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
Copyright Year: 2015
ISBN 13: 9781940771342
Publisher: University of North Georgia Press
Conditions of Use
I did not expect to find a book I wanted to replace my regular anthology with, but this is fantastic. It includes all of the key pieces of literature that I like to cover in my American Lit course and then some. I really appreciate the notes about... read more
I did not expect to find a book I wanted to replace my regular anthology with, but this is fantastic. It includes all of the key pieces of literature that I like to cover in my American Lit course and then some. I really appreciate the notes about the writers and the review questions, too.
The content is spot on, and covers all the literary movements and the history behind them in a fair and accurate way.
I could foresee using this now and in the coming years without a problem with relevancy.
I think students will find the notes about writers and literary movements to be very accessible and well written. The presentation of the literature itself is really done well, too.
I love the layout and the consistency it provides.
I can easily see the ways in which I will parse out the parts of this text that I will use and the parts that I will not, and it will be easy for the students to use the pieces I choose.
I like the chronological, linear fashion of the text.
Very easy to use and navigate.
I appreciate that the textbook includes BIPOC writers, though I would like to see slightly more representation.
The book is very comprehensive in scope in that it provides the reader with excellent readings and materials in American literature from Late Romanticism to Postmodernism. However, despite it’s excellence in this regards, I feel that the textbook... read more
The book is very comprehensive in scope in that it provides the reader with excellent readings and materials in American literature from Late Romanticism to Postmodernism. However, despite it’s excellence in this regards, I feel that the textbook could/should have included more diverse voices pertaining to the various periods of American literature and history. For example, in the section on Late-Romanticism, the editors offer up poetry from Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, who are without a doubt two of the most consequential American writers of this period. I teach the often in my American Literary Traditions survey course. The editors make the claim that “despite the real impact of [literary critic] F. O. “Matthiessen’s work in recognizing the presence of significant male American writers, his catalogue still neglected writing of women, African-Americans, and Native Americans whose works would not be widely recognized until the 1970s” (2). However, it appears to me that in some degree, these editors repeat Matthiessen’s misstep. I am shocked that there are no selections from prominent African American writers of the Late-Romantic period, such as Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Paul Laurence Dunbar, or Charles Chesnutt, Hannah Bonds, aka, Hannah Crafts, as representative voices during this important period of American literature and history just after Reconstruction. The omission of black voices from the late Romantic period in this text implies that there were no important black authors writing during this time, which is just not so. Please comment on the book’s accuracy.
The book is very well researched and accurate. I am overall pleased with its scope. The editors did a wonderful job historically contextualizing each authors' work within the various literary periods.
As of this moment (2020), the book is relevant and has great longevity, especially since the majority of the writers presented are canonical American writers.. After all, the authors include primarily canonical American writers whose work is important if one is to understand the trajectory and history of American literature from the late 19th century to the present. The fact that the text is open source allows the instructor to reshape/remix the book in the manner, which best suits his or her purposes. To be honest, there are some selections that I would not have included in the text; however, the fact that the book is open-source allows me the opportunity to replace certain writers with others that I feel would better fit my course objectives.
In large measure, the text’s periodization of the various moments in American literary history is accurate. However, the section on post-1945 American literature is a bit confusing. In this section, the editors appear to lump post-1945 American writers with postmodern American writers. I feel that there should be a separate section on postmodern American writers. The editors do state that “postmodern literature is difficult to define” (730); however, most literary critics date postmodernism-proper as beginning in 1968 (and continuing to the present) in response to the socio-political upheavals taking place in America at the time (the Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Rights Movement, the American Indian Movement, and Vietnam). There is a definite shift in aesthetic and political sensibilities. Based on the text’s selections, I would include Adrienne Rich, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Donald Barthelme, Don DeLillo, Leslie Marmon Silko, and David Foster Wallace in a separate section on Postmodernism.
For the most part, the book is very consistent in style and structure. I randomly clicked on about a dozen links and they all seem to work except for the link for Langston Hughes’ poem “Theme for English B” (712), which probably means that there are other links that are also broken. Checking to make sure that links in the texts are not broken could present an undue burden on the instructor.
The book’s modularity is fantastic. I can envision restructuring the various models to meet the needs of the individual instructor. For example, if I devised a unit on nature in American literature, the manner in which the book is structured would allow me to move effortlessly between, say, Walt Whitman’s poetry (Romanticism), Kate Chopin’s “The Storm,” (Realism), Stephen Crane’s The Open Boat” (Naturalism), and Langston Hughes’ “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” in order to demonstrate how depictions of and attitudes towards nature in American literature changes from one period to the next. In short, the way the book is structured, especially the manner in which each Unite is broken down allows for a great deal of flexibility in teaching American literature from many different perspectives.
