• Academy of American Poets
• America.gov: Books
• American Authors CD
• American Writers (C-Span)
• Arts in America: Literature (IIP) CD
• BookWire (Bowker)
• Contemporary U.S. Literature: A Multicultural Perspective (IIP) CD
• InfoPlease - The Year in Publishing
• Modern American Poetry: Online Journal and Companion to Anthology of Modern American Poetry (University of Illinois)
• Multicultural Literature in the United States Today (America.gov, Feb. 2009) NEW
• National Book Foundation
• New York Times Book Review
• New York Review of Books
• Outline of American Literature (IIP)
• PBS Arts - Literature
• PEN - American Center
• Perspectives on American Literature: Research and Reference Guide (California State University Stanislaus)
• Poetry and American Memory (Atlantic Monthly)
• Poets and Writers
• Publishers Weekly
• Pulitzer Prize
• A Sense of Place: Regional American Literature (IIP) CD
• American Folklore Net
• American Verse Project (University of Michigan)
• Atlantic Unbound (The Atlantic Monthly Online - Fiction)
• Baldwin Online Children's Literature Project - Bringing Yesterday's Classics to Today's Children
• Documenting the American South (University of North Carolina)
• Elements of Style (Bartleby)
• Online Books Page (University of Pennsylvania)
• Online Children's Literature (University of Calgary)
• Online Library of Electronic Texts (University of Virginia)
• Poet at Work - Walt Whitman Notebooks 1850-1860s (American Memory - Library of Congress)
• Writers on America
• The Zora Neale Hurston Plays (American Memory - Library of Congress)
Exhibits - Digital Images
• America in Caricature: 1765-1865 (University of Indiana)
• The Beats and Beyond: Counterculture Poetry, 1950-75 (University of North Carolina)
• Censored: Wielding the Red Pen (University of Virginia)
• Drawing from Life - Caricatures and Cartoons (Smithsonian Institution Libraries)
• Drop Me off in Harlem - Exploring the Harlem Renaissance (ArtsEdge - Kennedy Center)
• Herblock's History: Political Cartoons from the Crash to the Millennium (Library of Congress)
• Language of the Land - Journeys Into Literary America (Library of Congress)
• Mark Twain at Large: His Travels Here and Abroad (University of California, Berkeley)
• The 19th Century in Print: The Making of America in Books and Periodicals (American Memory, Library of Congress)
• The Psychedelic '60s: Literary Tradition and Social Change (University of Virginia)
• Rave Reviews: Bestselling Fiction in America (University of Virginia)
• Revising Himself - Walt Whitman and Leaves of Grass (Library of Congress)
• Sunday School Books (American Memory, Library of Congress)
Outline of American Literature (IIP)
American literature begins with the orally transmitted myths, legends, tales, and lyrics (always songs) of Indian cultures. There was no written literature among the Indian cultures. The earliest American writings were concerned directly with the dream of a new world, and mostly accounts of pioneering motives and settlements were published.
Regional literature has always been important in the United States. Until the end of the 19th century, American literature was dominated by the works of New Englanders, such as Cotton Mather. Sermons and religious tracts provided the greatest part of the writing. The Puritan definition of good writing was that which brought home a full awareness of the importance of worshipping God and of the spiritual dangers that the soul faced. Puritan style varied enormously -- from complex metaphysical poetry to homely journals and religious history.
The 18th-century American Enlightenment was a movement marked by an emphasis on rationality rather than tradition, scientific inquiry instead of unquestioning religious dogma, and representative government in place of monarchy. Enlightenment thinkers and writers were devoted to the ideals of justice, liberty, and equality as the natural rights of man. Benjamin Franklin, whom the Scottish philosopher David Hume called America's "first great man of letters," embodied the Enlightenment ideal of humane rationality.
The Romantic movement reached America around the year 1820. In America as in Europe, fresh new vision electrified artistic and intellectual circles. Yet there was an important difference: Romanticism in America coincided with the period of national expansion and the discovery of a distinctive American voice. The solidification of a national identity and the surging idealism and passion of Romanticism nurtured masterpieces by authors such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.
In the second half of the 19th century, the United States was transformed into a modern, industrial nation. As industrialization grew, so did alienation. Characteristic American novels of the period, for example by Stephen Crane and Jack London, depict the damage of economic forces and alienation on the weak or vulnerable individual. Survivors, like Mark Twain's Huck Finn, endure through inner strength involving kindness, flexibility, and, above all, individuality.
Although American prose between the two World Wars experimented with viewpoint and form, Americans such as Ernest Hemingway, wrote more realistically, on the whole, than did Europeans. William Faulkner set his powerful southern novels firmly in Mississippi heat and dust. The importance of facing reality became a dominant theme in the 1920s and 1930s: Writers such as F. Scott Fitzgerald repeatedly portrayed the tragedy awaiting those who live in flimsy dreams.
Narrative since World War II resists generalization: It is extremely various and multifaceted. It has been vitalized by international currents such as European existentialism and Latin American magical realism. The biggest transformation has been the ascendancy of a new generation of highly ambitious writers who are attuned to our collective arrival in a hypercomplex and polyglot info-culture. The best known of these is probably novelist Jonathan Franzen, whose The Corrections, rode the 2001 best-seller lists for many months.
The poetry scene is configured by a similar plurality of modes, but what feels like abundance and variety in the world of fiction feels to many poets like a frustrating balkanization. A few years ago, the major division of camps was between the "formalists" and exponents of various kinds of "free" verse. The situation feels somewhat different now, with the split coming more between poets who use language in referential ways -- pointing out at our common world -- and those for whom language is its own self-created realm.
The Nobel Prize for Literature has been awarded to nine Americans: Sinclair Lewis, Eugene O'Neill, Pearl Buck, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, Saul Bellow, Isaac Bashevis Singer and Toni Morrison.
For High School Students
• Common Sense Media: Entertainment Reviews for Kids and Families
• Internet Public Library: Kidspace - Reading Zone
• Internet Public Library: Teenspace - Reading and Writing
• Discoveryschool.com: Lesson Plans Library Literature
• Electronic Archives for Teaching American Literature (Georgetown University)
• Ethnicity and Dissent in American Literature and Art (Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute)
• Lesson Plans: Literature/Poetry (Library of Congress)
• Online Poetry Classroom (Academy of American Poets)
• Poem 180: a Poem a Day for American High Schools (Library of Congress)
• PBS for T eachers: American Literature (PBS)
• Internet Public Library: Book Resources
• Internet Public Library: Literary Criticism
• Internet Public Library: Native American Authors
• Jack Kerouac and Beat Sites
• Literary Resources on the Net
• Science Fiction and Fantasy Research Database
• Underground Comix Database (California Polytechnic State University Library, Michael Moore Special Collection)
• Classic Notes
• Free Book Notes
• Spark Notes
• Yahoo: Literature Study Guides
Texts are abridged from U.S. State Department IIP publications and other U.S. government materials. What kind of information materials are available?
CD: These documents are available in fulltext format on the About the USA CD-ROM. Teachers: Request a copy for classroom use.
L: Selected documents are available in German as well as other languages, including Arabic, Chinese, French, Spanish, Persian and Turkish.
Any reference obtained from this server to a specific commercial product, process, or service does not constitute or imply an endorsement by the United States Government of the product, process, or service, or its producer or provider. The views and opinions expressed in any referenced document do not necessarily state or reflect those of the United States Government.
U.S. Diplomatic Mission to Germany /Public Affairs/ Information Resource Centers
Updated: February 2009