Writing the Nation: A Concise Introduction to American Literature 1865 to Present
Amy Berke, Middle Georgia State University
Robert Bleil, College of Coastal Georgia
Jordan Cofer, Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College
Pub Date: 2015
ISBN 13: 978-1-9407713-4-2
Publisher: University of North Georgia Press
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Despite bearing “concise” in the title, Writing the Nation is actually a 775-page book (excluding externally hyperlinked files) intended to replace read more
Despite bearing “concise” in the title, Writing the Nation is actually a 775-page book (excluding externally hyperlinked files) intended to replace one of the costly standard print anthologies of U.S. literature frequently used in Am Lit survey courses. The book is divided—with uneven success—into chapters based on literary movements and includes for each chapter, an introductory essay situating the literary movement, learning outcomes, biographical headnotes on authors, bolded key terms that are defined in a glossary, literary texts (when out of copyright) without explanatory editorial footnotes, and review/discussion questions. Most of the usual suspects in a postbellum US literature survey are represented here, although there are some notable absences (e.g., Theodore Dreiser, Edith Wharton). Due to copyright restrictions and the anthology’s status as a free open educational resource, the anthology’s comprehensiveness falls off after 1923. After this date, the selection of texts relies on external hyperlinks, sometimes to sites with high editorial standards such as Poetry Foundation (poetryfoundation.org) and the University of Virginia Hypertexts Collection (xroads.virginia.edu), but at other times to scanned or transcribed copies of literary texts on high school websites and personal blogs.
The author headnotes are fact-filled and adequate, giving a sense of the writers’ lives that will be useful to students. The introductory essays to each chapter are engagingly written but, as guides to literary history, they are sometimes flawed by oversimplification and omissions. To provide a few examples: The chapter essay on “Late Romanticism” implies that Whitman was not a part of F. O. Matthiessen’s conception of the American Renaissance (2); the chapter essay on the period from 1865-1890 discusses the postbellum unification of the nation without mentioning Reconstruction (53-56); and the chapter essay on modernism seeks to define literary modernism without mentioning realism (561-565). The modernism essay subsection on modernist poetry gives a good example of the oversimplifying tendency prevalent in the book. High modernism and low modernism are differentiated based on whether poetry is “more” or “less formal” (564). On this questionable criterion, T. S. Eliot’s “Prufrock” is cited as an example of high modernism while Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams are described as practitioners of low modernism.
Writing the Nation is arranged in such a way that necessary updates can be relatively easily made. Overhauling the introductory chapter essays would enhance the value of this otherwise useful teaching resource, for which texts have been selected, edited, and introduced with care.
The prose is clear and accessible, and specialized terms are defined in the glossary.
Regarding consistency, please see my response to question (7).
Writing the Nation is an anthology made up of discrete literary texts, and thus can be easily divided into smaller modules or sections in accordance with instructor objectives.
Unlike the standard print anthologies, Writing the Nation is organized in terms of a progression of U.S. literary movements. This commitment to periodize through the evolution of literary form is exciting, but inconsistently deployed. (As mentioned previously, an opportunity is missed when the attempt is not made to understand the emergence of literary modernism in relation to previous chapters on realism/naturalism.) In fact, by the final chapter of the anthology, the book abandons periodization by literary movements in favor of chronology (“American Literature since 1945”). While less ambitious, using a chronological organizing scheme throughout likely would have given the anthology a more supple, responsive structure and avoided mismatches where, for example, a chapter on the “Growth of Modernism” includes works solely by Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Zane Grey, a selection that the editors themselves acknowledge “may seem at first to be randomly selected” (331).
Writing the Nation is attractively designed and formatted.
The text contains few, if any, grammatical errors.
Writing the Nation offers a rich and sensitive collection of texts by European-American and African-American writers. As past reviewers have noted, the inclusion of more works by Native American, Latinx, and Asian-American authors would better represent the multiethnic dimension of U.S. writing.