I generally love the way the book is organized. I am especially impressed with the fact that each literary period begins with a section on learning outcomes. Having clear learning outcomes is extremely important for students in order for them to understand just why certain authors have been chosen to represent the various sections of the book. In addition, the reading and review questions accompanying each of the sections are thoughtful and thought provoking. Moreover, the key terms and the overview of key historical events helps to contextualize each literary period. It is important that students understand that writers do not write in a vacuum—that they are responding to not only personal events but also that they are engaging with what is happening in the real world.
The book’s interface is clean and easily to view and to navigate. The only issue I have is that one can’t really on links to work from one semester to the next. Because the book relies on internet links, invariably some of the links are going to be broken or no longer available. This places the burden on the instructor to check each link before assigning the Unit. I teach a great deal of online classes, and this issue goes with the territory.
The grammar is consistently excellent, and the book is wonderfully edited.
The book is certainly culturally relevant—at the moment; however, the book doesn’t necessarily reflect what is happening in American literature in the present moment. There are numerous post-Millennial writers whose work would be a welcome addition to this text and who are in dialogue with American writers from the present back to the Colonial Period. For example, the award winning African American poet and photographer Rachel Eliza Griffith just published a book of poems Seeing the Body (2020) in which her poem “Mirror” (2020) engages with Sylvia Plath’s poem also titled “Mirror” (1961). I make this statement to highlight the fact that cutting-edge, contemporary poets and writers never forget America’s previous literary histories—its canon; they are always in dialogue with the previous generations of American writers. The book is very culturally relevant; however, I would like to see a small selection from poets/writers of the Hip-Hop Generation included in the text. In addition, I would like to see a selection of younger American writers beyond David Foster Wallace.
I would certainly use this book in my American literature classes.
As a “concise introduction” to American literature from 1865 to the present, Writing the Nation includes many of the texts and writers one would expect to encounter in a later American literature survey course. There are, however, some significant... read more
As a “concise introduction” to American literature from 1865 to the present, Writing the Nation includes many of the texts and writers one would expect to encounter in a later American literature survey course. There are, however, some significant oversights that places this anthology at a disadvantage in relation to some other (more costly) anthologies. First, while there is reasonably solid representation of women and African American writers, there is very little representation of Native American, Asian American, or Latinx authors. Second, there could be more (public domain) texts for some of the authors who are included. For example, the selection of Emily Dickinson poems is quite limited (especially compared to Walt Whitman, against whom she is placed), as is that of many modern poets. Some highly anthologized pieces, such as Kate Chopin’s “Story of an Hour,” could be present as well. Third, while there are some examples of nonfiction by Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. DuBois, as well as Tennessee Williams’s play, A Steetcar Named Desire, there is relatively little in the anthology in the way of nonfiction (memoir, argumentative essay, or manifesto) or drama. As a corollary to this, there are opportunities for including more texts in their original formats (e.g. periodical pages and handwritten drafts) that would add another textual dimension to these works. Fourth, the selection of more contemporary literature is sparse and sporadic. This is not entirely the fault of the textbook editors: many of these works come with copyright restrictions and many authors have been included with external links (some of which, as other reviewers have noted, are now dead or have not always directed readers to the most academically rigorous resources)—still, it makes the teaching of more recent literature difficult. Some of these issues can be traced to decisions about what has been included. As other reviewers have noted, the inclusion of Zane Grey’s novel, Riders of the Purple Sage is a rather unorthodox one, taking up 191 pages of the anthology. In a similar vein, 85 pages of selections are included from Frank Norris’s McTeague. There is certainly a case to be made for longer works (although one wonders if a novel like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn might have more historical and contemporary resonance), but these two texts alone account for about a third of the total anthology pages—space that could be given over to the concerns expressed above.
While the primary content and editorial apparatus is generally accurate, there are times (as other reviewers have noted) when other versions of texts could be used, or at least acknowledged. There are necessarily some (inevitable) biases in the selection of texts and the anthology is heavy on realism and naturalism while being lighter on modernism and postmodernism.
The anthology would benefit from updated content, including more recent content (although there may be copyright difficulties) and more recent critical approaches to older texts. External links for more recent texts need to be updated as well. The modular nature of the text makes this relatively straightforward to accomplish.
The editorial apparatus—including learning outcomes, period introductions, reading and review questions, key terms, and a glossary—are all designed to clarify and promote understanding of often difficult primary texts. They generally succeed in this task and these materials are themselves clear and easy to read.
The anthology is internally consistent within and across chapters, in terms of introductory material and other editorial apparatus. The length of chapters is somewhat uneven, though, as is the representation of various authors and genres.
The anthology is arranged chronologically—grouped into literary periods and subdivided by author and literary text—and this is well represented in the table of contents. This organization allows for individual selections to be assigned from different authors and periods in what is likely to be the book’s target course: a historically arranged American literature survey course. As other reviewers have noted, an index would be helpful. The anthology could also benefit from additional tables of content—arranged around such issues as gender, race, and literary themes—which would allow instructors and students to imagine other possible connections and configurations among authors and texts.
