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American Literature

Many of the texts on this list are available in the following anthologies, as are many suitable substitutes for the readings:

Nina Baym (ed.), Norton Anthology of American Literature, 8th Edition (Norton 2011)

Paul Lauter (ed.), Heath Anthology of American Literature, 5th Edition (Houghton Mifflin 2006)

Cary Nelson, (ed.) Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford 2000)

Paul Hoover (ed.), Postmodern American Poetry (Norton 1994)

Texts or authors with asterisks beside their names must be included in any modified list. For purposes of substitutions to the list, consider three poets, four-five short stories or essays, or three plays the equivalent of one book.

We encourage students to read the relevant criticism before the primary texts. The criticism aims to provide a basic knowledge of the periods and genres of American literary history, an introduction to different theoretical approaches to American literature, and an introduction to some of the key paradigm shifts and controversies in American literary criticism. Many of the works will serve more than one function, i.e., Eve Sedgwick’s criticism of Billy Budd stands as both an example of a queer critical approach to American literature and a challenge to more traditional accounts of Melville and the American Renaissance.

 Criticism: Classic Criticism/History of American Literary Criticism

1.      Bercovitch, Sacvan. “Introduction: The Puritan Errand Reassessed” and “Epilogue: The Symbol of America” from The American Jeremiad (1978)

2.      Fiedler, Leslie. “Come Back to the Raft Ag’in, Huck Honey” Partisan Review (1948)

3.      Matthiessen, F.O. “Method and Scope,” and Part XIV, “Man in the Open Air” from American Renaissance (1941)

4.      Miller, Perry. Ch. I “Errand into the Wilderness” and ch. VI “Jonathan Edwards and the Great Awakening” from Errand into the Wilderness (1956)

5.      Welter, Barbara. “The Cult of True Womanhood” American Quarterly (1966)

Criticism: Colonial and Early National Period

6.      Davidson, Cathy. Revolution and the Word: The Rise of the Novel in America (1986)

7.      Moon, Michael and Cathy Davidson. “Introduction” and Part I of Subjects and Citizens (1995)

8.      Spengemann, William. “Discovering The Literature of British America” Early American Literature (1983)

9.      Tennenhouse, Leonard. Ch. 1 “Diaspora and Empire” and ch. 3 “The Sentimental Libertine” from Importance of Feeling English (2007)

Criticism: Mid-Nineteenth Century

10.  Baym, Nina. “Melodramas of Beset Manhood” American Quarterly (1981)

11.  Buell, Lawrence. “Introduction” from American Transcendentalists: Essential Writings (2006)

12.  Davidson, Cathy.  “Introduction” to special issue of American Literature, “No More Separate Spheres” (1998)

13.  Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. “Introduction: Axiomatic” and “Some Binarisms I: Billy Budd after the Homosexual” from Epistemology of the Closet (1990)

14.  Tompkins, Jane. “Masterpiece Theater: The Politics of Hawthorne’s Literary Reputation” and “Sentimental Power: Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Politics of Literary History” from Sensational Designs (1985) 

Criticism: Realism and Naturalism

15.  Brodhead, Richard. “The Reading of Regions” from Cultures of Letters: Scenes of Reading and Writing in Nineteenth-Century America (1993)

16.  Howard, June. “Casting Out the Outcast: Naturalism and the Brute” from Form and History in American Literary Naturalism (1985)

17.  Kaplan, Amy. Social Construction of American Realism (1988)

18.  Lutz, Tom. “Discipline and Hubris” from Cosmopolitan Vistas (2004)

19.  Trachtenberg, Alan. The Incorporation of America (1982) 

Criticism: Modernism

20.  Chinitz, David. “T. S. Eliot and the Cultural Divide” PMLA (1995)

21.  Huyssen, Andreas. “Mass Culture as Woman” from After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism (1986)

22.  Michaels, Walter Benn. Our America: Nativism, Modernism, and Pluralism (1995) 

Criticism: Postmodernism

23.  Baudrillard, Jean. “The Precession of Simulacra” from Simulations (1983)

24.  Jameson, Frederic. “Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism,” New Left Review (1984) 

Criticism: African-American Literature and Criticism

25.  Gates, Henry Louis. “Literary Theory and the Black Tradition” and “The ‘Blackness of Blackness’” from Figures in Black (1987)

26.  Gilroy, Paul. “The Black Atlantic as a Counterculture of Modernity” from The Black Atlantic (1993)

27.  Morrison, Toni. Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (1992)

28.  Sidbury, James. “Introduction,” ch. 1 “The First ‘Africans,’” and ch. 2 “Toward a Transformed Africa” from Becoming African in America: Race and Nation in the Early Black Atlantic (2007) 