Writing the Nation: A Concise Introduction to American Literature 1865 to Present is a comprehensive literary anthology that spans the trajectory of read more
Writing the Nation: A Concise Introduction to American Literature 1865 to Present is a comprehensive literary anthology that spans the trajectory of the canon, includes commonly anthologized authors, and provides a solid touchstone of introductory information about literary movements, stylistic innovations, impacts of major historical events on literary culture, and authors’ personal histories and writerly communities. Students will be able to engage with the language of literary analysis and practice incorporating it into their classroom discussion and writing assignments.The text does contain a glossary, but does not contain an index. The use of ctrl+F will bring a “Find” search bar up to the top of the document, however, and students can enter their terms there and hop from “Previous” to “Next” through the use of that function.
This is an accurate representation of the latter half of the survey of American literature. Students will have a solid grounding in the important concepts, formal concerns, and sociohistorical contexts to propel them forward into research projects. This text can easily be supplemented to include more authors and literary movements (see comments below about Chapter 6) with an eye toward the inclusion of more women, queer-identifying, indigenous, and immigrant authors. The anthology, at present, does include representatives from these diverse identities, but there is room for more diversity of literary responses to important historical events and cultural constructs.
The content of this anthology will not become obsolete, but could be expanded in later editions to include a broader range of authors in each chapter. Chapter 6: American Literature Since 1945 is the lengthiest, and if an updated edition is created, it makes sense that this chapter should be broken out into others and more discretely periodized.
The introductions of each chapter and of each author are written in accessible prose, with key terms and historical events boldened to draw the reader’s focus in to the language that will prime the for reading the literary works and responding to the review questions/preparing for class discussion and paper drafting. Social, historical, and literary contexts are provided in these introductions, clearly situating the pieces within their cultural frameworks.
The internal consistency of this text is high; each chapter contains “Learning Outcomes,” a chapter introduction and author introductions, “Reading and Review Questions” for each author, a “Key Terms” section at the close of the chapter, in which the terms mirror those within the introduction material and the outcomes, and the glossary at the end provides quick reference back to the aforementioned sections throughout the text.
This text can be easily broken up into smaller reading sections for students, as the anthology’s chapters are comprised of the commonly accepted important works of each author (whether this be a short story, a piece of non-fiction, several poems, or excerpts of a novel, or a combination). In this way, a long chapter (such as Modernism) could be broken up across several weeks. Or, two authors from different time periods can be easily located within the text and held up in comparison without students having difficulty situating them within their cultural and historical contexts. Though the consistency of the outcomes and key terminology creates cohesiveness across this expansive text, they are not overly referential as to be a distraction. Work around this this text could be easily be designed chronologically or thematically.
The clearly elaborated “Learning Outcomes” that preface each chapter are a good guide for students to frame their reading and note taking. Describing features of movements and aesthetics, comparing authors’ engagement with them, exploring the ways that works participate in the construction of important cultural concepts, and analyzing the ways the works respond to literary traditions and historical events are among the outcomes. These, bookended with each author’s “Reading and Review Questions,” allow students to focus on the appropriate cultural concepts and literary terminology as they read throughout the chapter. The outcomes, introductory material, and response questions provide clarity for the reader around expectations for their consideration during their reading, discussion, and writing. The logical and consistent design of this text allows students to focus on digging into the material and beginning to analyze their findings.
The PDF version of the book downloads easily so that students can work with the text without relying on the internet. Clicking on chapter headings, subheadings, and page numbers in the Table of Contents quickly brings the reader to that section of the text. Throughout the text, the text colors are consistent; maroon for chapter headings, navy blue for subheadings and the header that reminds the student which section of the text they are in as they read the author’s pieces. The images are engaging and consistently cited.
This textbook is extremely well written; virtually error free.
The authors and movements in this text are representative of the American Canon. “Reading and Review” questions ask students to engage with moments or viewpoints in works that are “controversial,” acknowledging that these works of literature do contain references, themes, and language that reveals attitudes about race, class, and gender that have come to be challenged over time. Asking students to think about experimental form in Realist poetry, how an African American author depicts the Old South, and how turn of the century immigration issues impacted the literature of the time period enables them to perform thought exercises that are transferable to more modern literary, musical, cinematic contexts.