The anthology is accessible as a PDF version of a printed anthology, which provides a linear presentation of content. Such a presentation is logical and clear, but it does have the potential drawback of (inadvertently) presenting one particular narrative of the history of American literature as the correct or only one. This is reinforced to some extent by the anthology’s strict periodization, which runs the risk of presenting a settled, uncomplicated, and untroubled literary canon.
As a PDF version of a printed text, the anthology does not suffer from obvious interface issues. An accompanying online version of the text would, however, address some of the modularity and organizational issues outlined above.
The primary material and editorial apparatus is generally free of grammatical errors.
The anthology is not overtly offensive or culturally insensitive, but there are ways in which it could be more culturally inclusive, as outlined above.
There are a lot of things to praise about this anthology, not least of which is the fact that it is freely and easily available to students. It includes many texts I teach in my own classes, supported by clear and engaging editorial apparatus, and would undoubtedly be of help to my students. There are, however, significant concerns worth noting. The anthology is quite thin on more contemporary writers and works, which reflects a fundamental difficulty of constructing an open-source anthology against a backdrop of pervasive and perpetual copyrights. Beyond this general problem, however, there are more opportunities for the editors to include writings from other historically marginalized figures and to tell other stories of American literature and culture that can more fully resonate with our students.
Published not long after the monumental and decisively influential Black Lives Matter movement emerged following the 2013 killing of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida and, subsequently, the 2014 killing of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri—both of... read more
Published not long after the monumental and decisively influential Black Lives Matter movement emerged following the 2013 killing of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida and, subsequently, the 2014 killing of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri—both of which sparked a widespread call among academics and intellectuals to rigorously recalibrate our understanding of race on the terrain of the cultural—it is difficult not to notice the short shrift given to African American literatures, and other literatures by people of color, in Writing the Nation: A Concise Introduction to American Literature (University of North Georgia Press, 2015). The absence of texts produced by significant writers of color, especially the near total absence of literatures from Latino/a/x and Asian American communities, creates a sense of unbalanced representation that is hard to overcome and adequately account for.
In terms of technical accuracy, Writing the Nation is free of typographical and other errors that might disrupt or impede any use of the text. Cultural accuracy, however, is another matter altogether and, though Writing the Nation comes close to achieving fair and unbiased representation of American literatures produced between the end of the Civil War and the present, the near total absence of Asian American and Latino/a/x literatures is somewhat surprising. Louise Erdrich, among others, would be an excellent inclusion that would allow for representing the wealth of Native American literatures produced after WWII. Extracts from Vine Deloria Jr.'s culturally indispensable 1969 manifesto Custer Died for Your Sins would likewise allow for addressing the American Indian Movement and larger Red Power Movement of the late-1960s and early-1970s. Such texts could also be easily linked to discussing the current cultural renaissance among Native Americans in the US following from the 2016 protest movement that emerged in opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline onward.
The poetries associated with High Modernism, like turn-of-the-century prose, seem very well represented in Writing the Nation. Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, Marianne Moore, T.S. Eliot and others are included, as are poets associated with the Harlem Renaissance such as Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, and Jean Toomer. The case is likewise when we look toward Modernist prose, though the lamentable absence of prose by Gertrude Stein is indeed a conspicuous one that raises significant concerns surrounding the use of Open Educational Resources and issues of accessibility, copyright, and cost to students. In short, Writing the Nation is a free electronic resource and, as such, it is a potentially useful resource when thinking about students that may have no choice but to minimize the amount of student debt incurred across their undergraduate careers. The Concise Heath, on the other hand, can be “borrowed” electronically or purchased for a temporary time at a reasonably low cost. If we consider the case of Gertrude Stein—at once a woman writer and an incredibly significant early twentieth-century representative of LGBTQ communities—an instructor of undergraduate American literature has no choice but to struggle earnestly with the cost of a course text against the possibility of not including unquestionably significant literary texts. In the case of Gertrude Stein, whom the editors of Writing the Nation mention with some frequency in their framing discussions of American Modernism, the loss is considerable. However, supplementing a free online text like Writing the Nation with other widely available resources, such as those offered online by institutions like the Poetry Foundation, is not only possible but likely essential.
In terms of clarity, the text is easy to navigate and, while not being overladen with discipline-specific jargon, Writing the Nation responsibly introduces students to literary periods and the terms associated with those periods.
Similarly, from beginning to end, Writing the Nation is structurally consistent. The framework for the text is incredibly lucid and legible and, in this, it is ideal for use with students.
Writing the Nation can easily be broken down into sections, or course modules, and can easily function as a frame that can be coupled with additional external texts. Thus, Writing the Nation offers itself as a structural framework can be very useful as an architecture through which an American literature course might be built, but this would be an architecture that would need to be filled out further and supplemented with additional texts capable of covering cultural, social, and political gaps that emerge throughout.
