) and Red Rock (1898); his volumes of stories include
..... Click the link for more information. —all were seized eagerly by the readers of the reunited nation. The outstanding example of genius overcoming any regionalism in scene can be found in many of the works of Mark TwainTwain, Mark,
pseud. of Samuel Langhorne Clemens,
1835–1910, American author, b. Florida, Mo. As humorist, narrator, and social observer, Twain is unsurpassed in American literature.
..... Click the link for more information. , most notably in his Huckleberry Finn (1884).
Drama after the Civil War and into the 20th cent. continued to rely, as it had before, on spectacles, on the plays of Shakespeare, and on some of the works of English and Continental playwrights. A few popular plays such as Uncle Tom's Cabin and Rip Van Winkle were based on American fiction; others were crude melodrama. Realismrealism,
in literature, an approach that attempts to describe life without idealization or romantic subjectivity. Although realism is not limited to any one century or group of writers, it is most often associated with the literary movement in 19th-century France, specifically
..... Click the link for more information. , however, came to the theater with some of the plays of Bronson HowardHoward, Bronson,
1842–1908, American dramatist, b. Detroit. His plays are important in the development of American drama. He was a newspaper reporter in New York until the success of his first play, Saratoga, a farcical comedy produced in 1870.
..... Click the link for more information. , James A. Herne, and William Vaughn MoodyMoody, William Vaughn,
1869–1910, American poet and dramatist, b. Spencer, Ind., grad. Harvard, 1893. After writing several verse dramas, Moody achieved wide success with the prose play The Great Divide (produced as A Sabine Woman, 1906).
..... Click the link for more information. .
The Turn of the Century
Trends in American Fiction
The connection of American literature with writing in England and Europe was again stressed by William Dean HowellsHowells, William Dean,
1837–1920, American novelist, critic, and editor, b. Martins Ferry, Ohio. Both in his own novels and in his critical writing, Howells was a champion of realism in American literature.
..... Click the link for more information. , who was not only an able novelist but an instructor in literary realism to other American writers. Though he himself had leanings toward social reform, Howells did encourage what has come to be called "genteel" writing, long dominant in American fiction. The mold for this sort of writing was broken by the American turned Englishman, Henry JamesJames, Henry,
1843–1916, American novelist and critic, b. New York City. A master of the psychological novel, James was an innovator in technique and one of the most distinctive prose stylists in English.
He was the son of Henry James, Sr.
..... Click the link for more information. , who wrote of people of the upper classes but with such psychological penetration, subtlety of narrative, and complex technical skill that he is recognized as one of the great masters of fiction. His influence was quickly reflected in the novels of Edith Wharton and others and continued to grow in strength in the 20th cent.
The realism preached by Howells was turned away from bourgeois milieus by a number of American writers, particularly Stephen CraneCrane, Stephen,
1871–1900, American novelist, poet, and short-story writer, b. Newark, N.J. Often designated the first modern American writer, Crane is ranked among the authors who introduced realism into American literature.
..... Click the link for more information. in his poetry and his fiction—Maggie: A Girl of the Streets (1893) and the Civil War story, The Red Badge of Courage (1895). These were forerunners of naturalismnaturalism,
in literature, an approach that proceeds from an analysis of reality in terms of natural forces, e.g., heredity, environment, physical drives. The chief literary theorist on naturalism was Émile Zola, who said in his essay Le Roman expérimental
..... Click the link for more information. , which reached heights in the hands of Theodore DreiserDreiser, Theodore
, 1871–1945, American novelist, b. Terre Haute, Ind. A pioneer of naturalism in American literature, Dreiser wrote novels reflecting his mechanistic view of life, a concept that held humanity as the victim of such ungovernable forces as economics,
..... Click the link for more information. and Jack LondonLondon, Jack
(John Griffith London), 1876–1916, American author, b. San Francisco. The illegitimate son of William Chaney, an astrologer, and Flora Wellman, a seamstress and medium, he had a poverty-stricken childhood, and was brought up by his mother and her subsequent
..... Click the link for more information. , the latter a fiery advocate of social reform as well as a writer of Klondike stories.
Ever since the Civil War, voices of protest and doubt have been heard in American fiction. Mark Twain (with Charles Dudley WarnerWarner, Charles Dudley,
1829–1900, American editor and author, b. Plainfield, Mass., grad. Hamilton College, 1851, LL.B. Univ. of Pennsylvania, 1858. After practicing law in Chicago, he was associate editor and publisher of the Hartford, Conn., Courant.
..... Click the link for more information. ) had in The Gilded Age (1873) held the postwar get-rich-quick era up to scorn. By the early 20th cent. Henry AdamsAdams, Henry,
1838–1918, American writer and historian, b. Boston; son of Charles Francis Adams (1807–86). He was secretary (1861–68) to his father, then U.S. minister to Great Britain.
..... Click the link for more information. was musing upon the effects of the dynamo's triumph over man, and Ambrose BierceBierce, Ambrose Gwinett
, 1842–1914?, American satirist, journalist, and short-story writer, b. Meigs co., Ohio. He fought with extreme bravery in the Civil War, and the conflict, which he considered meaningless slaughter, is reflected in his war stories and to a great
..... Click the link for more information. literally abandoned a civilization he could not abide.
