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Literature > American Literature

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Awakenings Cover

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Awakenings

The Story of the Kate Chopin Revival

Bernard Koloski

One of the most often repeated anecdotes about the direction of literary studies over the past three decades concerns a graduate student who complained of reading Kate Chopin’s The Awakening in three classes and Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick in none. But Chopin has not always been featured in the literary curriculum. Though she achieved national success in her lifetime (1850–1904) as a writer of Louisiana “local color” fiction, after her death her work fell into obscurity until 1969, when Norwegian literary scholar Per Seyersted published The Complete Works of Kate Chopin and sparked a remarkable American literary revival. Chopin soon became a major presence in the canon, and today every college textbook surveying American literature contains a Chopin short story, her novel The Awakening, or an excerpt from it. In this unique work, twelve prominent Chopin scholars reflect on their parts in the Kate Chopin revival and its impact on their careers. A generation ago, against powerful odds, many of them staked their reputations on the belief—now fully validated—that Chopin is one of America’s essential writers. These scholars energetically sponsored Chopin’s works in the 1970s and 1980s and encouraged reading, studying, and teaching Chopin. They wrote books and articles about her, gave talks about her, offered interviews to newspapers and magazines, taught her works in their classes, and urged their colleagues to do the same, helping to build a network of teachers, students, editors, journalists, librarians, and others who continue to promote Chopin’s work. Throughout, these essays stress several elements vital to the revival’s success. Timing proved critical, as the rise of the women’s movement and the emergence of new sexual norms in the 1960s helped set an ideal context for Chopin in the United States and abroad in the 1970s and 1980s. Seyersted’s biography of Chopin and his accurate texts of her entire oeuvre allowed scholars to quickly publish their analyses of her work. Popular media—including Redbook, New York Times, and PBS—took notice of Chopin and advanced her work outside the scholarly realm. But in the final analysis, as the contributors point out, Kate Chopin’s irresistible writing itself made her revival possible. Highly personal, at times amusing, and always thought provoking, these revealing recollections and new critical insights offer a fascinating firsthand account of a decisive moment in American literary history.

Axes Cover

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Axes

Willa Cather and William Faulkner

Merrill Maguire Skaggs

Axes traces the intimate relationship between the texts published by Willa Cather and William Faulkner between 1922 and 1962. When those texts are juxtaposed and examined carefully, the two writers seem intensely conscious of, and responsive to, each other’s work. In fact, both at some point appear to have caricatured or parodied the other in print. Judging by the texts they left behind, they titillated, offended, exhilarated, and—especially—energized each other. Some readers may conclude that for forty years they helped create each other—the rival geniuses and axes of American fiction in the twentieth century.
 
At the end of their lives, Cather planned a story to appear posthumously as advice to Faulkner about life and literary style; he planned his last novel to answer her in spirit and published it a month before his death. This groundbreaking study is provocative and sure to ignite the imaginations of literary critics and devoted readers of each author.

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Backwater Blues

The Mississippi Flood of 1927 in the African American Imagination

Richard M. Mizelle Jr.

The Mississippi River flood of 1927 was the most destructive river flood in U.S. history, reshaping the social and cultural landscape as well as the physical environment. Often remembered as an event that altered flood control policy and elevated the stature of powerful politicians, Richard M. Mizelle Jr. examines the place of the flood within African American cultural memory and the profound ways it influenced migration patterns in the United States.

In Backwater Blues, Mizelle analyzes the disaster through the lenses of race and charity, blues music, and mobility and labor. The book’s title comes from Bessie Smith’s “Backwater Blues,” perhaps the best-known song about the flood. Mizelle notes that the devastation produced the richest groundswell of blues recordings following any environmental catastrophe in U.S. history, with more than fifty songs by countless singers evoking the disruptive force of the flood and the precariousness of the levees originally constructed to protect citizens. Backwater Blues reveals larger relationships between social and environmental history. According to Mizelle, musicians, Harlem Renaissance artists, fraternal organizations, and Creole migrants all shared a sense of vulnerability in the face of both the Mississippi River and a white supremacist society. As a result, the Mississippi flood of 1927 was not just an environmental crisis but a racial event.

Challenging long-standing ideas of African American environmental complacency, Mizelle offers insights into the broader dynamics of human interactions with nature as well as ways in which nature is mediated through the social and political dynamics of race.Includes discography.

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Bad Land Pastoralism in Great Plains Fiction

At the core of this nuanced book is the question that ecocritics have been debating for decades: what is the relationship between aesthetics and activism, between art and community? By using a pastoral lens to examine ten fictional narratives that chronicle the dialogue between human culture and nonhuman nature on the Great Plains, Matthew Cella explores literary treatments of a succession of abrupt cultural transitions from the Euroamerican conquest of the “Indian wilderness” in the nineteenth century to the Buffalo Commons phenomenon in the twentieth. By charting the shifting meaning of land use and biocultural change in the region, he posits this bad land—the arid West—as a crucible for the development of the human imagination.