Beginning with Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, as most anthologies devoted to American literature from the Civil War to the present often do, Writing the Nation follows a deeply entrenched path that it often feels hard to break with. If, however, we examine the 2014 edition of The Concise Heath Anthology of American Literature, Vol II, 1865 to the Present edited by Paul Lauter, we find that it is not only possible but perhaps even more appropriate to begin with Native American literatures. Here Lauter includes generous attention to the Ghost Dance, a cultural practice that emerged among Native Americans in 1870 and was further revitalized in 1890 as a response to the cascade of removal campaigns waged against Native Americans at the federal level. And of course what makes the Ghost Dance unique in thinking Native American literatures is that, in the context of the nineteenth century, it is not already a centuries old “traditional” or Precolumbian practice but one that is as vital, new, and formally innovative as anything that might be found in Whitman or Dickinson. Looking at these two anthologies—Writing the Nation, an Online Educational Resource (OER) which is free to students, and The Concise Heath Anthology of American Literature, a conventional print anthology that is also available online, though at a cost to students—work well against one another in a way that casts in sharp relief the difficulties of building an anthology according to categories that constrain our ability to understand the uneven and wildly varied production of American literature as such. While Writing the Nation organizes its content according to period-specific genres and literary tendencies, The Concise Heath organizes itself largely according to identity-sensitive themes. Both anthologies abide by the chronological ordering of material which, for survey courses in American literature, is hard to escape. Looking at how Writing the Nation handles the nineteenth century, the inclusion of African American folk tales would have been a welcome sight, if only to create a stronger African American presence among the catalog of decidedly white texts appealed in representing American literatures of the nineteenth century. Fortunately, for the turn-of-the-century we have, Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Dubois, both standard inclusions that indicate Writing the Nation represents prose reasonably well. And, to be sure, the question of fair and equitable representation is central to the building of any period-based survey anthology.
Interfacing with Writing the Nation electronically is easy and convenient, and, for non-traditional and other students that may need to work with Writing the Nation as a print text, this too can be done easily and efficiently. As an online resource, the text is responsibly interactive. It is easy, for instance, to scroll over various sections within the table of contents and click on any area of the text one might wish to go to, and this makes Writing the Nation an online resource that is easy to navigate either online or even after downloading and viewing the text as a PDF on individual devices without the need to rely on internet access.
Although online resources, especially those that are free, are perhaps too often characterized by the occasional appearance of grammatical or technical errors, Writing the Nation seems free of such error and is, as such, an eminently readable text.
On the whole, Writing the Nation offers a reasonably sound framework for exploring American literatures from 1865 through to the present, especially on the terrain of prose. But in the interest of maintaining an intellectually responsible relevance to the present, the inclusion of an indisputably significant text like D. Scott Miller’s 2015 “Afrosurreal Manifesto: A Living Document,” coupled perhaps with artwork by Kahinde Wiley and other African American artists, would be most welcome. At a minimum, this kind of inclusion, in conjunction with attention to the work of Amiri Baraka and other writers associated with the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s, would bring us through to the present in a way that not only acknowledges but also embraces the contributions of African American intellectuals and artists to a growing body of literature that, following from movements such as Black Lives Matter, cannot be ignored.
Thinking toward the American literature course I find myself preparing for now, I would prefer to use a free online text like Writing the Nation, which can be easily downloaded and maintained at no cost to the student, rather than a text such as The Concise Heath Anthology of American Literature, which students would likely "borrow" for a short period of time and have no further access to once the lending time expired. As a course text, Writing the Nation does, however, require a considerable measure of additional research and should not be used without supplemental texts to fill out political and ideological gaps that must be filled out if we are to work with students responsibly. The absence of Native American, Asian American, and Latino/a/x literatures is difficult to grapple with, though we can hope that if a second edition of Writing the Nation is built these gaps can be reconciled. But as a tool for framing out a survey course in American literature from the Civil War to the present, Writing the Nation offers strong scaffolding to begin with.
Writing the Nation certainly touches on the major post-Civil War components of American Literature. As an introduction to this period, the text works. However, instructors wanting more selections for a larger breadth of study may not be satisfied.... read more
Writing the Nation certainly touches on the major post-Civil War components of American Literature. As an introduction to this period, the text works. However, instructors wanting more selections for a larger breadth of study may not be satisfied. For example, only four Emily Dickinson poems appear, and only two Ezra Pound poems. That said, the text contains many standard works one would want for an Am Lit II survey course, especially from the Civil War to early twentieth century. No index, but the glossary is formidable. The author bios are excellent.
The text appears to be accurate and unbiased.
The sections covering 1855-Modernism provide most of the works within the text itself, but the sections from Modernism onward do contain some outdated or "dead" links to full-text selections on the web. However, the textbook can be modified and updated relatively easily. For the most part, Writing the Nation is quite adaptable.
The text is lucid and accessible. I had no problems, and I do not think a typical student would have any problems. The context offered throughout is adequate.
The framework is consistent, each chapter offering outcomes, an introduction, author bios, literature selections, and key terms to conclude. Terminology is consistent as well.
The text's modularity is excellent, allowing reorganization if desired in terms of time periods and/or genres. Students should have no problems navigating the chapters, selections, and context passages. Assignments could easily be made using Chapter/Section numbers (3.1, 3.2, and so on).