Since the mid-19th cent. American poetry had tended to empty saccharine verse—with the startling exception of the Amherst recluse, Emily DickinsonDickinson, Emily,
1830–86, American poet, b. Amherst, Mass. She is widely considered one of the greatest poets in American literature. Her unique, gemlike lyrics are distillations of profound feeling and original intellect that stand outside the mainstream of 19th-century
..... Click the link for more information. , whose terse, precise, and enigmatic poems, published in 1890, after her death, placed her immediately in the ranks of major American poets. A revolution in poetry was announced with the founding in 1912 of Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, edited by Harriet MonroeMonroe, Harriet,
1860–1936, American editor, critic, and poet, b. Chicago. In 1912 she founded Poetry: a Magazine of Verse, which paid and encouraged both established and new poets. Monroe's literary reputation is based on her editorship of this important magazine.
..... Click the link for more information. . It published the work of Ezra PoundPound, Ezra Loomis,
1885–1972, American poet, critic, and translator, b. Hailey, Idaho, grad. Hamilton College, 1905, M.A. Univ. of Pennsylvania, 1906. An extremely important influence in the shaping of 20th-century poetry, he was one of the most famous and controversial
..... Click the link for more information. and the proponents of imagism (see imagistsimagists,
group of English and American poets writing from 1909 to about 1917, who were united by their revolt against the exuberant imagery and diffuse sentimentality of 19th-century poetry.
..... Click the link for more information. )—Amy LowellLowell, Amy,
1874–1925, American poet, biographer, and critic, b. Brookline, Mass., privately educated; sister of Percival Lowell and Abbott Lawrence Lowell. In 1912 she published A Dome of Many-Colored Glass, a volume of conventional verse.
..... Click the link for more information. , H. D. (Hilda DoolittleDoolittle, Hilda,
pseud. H. D.,
1886–1961, American poet, b. Bethlehem, Pa., educated at Bryn Mawr. After 1911 she lived abroad, marrying Richard Aldington in 1913.
..... Click the link for more information. ), John Gould FletcherFletcher, John Gould,
1886–1950, American poet, b. Little Rock, Ark., educated (1903–7) at Harvard. After traveling throughout Europe, he became a leader of the imagists in England.
..... Click the link for more information. , and their English associates, all declaring against romantic poetry and in favor of the exact word.
Meanwhile, other poets moved along their own paths: Edwin Arlington RobinsonRobinson, Edwin Arlington,
1869–1935, American poet, b. Head Tide, Maine, attended Harvard (1891–93). At his death, many critics considered Robinson the greatest poet in the United States.
..... Click the link for more information. , who wrote dark, brooding lines on humankind in the universe; Edgar Lee MastersMasters, Edgar Lee,
1869–1950, American poet and biographer, b. Garnett, Kans. He maintained a successful law practice in Chicago from 1892 to 1920. Masters's Spoon River Anthology
..... Click the link for more information. , who used free verse for realistic biographies in A Spoon River Anthology (1915); his friend Vachel LindsayLindsay, Vachel
(Nicholas Vachel Lindsay) , 1879–1931, American poet, b. Springfield, Ill., studied at Hiram College, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the New York School of Art. Lindsay made tours selling his poems and drawings, living as a modern-day troubadour.
..... Click the link for more information. , who wrote mesmerizingly rhythmical verse; Carl SandburgSandburg, Carl,
1878–1967, American poet, journalist, and biographer, b. Galesburg, Ill. The son of poor Swedish immigrants, he left school at the age of 13 and became a day laborer.
..... Click the link for more information. , who tried to capture the speech, life, and dreams of America; and Robert FrostFrost, Robert,
1874–1963, American poet, b. San Francisco. Perhaps the most popular and beloved of 20th-century American poets, Frost wrote of the character, people, and landscape of New England in a spare, solidly American language, but his lyrical yet frequently bleak,
..... Click the link for more information. , who won universal recognition with his evocative and seemingly simply written verse.
The Lost Generation and After
The years immediately after World War I brought a highly vocal rebellion against established social, sexual, and aesthetic conventions and a vigorous attempt to establish new values. Young artists flocked to Greenwich Village, Chicago, and San Francisco, determined to protest and intent on making a new art. Others went to Europe, living mostly in Paris as expatriates. They willingly accepted the name given them by Gertrude SteinStein, Gertrude,
1874–1946, American author and patron of the arts, b. Allegheny (now part of Pittsburgh), Pa. A celebrated personality, she encouraged, aided, and influenced—through her patronage as well as through her writing—many literary and artistic
..... Click the link for more information. : the lost generation. Out of their disillusion and rejection, the writers built a new literature, impressive in the glittering 1920s and the years that followed.
Romantic clichés were abandoned for extreme realism or for complex symbolism and created myth. Language grew so frank that there were bitter quarrels over censorship, as in the troubles about James Branch CabellCabell, Branch
(James Branch Cabell) , 1879–1958, American novelist, b. Richmond, Va., grad. William and Mary, 1898. After various experiences as a journalist and a coal miner he began writing fiction.
..... Click the link for more information. 's Jurgen (1919) and—much more notably—Henry MillerMiller, Henry,
1891–1980, American author, b. New York City. Miller sought to reestablish the freedom to live without the conventional restraints of civilization. His books are potpourris of sexual description, quasiphilosophical speculation, reflection on literature and
..... Click the link for more information. 's Tropic of Cancer (1931). The influences of new psychology and of Marxian social theory were also very strong. Out of this highly active boiling of new ideas and new forms came writers of recognizable stature in the world, among them Ernest HemingwayHemingway, Ernest,
1899–1961, American novelist and short-story writer, b. Oak Park, Ill. one of the great American writers of the 20th cent. Life
The son of a country doctor, Hemingway worked as a reporter for the Kansas City Star
..... Click the link for more information. , F. Scott FitzgeraldFitzgerald, F. Scott
(Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald), 1896–1940, American novelist and short-story writer, b. St. Paul, Minn. He is ranked among the great American writers of the 20th cent.
