New American Canon

John Smith, Will Wordsworth

Published by: University of Iowa Press

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After the Program Era

The Past, Present, and Future of Creative Writing in the University

Loren Glass

The publication in 2009 of Mark McGurl’s The Program Era provoked a sea change in the study of postwar literature. Even though almost every English department in the United States housed some version of a creative writing program by the time of its publication, literary scholars had not previously considered that this institutional phenomenon was historically significant. McGurl’s groundbreaking book effectively established that “the rise of the creative writing program stands as the most important event in postwar American literary history,” forcing us to revise our understanding not only of the relationship between higher education and literary production, but also of the periodizing terminology we had previously used to structure our understanding of twentieth-century literature.

After the Program Era explores the consequences and implications, as well as the lacunae and liabilities, of McGurl’s foundational intervention. Glass focuses only on American fiction and the traditional MFA program, and this collection aims to expand and examine its insights in terms of other genres and sites. Postwar poetry, in particular, has until now been neglected as a product of the Program Era, even though it is, arguably, a “purer” example, since poets now depend almost entirely on the patronage of the university. Similarly, this collection looks beyond the traditional MFA writing program to explore the pre-history of writing programs in American universities, as well as alternatives to the traditionally structured program that have emerged along the way.

Taken together, the essays in After the Program Era seek to answer and explore many of these questions and continue the conversations McGurl only began.

CONTRIBUTORS
Seth Abramson, Greg Barnhisel, Eric Bennett, Matthew Blackwell, Kelly Budruweit, Mike Chasar, Simon During, Donal Harris, Michael Hill, Benjamin Kirbach, Sean McCann, Mark McGurl, Marija Rieff, Juliana Spahr, Stephen Voyce, Stephanie Young
 

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American Literature and Culture in an Age of Cold War

A Critical Reassessment

Steven Belletto

The time is right for a critical reassessment of Cold War culture both because its full cultural impact remains unprocessed and because some of the chief paradigms for understanding that culture confuse rather than clarify.
 
A collection of the work of some of the best cultural critics writing about the period, American Literature and Culture in an Age of Cold War reveals a broad range of ways that American cultural production from the late 1940s to the present might be understood in relation to the Cold War. Critically engaging the reigning paradigms that equate postwar U.S. culture with containment culture, the authors present suggestive revisionist claims. Their essays draw on a literary archive—including the works of John Updike, Joan Didion, Richard E. Kim, Allen Ginsberg, Edwin Denby, Alice Childress, Frank Herbert, and others—strikingly different from the one typically presented in accounts of the period.
 

Likewise, the authors describe phenomena—such as the FBI’s surveillance of writers (especially African Americans), biopolitics, development theory, struggles over the centralization and decentralization of government, and the cultural work of Reaganism—that open up new contexts for discussing postwar culture. Extending the timeline and expanding the geographic scope of Cold War culture, this book reveals both the literature and the culture of the time to be more dynamic and complex than has been generally supposed. 

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American Unexceptionalism

The Everyman and the Suburban Novel after 9/11

Kathy Knapp

American Unexceptionalism examines a constellation of post-9/11 novels that revolve around white middle-class male suburbanites, thus following a tradition established by writers such as John Updike and John Cheever. Focusing closely on recent works by Richard Ford, Chang-Rae Lee, Jonathan Franzen, Philip Roth, Anne Tyler, Gish Jen, A. M. Homes, and others, Kathy Knapp demonstrates that these authors revisit this well-trod turf and revive the familiar everyman character in order to reconsider and reshape American middle-class experience in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and their ongoing aftermath.

The novels in question all take place in the sprawling terrain that stretches out beyond the Twin Towers—the postwar suburbs that since the end of World War II have served, like the Twin Towers themselves, as a powerful advertisement of dominance to people around the globe, by projecting an image of prosperity and family values. These suburban tales and their everyman protagonists grapple, however indirectly, with the implications of the apparent decline of the economic, geopolitical, and moral authority of the United States. In the context of perceived decay and diminishing influence, these novels actively counteract the narrative of American exceptionalism frequently peddled in the wake of 9/11.

If suburban fiction has historically been faulted for its limited vision, this newest iteration has developed a depth of field that self-consciously folds the personal into the political, encompasses the have-nots along with the haves, and takes in the past when it imagines the future, all in order to forge a community of readers who are now accountable to the larger world. American Unexceptionalism traces the trajectory by which recent suburban fiction overturns the values of individualism, private property ownership, and competition that originally provided its foundation. In doing so, the novels examined here offer readers new and flexible ways to imagine being and belonging in a setting no longer characterized by stasis, but by flux.