As is common with introductory texts, Writing the Nation is organized as chronologically as possible, with authors grouped into movements/classifications (Realism, Naturalism, Modernism, and so on). This works if the instructor is looking to touch briefly on each, a survey course approach. In addition, the glossary is particularly helpful. Terminology is consistent.
Writing the Nation is presented in PDF form with a clickable Table of Contents. Clicking on chapter/section 2.11 in the Table of Contents takes the reader to Chapter 2, Section 11 (Charlotte Perkins Gilman), for example. No significant interface issues--except for the dead links to online full-text selections mentioned earlier. Images look good and display features are not distracting.
The text is well-written with no distracting errors.
Writing the Nation does a good job concerning cultural breadth and is not offensive, but space certainly exists for adding even more diverse authors, ethnicities, and backgrounds. There is always room for more inclusiveness. However, if trying to keep the book's size down is a concern, then adding more presents a problem: how to keep the canon while adding new, different voices.
Writing the Nation, is impressive, overall, especially when looking for open source texts. With the ability to update "dead" links to online full-text selections, instructors of American Literature II survey courses have a wealth of material for students.
Writing the Nation reasonably and efficiently covers key movements and authors frequently taught in American literature survey classes focused on content written exclusively after the Civil War. Many oft-anthologized stories featured here include... read more
Writing the Nation reasonably and efficiently covers key movements and authors frequently taught in American literature survey classes focused on content written exclusively after the Civil War. Many oft-anthologized stories featured here include Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” Jewett’s “The White Heron,” Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” London’s “To Build a Fire,” Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” and Walker’s “Everyday Use.” Accessible and brief introductions provide context for each chapter’s content – and biographical information precedes each author’s work(s). Reading and review questions following these works are useful albeit at times perfunctory and basic. The glossary at the end of the book contains key terms and authors – though curiously, the authors are arranged alphabetically by first rather than last name. Also, Stephen Crane’s entry in the glossary is blank, clearly an oversight.
The content appears to be largely accurate, error-free, and unbiased. There were a couple minor concerns, as briefly noted above in the “Comprehensiveness” section and below in the “Relevance” section.
One of the nice things about this textbook is that it can easily be modified and/or updated with additional authors and movements. This is particularly true if one wished to add genre content like science fiction or horror – and form content like the graphic novel. Later works are mostly linked to outside online sources. Some are already in need of updating. For instance, the link to Walker’s “Everyday Use” is dead – though this is a story that is readably available elsewhere.
Writing the Nation’s content is written in a manner that should be accessible to entry-level college readers. Key terms are in bold as they are defined within the supplementary material.
Overall, Writing the Nation anthologizes representative short stories, poems, and occasionally extracts from longer works. While James Shapiro may have bemoaned the “literary triage” such an approach represents, there’s no denying that this collection’s briefer texts would work well for an introductory American literature course offered to first and second-year college students. The one exception to this comment would be Zane Grey’s Riders of the Purple Sage. At 192 pages, this novel represents a whopping 25% of the textbook! Perhaps a representative chapter from Grey’s work would have been sufficient, freeing up space for additional authors in the fourth chapter while maintaining the “concise” page length of under 800 pages.
As with most anthologies of this nature, Writing the Nation could easily be repurposed for a college-level introduction to literature course covering poetry, fiction, and drama. In fact, readings here also reflect genres like the autobiography (selections from Booker T. Washington’s Up from Slavery) and the essay (David Foster Wallace’s “Consider the Lobster”).
Writing the Nation offers individual chapters on key literary movements and time periods in the United States occurring after the Civil War: Late Romanticism, Realism, Naturalism, Modernism (2 chapters) and Contemporary Literature after World War II. It might have been helpful to stay consistent with literary movements; in other words, Postmodernism could have been its own chapter instead of being buried within the last chapter. However, the textbook overall has a chronological arrangement that reflects standard anthologies on this subject effectively.
The PDF file seems easily navigable via its table of contents. There were no noticeable problems with the photos provided of the anthologized authors.
The prose in the textbook’s apparatus seems clear and readable.
Writing the Nation appears neither insensitive nor offensive. However, certainly more authors may be added to the sections for greater diversity and depth of examples for each movement. The lack of science fiction and horror, as noted in the Relevance section, is striking given how much space the western is given in this text. Additionally, the graphic novel should be represented in Chapter 6. Art Spiegelman’s Maus and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home immediately come to mind as possibilities.
Overall, Writing the Nation provides a solid introductory overview of the major authors and movements in American literature after the Civil War. It could certainly be adopted for a first-year or second-year college-level literature class on this subject and supplemented with additional readings to further enhance students’ introduction to the topic.