..... Click the link for more information. , William FaulknerFaulkner, William,
1897–1962, American novelist, b. New Albany, Miss., one of the great American writers of the 20th cent. Born into an old Southern family named Falkner, he changed the spelling of his last name to Faulkner when he published his first book, a collection of
..... Click the link for more information. , Thomas WolfeWolfe, Thomas Clayton,
1900–1938, American novelist, b. Asheville, N.C., grad. Univ. of North Carolina, 1920, M.A. Harvard, 1922. An important 20th-century American novelist, Wolfe wrote four mammoth novels, which, while highly autobiographical, present a sweeping picture
..... Click the link for more information. , John Dos PassosDos Passos, John Roderigo,
1896–1970, American novelist, b. Chicago, grad. Harvard, 1916. He subsequently studied in Spain and served as a World War I ambulance driver in France and Italy.
..... Click the link for more information. , John SteinbeckSteinbeck, John,
1902–68, American writer, b. Salinas, Calif., studied at Stanford. He is probably best remembered for his strong sociological novel The Grapes of Wrath, considered one of the great American novels of the 20th cent.
..... Click the link for more information. , and E. E. CummingsCummings, E. E.
(Edward Estlin Cummings), 1894–1962, American poet, b. Cambridge, Mass., grad. Harvard, 1915. His poetry, noted for its eccentricities of typography (notably the lack of capitalization), language, and punctuation, usually seeks to convey a joyful, living
..... Click the link for more information. .
Eugene O'NeillO'Neill, Eugene (Gladstone),
1888–1953, American dramatist, b. New York City. He is widely acknowledged as America's greatest playwright. Early Life
O'Neill's father was James O'Neill, a popular actor noted for his portrayal of the Count of Monte Cristo.
..... Click the link for more information. came to be widely considered the greatest of the dramatists the United States has produced. Other writers also enriched the theater with comedies, social reform plays, and historical tragedies. Among them were Maxwell AndersonAnderson, Maxwell,
1888–1959, American dramatist, b. Atlantic, Pa., grad. Univ. of North Dakota, 1911. His plays, many of which are written in verse, usually concern social and moral problems.
..... Click the link for more information. , Philip BarryBarry, Philip,
1896–1949, American dramatist, b. Rochester, N.Y., grad. Yale, 1919, and studied under George Pierce Baker at Harvard. He is primarily known for his satirical, somewhat unconventional comedies of manners, such as Holiday (1928),
..... Click the link for more information. , Elmer RiceRice, Elmer,
1892–1967, American dramatist, b. New York City, LL.B. New York Law School, 1912. After the success of his first play, On Trial (1914), he turned his interests to the theater.
..... Click the link for more information. , S. N. BehrmanBehrman, S. N.
(Samuel Nathaniel Behrman) , 1893–1973, American dramatist, b. Worcester, Mass., grad. Harvard 1916. His sophisticated comedies often attempt to probe the consciences of the wealthy and privileged.
..... Click the link for more information. , Marc ConnellyConnelly, Marc
(Marcus Cook Connelly) , 1890–1981, American dramatist, b. McKeesport, Pa. He is best known for his Pulitzer Prize winning play The Green Pastures
..... Click the link for more information. , Lillian HellmanHellman, Lillian,
1905–84, American dramatist, b. New Orleans. Her plays, although often melodramatic, are marked by intelligence and craftsmanship. The Children's Hour
..... Click the link for more information. , Clifford OdetsOdets, Clifford
, 1906–63, American dramatist, b. Philadelphia. After graduating from high school he became an actor and in 1931 joined the Group Theatre. Turning his attention from acting to playwriting, Odets soon came to be regarded as the most gifted of the American
..... Click the link for more information. , and Thornton WilderWilder, Thornton Niven,
1897–1975, American playwright and novelist, b. Madison, Wis., grad. Yale (B.A., 1920), Princeton (M.A., 1925). He received most of his early education in China, where his father was the U.S. consul-general in Hong Kong and Shanghai.
..... Click the link for more information. . The social drama and the symbolic play were further developed by Arthur MillerMiller, Arthur,
1915–2005, American dramatist, b. New York City, grad. Univ. of Michigan, 1938. One of America's most distinguished playwrights, he has been hailed as the finest realist of the 20th-century stage.
..... Click the link for more information. , William IngeInge, William
, 1913–73, American playwright, b. Independence, Kans., grad. Univ. of Kansas, 1935. He was a teacher and newspaper critic before he won recognition as a dramatist.
..... Click the link for more information. , and Tennessee WilliamsWilliams, Tennessee
(Thomas Lanier Williams), 1911–83, American dramatist, b. Columbus, Miss., grad. State Univ. of Iowa, 1938. One of America's foremost 20th-century playwrights and the author of more than 70 plays, he achieved his first successes with the productions of
..... Click the link for more information. .
By the 1960s the influence of foreign movements was much felt with the development of "off-Broadway" theater. One of the new playwrights who gained special notice at the time was Edward AlbeeAlbee, Edward
, 1928–, American playwright, one of the leading dramatists of his generation, b. Washington, D.C., as Edward Harvey. Much of his most characteristic work constitutes an absurdist commentary on American life.