For a concise anthology, Writing the Nation is comprehensive. It covers the literary periods and major authors/works one would expect to find in an read more
For a concise anthology, Writing the Nation is comprehensive. It covers the literary periods and major authors/works one would expect to find in an “Introduction to American Literature 1865-Present.” That certainly doesn’t mean it is equivalent to a multi-volume anthology covering the same material, but it is not aiming for that goal. Still, I found that two-thirds of the assigned readings on my syllabus for an American literature survey class for the same period are contained in this textbook. Most of the remaining one-third of readings could easily be replaced by a different work that is included in this textbook, often by the same author. For example, I can continue to teach Flannery O’Connor’s “Good Country People,” but will need to substitute “A Good Man is Hard to Find” for “The Life You Save May Be Your Own.” I am disappointed that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Babylon Revisited” is not included, but three other Fitzgerald short stories are included. Most instructors should be able to adjust to the loss of a personal favorite here or there. Roughly, the total number of anthologized authors is comprised of half white men, one-fourth women, and one-fourth writers of color. I wish the glossary had more literary terminology that is relevant to the included works instead of primarily contextual information and authors’ names.
I was pleased with the content of introductory material for periods, authors, and works. I found it consistent with the way I would discuss those periods, authors, and works with students. So, both the selection of readings seems to be made up of good representative choices and the context into which these readings are set seems accurate. (In Table of Contents, section 6.13 Donald Barthelme should be bold.)
This book’s approach to presenting American Literature for this period of time is consistent with other major anthologies, so it is reasonable to expect that it will be relevant for a long time. Some anthologies lean more or less toward expanding the range of the canon; as a concise collection, this work does not make steps in that direction. It is not blazing new paths. At the same time, however, its focus on what seems to be those works frequently taught means that it probably won’t fall out of favor.
Clarity is one of the strengths of the book. The introductory material is student-friendly.
The overall way information is presented is consistent. The number of reading and review questions for a given reading varied quite a bit. For example, short stories similar in length ranged from having one follow-up question per story to six. I also found the inclusion of Zane Grey’s Riders of the Purple Sage a bit inconsistent with regard to the other canonically established and routinely taught reading selections.
The book is modular in the sense that different time periods/literary movements are self-contained. Chances are that an instructor wouldn’t want to rearrange these much, if any. And by themselves each module is fairly small. Theoretically, though, a module could be used to supplement another course.
The overall organization is fine. It is fundamentally chronological, which makes sense and which is consistent with other similar textbooks. I found navigating the work to be easy. The way in which each section and sub-section is identified by a number will also make directing students to specific sections easy. There is a logic to the structure of the textbook.
All the parts logically connect together and can be accessed without difficulty. The possibility of future dead links identified by another reviewer is a concern.
Nothing jumped out at me, but I didn’t read it as a proofreader would.
Yes. Representative works from the history of American literature for the past 150 years are culturally relevant. Some people may find this collection less relevant than those anthologies that attempt to broaden our acceptance of what is important in that history. Other reviewers, for example, have noted the omission of Native American texts.
I would have little difficulty adopting this textbook for use in my classroom. It has immediate and practical application. More and more students are refusing to purchase expensive anthologies, even used ones, and instead they piece together the syllabus readings from wherever they can, such as online and competing with each other for library copies. They don’t like the fact that they end up paying for a large textbook only a portion of which they will read. What some instructors may consider to be a weakness in using a “concise” textbook will probably be appealing to students.
Writing the Nation: A Concise Introduction to American Literature 1865 to Present provides a very comprehensive guide to contemporary American read more
Writing the Nation: A Concise Introduction to American Literature 1865 to Present provides a very comprehensive guide to contemporary American literature after 1865. Particularly, the editors have taken great care to focus on diversity, both of authors and of texts outside what we, and our students, may have read from canonical writers before. If I have any complaint with the comprehensiveness of the anthology, it is the most contemporary section, which jumps from Plath to DeLillo. This may be somewhat unavoidable, however, considering the copyright difficulties and expenses connected to publishing more recent material.
I was surprised by how accurately an open textbook was able to capture the needs of teaching contemporary American literature since 1865! With the exception of the collection lacking any Elizabeth Bishop, there is not a single author before the 1980s I found missing from a diverse, comprehensive, and accurate look at American literature.
This text will not soon become irrelevant. Literature instructors perhaps always struggle with the most contemporary area of a text lacking, but otherwise this covers the time period with a commitment to diversity very well.
Accessible, teachable introductions to writers, poets, and literary movements.
