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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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.