..... Click the link for more information. , whose later works again attracted attention in the 1990s. Important playwrights of recent decades who have imbued the modern world with qualities ranging from menace to a kind of grace in their surreal or hyper-real works include Sam ShepardShepard, Sam,
1943–, American playwright and actor, b. Fort Sheridan, Ill., as Samuel Shepard Rogers 7th. A product of the 1960s counterculture, Shepard combines wild humor, grotesque satire, myth, and a sparse, haunting language evocative of Western movies to create a
..... Click the link for more information. , David MametMamet, David
, 1947–, American playwright and film director, b. Chicago. He taught drama (and produced some of his early plays) at Goddard College. His work, often dealing with the success and failure of the American dream, is noted for its sharp, spare, compressed, often
..... Click the link for more information. , and Tony Kushner.
The naturalism that governed the novels of Dreiser and the stories of Sherwood AndersonAnderson, Sherwood,
1876–1941, American novelist and short-story writer, b. Camden, Ohio. After serving briefly in the Spanish-American War, he became a successful advertising man and later a manager of a paint factory in Elyria, Ohio.
..... Click the link for more information. was intensified by the stories of the Chicago slums by James T. FarrellFarrell, James Thomas
, 1904–79, American novelist, b. Chicago. In his fiction Farrell expressed anger against the brutal economic and social conditions that produce emotional and material poverty.
..... Click the link for more information. and later Nelson AlgrenAlgren, Nelson
, 1909–81, American novelist, b. Detroit. He grew up in Chicago, and much of his fiction is set in the slums. His novels, such as Never Come Morning (1942), The Man with the Golden Arm (1949), and A Walk on the Wild Side
..... Click the link for more information. . Violence in language and in action was extreme in some of the novels of World War II, notably those of James JonesJones, James,
1921–77, American novelist, b. Robinson, Ill. Written in the tradition of naturalism, his novels often celebrate the endurance of man. From Here to Eternity
..... Click the link for more information. and Norman MailerMailer, Norman
(Norman Kingsley Mailer), 1923–2007, American writer, b. Long Branch, N.J., grad. Harvard, 1943. He grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., served in the army during World War II, and at the age of 25 published The Naked and the Dead (1948).
..... Click the link for more information. . Not unexpectedly, after World War I, black writers came forward, casting off the sweet melodies of Paul Lawrence DunbarDunbar, Paul Laurence
, 1872–1906, American poet and novelist, b. Dayton, Ohio. The son of former slaves, he won recognition with his Lyrics of Lowly Life (1896)—a collection of poems from his Oak and Ivy (1893) and Majors and Minors (1895).
..... Click the link for more information. and speaking of social oppression and pervasive prejudice. Countee CullenCullen, Countee
, 1903–46, American poet, b. New York City, grad. New York Univ. 1925, M.A. Harvard, 1926. A major writer of the Harlem Renaissance—a flowering of black artistic and literary talent in the 1920s—Cullen wrote poetry inspired by American black
..... Click the link for more information. , James Weldon JohnsonJohnson, James Weldon,
1871–1938, American author, b. Jacksonville, Fla., educated at Atlanta Univ. (B.A., 1894) and at Columbia. Johnson was the first African American to be admitted to the Florida bar and later was American consul (1906–12), first in Venezuela and
..... Click the link for more information. , Claude McKayMcKay, Claude
, 1890–1948, American poet and novelist, b. Jamaica, studied at Tuskegee and the Univ. of Kansas. A major figure of the Harlem Renaissance, McKay is best remembered for his poems treating racial themes.
..... Click the link for more information. , Zora Neale HurstonHurston, Zora Neale,
1891?–60, African-American writer, b. Notasulga, Ala. She grew up in the pleasant all-black town of Eatonville, Fla. and, moving north, graduated from Barnard College, where she studied with Franz Boas.
..... Click the link for more information. , and Langston HughesHughes, Langston
(James Langston Hughes), 1902–67, American poet and central figure of the Harlem Renaissance, b. Joplin, Mo., grad. Lincoln Univ., 1929. He worked at a variety of jobs and lived in several countries, including Mexico and France, before Vachel Lindsay
..... Click the link for more information. in the 1920s and 30s were succeeded by Richard WrightWright, Richard,
1908–60, American author. An African American born on a Mississippi plantation, Wright struggled through a difficult childhood and worked to educate himself.
..... Click the link for more information. , Ralph EllisonEllison, Ralph
(Ralph Waldo Ellison), 1914–94, African-American author, b. Oklahoma City; studied Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee Univ.). Originally a trumpet player and aspiring composer, he moved (1936) to New York City, where he met Langston Hughes, who became his
..... Click the link for more information. , James BaldwinBaldwin, James,
1924–87, American author, b. New York City. He spent an impoverished boyhood in Harlem, became a Pentecostal preacher at 14, and left the church three years later.
..... Click the link for more information. , and LeRoi Jones (later Amiri BarakaBaraka, Amiri
, 1934–2014, American poet, playwright, and political activist, b. Newark, N.J., as Everett LeRoy Jones, studied at Rutgers Univ., Howard Univ. In college he adopted the name LeRoi Jones.
..... Click the link for more information. ) in the 1940s and 50s.
Poetry after World War I was largely dominated by T. S. EliotEliot, T. S.
(Thomas Stearns Eliot), 1888–1965, American-British poet and critic, b. St. Louis, Mo. One of the most distinguished literary figures of the 20th cent., T. S. Eliot won the 1948 Nobel Prize in Literature. He studied at Harvard, the Sorbonne, and Oxford.