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Hope Isn't Stupid

Utopian Affects in Contemporary American Literature

Sean Austin Grattan

Hope Isn’t Stupid is the first study to interrogate the neglected connections between affect and the practice of utopia in contemporary American literature. Although these concepts are rarely theorized together, it is difficult to fully articulate utopia without understanding how affects circulate within utopian texts. Moving away from science fiction—the genre in which utopian visions are often located—author Sean Grattan resuscitates the importance of utopianism in recent American literary history. Doing so enables him to assert the pivotal role contemporary American literature has to play in allowing us to envision alternatives to global neoliberal capitalism.

Novelists William S. Burroughs, Dennis Cooper, John Darnielle, Toni Morrison, Thomas Pynchon, and Colson Whitehead are deeply invested in the creation of utopian possibilities. A return to reading the utopian wager in literature from the postmodern to the contemporary period reinvigorates critical forms that imagine reading as an act of communication, friendship, solace, and succor. These forms also model richer modes of belonging than the diluted and impoverished ones on display in the neoliberal present. Simultaneously, by linking utopian studies and affect studies, Grattan’s work resists the tendency for affect studies to codify around the negative, instead reorienting the field around the messy, rich, vibrant, and ambivalent affective possibilities of the world. Hope Isn’t Stupid insists on the centrality of utopia not only in American literature, but in American life as well. 

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How to Revise a True War Story

Tim O'Brien's Process of Textual Production

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It's Just the Normal Noises

Marcus, Guralnick, No Depression, and the Mystery of Americana Music

Timothy Gray

Roots rock, Americana, alt country: what are they and why do they matter? Americans have been trying to answer these questions for as long as the music bearing these labels has existed. Music can function as an escape from the outside world or as an explanation of that world. Listeners who identify with the music’s message may shape their social understandings accordingly. Rock critics like Greil Marcus and Peter Guralnick, the titans of rock criticism, tap this fluid dichotomy, considering the personal appeal of roots music alongside national ideals of democracy and selfhood. So too do many other critics, novelists, and fans, explaining to themselves and us how music forms our selves and the communities we seek out and build up.

In It’s Just the Normal Noises, Timothy Gray examines a wide array of writing about roots music from the 1960s to the 2000s. In addition to chapters on the genre-defining work of Guralnick and Marcus, he explores the influential writings of Grant Alden and Peter Blackstock, the editors of No Depression magazine, and the writers who contributed to its pages, Bill Friskicks-Warren, Ed Ward, David Cantwell, and Allison Stewart among them. A host of memoirists and novelists, from Patti Smith and Ann Powers to Eleanor Henderson and Dana Spiotta, shed light on the social effects and personal attachments of the music’s many manifestations, from punk to alt country to hardcore. The ambivalent attitudes of rock musicians toward success and failure, the meaning of soul, the formation of alternative communities through magazine readership, and the obsession of Generation X scenes with DIY production values wend through these works.

Taking a personal approach to the subject matter, Gray reads criticism and listens to music as though rock ‘n’ roll not only explains American culture, but also shores up his life. This book is for everyone who’s heard in roots rock the sound of an individual and a nation singing themselves into being.
 

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The Legacy of David Foster Wallace

Samuel Cohen and Lee Konstantinou

 Considered by many to be the greatest writer of his generation, David Foster Wallace was at the height of his creative powers when he committed suicide in 2008. In a sweeping portrait of Wallace’s writing and thought and as a measure of his importance in literary history, The Legacy of David Foster Wallace gathers cutting-edge, field-defining scholarship by critics alongside remembrances by many of his writer friends, who include some of the world’s most influential authors.

 

In this elegant volume, literary critics scrutinize the existing Wallace scholarship and at the same time pioneer new ways of understanding Wallace’s fiction and journalism. In critical essays exploring a variety of topics—including Wallace’s relationship to American literary history, his place in literary journalism, his complicated relationship to his postmodernist predecessors, the formal difficulties of his 1996 magnum opus Infinite Jest, his environmental imagination, and the “social life” of his fiction and nonfiction—contributors plumb sources as diverse as Amazon.com reader recommendations, professional book reviews, the 2009 Infinite Summer project, and the David Foster Wallace archive at the University of Texas’s Harry Ransom Center.

 

The creative writers—including Don DeLillo, Jonathan Franzen, George Saunders, Rick Moody, Dave Eggers, and David Lipsky, and Wallace’s Little, Brown editor, Michael Pietsch—reflect on the person behind the volumes of fiction and nonfiction created during the author’s too-short life.

 

All of the essays, critical and creative alike, are written in an accessible style that does not presume any background in Wallace criticism. Whether the reader is an expert in all things David Foster Wallace, a casual fan of his fiction and nonfiction, or completely new to Wallace, The Legacy of David Foster Wallace will reveal the power and innovation that defined his contribution to literary life and to self-understanding. This illuminating volume is destined to shape our understanding of Wallace, his writing, and his place in history.