While many of us appreciate the thoroughness and convenience of the standard multi-volume, for-profit anthology (MFPA, for short) in literature courses, we also recognize the rising cost of textbooks and the need to find alternatives for many of... read more
While many of us appreciate the thoroughness and convenience of the standard multi-volume, for-profit anthology (MFPA, for short) in literature courses, we also recognize the rising cost of textbooks and the need to find alternatives for many of our students, in hopes of fostering a larger sense of fairness and inclusion. On the whole, Writing the Nation covers the foundational texts typically assigned in gen-ed literature courses: Daisy Miller, “The Yellow Wall-Paper,” “Prufrock,” “Theme for English “B,” etc. The most obvious omission, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, is widely available in free e-book format. To argue too strenuously over omissions would be missing the point; for a 750-page textbook (where linked stories and poems are not included in the page count), the compilers’ objective is to offer brief but characteristic selections illustrating a larger progression in aesthetics and thought. Yet, as other reviewers have helpfully pointed out, the selections fall behind the standard of representation and diversity set by recent MFPAs. The lack of “unassimilated” ethnic voices and countercultural figures make this a fairly retrograde representation of the nation in written form. Less philosophically, many of the sources linked to the original 2015 textbook are no longer online. The abundance of dead links for the texts outside of the public domain in the latter half of the volume – old standbys like Faulkner’s “Barn Burning,” Hurston’s “Sweat,” Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues,” Nella Larsen’s “Sanctuary” and Miller’s Death of a Salesman – make this anthology literally incomplete. When weighing the advantages of this free volume with an MFPA, one should factor in how many hours he or she wishes to spend in front of a scanner or Googling complete texts from other sources.
In the editors’ attempt to present volumes worth of information in simple, easy-to-read prefaces, not only is some nuance lost but also accuracy in a few places; for example, on page 724, James Baldwin, Harlem born and bred, gets misidentified as a Southern author. The implication on p. vii of the table of contents that the term Postmodernism serves a catch-all term for everything written after 1950 has no basis. Elsewhere, the editorial decision to rely on transcriptions of works from high-school and college websites (some of which transport you back to the glory days of GeoCities) seems very credulous at best, intellectually shaky at worst.
The choice of selections in an anthology is inherently arbitrary, especially amid a diversifying canon, where publishers control and continue to monetize the copyright of many key works. Why the longest work reproduced in the text (at nearly 200 pages) is Zane Grey’s Riders of the Purple Sage, however, is almost anybody’s guess. To teach American literature in the 21st century, in surveys and upper-division courses alike, is not simply to recognize diversity but to analyze the intertwining of themes and a multiplicity of voices across cultural lines and boundaries. That multiplicity, it seems, comes with a cost equivalent to the price of a commercial literature textbook.
The prefatory material and author biographies are written in a clear prose style accessible to undergraduates.
The prefatory material and choice of selections has a uniformity of tone and approach that many should find workable and appropriate for their particular focus.
A less–discussed advantage of the multivolume, for-profit anthology lies not only in its range of selections but also n its ability to spur instructors and students to draw connections between authors. By showcasing five or six 20th-century heirs or Whitman and Dickinson, for example, a comprehensive anthology can help us draw deeper thematic connections than overly broad categories like “race” and “gender,” and spur more historical thinking, resulting in more cohesive syllabi and better, more thoughtful student writing. While Writing the Nation obviously allows us to pick and choose texts to teach in our courses, the one-volume format by necessity limits an instructor to a narrow time- and genre-bound overview. I can easily see myself searching for, copying and distributing alternate or supplemental works to this anthology in order to demonstrate the links between divergent authors and time periods, somewhat defeating the purpose of an anthology.
The anthologized works and historical overviews are arranged chronologically, making an included work easy to find.
The interface is designed well for web browsers and e-book readers. The issue of interface becomes more complicated, though, when we consider the target audience. Students now absorb assignment readings on their phones, which is wrong in many ways, but also the new normal. The interface and constant scrolling may frustrate these (flawed from the outset) efforts to read lengthy texts. In another issue that is not the editors’ shortcoming, undergraduate students may need to become accustomed to the look of a literature textbook. For years, the rule of thumb for writers of K-12 textbooks (and now their university-level equivalents) has been to never have an unbroken page of text, but instead to imitate the look of web pages and to build content around images. This is, of course, an example of the tail wagging the dog, but the inclusion of some lively, thought-provoking, period-appropriate illustrations for the texts would break the monotony and help acclimate students who are dependent on more visual styles of learning. The Wikipedia’d author photos included here add little.
The prefatory material by the editors appears grammatical and solidly written. A few of the external links (often transcriptions of copyrighted material), like the link to Alice Walker’s Everyday Use” that re-titles it “Use,” could be distracting.
