George and Barbara Perkins

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The HarperCollins Reader's Encyclopedia of American Literature

THE HARPERCOLLINS READER'S ENCYCLOPEDIA OF AMERICAN LITERATURE, 2nd edition, 2002, is the most comprehensive single-volume encyclopedia of American Literature. Its six thousand entries, eleven thousand pages, and over a million words make it far more more comprehensive than other reference books in the field. Emphasizing the literature of the United States, it also gives significant representation to the books and writers of Canada and Latin America. Supplementing the fundamental writing and editing of George Perkins, Barbara Perkins, and Phillip Leininger, the volume includes signed essays on specific topics contributed by 130 scholars.

Among the entries are:


Nathaniel Hawthorne, Kate Chopin, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, H. P. Lovecraft, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Thomas Pynchon, Toni Morrison, Margaret Atwood, Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, Stephen King, Amy Tan


Anne Bradstreet, Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, Czeslaw Milosz, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Edgar Allen Poe, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, William Carlos Williams, Allen Ginsberg, Sandra Cisneros, Rita Dove, Octavio Paz, Sylvia Plath


Royall Tyler, Eugene O'Neill, Arthur Miller, Lillian Hellman, August Wilson, Sam Shepard


W. E. B. Du Bois, Benjamin Franklin, Margaret Fuller, Ulysses S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln, Francis Parkman, Henry Adams, E. B. White, Jimmy Carter


The Scarlet Letter, The Song of Hiawatha, Huckleberry Finn, Uncle Tom's Cabin, The Waste Land, Death of a Salesman, Martin Fierro, On the Road, Gravity's Rainbow, The Song of Solomon


The Hartford Wits, Transcendentalism, Imagism, the Lost and Beat Generations, Black Mountain Poets, the New York School of Poetry, San Francisco Renaissance,


Literary Criticism, motion pictures, feminism, children's literature, comics, science fiction, slave narratives, folklore in American literature, humor in the United States, Jewish American literature, globalization of American literature, Indian captivity narratives, Afro-American literature, Native American Prose and Poetry, Hispanic American Literature, Asian-American Literature


Histories of American, Latin American, and Canadian Literature, the novel, poetry, drams

A Sample Topic Essay


The late twentieth-century infusion of works written by authors born abroad into the mainstream of American literature, a phenomenon magnified by the simultaneous increase in writing by second-generation immigrants. First defined and given wide currency in George and Barbara Perkins's textbook anthology The American Tradition in Literature (9th edition, 1998), globalization is represented there by selections from Isabel Allende, Saul Bellow, Joseph Brodsky, Jamaica Kincaid, Denise Levertov, Czeslaw Milosz, Bharati Mukherjee, Vladimir Nabokov, Charles Simic, and Isaac Bashevis Singer. Rapidly gaining force as the century approached its close, by the year 2000 the globalization of American literature was playing a large part in shaping the ways that residents of the United States view their lives and their literature, and, in turn, the ways the lives and literature of Americans are viewed abroad.

At the level of highest achievement, the history of the Nobel Prize for Literature bears stark witness to the change. From 1930 to 1962 the list of American winners was short and unequivocal: Sinclair Lewis, Eugene O'Neill, Pearl Buck, T. S. Eliot, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, and John Steinbeck were all native born. Except for Toni Morrison, however, the list from 1962 through 2000 contains no native-born Americans. Instead, there are a number who by naturalization, long residence, or significant achievement within the United States can in some sense be designated "American": Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Saul Bellow, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Czeslaw Milosz, Joseph Brodsky, and Derek Walcott. Another indicator of trends comes from the Library of Congress, where two of the six Poets Laureate of the United States appointed in the 1990s, Mark Strand and Joseph Brodsky, were born abroad.

For the nearly two centuries between the Declaration of Independence and the Second World War, the central figures of American literature were native born. From Washington Irving through Cooper, Emerson, Thoreau, Longfellow, Poe, Hawthorne, Stowe, Douglass, Melville, and on to Whitman, Dickinson, Twain, and James, and into the twentieth century with Dreiser, Cather, Frost, Wharton, Eliot, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Dos Passos, and Steinbeck the roll call of major authors contains none born abroad. Immigrants made valuable contributions before and during the American Revolution, but afterwards patriotic fervor and enthusiastic encouragement favored the native writer. After the Revolution, the names of immigrant writers appear in histories only in specialized lists of the foreign born, or in very lengthy general listings of American writers that run into the hundreds rather than the dozens of those who have been most read and admired. Only recently has the trickle of non-native writing turned into a stream of accomplishment that is changing the character of the nation's literature.