Criticism: Ethnic Literature

29.  Sollors, Werner. Beyond Ethnicity (1986)

30.  Franco, Dean. “Introduction” from Ethnic American Literature (2006)

31.  Palumbo-Liu, David. “Introduction” from The Ethnic Canon (1995)

Criticism: U.S. Imperialism

32.  Kaplan, Amy. Anarchy of Empire (2002), “Introduction” to Cultures of US Imperialism (1993)

Criticism: Transnationalism and Globalization

33.  Dimock, Wai-chee. “War in Several Tongues” from Globalizing American Studies (2010)

34.  Giles, Paul. Global Remapping of American Literature (2010)

35.  Pease, Donald. “American Exceptionalism(s): A Brief Critical Genealogy” from Globalizing American Studies (2010), pp. 58-70 

Criticism: Period and Genre Overviews

36.  Bradbury and McFarlane. “The Name and Nature of Modernism,” from Modernism: A Guide to European Literature 1890-1930 (1973/1991)

37.  Duvall, John. “Introduction: A Story of the Stories of American Fiction after 1945,” from Cambridge Companion to American Fiction after 1945 (2012)

38.  Gould, Philip. “The Rise, Development, and Circulation of the Slave Narrative” from Cambridge Companion to the African American Slave Narrative (2007)

39.  Graham and Ward. “Introduction” from Cambridge History of African American Literature (2011)

40.  Hite, Molly. “Postmodern Fiction” in Columbia History of the American Novel (1991)

41.  Larson, Kerry. “Introduction” from Cambridge Companion to Nineteenth-Century American Poetry (2011)

42.  Romero, Lora. “Domesticity and Fiction” from Columbia History of the American Novel (1991)

43.  Shi, David. Part II from Facing Facts: Realism in American Thought and Culture, 1850-1920 (1995)

44.  Steiner, Wendy. “Rethinking Postmodernism” in Cambridge History of American Literature vol. 7 (1999) 

Colonial Literature

45.  Bradstreet, Anne. “The Prologue, “The Author to Her Book,” “Before the Birth of One of Her Children,” “To My Dear and Loving Husband,” “The Flesh and the Spirit” (1630)

46.  Byrd, William. History of the Dividing Line (1728)

47.  de Crevecoeur, J. Hector St. John. Letters from an American Farmer (1782)

48.  de Vaca, Alvar Nunez Cabeza. Excerpts from Relation of Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca (1542) in Norton or Heath anthologies

49.  Edwards, Jonathan. “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” (delivered 1741)

50.  Equiano, Olaudah. Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano (1789)

51.  Occom, Samson. “A Short Narrative of My Life” (written 1768, 1st publ. 1982)

52.  Rowlandson, Mary. A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson (1682)

53.  Wheatley, Phillis. “On Being Brought from Africa to America” (1773), “To His Excellency General Washington” (1776)

54.  Winthrop, John. “A Model of Christian Charity” (1630) 

Early National to Mid-Nineteenth Century

55.  Apess, William. “An Indian’s Looking-Glass for the White Man” (1833)

56.  Cooper, James Fenimore. The Pioneers (1823) or The Last of the Mohicans (1826)

57.  Davis, Rebecca Harding. Life in the Iron Mills (1860)

58.  *Dickinson, Emily. “I never lost as much but twice” (1858), “I taste a liquor never brewed” (1860), “Success is counted sweetest” (1859), “Safe in their Alabaster Chambers” (1859), “Some keep the Sabbath going to” (1860), “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” (1861), “Wild Nights - Wild Nights!” (1861), “There’s a certain Slant of light” (1861), “I like a look of Agony” (1861), “After great pain, a formal feeling” (1862), “The Soul selects her own Society” (1862), “This World is not conclusion” (1862), “I died for Beauty - but was scarce” (1862), “I dwell in Possibility” (1862), “Because I could not stop for Death” (1863), “I heard a Fly buzz - when I died” (1862), “The Brain - is wider than the Sky” (1862), “Much Madness is divinest Sense” (1862), “I’ve seen a Dying Eye” (1862), “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant” (1868), “My Life had stood - a Loaded Gun” (1863), “I’m wife–I’ve finished that” (1860), “I felt a Funeral in my Brain” (1861), “She rose to his Requirement” (1863)

59.  Douglass, Frederick. *Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845)

60.  *Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “Nature” (1836), “The Divinity School Address” (1838), “The American Scholar” (1837), “Self-Reliance” (1841), “The Poet” (1844)

61.  Franklin, Benjamin. *Autobiography (1793), [Norton Critical Edition, ed. by Lemay and Zall]

62.  *Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “Young Goodman Brown” (1835), “The Birth-Mark” (1834), The Scarlet Letter (1850)