 Each chapter deals closely with two novels that chronicle the same crisis within the Plains community. Cella highlights, for example, how Willa Cather reconciles her persistent romanticism with a growing disillusionment about the future of rural Nebraska, how Tillie Olsen and Frederick Manfred approach the tragedy of the Dust Bowl with strikingly similar visions, and how Annie Proulx and Thomas King use the return of the buffalo as the centerpiece of a revised mythology of the Plains as a palimpsest defined by layers of change and response. By illuminating these fictional quests for wholeness on the Great Plains, Cella leads us to understand the intricate interdependency of people and the places they inhabit.

 Cella uses the term “pastoralism” in its broadest sense to mean a mode of thinking that probes the relationship between nature and culture: a discourse concerned with human engagement—material and nonmaterial—with the nonhuman community. In all ten novels discussed in this book, pastoral experience—the encounter with the Beautiful—leads to a renewed understanding of the integral connection between human and nonhuman communities. Propelling this tradition of bad land pastoralism are an underlying faith in the beauty of wholeness that comes from inhabiting a continuously changing biocultural landscape and a recognition of the inevitability of change. The power of story and language to shape the direction of that change gives literary pastoralism the potential to support an alternative series of ideals based not on escape but on stewardship: community, continuity, and commitment.

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Bamboo Among The Oaks

Contemporary Writing by Hmong Americans

Edited by Mai Neng Moua

Of an estimated twelve million ethnic Hmong in the world, more than 160,000 live in the United States today, most of them refugees of the Vietnam War and the civil war in Laos. Their numbers make them one of the largest recent immigrant groups in our nation. Today, significant Hmong populations can be found in California, Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Michigan, and Colorado, and St. Paul boasts the largest concentration of Hmong residents of any city in the world. In this groundbreaking anthology, first- and second-generation Hmong Americans--the first to write creatively in English--share their perspectives on being Hmong in America. In stories, poetry, essays, and drama, these writers address the common challenges of immigrants adapting to a new homeland: preserving ethnic identity and traditions, assimilating to and battling with the dominant culture, negotiating generational conflicts exacerbated by the clash of cultures, and developing new identities in multiracial America. Many pieces examine Hmong history and culture and the authors' experiences as Americans. Others comment on issues significant to the community: the role of women in a traditionally patriarchal culture, the effects of violence and abuse, the stories of Hmong military action in Laos during the Vietnam War. These writers don't pretend to provide a single story of the Hmong; instead, a multitude of voices emerge, some wrapped up in the past, others looking toward the future, where the notion of "Hmong American" continues to evolve. In her introduction, editor Mai Neng Moua describes her bewilderment when she realized that anthologies of Asian American literature rarely contained even one selection by a Hmong American. In 1994, she launched a Hmong literary journal, Paj Ntaub Voice, and in the first issue asked her readers "Where are the Hmong American voices?" Now this collection--containing selections from the journal as well as new submissions--offers a chorus of voices from a vibrant and creative community of Hmong American writers from across the United States.

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Banished

Common Law and the Rhetoric of Social Exclusion in Early New England

By Nan Goodman

A community is defined not only by inclusion but also by exclusion. Seventeenth-century New England Puritans, themselves exiled from one society, ruthlessly invoked the law of banishment from another: over time, hundreds of people were forcibly excluded from this developing but sparsely settled colony. Nan Goodman suggests that the methods of banishment rivaled—even overpowered—contractual and constitutional methods of inclusion as the means of defining people and place. The law and rhetoric that enacted the exclusion of certain parties, she contends, had the inverse effect of strengthening the connections and collective identity of those that remained.

Banished investigates the practices of social exclusion and its implications through the lens of the period's common law. For Goodman, common law is a site of negotiation where the concepts of community and territory are more fluid and elastic than has previously been assumed for Puritan society. Her legal history brings fresh insight to well-known as well as more obscure banishment cases, including those of Anne Hutchinson, Roger Williams, Thomas Morton, the Quakers, and the Indians banished to Deer Island during King Philip's War. Many of these cases were driven less by the religious violations that may have triggered them than by the establishment of rules for membership in a civil society. Law provided a language for the Puritans to know and say who they were—and who they were not. Banished reveals the Puritans' previously neglected investment in the legal rhetoric that continues to shape our understanding of borders, boundaries, and social exclusion.