..... Click the link for more information. and his followers, who imposed intellectuality and a new sort of classical form that had been urged by his fellow expatriate Ezra Pound. Eliot was also highly influential as a literary critic and contributed to making the period 1920–60 one that was to some extent dominated by literary analysts and promoters of various warring schools. Among those critics were H. L. MenckenMencken, H. L.
(Henry Louis Mencken) , 1880–1956, American editor, author, and critic, b. Baltimore, studied at the Baltimore Polytechnic. Probably America's most influential journalist, he began his career on the Baltimore Morning Herald
..... Click the link for more information. , Edmund WilsonWilson, Edmund,
1895–1972, American critic and author, b. Red Bank, N.J. grad. Princeton, 1916. He is considered one of the most important American literary and social critics of the 20th cent.
..... Click the link for more information. , Lewis MumfordMumford, Lewis,
1895–1990, American social philosopher, b. Flushing, N.Y.; educ. City College of New York, Columbia, New York Univ., and the New School for Social Research.
..... Click the link for more information. , Malcolm CowleyCowley, Malcolm
, 1898–1989, American critic and poet, b. Belsano, Pa., grad. Harvard, 1920. He lived abroad in the 1920s and knew many writers of the "lost generation," about whom he wrote in Exile's Return (1934) and Second Flowering (1973).
..... Click the link for more information. , Van Wyck BrooksBrooks, Van Wyck
, 1886–1963, American critic, b. Plainfield, N.J., grad. Harvard, 1908. His first book, The Wine of the Puritans (1909), presented the thesis that American culture has been so pervaded by puritanism with its materialistic emphasis that the artistic
..... Click the link for more information. , John Crowe RansomRansom, John Crowe,
1888–1974, American poet and critic, b. Pulaski, Tenn., grad. Vanderbilt Univ. and studied at Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. He is considered one of the great stylists of 20th-century American poetry.
..... Click the link for more information. , Yvor WintersWinters, Yvor,
1900–1968, American poet and critic, b. Chicago, educated at the Univ. of Chicago, Univ. of Colorado (M.A., 1925), and Stanford (Ph.D., 1934). From 1928 until his death he was a member of the English department of Stanford.
..... Click the link for more information. , Lionel TrillingTrilling, Lionel,
1905–75, American critic, author, and teacher, b. New York City, grad. Columbia (B.A., 1925; M.A., 1926; Ph.D., 1938). He began teaching literature at Columbia in 1932 and became a full professor in 1948.
..... Click the link for more information. , Allen TateTate, Allen
(John Orley Allen Tate), 1899–1979, American poet and critic, b. Winchester, Ky., grad. Vanderbilt Univ., 1922. He was one of the founders and editors of the Fugitive
..... Click the link for more information. , R. P. BlackmurBlackmur, Richard Palmer,
1904–65, American critic and poet, b. Springfield, Mass. Although he had no formal education after high school, he was a resident fellow (1940–48) and professor (1948–65) at Princeton.
..... Click the link for more information. , Robert Penn WarrenWarren, Robert Penn,
1905–89, American novelist, poet, and critic, b. Guthrie, Ky., grad. Vanderbilt Univ. 1925; M.A., Univ. of California 1927; B.Litt., Oxford 1930.
..... Click the link for more information. , and Cleanth Brooks.
The victories of the new over the old in the 1920s did not mean the disappearance of the older ideals of form even among lovers of the new. Much that was traditional lived on in the lyrics of Conrad AikenAiken, Conrad
, 1889–1973, American author, b. Savannah, Ga., grad. Harvard, 1912. Aiken is best known for his poetry, which often is preoccupied with the sound and structure of music; his volumes of verse include The Charnel Rose (1918), Selected Poems
..... Click the link for more information. , Sara TeasdaleTeasdale, Sara
, 1884–1933, American poet, b. St. Louis. She wrote several volumes of delicate and highly personal lyrics, including Helen of Troy and Other Poems (1911), Rivers to the Sea (1915), Flame and Shadow (1920), and Strange Victory
..... Click the link for more information. , Edna St. Vincent MillayMillay, Edna St. Vincent
, 1892–1950, American poet, b. Rockland, Maine, grad. Vassar College, 1917. One of the most popular poets of her era, Millay was admired as much for the bohemian freedom of her youthful lifestyle as for her verse.
..... Click the link for more information. , and Elinor WylieWylie, Elinor (Hoyt),
1885–1928, American poet and novelist, b. Somerville, N.J. She was famous during her life almost as much for her ethereal beauty and personality as for her melodious, sensuous poetry.
..... Click the link for more information. . In the later years of the period two poets of unusual subtlety and complexity gained world recognition, though they had been quietly writing long before: Wallace StevensStevens, Wallace,
1879–1955, American poet, b. Reading, Pa., educated at Harvard and New York Law School, admitted to the bar 1904. While in New York, he mingled in literary circles and published his first poems in the magazine Poetry.
..... Click the link for more information. and William Carlos WilliamsWilliams, William Carlos,
1883–1963, American poet and physician, b. Rutherford, N.J., educated in Geneva, Switzerland, Univ. of Pennsylvania (M.D., 1906), and Univ. of Leipzig, where he studied pediatrics.
..... Click the link for more information. . The admirable novels of Willa CatherCather, Willa Sibert
, 1873–1947, American novelist and short-story writer, b. Winchester, Va., considered one of the great American writers of the 20th cent. When she was nine her family moved to the Nebraska prairie frontier. She graduated from the Univ.