63.  Jacobs, Harriet. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861)

64.  Jefferson, Thomas. “Declaration of Independence” (1776)

65.  *Melville, Herman. Moby Dick (1851); Billy Budd, Sailor (1891) or “Benito Cereno” (1855)

66.  Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Raven” (1845), “Annabel Lee” (1849), “Ligeia” (1838), “The Fall of the House of Usher” (1839), “The Man of the Crowd” (1840)

67.  Rowson, Susanna. Charlotte Temple (1791), or Charles Brockden Brown, Wieland (1798)

68.  Sedgwick, Catherine Maria. Hope Leslie (1827)

69.  Stowe, Harriet Beecher. *Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852-3)

70.  Thoreau, Henry David. “Resistance to Civil Government” (1849), *Walden (1854)

71.  Tyler, Royall. The Contrast (1787)

72.  Whitman, Walt. “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” (1856), Democratic Vistas (1871), “In Paths Untrodden” (1860), “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking” (1859), Preface to the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass, *“Song of Myself” (1891, the deathbed edition), “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed” (1865-66), “Whoever You Are Holding Me Now in Hand” (1860)

Realist-Modernist Period

73.  Alcott, Louisa May. Little Women (1868-9), or Horatio Alger, Ragged Dick (1868)

74.  Cahan, Abraham. Yekl: A Tale of the New York Ghetto (1896)

75.  Cather, Willa. O Pioneers! (1913) or My Ántonia (1918)

76.  Chesnutt, Charles. Marrow of Tradition (1901) and “The Goophered Grapevine” (1887)

77.  Chopin, Kate. *The Awakening (1899)

78.  Crane, Hart. From The Bridge (1930): “To Brooklyn Bridge,” “Ave Maria,” “The Tunnel,” “Atlantis”

79.  Crane, Stephen. Maggie (1893)

80.  Cummings, E. E. “in Just- spring” (1923), “the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls” (1923), “i sing of Olaf glad and big” (1931), “anyone lived in a pretty how town” (1940), “my father moved through dooms of love” (1940), “l(a)” (1958), “next to of course god” (1926), “Buffalo Bill’s” (1920, 1923), “somewhere i have never travelled” (1931)

81.  Doolittle, Hilda (HD). “Sea Rose” (1916), “Helen” (1924), “Oread” (1924), Book I of the “Pallinode” from Helen in Egypt (1954)

82.  Dreiser, Theodore. *Sister Carrie (1900)

83.  Du Bois, W.E.B. *The Souls of Black Folk (1903)

84.  *Eliot, T.S. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (1917), The Waste Land (1922), “The Hollow Men” (1925), Four Quartets (1935-42)

85.  Ellison, Ralph. *Invisible Man (1947)

86.  *Faulkner, William. Any one of the following: The Sound and the Fury (1929), As I Lay Dying (1930), Light in August (1932), Absalom, Absalom! (1936)

87.  Fitzgerald, F. Scott. *The Great Gatsby (1925)

88.  Frost, Robert. “Mending Wall” (1914), “The Woodpile” (1914), “After Apple Picking” (1914), “The Road Not Taken” (1916), “Birches” (1916), “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” (1923), “Acquainted with the Night” (1928), “The Gift Outright” (1942)

89.  Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “The Yellow Wallpaper” (1892)

90.  Glaspell, Susan. Trifles (1916)

91.  *Hemingway, Ernest. The Sun Also Rises (1926); “Big Two-Hearted River,” Parts 1 & 2 (1924) or “Hills Like White Elephants” (1927)

92.  Howells, William Dean. The Rise of Silas Lapham (1885)

93.  *Hughes, Langston. “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” (1921), “The Weary Blues” (1925), “Let America Be America Again” (1936), “Three songs about Lynching” (1936), “Theme for English B” (1959)

94.  Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937)

95.  *James, Henry. Portrait of a Lady (1881)

96.  Jewett, Sarah Orne. The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896)

97.  Larsen, Nella. Passing (1929)

98.  McKay, Claude. “If We Must Die” (1918), “The Lynching” (1920), “America” (1922), “Africa” (1922), “The Harlem Dancer” (1922)

99.  Miller, Arthur. *Death of a Salesman (1949)

100.          *Pound, Ezra. “The Seafarer” (1911), “Portrait d’une Femme” (1912), “In a Station of the Metro” (1913), The Pisan Cantos (1948); Homage to Sextus Propertius (1919) or Hugh Selwyn Mauberley (1920)

101.          Stein, Gertrude. Section I (“Objects”) from Tender Buttons (1914), “A Valentine to Sherwood Anderson” (1922), “If I told him: a completed portrait of Picasso” (1923), Three Lives (1909), selections from Making of Americans (1925) in the Norton anthology