The expansion of MFPAs from a thick one-volume tome to two or more volumes in recent years has benefits and drawbacks, but few would argue that one advantage of the lager books is the well-chosen textual apparatuses that have been appended in the interest of providing cultural context: well-wrought thematic introductions and author bios, bibliographies, supplemental artwork, accompanying CDs, etc. In that sense, with a free textbook you get what you pay for. While I appreciate the transparency of the editors’ introductions (on p. 331 for example) about selections’ cultural resonance, a student unfamiliar with the contexts surrounding American literature needs more than just a plain description that things “changed forever.” In this way, the bare-bones nature of Writing the Nation works against it. Literature classes can (and should) incorporate visual analysis and media as context, so the lack of accessible, public-domain images like the frontispiece from Leaves of Grass or the original illustrations accompanying Twain’s stories limits its relevance and use as a teaching tool. This context is crucial for those of us who seek to connect the ideas we present in texts with a larger body of understanding and to make these works relevant to a cross-section of students.
The textbook Writing the Nation, published 2015, covers most of the well-known writers that would be covered in an American Literature II class or American Literature anthology. It starts with two late Romantic writers and easily moves through to... read more
The textbook Writing the Nation, published 2015, covers most of the well-known writers that would be covered in an American Literature II class or American Literature anthology. It starts with two late Romantic writers and easily moves through to the "Since 1945" section. One thing noticeable from the table of contents is that, on average, only 1-3 pieces are showcased of each author. While that might seem like a small amount, it is a nice combination of some of the authors' most well-known pieces that are usually anthologized but often overlooked in favor of more popular pieces. There are a few author's listed who only have one work posted that is over-anthologized and other options could be listed. The southern and Harlem Renaissance writers could have more exposure in the text or at least include more pieces from the southern and Harlem Renaissance writers in the text. Each chapters' introduction provides a few helpful insights for instructors and students: the learning outcomes, the introduction to the chapters (historical background), and the introduction to the movement(s) of the featured writers. At the end of each writer's section there are reading and review questions. The questions starts the process of deepening thinking to broaden the discussion for a college level course. The "Key Terms" and Glossary sections are nice for quick student review or use. It should be noted that in the modern section that more links are used but this is due to copyright so the links should be updated/checked for accuracy. An index is not included but the Table of Contents is thorough.
The content is accurate, error-free, and unbiased. However, that accuracy could be improved by adding more writers from various regional areas of the country or schools of thought, as well as inclusion of more women, African American, and Native American writers. The stronger representation of authors would improve the diversity of the text. If more diverse authors are added to the text in the future, this will open up the opportunity to add more relevant historical events and cultural understanding.
The text appears to be updated and easily updated which means the chances of it becoming obsolete are unlikely. The more modern writers are linked to websites in the textbook. These will need to be checked often and updated for relevancy in location but it is easy enough to locate the work should the link be obsolete. The addition of authors as well as historical and cultural information will only enhance the textbook.
The text is written in an easy to understand format that will allow ease of student understanding. The reader friendly format will allow students the opportunity to delve deeper in to the critical thinking needed for research.
The text appears to be consistent in layout and formatting, using learning outcomes, introductions, historical/cultural information, author's biographies as well as end of section questions and key terms.
The book would easily lend itself to varying teaching methods and course designs.
The outline of the Table of Contents are presented clearly in literary progressions which will benefit instructors and students alike when referencing the texts. The Learning Outcomes section is a plus because students will know what to expect from the text in additional to traditional course objectives and outcomes. Key terms and questions sections will foster student growth and engagement with the text and within a class using this text.
The use of the text as a PDF makes the text accessible for readers. The only problem would be potential navigational problems when following links in the text. The links would need to open a new tab or be opened in a new tab by the user.
The text appears to be virtually free of grammatical errors.
Cultural and historical references are made so as to increase student comprehension and awareness. If the book expands in the future, it would benefit from the addition of more culturally diverse authors or additional pieces by the authors already found in the text.
When teaching American Literature II again, I will be reaching for this textbook as a supplement to my course.
As its subtitle suggests, Writing the Nation provides a “concise” comprehensive overview of the American literary canon from the Civil War to the beginning of the twenty-first century and covers such periods and major literary movements as... read more
As its subtitle suggests, Writing the Nation provides a “concise” comprehensive overview of the American literary canon from the Civil War to the beginning of the twenty-first century and covers such periods and major literary movements as romanticism, realism, naturalism, postmodernism, the Harlem Renaissance, and the first and second waves of the Southern Renaissance. Each of its six chapters is prefaced with its own set of learning outcomes and an introduction that briefly summarizes the period or movement’s socio-historical context and each author’s relationship to that context. A brief profile of each author’s biography and literary contributions immediately precedes the reproduction of or link(s) to their selected work(s). Each section concludes with a series of review questions related to the reading, and each chapter concludes with a series of “key terms,” which correspond to words highlighted in bold font in the chapter’s introduction or authors’ profiles. A concise definition for each of those key terms is conveniently provided in the Glossary section, which is located at the end of the collection. There is no index included with this collection, but a keyboard’s search function quickly locates any desired keywords. This anthology certainly privileges prose fiction; it contains a decent selection of commonly anthologized works of poetry, but only a select few works of non-fiction prose. Most problematically, there is very little representation of writers of colour apart from African American writers, or of works by authors from other minority groups.