Not that relevant to talk about consistency for a literature anthology, except to say that this collection is very consistently curated at a highly professional and usable level.
Up until chapter 6, the editors have taken great care to distinguish literary movements and time periods, which translates well to teaching a course. Chapter 6 lacks such modularity and particularity of movements, but this is not uncommon in anthologies.
Excellently organized and students will find this text easy to use, navigate, and learn from.
Nothing significantly difficult that I could find in my using the book.
The editors have taken great care to talk about the social and cultural relevance of all texts they have included and how literary movements are both shaped by and shape cultural revolutions.
I would highly recommend this text and plan on using it in my own teaching.
The text covers all areas and ideas of the subject appropriately and provides an effective index and/or glossary. Writing the Nation is appropriately read more
The text covers all areas and ideas of the subject appropriately and provides an effective index and/or glossary. Writing the Nation is appropriately subtitled A Concise Introduction to American Literature 1865-Present. It is that. It provides representative texts from each literary movement within the timeframe covered. The chapter introductions address influences of historic events and prior literary movements, and provide review questions as well as lists of key terms. While these are good, they could benefit from more contextualization for students- for example, citing recent scholarship on Emily Dickinson that expands our understanding of her works rather than alluding to it, and offering examples of nineteenth century songs that might be construed as metrical influences in one of the review questions (p.51). Including references for the introductions at would enhance students’ experience by providing more context and a deeper layer of understanding. The works and authors included are representative of their literary movements, providing a solid, if limited introduction for students. An instructor would likely want to supplement with more works by women, Native Americans, and Hispanic writers, and possibly relevant primary sources, again, to contextualize the social milieus in which the authors wrote. Similarly, the glossary could bear more detail (mentioning that African Americans weren’t allowed to participate in the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition, presaging W.E.B. DuBois’ speech at the Atlanta Exhibition). There is no index, and because of the stand along format of each chapter, none is necessary.
Chapter introductions and works appear accurate. Author entries in the glossary are inconsistent in providing lifespan dates, which leads to the impression that Tennessee Williams, for example, is still alive. It is unbiased in its approach.
Relevance and longevity are good. Needed updates would be straightforward and easily done.
The text is very accessible and offers understandable definitions and examples of literary terms and descriptions of movements.
Chapter 5 has a Further Reading list- the others don’t. Otherwise, it is fairly consistent.
The text allows reorganization and use nicely, whether by author, work, or chapter. Modularity could be increased by integrating glossary terms in the Key Terms list at the end of each chapter where appropriate rather than having an overall glossary at the end.
The organization and flow is generally logical with the exception, as mentioned above, of the glossary at the end, and a lack of footnoting that would facilitate finding those definitions.
Text and images are clear, unambiguous, and easily viewed. For literary works externally linked, the authors might possibly consider spawning a new window rather than having to reload entire text- it appears some links require reloading the entire document, some links bring you back to the first page, and others put you back at the initial page’s link.
There are errors. Examples: Repeated text: pg 709-10 - Glossary entry: Romanticism is A literary movement that begin in the late eighteenth century and often focused on unique feelings of the speaker and the importance of nature in relation to individuals.
Native American works are almost wholly lacking, which I find surprising. Leslie Marmon Silko is included in the Post Modernism chapter, but seminal historic works, including speeches, are lacking.
Writing the Nation is a useful introductory text that deserves further attention in expanding its culturally inclusive and historic coverage. Its format and organization make it a viable open access text.
The text has "concise" in its title, and it is concise. Each of the six chapters is arranged around a literary movement, and starts with learning read more
The text has "concise" in its title, and it is concise. Each of the six chapters is arranged around a literary movement, and starts with learning outcomes and an introduction to the movement. Then all the expected authors are here with a piece or two or three. Some pieces are included full text in the book, while other pieces are linked to a website. Each author is introduced with a short biography, and after each author's texts are adequate review questions. The text as a whole has a reasonable glossary of terms at the end. An American Literature course could use what's here and feel certain students are getting the important pieces of each time period, though instructors may need to supplement the textbook with their own individual favorite texts.
The book is accurate, mostly error-free, and seems unbiased. There are very occasional spacing errors, common in electronic texts.
The text content is up-to-date, and arranged in a way that would make it easy to update materials.