In the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, Lafcadio Hearn, Abraham Cahan, Ole Rolvaag, Mary Antin and other immigrants won attention beside the hordes of the native born, standing as literary exemplars of America's longstanding commitment to immigration and multiculturalism, apart from, rather than central to, the American literary tradition. In recent years, however, the few have turned into the many. "The tired," the "poor" and the "huddled masses yearning to be free" of the lines from Emma Lazarus inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty have continued to flock to the United States, typically needing a generation or two to become settled, earn livelihoods, educate their children and grandchildren, and produce writers of merit, who then, of course, are native born. Since World War II, however, the ranks of American immigrants have been swelled not only by the tired, poor, and huddled, but also by the energetic, economically stable, and fiercely independent.

The Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 proved crucial in opening the doors to new waves of immigrants, especially from Asia (see Asian American Literature). As a result of more welcoming immigration policies since then, the demographic face of America has changed: in the year 2000 nearly one in ten of the 281 million inhabitants of the United States was born abroad, a number and a percentage unmatched earlier in the nation's history. A surprising number of these new Americans are writers. Many have become writers after their arrival, and many others arrived with literary reputations already established. They have come for a variety of reasons, including exile and estrangement from their homes, desire for political or economic freedom, and recognition that with the spread of English as a world language and the United States remaining as the last global power, the United States stands highest among places on the globe where literary reputations are made, maintained, and solidified.

Many of these new immigrants assert their Americanness directly. Writing in English in Switzerland, long after his abandonment of his native Russia and Russian language, Vladimir Nabokov defined himself as "an American writer who has once been a Russian one." Joseph Brodsky claimed to be "an American long before I arrived on these shores." Bharati Mukherjee posed in a cornfield wrapped in an American flag, asserting the power of the immigrant's claim on the new country: "I am a voluntary immigrant. I became a citizen by choice, not by the simple accident of birth." Like some other immigrants, Mukherjee and Isabel Allende have attempted to reshape the history of their new country in images drawn from their personal heritages, Mukherjee in THE HOLDER OF THE WORLD (1993), ranging from Puritan New England to Mughal India, and Allende in DAUGHTER OF FORTUNE (1999), bringing together Argentina, China, and the California Gold Rush. Others write of the pervasive influence of American culture. In his stories "A Windmill in the West" and "American Dreams," Peter Carey demonstrated his fascination with the United States over two decades before he left Australia for New York. Charles Simic, born in Yugoslavia, raised in Chicago, has noted "Jazz made me an American and a poet."

In addition to those named above, foreign-born authors who have contributed to the literature of the United States in the twentieth century, mostly since World War II, include Andre Aciman, Vincenzo Ancoma, Reinaldo Arenas, W. H. Auden, Jacques Barzun, Bei Dao, Carlos Bulosan, Eileen Chang, Louis Chu, James Clavell, Andrei Codrescu, Mary and Padriac Colum, Alistair Cooke, Bernard Cornwell, Quentin Crisp, Edwidge Danticat, Nicholas Delbanco, Anita Desai, Junot Diaz, Thom Gunn, Shirley Hazzard, James Hilton, Robert Hughes, Ruth Prawa Jhabvala, Ha Jin, Younghill Kang, Thomas Keneally, Richard Kim, Hans Koning, Jhumpa Lahiri, Chang-rae Lee, Li-Young Lee, Jaime Manrique, Ved Mehta, Orlando Patterson, Manuel Puig, Jonathan Raban, Edward Said, Bienvenido Santos, Natalie Anderson Scott, Elizabeth Sewell, Wilfred Sheed, Manil Suri, Niccolo Tucci, Luisa Valenzuela, Paul West, Elie Wiesel, P. G. Wodehouse, Anzia Yezierska, and Marguerite Yourcenar.

Children of immigrants have continued to write of the confrontations and acculturation that accompany the immigrant experience, just as in years past, but their works have recently taken on additional meaning within the context of literary globalization. Among the most visible in the twentieth century have been: Julia Alvarez, Sandra Cisneros, Pietro diDonato, Herbert Gold, David Hwang, Garrett Hongo, Gish Jen, Maxine Hong Kingston, Jerre Mangione, John Okada, William Saroyan, Amy Tan, Gail Tsukiyama, Yoshiko Uchida, and John Yau.


. . . it is the essays that make this work so valuable. Diverse in subject, they include "History of American Literature," "Native American Prose and Poetry," and "The Globalization of American Literature," and their depth and breath are sufficient to satisfy the simply curious or to launch and, more importantly, lead a student into the subject at hand.

Broader in geographic scope than The Oxford Companion to American Literature (6th ed., Oxford, 1995), the HarperCollins title also includes approximately 1,000 more entries, and its coverage of contemporary writers is more extensive.


In this space (most recent update, February, 2009) we list writers who who have died since the 2002 publication of the READERíS ENCLOPEDIA OF AMERICAN LITERATURE. Obituaries can be found in the online archives of the NEW YORK TIMES or other web sources.