 

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The Meanings of J. Robert Oppenheimer

Lindsey Michael Banco

He called the first atomic bomb “technically sweet,” yet as he watched its brilliant light explode over the New Mexico desert in 1945 in advance of the black horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he also thought of the line from the Hindu epic The Bhagavad Gita: “I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” Physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, the scientific director of the Manhattan Project, the single most recognizable face of the atomic bomb, and a man whose name has become almost synonymous with Cold War American nuclear science, was and still is a conflicted, controversial figure who has come to represent an equally ambivalent technology.

The Meanings of J. Robert Oppenheimer examines how he has been represented over the past seven decades in biographies, histories, fiction, comics, photographs, film, television, documentaries, theater, and museums. Lindsey Michael Banco gathers an unprecedented group of cultural texts and seeks to understand the multiple meanings Oppenheimer has held in American popular culture since 1945. He traces the ways these representations of Oppenheimer have influenced public understanding of the atomic bomb, technology, physics, the figure of the scientist, the role of science in war, and even what it means to pursue knowledge of the world around us. Questioning and unpacking both how and why Oppenheimer is depicted as he is across time and genre, this book is broad in scope, profound in detail, and offers unique insights into the rise of nuclear culture and how we think about the relationship between history, imagination, science, and nuclear weapons today. 

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Places in the Making

A Cultural Geography of American Poetry

Jim Cocola

Places in the Making maps a range of twentieth- and twenty-first century American poets who have used language to evoke the world at various scales. Distinct from related traditions including landscape poetry, nature poetry, and pastoral poetry—which tend toward more idealized and transcendent lyric registers—this study traces a poetics centered upon more particular and situated engagements with actual places and spaces. Close generic predecessors of this mode, such as topographical poetry and loco-descriptive poetry, folded themselves into the various regionalist traditions of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, but place making in modern and contemporary American poetics has extended beyond its immediate environs, unfolding at the juncture of the proximate and the remote, and establishing transnational, planetary, and cosmic formations in the process. Turning to geography as an interdisciplinary point of departure, Places in the Making distinguishes itself by taking a comparative and multiethnic approach, considering the relationship between identity and emplacement among a more representative demographic cross-section of Americans, and extending its inquiry beyond national borders.

Positing place as a pivotal axis of identification and heralding emplacement as a crucial model for cultural, intellectual, and political activity in a period marked and imperiled by a tendency toward dislocation, the critical vocabulary of this project centers upon the work of place-making. It attends to a poetics that extends beyond epic and lyric modes while relying simultaneously on auditory and visual effects and proceeding in the interests of environmental advocacy and social justice, often in contrast to the more orthodox concerns of literary modernism, global capitalism, and print culture. Focusing on poets of international reputation, such as Elizabeth Bishop, Pablo Neruda, Charles Olson, and William Carlos Williams, Places in the Making also considers work by more recent figures, including Kamau Brathwaite, Joy Harjo, Myung Mi Kim, and Craig Santos Perez. In its larger comparative, multiethnic, and transnational emphases, this book addresses questions of particular moment in American literary and cultural studies and aspires to serve as a catalyst for further interdisciplinary work connecting geography and the humanities. 

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Postmodern/Postwar and After

Rethinking American Literature

Jason Gladstone, Andrew Hoberek, and Daniel Worden

Within the past ten years, the field of contemporary American literary studies has changed significantly. Following the turn of the twenty-first century and mounting doubts about the continued explanatory power of the category of “postmodernism,” new organizations have emerged, book series have been launched, journals have been created, and new methodologies, periodizations, and thematics have redefined the field. Postmodern/Postwar—and After aims to be a field-defining book—a sourcebook for the new and emerging critical terrain—that explores the postmodern/postwar period and what comes after.

The first section of essays returns to the category of the “post-modern” and argues for the usefulness of key concepts and themes from postmodernism to the study of contemporary literature, or reevaluates postmodernism in light of recent developments in the field and historical and economic changes in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. These essays take the contemporary abandonments of postmodernism as an occasion to assess the current states of postmodernity. After that, the essays move to address the critical shift away from postmodernism as a description of the present, and toward a new sense of postmodernism as just one category among many that scholars can use to describe the recent past. The final section looks forward and explores the question of what comes after the postwar/postmodern.

Taken together, these essays from leading and emerging scholars on the state of twenty-first-century literary studies provide a number of frameworks for approaching contemporary literature as influenced by, yet distinct from, postmodernism. The result is an indispensable guide that seeks to represent and understand the major overhauling of postwar American literary studies that is currently underway. 

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