The text is written in conversational language, easy to read and understand. The Learning Outcomes in each section are helpful to focus students' attention on broader concepts, while the Introductions contain all the ideas necessary for students to understand, and contrast and compare each movement. Important terms are first bolded to draw readers' attention, then either explained in parenthesis right in the text or added to the glossary at the end.
The text is fairly consistent in terminology. There are some inconsistencies in framework. Some terms for instance are explained right in the Introductions, while others are in the glossary only. Some of the individual readings are included full text, while others are linked to a web site.
The text would easily divide into reading sections--either by period, author, or individual text--to be assigned in a course. Additionally, both short (like poems) and long (like novellas and plays) texts are included. Sections of some particularly long pieces are included. An instructor could use this text alone, in an American Literature course, or supplement this text with additional readings or authors.
The topics in the text are presented chronologically, as makes the most sense. Each section has its own introductory comments to fit the pieces and authors into a movement. I particularly appreciate each sections Learning Outcomes which help focus readers on the central concerns of each movement. A reasonable instructor could easily match these learning goals to course goals and course activities.
The text is free of interface issues that would confuse readers.
The text contains no grammar errors.
The text uses of examples from many races, ethnicities, and backgrounds; it is not insensitive or offensive. There are no Native American examples until Postmodernism; less concise American Literature texts typically include Native literature examples in each time period if not movement. However, the Introductions address the exclusion of people of color and women.
This would be an easy book to adopt. It fits standard American Literature courses, typically organized as before 1865 and after 1865, and it's organized around literary movements. Additionally each movement has its own Introduction written in conversational language with useful terms identified and defined. Each section also lists specific learning outcomes, which could easily be matched to course goals and assignment objectives. Author biographies are included and brief, while the text selections are standard.
Writing the Nation does an excellent job of presenting the ongoing development of American literature since the Civil War as a cogent narrative, read more
Writing the Nation does an excellent job of presenting the ongoing development of American literature since the Civil War as a cogent narrative, moving through schools of writing such as Realism, Naturalism, Modernism, and so on. A fine example of this story-making is the inclusion of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "Yellow Wallpaper" right at the cusp between Realism and Naturalism. Since it is subtitled "A Concise Introduction," the textbook's comprehensiveness is sufficient for an undergraduate readership. However, there are notable deficiencies that could be corrected—for example, diversity in readings—that I don't think would violate the book's vaunted conciseness. Please see my comments on cultural relevance below.
Overall, the book is accurate and unbiased, but there are typos and mistakes I noted, although I did not do a comprehensive check for such. For example, on page 60, in Twain's "Jumping Frog" story, the phrase “be cal’lated” should be “he cal'lated." This may be a typo that has come from other typesettings or perhaps from optical character recognition. On page 726, in the title "A Streetcar Named Desire," the word "Streetcar" is mistyped as "Street Car." On page 738, the title "A Supermarket in California" is missing the article "A." On page 740, the book title "Diving into the Wreck" is not italicized. In the Glossary, some authors have dates of birth (and death, as needed), while other don't. Some of the inclusive dates are in boldface, while others aren't. I suspect if a copy editor combed through the book specifically for typos, other mistakes might be discovered. With regard to accuracy problems larger than typos, on page 332, the chapter intro has factual errors about the placement of material in the chapter, such as mentioning that one piece comes last when in fact it comes second. As far as content accuracy goes, I take issue with the definition of free verse as "poetry that lacks both rhyme and regular meter" (page 3). Free verse does entail rhyme, but not externally (that is, at the ends of lines). Internal rhyme is a device much used in free verse. Also, critics such as Annie Finch (in her book The Ghost of Meter) argue that regular meter does impact and influence free verse. The textbook's definition of free verse ultimately seems too simplistic. On a related note, I did sense a bit of conservatism with regard to poetic devices. For example, on page 577, the textbook says, Marianne "Moore’s poetry fail[s] to rhyme." The word "fail" suggests a drawback when in fact Moore, who could certainly rhyme if she wanted to (and does in a poem like "The Fish") simply chooses not to. Also, the lack of mention of Moore's signature syllabics seems a noteworthy shortcoming. I guess, overall, I would have preferred a bit more attention to poetic devices beyond rhyme and meter, such as assonance, consonance, alliteration, when these are germane to the larger project of poets under discussion.