Jack Abbott 2002
Donald Allen 2004
Stephen Ambrose 2002
Robert Anderson 2009
George Axelrod 2003
Saul Bellow 2005
Peter Benchley 2006
Philip Booth 2007
Wayne Booth 2005
Hortense Calisher 2009
Hayden Carruth 2008
R. V. Cassill 2002
Cid Corman 2004
Robert Creeley 2005
Michael Crichton 2008
Guy Davenport 2005
Peter Davison 2004
Vine Deloria 2005
Alan Dugan 2003
John Gregory Dunne 2003
Richard Eberhart 2005
Madeleine Engle 2007
Howard Fast 2003
Leslie Fiedler 2003
Thomas Flanagan 2002
Shelby Foote 2005
Gerald Ford 2006
Betty Friedan 2006
John K. Galbraith 2006
George Garrett 2008
Jack Gelber 2003
William Gibson 2008
Thom Gunn 2004
Arthur Hailey 2004
Oakley Hall, 2008
Elizabeth Hardwick 2007
Anthony Hecht 2004
Tony Hillerman 2008
Evan Hunter 2005
Elizabeth Janeway 2005
Donald Justice 2004
Elia Kazan 2003
Jean Kerr 2003
Kenneth Koch 2002
Stanley Kunitz 2006
Irving Layton 2006
Ira Levin 2007
Robert McCloskey 2003
Norman Mailer 2007
Arthur Miller 2005
George Plimpton 2003
Alan Lomax 2002
Jackson Mac Low 2004
Czeslaw Milosz 2004
Tillie Olsen 2007
Grace Paley 2007
Chaim Potok 2002
Judith Rossner 2005
Selden Rodman 2002
Jane Rule 2007
Edward Said 2003
Thomas Savage 2003
Arthur Schlesinger, 2007
Carol Shields 2003
W. D. Snodgrass 2009
Alexander Solzhenitsen 2008
Susan Sontag 2004
Gilbert Sorrentino 2006
Mickey Spillane 2006
William Steig 2003
Mary Stolz 2007
William Styron 2006
Ronald Sukenick 2004
Studs Terkel 2008
Hunter Thompson 2005
John Updike 2009
Leon Uris 2003
Mona Van Duyn 2004
Peter Viereck 2006
Kurt Vonnegut, 2007
Wendy Wasserstein 2006
James Welch 2003
Philip Whalen 2002
Billy Wilder 2002
Jack Williamson 2006
August Wilson 2005
Sloan Wilson 2003
Kathleen Winsor 2003
Helen Yglesias 2008


COLWIN, LAURIE, [E.] (1944-1992), novelist, short story writer. Born in New York City, educated at Bard and Columbia, Colwin worked for New York publishers and literary agents and wrote about middle- and upper-class Manhattanites in a manner that earned her comparison with John Cheever and John Updike. Often she finds gentle humor in characters whose search for romantic love runs up against their desire for personal careers, marital fidelity, and individual privacy.

Novels include SHINE ON, BRIGHT AND DANGEROUS OBJECT (1975); HAPPY ALL THE TIME (1978), in the words of one critic, "a Manhattan Pastoral" that is "at least as much fun to read as SENSE AND SENSIBILITY"; FAMILY HAPPINESS (1982), with an affair threatening the peace of the title; GOODBYE WITHOUT LEAVING (1990); and A BIG STORM KNOCKED IT OVER (1993), with friendship proving more lasting than marriage. Short stories are collected in PASSION AND AFFECT (1974); THE LONE PILGRIM (1981), especiallly celebrated; and ANOTHER MARVELLOUS THING (1986), linked stories about marital infidelity and ultimate faithfulness. A food columnist for GOOURMET MAGAZINE, she also wrote HOME COOKING: A WRITER IN THE KITCHEN (1988) and MORE HOME COOKING: A WRITER RETURNS TO THE KITCHEN (1993).

OSKISON, JOHN MILTON (1874-1947), novelist, short story writer, biographer. Born in Vinita in the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) to a part Cherokee mother and a white father, Oskison attended Willie Halsell College in Vinita before graduating from Stanford University
(B.A., 1898) and undertaking postgraduate study in literature at Harvard. In 1899 his short story
"Only the Master Shall Praise" won a Century Magazine prize and led to a career as a writer. He published fiction in major periodicals and worked for The New York Evening Post, Collier's Weekly Magazine and other journals as an editor, editorial writer and financial expert up to World War I, when he served in Europe as a lieutenant with the American Expeditionary Forces.

His first two novels, WILD HARVEST (1925) and BLACK JACK DAVY (1926), are set in the Indian Territory in the period before statehood. A third, BROTHERS THREE (1935), examines the lives of mixed-blood siblings who try and fail to succeed in the white world. A TEXAS TITAN: THE STORY OF SAM HOUSTON (1929) and TECUMSEH AND HIS TIMES: THE STORY OF A GREAT INDIAN (1938) are biographical.