..... Click the link for more information. did not resort to new devices; the essays of E. B. WhiteWhite, E. B.
(Elwyn Brooks White), 1899–1985, American writer, b. Mt. Vernon, N.Y., grad. Cornell, 1921. A witty, satiric observer of contemporary society, White was a member of the staff of the early New Yorker;
..... Click the link for more information. were models of pure style, as were the stories of Katherine Anne PorterPorter, Katherine Anne,
1890–1980, American author, b. Indian Creek, Tex., as Callie Russell Porter. Although she published infrequently, she is regarded as a master of the short story.
..... Click the link for more information. and Jean StaffordStafford, Jean,
1915–79, American writer, b. Covina, Calif., grad. Univ. of Colorado, 1936. Her literary reputation rests primarily on her exquisitely wrought short stories.
..... Click the link for more information. .
In this period humor left far behind the broadness of George AdeAde, George,
1866–1944, American humorist and dramatist, b. Kentland, Ind., grad. Purdue Univ., 1887. His newspaper sketches and books attracted attention for their racy and slangy idiom and for the humor and shrewdness with which they delineated people of the Midwestern
..... Click the link for more information. 's Fables (1899) for the acrid satire of Ring LardnerLardner, Ring
(Ringgold Wilmer Lardner), 1885–1933, American humorist and short-story writer, b. Niles, Mich. He was a sports reporter in Chicago, St. Louis, and Boston from 1907 to 1919.
..... Click the link for more information. and the highly polished style of Robert BenchleyBenchley, Robert Charles,
1889–1945, American humorist, b. Worcester, Mass., grad. Harvard, 1912. He was drama critic of Life (1920–29) and of the New Yorker (1929–40).
..... Click the link for more information. and James ThurberThurber, James,
1894–1961, American humorist, b. Columbus, Ohio, studied at Ohio State Univ. After working on various newspapers he served on the staff of the New Yorker
..... Click the link for more information. . The South still produced superb writers, notably Carson McCullersMcCullers, Carson,
1917–67, American novelist, b. Columbus, Ga. as Lula Carson Smith, studied at Columbia. The central theme of her novels is the spiritual isolation that underlies the human condition.
..... Click the link for more information. , Walker PercyPercy, Walker,
1916–90, American novelist, b. Birmingham, Ala. Trained as a physician, Percy turned to writing after he contracted tuberculosis and was forced to retire from practice.
..... Click the link for more information. , Flannery O'ConnorO'Connor, Flannery
(Mary Flannery O'Connor), 1925–64, American author, b. Savannah, Ga., grad. Women's College of Georgia (A.B., 1945), Iowa State Univ. (M.F.A., 1947).
..... Click the link for more information. , and Eudora WeltyWelty, Eudora,
1909–2001, American author, b. Jackson, Miss., grad. Univ. of Wisconsin, 1929. One of the important American regional writers of the 20th cent. and one of the finest short-story writers of any time or place, Welty usually wrote about the inhabitants of rural
..... Click the link for more information. , whose works, while often grotesque, were also compassionate and humorous.
The tension, horror, and meaninglessness of contemporary American life became a major theme of novelists during the 1960s and 70s. While authors such as Saul BellowBellow, Saul,
1915–2005, American novelist, b. Lachine, Que., as Solomon Bellow, grad. Northwestern Univ., 1937. Born of Russian-Jewish parents, he grew up in the slums of Montreal and Chicago, and lived mostly in Chicago with periods spent in New York and other cities;
..... Click the link for more information. , Bernard MalamudMalamud, Bernard
, 1914–86, American author, b. New York City, grad. College of the City of New York (B.A., 1936), Columbia (M.A., 1942). His works frequently reflect a concern with Jewish tradition and the nobility of the humble man as well as with the burdens of
..... Click the link for more information. , Hortense CalisherCalisher, Hortense
, 1911–2009, American author, b. New York City, grad. Barnard College, 1932. Her novels are difficult to categorize, blending deft character analysis with complex story lines.
..... Click the link for more information. , and Philip RothRoth, Philip,
1933–, American author, b. Newark, N.J., grad. Univ. of Chicago (M.A., 1955). His writings, noted for their irony and themes of identity, rebellion, and sexuality, deal largely with middle-class Jewish-American life.
..... Click the link for more information. presented the varied responses of urban intellectuals, usually Jews, and John UpdikeUpdike, John,
1932–2009, American author, one of the nation's most distinguished 20th-century men of letters, b. Shillington, Pa., grad. Harvard, 1954. In his many novels and stories, written in a well-modulated prose of extraordinary beauty, lyricism, and dazzling
..... Click the link for more information. and John CheeverCheever, John,
1912–82, American author, b. Quincy, Mass. His expulsion from Thayer Academy was the subject of his first short story, published by the New Republic when he was 17. Many of his subsequent works are also semiautobiographical.
..... Click the link for more information. treated the largely Protestant middle class, William BurroughsBurroughs, William Seward,
1914–97, American novelist, b. St. Louis, grad. Harvard, 1936, moved to New York City, 1943. He was an elder member of the beat generation.
..... Click the link for more information. , Joyce Carol OatesOates, Joyce Carol,
1938–, American author, b. Lockport, N.Y., grad. B.A., Syracuse Univ., 1960, M.A., Univ. of Wisconsin, 1961. She taught English at the Univ. of Detroit and the Univ. of Windsor, Ontario, Canada, and has been affiliated with Princeton since 1978.
..... Click the link for more information. , and Raymond Carver unsparingly depicted the conflict and violence inherent in American life at all levels of society.
