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  • 21 General Reference Works
  • Gary Scharnhorst

The best news to be reported in this chapter within the past couple of years is that Thomson Gale has finally discontinued the DLB Yearbook, a boondoggle as overpriced as Defense Department toilets and as practical as an old copy of the Sears Roebuck catalogue. The DLB itself is increasingly superseded by such online services as the Literary Encyclopedia. Online services, in fact, are rapidly transforming the reference work market. First Search and other online suppliers, for example, now offer a number of digitized and fully searchable historical newspapers, among them the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Hartford Courant, the Brooklyn Eagle, and the Chicago Tribune. The work of the gimlet-eyed bibliographer will never be the same. The online database Twentieth Century North American Drama (Alexander Street), when complete, will contain the texts of about 2,000 plays written over the past century by over 100 playwrights, about a fourth of them previously unpublished.

The year 2005 was a banner year for literary "guides" and "companions," especially those devoted to ethnic literatures. Multiracial America: A Resource Guide on the History and Literature of Interracial Issues, ed. Karen E. Downing, Darlene P. Nichols, and Kelly Webster (Scarecrow), contains 12 chapters and 5 appendices. It should prove particularly valuable for high school teachers, with chapters titled "Teaching an Interracial Issues Course" and "Books for Children and Young Adults," but it covers other issues as well (e.g., transracial adoption and interracial dating and marriage). The five-volume Greenwood Encyclopedia of Multiethnic American Literature, which has been named a Booklist [End Page 529] Editors' Choice and a Choice Outstanding Academic title, contains about 1,100 entries, 90 percent of them on individual authors, by some 300 contributors. Many of the remainder are devoted to seminal texts and such esoteric but noteworthy topics as Amish literature, Vietnamese American literature, Chinese American literature, Cuban American poetry, Lithuanian American literature, and Puerto Rican American drama. Similarly, M. Delores Carlito focuses on a specific ethnicity and genre in Cuban-American Fiction in English: An Annotated Bibliography of Primary and Secondary Sources (Scarecrow). Carlito discusses fiction set in Cuba or the United States immediately before or since the 1959 revolution—85 novels, several story collections and anthologies, and nearly 200 critical texts. She concludes that "Cuban American fiction has evolved into a literature" about the experiences of a "cultural minority" that may or may not be politically inflected.

Reference works on African American literature and culture are still a growth industry. Lois Brown's Encyclopedia of the Harlem Literary Renaissance (Facts on File) is a model of its kind, with a map of Harlem identifying many of the major sites of the Renaissance, a bibliography and chronology, and several hundred entries. Darryl Dickson-Carr's Columbia Guide to Contemporary African American Fiction contains a general introduction to the field as well as an A–Z "Guide to Contemporary African American Fiction" with several hundred entries, virtually all of them plot summaries and biographical sketches, from African American Review to Shay Youngblood. On the other hand, the Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature, ed. Hans A. Ostrom and J. David Macey, though a monumental project, is a modest disappointment. It contains about 1,000 entries by over 330 contributors, organized alphabetically over 2,000 pages in five volumes. Many of the predictable entries are here, of course (the Wrights, the Wilsons, the Browns), mostly biographical sketches, with some topical entries (e.g., on the Middle Passage or the Harlem Renaissance). But it also contains some unexpected and, in truth, superfluous entries (e.g., Roy Campanella, Willie Mays, Tupac Shakur), and it omits some entries I would have expected. Even though the cover of volume 3 features a photograph of Rosa Parks, for example, the volumes contain no entry specific to her, and she is mentioned in a single sentence in the essay "Civil Rights Movement."

The market for reference tools on Native American literature and culture remains strong, too. The appearance of the Cambridge Companion [End Page 530] to Native American Literature, ed. Joy Porter and Kenneth M. Roemer, signals the rise of Native literature, as the editors put it...


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