This anthology does an excellent job of providing most of the bibliographical information a student would need to cite a text accessed through an external link, and it models good citational practices by providing source information for the images it uses. However, there is a noticeable absence of information regarding what source text was used for the materials that are reproduced within the anthology itself. For example, it does not indicate whether it is using the 1855 or the 1890 edition of “Song of Myself,” and I was similarly disconcerted by the abbreviation of Dickinson’s “Because I could not stop for Death” and the general lack of reproduction of Dickinson’s original punctuation in several of her poems that are included in this collection (namely, her frequent use of dashes). This inattention to detail and/or misrepresentation of these works would make me hesitate to select this anthology as a primary source text, in addition to the absence of explanatory notes.
Because of the format and medium of this collection, making updates to it should not pose a challenge to current or future editors. In order to ensure ongoing relevance, the sixth and final chapter, “American Literature Since 1945,” would benefit from additional expansion into the twenty-first century, given that it currently includes just one text from this period.
The introductory and other instructional materials in this anthology are mercifully brief without sacrificing essential information and while maintaining a cerebral, but ultimately accessible tone and style. In addition to providing written commentaries on social and historical contexts, this volume also identifies key terms that might be new to some readers and provides concise definitions of them in the Glossary that is appended to the collection.
As noted in the “Interface” section of this review, Writing the Nation’s formatting is consistent. However, the pacing of the chapters strikes this reviewer as uneven. The first chapter contains works by just two authors, while Chapter 5 (perhaps the most comprehensive section of the book) features ten times as many writers. Chapter 4 provides access to the work of just 3 writers, but it is arguably the longest segment of the book because it reproduces Zane Grey’s Riders of the Purple Sage in its entirety, accounting for approximately one-quarter of the length of this anthology. Overall, while formatting is consistent, the pacing of the collection’s framework is uneven.
This collection is easily and readily divisible into smaller reading sections, and the subdivision of some of the lengthier chapters, such as Chapter 5, into smaller units still, such as the Harlem Renaissance, facilitates the discussion of diverse literary periods and makes it possible to use this anthology to focus on very select periods as well.
The anthology is organized in chronological fashion beginning ca. 1855 and concluding in the first decade of the twenty-first century. While the overall organization is logical and clear, like the issues with consistency noted above, some elements of this collection’s organization are uneven, and the rationale behind some organizational decisions is questionable. For example, Chapter 4, “The Turn of the Twentieth Century and the Growth of Modernism,” consists of excerpts from Booker T. Washington’s Up From Slavery, W. E. B. Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk, and the entirety of Riders of the Purple Sage. In their introduction to this chapter, the editors acknowledge the apparent randomness of these selections, but suggest that they nonetheless “speak to two particular aspects of turn-of-the-century American literature: the growth of African-American literary culture and a mythological fascination with the West.” I respect this rationale, but the appropriateness of pairing these texts in a single chapter still strikes this reviewer as questionable, and the selection of the entirety of Grey’s novel as the sole representative of the “mythological fascination with the West” is less effective than providing a sampling of shorter fictional and non-fictional texts that similarly speak to that fascination, but provide a more complete
This book’s interface is designed for clarity and usability. Headings and subheadings are colour-coded, author photographs have good resolution, the font is easily legible, and the page layouts are standardized; all of these features combine for effortless navigation and reading. Writing the Nation manages to remain “concise” partly because many of its texts are made accessible by clicking on links that open in a new browser window. I appreciate the editors’ resourcefulness in making use of existing digital texts; however, while some of the links take readers to established, reliable online sources and databases, others link to personal or classroom blog pages. My exploration of this anthology discovered at least one dead link that prevented me from accessing an externally linked text (Faulkner’s “Barn Burning”).
While the text is virtually free of grammatical errors, there are some typographical and formatting errors present within the table of contents and in some of the chapters’ introductory blurbs. For example, in the Table of Contents, section 6.13 on Donald Barthelme is included under 6.12 on Toni Morrison, and the Introduction to Chapter 4 errs in its description of the order in which each author appears in that section.
This anthology contains works by just over 50 American writers. Approximately one third of those writers are women, and a quarter of them are African American authors. Leslie Marmon Silko is the only Indigenous author represented within the text. What is noticeably absent are additional works by Indigenous writers, or any works by Latinx, Asian American, or other immigrant/refugee populations within the US. The text contains a number of works by LGBTQ writers, but few, if any, of those selections deal specifically with queer embodiment.
This collection is a viable open source option for a survey of American literature after 1865 if one is planning to construct a fairly standard, canonical syllabus. If one is wanting to break from the mould of tradition, however, they would likely need to supplement these selections with numerous other sources.
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... 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.
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... 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.
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... 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 literature after 1865. Particularly, the editors have taken great care to focus on diversity, both of... 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 subtitled A Concise Introduction to American Literature 1865-Present. It is that. It provides... 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 outcomes and an introduction to the movement. Then all the expected authors are here with a piece or... 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, moving through schools of writing such as Realism, Naturalism, Modernism, and so on. A fine example of... 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.