Irony and so-called black humor were the weapons of authors like Roth, Joseph HellerHeller, Joseph,
1923–99, American writer, b. Brooklyn, N.Y. Heller is best known for his first novel, Catch-22 (1961). Set in World War II, it is a darkly humorous commentary on the illogic of war and bureaucracy.
..... Click the link for more information. , and Jules FeifferFeiffer, Jules
, 1929–, American cartoonist and writer, b. New York City. He began publishing a cartoon strip in the Village Voice in 1956, maintaining his association with the paper until 1997; his strip continued until 2000 in several Sunday papers.
..... Click the link for more information. . However, other writers, notably Donald BarthelmeBarthelme, Donald
, 1931–89, American writer, b. Philadelphia. The son of an architect, he grew up in Texas, moved (1962) to New York City, worked as a curator and an editor, and taught creative writing at several universities.
..... Click the link for more information. , Jerzy KosinskiKosinski, Jerzy
, 1933–91, American writer, b. Łódź, Poland. He taught at the Univ. of Łódź before emigrating to the United States in 1957.
..... Click the link for more information. , Thomas PynchonPynchon, Thomas
, 1937–, American novelist, b. Glen Cove, N.Y., grad. Cornell, 1958. Pynchon is noted for his amazingly fertile imagination, his wild sense of humor, and the teeming complexity of his novels.
..... Click the link for more information. , and Kurt VonnegutVonnegut, Kurt, Jr.
1922–2007, American novelist, b. Indianapolis. After serving in a World War II combat unit, he worked as a police reporter. Marked by wry black humor, Vonnegut's satirical, pessimistic, and morally urgent novels often portray the world as a place of
..... Click the link for more information. , Jr., expressed their view of the world as unreal, as mad, by writing fantasies that were by turns charming, obscure, exciting, profound, and terrifying. Many of these writers have been called postmodern, but the term encompasses a number of charactistics, including multiculturalism, self-reflection, and attention to new means of communication.
Although the poets Allen GinsbergGinsberg, Allen
, 1926–97, American poet, b. Paterson, N.J., grad. Columbia, 1949. An outspoken member of the beat generation, Ginsberg is best known for Howl (1956), a long poem attacking American values in the 1950s.
..... Click the link for more information. , Gregory Corso, and Lawrence FerlinghettiFerlinghetti, Lawrence
, 1919–, American author and publisher, b. Yonkers, N.Y. In 1951 he moved to San Francisco and helped found the City Lights Bookshop, which became a center for writers of the beat generation.
..... Click the link for more information. gained initial recognition as part of the beat generationbeat generation,
term applied to certain American artists and writers who were popular during the 1950s. Essentially anarchic, members of the beat generation rejected traditional social and artistic forms.
..... Click the link for more information. , their individual reputations were soon firmly established. Writers of "perceptual verse" such as Charles OlsonOlson, Charles,
1910–70, American critic and poet, b. Worcester, Mass., grad. Harvard (B.A., 1932; M.A., 1933). His literary reputation was established with Call Me Ishmael (1947), a study of the influence of Shakespeare and other writers on Melville's Moby-Dick.
..... Click the link for more information. , Robert CreeleyCreeley, Robert,
1926–2005, American poet, b. Arlington, Mass. He lived in Asia, Europe, and Latin America and taught at various universities in the United States.
..... Click the link for more information. , Denise LevertovLevertov, Denise
, 1923–97, Anglo-American poet, b. Ilford, England. Educated in England, she came to the United States in 1948. Her spare, emotional poems hint at an intuitive order behind the apparent chaos in modern life.
..... Click the link for more information. , and Robert DuncanDuncan, Robert,
1919–88, American poet, b. Oakland, Calif. He was a leading poet of the San Francisco renaissance during the late 1940s. His lyric style contains private allusions, gaps in syntax, and individualistic spellings.
..... Click the link for more information. became widely recognized during the 1960s. One of the most provocative and active poets of the decade was Robert LowellLowell, Robert
(Robert Traill Spence Lowell 4th), 1917–77, American poet and translator, widely considered the preeminent poet of the mid-20th cent., b. Boston, grad. Kenyon College (B.A., 1940).
..... Click the link for more information. , who often wrote of the anguish and corruption in modern life. His practice of revelation about his personal life evolved into so-called confessional poetry, which was also written by such poets as Anne SextonSexton, Anne
(Harvey), 1928–74, American poet, b. Newton, Mass. Educated at Garland Junior College and at Radcliffe, she worked briefly as a fashion model in Boston.
..... Click the link for more information. , Sylvia PlathPlath, Sylvia,
1932–63, American poet, b. Boston. Educated at Smith College and Cambridge, Plath published poems even as a child and won many academic and literary awards.
..... Click the link for more information. , and, in a sense, John BerrymanBerryman, John
, 1914–72, American poet and critic, b. McAlester, Okla., as John Allyn Smith, Jr., grad. Columbia, 1936. His father committed suicide when he was 12; he took his stepfather's name when his mother subsequently remarried.
..... Click the link for more information. . Accomplished poets with idiosyncratic styles were Elizabeth BishopBishop, Elizabeth,
1911–79, American poet, b. Worcester, Mass., grad. Vassar, 1934. During the 1950s and 60s she lived in Brazil, eventually returning to her native New England, where she taught at Harvard (1970–77).
..... Click the link for more information. and James DickeyDickey, James,
1923–97, American poet and novelist, b. Atlanta. After serving in the air force during World War II, he attended Vanderbilt Univ., graduating in 1946. He was an English teacher and an advertising executive. Dickey's poetry has great energy.