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Barriers between Us

Interracial Sex in Nineteenth-Century American Literature

Cassandra Jackson

This provocative book examines the representation of characters of mixed African and European descent in the works of African American and European American writers of the 19th century. The importance of mulatto figures as agents of ideological exchange in the American literary tradition has yet to receive sustained critical attention. Going beyond Sterling Brown's melodramatic stereotype of the mulatto as "tragic figure," Cassandra Jackson's close study of nine works of fiction shows how the mulatto trope reveals the social, cultural, and political ideas of the period. Jackson uncovers a vigorous discussion in 19th-century fiction about the role of racial ideology in the creation of an American identity. She analyzes the themes of race-mixing, the "mulatto," nation building, and the social fluidity of race (and its imagined biological rigidity) in novels by James Fenimore Cooper, Richard Hildreth, Lydia Maria Child, Frances E. W. Harper, Thomas Detter, George Washington Cable, and Charles Chesnutt.

Blacks in the Diaspora -- Claude A. Clegg III, editor
Darlene Clark Hine, David Barry Gaspar, and John McCluskey, founding editors

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Barrio-Logos

Space and Place in Urban Chicano Literature and Culture

By Raúl Homero Villa

Struggles over space and resistance to geographic displacement gave rise to much of Chicano history and culture. In this pathfinding book, Raúl Villa explores how California Chicano/a writers, journalists, artists, activists, and musicians have used expressive culture to oppose the community-destroying forces of urban renewal programs and massive freeway development and to create and defend a sense of Chicano place-identity. Villa opens with a historical overview that shows how Chicano communities and culture have developed in response to conflicts over space ever since the United States’ annexation of Mexican territory in the 1840s. Then, turning to the work of contemporary members of the Chicano intelligentsia such as poet Lorna Dee Cervantes, novelist Ron Arias, and the art collective RCAF (Rebel Chicano Art Front), Villa demonstrates how their expressive practices re-imagine and re-create the dominant urban space as a community enabling place. In doing so, he illuminates the endless interplay in which cultural texts and practices are shaped by and act upon their social and political contexts.

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Bawaajimo

A Dialect of Dreams in Anishinaabe Language and Literature

Margaret Noodin

Bawaajimo: A Dialect of Dreams in Anishinaabe Language and Literature combines literary criticism, sociolinguistics, native studies, and poetics to introduce an Anishinaabe way of reading. Although nationally specific, the book speaks to a broad audience by demonstrating an indigenous literary methodology. Investigating the language itself, its place of origin, its sound and structure, and its current usage provides new critical connections between North American fiction, Native American literatures, and Anishinaabe narrative. The four Anishinaabe authors discussed in the book, Louise Erdrich, Jim Northrup, Basil Johnston, and Gerald Vizenor, share an ethnic heritage but are connected more clearly by a culture of tales, songs, and beliefs. Each of them has heard, studied, and written in Anishinaabemowin, making their heritage language a part of the backdrop and sometimes the medium, of their work. All of them reference the power and influence of the Great Lakes region and the Anishinaabeakiing, and they connect the landscape to the original language. As they reconstruct and deconstruct the aadizookaan, the traditional tales of Nanabozho and other mythic figures, they grapple with the legacy of cultural genocide and write toward a future that places ancient beliefs in the center of the cultural horizon.

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Bearing Witness to African American Literature

Validating and Valorizing Its Authority, Authenticity, and Agency

Bernard W. Bell

Bearing Witness to African American Literature: Validating and Valorizing Its Authority, Authenticity, and Agency collects twenty-three of Bernard W. Bell’s lectures and essays that were first presented between 1968 and 2008. From his role in the culture wars as a graduate student activist in the Black Studies Movement to his work in the transcultural Globalization Movement as an international scholar and Fulbright cultural ambassador in Spain, Portugal, and China, Bell’s long and inspiring journey traces the modern institutional origins and the contemporary challengers of African American literary studies. This volume is made up of five sections, including chapters on W. E. B. DuBois’s theory and trope of double consciousness, an original theory of residually oral forms for reading the African American novel, an argument for an African Americentric vernacular and literary tradition, and a deconstruction of the myths of the American melting pot and literary mainstream. Bell considers texts by contemporary writers like Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, William Styron, James Baldwin, and Jean Toomer, as well as works by Mark Twain, Frederick Douglas, and William Faulkner, In a style that ranges from lyricism to the classic jeremiad, Bell emphasizes that his work bears the imprint of many major influences, including his mentor, poet and scholar Sterling A. Brown, and W. E. B. DuBois. Taken together, the chapters demonstrate Bell’s central place as a revisionist African American literary and cultural theorist, historian, and critic. Bearing Witness to African American Literature will be an invaluable introduction to major issues in the African American literary tradition for scholars of American, African American, and cultural studies.

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