102.          Steinbeck, John. Grapes of Wrath (1939)

103.          Stevens, Wallace. “Anecdote of the Jar” (1919), “The Emperor of Ice-Cream” (1923), “Sunday Morning” (1923), “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” (1923), “The Idea of Order at Key West” (1936), “The Man with the Blue Guitar” (1937), “Of Modern Poetry” (1940)

104.          Toomer, Jean. Cane (1923)

105.          Turner, Frederick Jackson. Significance of the Frontier in American History (1893)

106.          Twain, Mark. *Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885)

107.          Washington, Booker T. Up from Slavery (1901)

108.          *Wharton, Edith. The House of Mirth (1905) or Custom of the Country (1913)

109.          Williams, Tennessee. Any one of the following: Streetcar Named Desire (1947), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955), Glass Menagerie (1944)

110.          Williams, William Carlos. “Queen-Anne’s-Lace” (1921), “Spring and All” (1923) , “The Red Wheelbarrow” (1923), “This Is Just to Say” (1934), “Burning the Christmas Greens” (1944), from Paterson book 1 “The Delineaments of the Giants” (1946), “Pictures from Brueghel” (1962), “The Young Housewife” (1916), “A Sort of a Song” (1944), “Death” (1930, 1934)

111.          Wright, Richard. Native Son (1940) 

Contemporary Literature

112.          Ashbery, John. “Soonest Mended” (1970), “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror” (1975), “The One Thing that Can Save America” (1975), “Paradoxes and Oxymorons” (1981)

113.          Barth, John. Lost in the Funhouse (1968 or 1988 edition)

114.          Bishop, Elizabeth. “The Fish” (1946), “Invitation to Miss Marianne Moore” (1955), “Visits to St. Elizabeths” (1959), “In the Waiting Room” (1976), “One Art” (1976), “At the Fishhouses” (1955), “Filling Station” (1965), “Questions of Travel” (1965)

115.          Brooks, Gwendolyn. “The Children of the Poor” (1949), “We Real Cool” (1960), “The Bean Eaters” (1960), “A Bronzeville Mother Loiters in Mississippi. Meanwhile a Mississippi Mother Burns the Bacon” (1960), “The Last quatrain of the Ballad of Emmett Till” (1960), “The Blackstone Rangers” (1968), “The Life of Lincoln West” (1981), “Kitchenette Building” (1945), “Riot” (1969)

116.          Cisneros, Sandra. The House on Mango Street (1984), or Rudolfo Anaya,  Bless Me, Ultima (1972)

117.          DeLillo, Don. White Noise (1985) or Underworld (1997) or Falling Man (2007)

118.          Díaz, Junot. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007)

119.          Ginsberg, Alan. “Howl” (1956), “A Supermarket in California” (1956), “America” (1956), or Jack Kerouac, On The Road (1957)

120.          Hwang, David Henry. M. Butterfly (1988)

121.          Kingston, Maxine Hong. Woman Warrior (1976)

122.          Kushner, Tony. Angels in America (1992)

123.          Lee, Li-Young. “The Gift” (1986), “Persimmons” (1986), “Eating Alone” (1986), “Eating Together” (1986)

124.          Mamet, David. Glengarry Glen Ross (1982)

125.          McCarthy, Cormac. Blood Meridian (1985) or All the Pretty Horses (1992)

126.          Momaday, N. Scott. The Way to Rainy Mountain (1969)

127.          Morrison, Toni. *Beloved (1987)

128.          O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried (1990)

129.          O’Connor, Flannery. “Good Country People” (1955) and “A Good Man is Hard to Find” (1953)

130.          Plath, Sylvia. “Morning Song” (1966), “Lady Lazarus” (1966), “Ariel” (1966), “Daddy” (1966), “Blackberrying” (1971), “Words” (1966), “The Applicant” (1962)

131.          Pynchon, Thomas. Crying of Lot 49 (1966) or Gravity’s Rainbow (1973)

132.          Reed, Ishmael. Mumbo Jumbo (1972) or Flight to Canada (1976)

133.          Rich, Adrienne. “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers” (1951), “Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law” (1963), “Diving into the Wreck” (1973), “North American Time” (1983), “Living Memory” (1988), “XIII (Dedications)” in Atlas of a Difficult World (1991), “A Valediction Forbidding Mourning” (1970), “Power” (1974)

134.          Roth, Philip. Any one of the following: Portnoy’s Complaint (1969), American Pastoral (1997), The Human Stain (2000)

135.          Silko, Leslie Marmon. Ceremony (1977)

136.          Soto, Gary. “Braly Street” (1977), “The Cellar” (1978), “Mexicans Begin Jogging” (1981), “How Things Work” (1985)

137.          Spiegelman, Art. Maus I and II (1986)

138.          Valdez, Luis. Zoot Suit (1979)

139.          Wallace, David Foster. Infinite Jest (1996)

140.          Wilson, August. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (1982)