..... Click the link for more information. . To some degree, poetry has also become polarized along ideological lines, as shown in the work of feminist poet Adrienne RichRich, Adrienne,
1929–2012, American poet, b. Baltimore, grad. Radcliffe, 1951. From the 1970s on her volumes of exquisitely wrought verse increasingly reflected feminist and lesbian themes.
..... Click the link for more information. . Meanwhile, the bittersweet lyrics of James Merrill expressed the concerns of a generation.
The pressure and fascination of actual events during the 1960s intrigued many writers of fiction, and Truman CapoteCapote, Truman
, 1924–84, American author, b. New Orleans as Truman Streckfus Persons. During his lifetime, the witty, diminutive writer was a well-known public personage, hobnobbing with the rich and famous and frequently appearing in the popular media, before he lapsed
..... Click the link for more information. , John HerseyHersey, John Richard
, 1914–93, American author, b. China, grad. Yale, 1936. Reflecting his experiences as a war correspondent in World War II, many of his writings are concerned with the problem of intolerance and inhumanity.
..... Click the link for more information. , James MichenerMichener, James Albert
, 1907–97, American author, b. New York City, grad. Swarthmore, 1929. His short-story collection Tales of the South Pacific (1947; Pulitzer) was adapted into the successful Rodgers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific (1948).
..... Click the link for more information. , and Norman Mailer wrote with perception and style about political conventions, murders, demonstrations, and presidential elections. Post–Vietnam War American literature has called into question many previously unchallenged assumptions about life. In addition, writing in many prose styles, such novelists as Don DeLilloDeLillo, Don
, 1936–, American novelist, b. New York City, grad. Fordham (1958). DeLillo is an accomplished prose stylist with a dark vision and mordant wit. In a steady stream of novels beginning with Americana
..... Click the link for more information. , Peter Taylor, William Kennedy, Richard FordFord, Richard,
1944–, American novelist, b. Jackson, Miss.; grad. Michigan State Univ. (B.A., 1966), Univ. of California, Irvine (M.F.A., 1970). Ford's concerns are those of a moralist who displays a deeply felt sympathy toward his often struggling, sometimes
..... Click the link for more information. , Robert StoneStone, Robert,
1937–2015, American novelist, b. Brooklyn, N.Y. During his early years he was in the Navy, and later he joined Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters in their drug-enhanced adventures.
..... Click the link for more information. , E. Annie ProulxProulx, E. Annie
(Edna Annie Proulx) , 1935–, American writer, b. Norwich, Conn., grad. Univ. of Vermont (B.A., 1969), Sir George Williams (now Concordia) Univ., Montreal (M.A., 1973).
..... Click the link for more information. , and T. Coraghessen Boyle have explored a wide variety of experiences and attitudes in contemporary American society. The literature of the 1980s and 90s also encompasses the work of African-American (e.g., Nobel Prize–winner Toni MorrisonMorrison, Toni,
1931–, American writer, b. Lorain, Ohio, as Chloe Ardelia (later Anthony) Wofford; grad. Howard Univ. (B.A., 1953), Cornell (M.F.A., 1955). Her fiction is noted for its poetic language, lush detail, emotional intensity, and sensitive observation of American
..... Click the link for more information. , Alice WalkerWalker, Alice,
1944–, African-American novelist and poet, b. Eatonon, Ga. The daughter of sharecroppers, she studied at Spelman College (1961–63) and Sarah Lawrence College (B.A., 1965).
..... Click the link for more information. , and Gloria Naylor), Latino (e.g., Oscar Hijuelos, Rudolfo Anaya, and Sandra Cisneros), Native American (e.g., Louise Erdrich and N. Scott Momaday), Asian-American (e.g., Maxine Hong Kingston and Amy Tan), and homosexual (e.g., Edmund WilsonWilson, Edmund,
1895–1972, American critic and author, b. Red Bank, N.J. grad. Princeton, 1916. He is considered one of the most important American literary and social critics of the 20th cent.
..... Click the link for more information. , David Leavitt, and Rita Mae Brown) writers, who previously were often excluded or ignored in mainstream literature.
See E. H. Emerson, ed., Major Writers of Early American Literature (1972); I. Hassan, Contemporary American Literature, 1945–1972 (1973); R. W. B. Lewis, American Literature: The Makers and the Making (1973); R. E. Spiller et al., ed., Literary History of the United States (4th ed., rev., 1974); W. T. Zyla and W. M. Aycock, ed., Ethnic Literature since 1776 (1978); M. Klein, Foreigners: The Making of American Literature, 1900–1940 (1981); R. N. Ludwig and C. A. Nault, Jr., ed., Annals of American Literature, 1602–1983 (1986); E. Elliott et al., ed., Columbia Literary History of the United States (1988) and The Columbia History of the American Novel (1991); P. Fisher, Still the New World: American Literature in a Culture of Creative Destruction (1999); G. Marcus and W. Sollors, ed., A New Literary History of America (2009); E. Showalter, A Jury of Her Peers: American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx (2009); E. Whitley, American Bards (2010); P. J. Barrish, The Cambridge Introduction to American Literary Realism (2011); L. Cassuto et al., ed., The Cambridge History of the American Novel (2011); R. Fuller, From Battlefields Rising: How the Civil War Transformed American Literature (2011); M. Graham and J. W. Ward, Jr., ed., The Cambridge History of African American Literature (2011).