Writing the Nation is a relevant textbook and should stay up-to-date for the foreseeable future in American literary scholarship at the undergrad level. The book is set up so that any necessary changes in the future should be easy to make. Nevertheless, I do want to reiterate that there are noticeable absences with regard to diversity (see remarks on culture relevance below).
The authors of Writing the Nation have written clear and accessible introductions and headnotes that provide excellent context and background for and to complex issues of tradition and influence for the undergrad student of American literature.
Very consistent indeed. Well-done.
This textbook would very easily lend itself to varying pedagogical approaches and methods as well as different syllabi.
As I mentioned above, the topics in the book are presented very well as a coherent story about how American literature has developed against the backdrop of American politics, technology (the Industrial Revolution, for example), history, and so on.
There are numerous locations in the textbook where readings are not contained within the book but rather linked to where they exist online. This causes navigation problems. A reader jumps out to the reading but then upon return cannot come back to the page from which one jumped. This is easily fixed: the link to the reading should open a new page,
Grammar is excellent, flawless.
The textbook is not, by any means, culturally insensitive or offensive. It is abundantly clear that the authors have tried very hard to be culturally inclusive. However, the textbook could do better. The representation of women writers is all right up through the Realism chapter but needs a female writer in the Naturalism chapter, which only has male readings. Perhaps "Ethan Frome" by Edith Wharton, an important writer who is notably absent. The pre-Modernism chapter is also exclusively male; perhaps one of the women writers that represent the Harlem Renaissance could be moved here. Something that could also be represented in the Realism chapter is the best-selling sentimental novelists who were a mainstay of women's reading in the 1800s. Perhaps an excerpt from E.D.E.N. Southworth could be included, maybe The Hidden Hand as an example of Local Color writing. With regard to the representation of race and ethnicity, the authors of Writing the Nation should be commended for an excellent representation of African American literature. However, there is only one Native American writer, and no Hispanic American or Asian American writers. One could easily argue that the strongest and most vibrant writing since World War II has been in the multicultural realm. This might be a way also to include more poets and playwrights in the text (there's definitely a noticeable preponderance of prose in the textbook). I would also add that there could be improved attention to LGBTQ writers as well as disabled writers. Finally, regarding genre writing, the textbook excerpts Zane Grey, a writer of westerns, but doesn't include other genre writing, such as science fiction, fantasy, horror. Where are L. Frank Baum, Ursula K. LeGuin, or Stephen King, just to name a handful.
Sometimes the texts linked to outside the textbook are not always scholarly vetted, stable online (re)sources. An exception is “A Supermarket in California” by Allen Ginsberg, which is linked to the Modern American Poetry site (MAPS) site at the University of Illinois—a solid, reliable source. However, the link to Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire goes to a PDF hosted by Jay Scheib at MIT. Conceivably, this text could disappear; there's no certainty that Professor Scheib would keep this site up. Same with the source for Flannery O'Connor's "Good Country People," which is maintained by James Young at Weber State. If Professor Young were to move, for example, this site could become unavailable. These are only a couple of examples; there are others that are similarly problematic. One especially troubling link is to William Carlos Williams's "The Dead Baby" at PoetryNook.com, a popular site where scholarly accuracy is not necessarily a priority. The textbook should strive to always provide the best, most reliable texts available.
Table of Contents
- Chapter 1: Late Romanticism (1855-1870)
- Chapter 2: Realism (1865-1890)
- Chapter 3: Naturalism (1890-1914)
- Chapter 4: Turn of the Twentieth Century and the Growth of Modernism (1893 - 1914)
- Chapter 5: Modernism (1914 - 1945)
- Chapter 6: American Literature Since 1945 (1945 - Present)
About the Book
Writing the Nation: A Concise Guide to American Literature 1865 to Present is a text that surveys key literary movements and the American authors associated with the movement. Topics include late romanticism, realism, naturalism, modernism, and modern literature.
About the Contributors
Dr. Amy Berke is the Chair of Department of English at Middle Georgia State University.
Robert R. Bleil, PhD is an Assistant Professor of English at College of Coastal Georgia.
Jordan Cofer is an Assistant Vice President of Academic Affairs, in charge of learning resources, and an associate professor of English at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College.