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Ambrose Bierce, an ironist whose choice of genre roved from predatorially sardonic verse to artfully detached war writing, was born Ambrose Gwinett Bierce on 24 June 1842, in the Ohio village of Horse Cave Creek. He was the tenth of thirteen children of Marcus Aurelius Bierce, a struggling Congregationalist farmer; Protestant evangelism helped to dictate the community's calendar. Bierce left his family's faith and their rural penury behind him as soon as he could, beginning work at age fifteen as a printer's devil for the antislavery Northern Indianan newspaper. And yet the barnyard did not forever leave the writer; in it Bierce may have found his origins as a literary mocker. For example, the biliously independent title character in Bierce's short story “Curried Cow” could be readily understood as the writer's alter ego.
Elizabeth Bishop is one of the most original lyric voices of the twentieth century, standing with such other American poets as Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, and Marianne Moore, who was Bishop's mentor and shared Bishop's thirst for accuracy. Like these poets, Bishop was not part of any school and so did not align herself with any program or spend time framing manifestos. Instead, she forged her own aesthetic based on close observation of the thing itself, and in the process generated new idioms and rhythms that convey with wit and a keen moral sense her beliefs about the power of the human imagination to build upon and alter our world.
William R. Nash
The term “Black Arts Movement” describes a set of attitudes, influential from 1965 to 1976, about African-American cultural production, which assumed that political activism was a primary responsibility of black artists. It also decreed that the only valid political end of black artists' efforts was liberation from white political and artistic power structures. Just as white people were to be stripped of their right to proscribe or define black identity, white aesthetic standards were to be overthrown and replaced with creative values arising from the black community.
In 1960 the poet Donald M. Allen published an anthology titled The New American Poetry. Just three years earlier, the poets Donald Hall, Robert Pack, and Louis Simpson had edited New Poets of England and America. Although each purported to be a definitive survey of contemporary poetry, these books could not boast a single poet in common. New Poets of England and America contained academic poets working largely within traditional form, poets influenced by predecessors such as Robert Frost and T. S. Eliot. Mainstream poets like Adrienne Rich, John Hollander, and Richard Wilbur were included. Allen's collection, however, provided a forum for the many experimental poets working in the United States. He viewed these poets as inheritors of the innovations set in motion by Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams. The work of this new generation had heretofore reached its growing audience only through publication in small magazines and by independent presses or through readings. The Beats, including Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, were represented, as well as poets of the New York school and the San Francisco Renaissance. Allen also created a new designation for a group of writers otherwise difficult to categorize: the Black Mountain School. To this school he assigned Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, Denise Levertov, Edward Dorn, Joel Oppenheimer, Paul Blackburn, Jonathan Williams, Paul Carroll, Robert Duncan, and Larry Eigner. They were named for the short-lived but much storied Black Mountain College, of which Olson was the rector from 1951 until it dissolved in 1956
Tuija Laine and Kirsti Salmi-Niklander
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Literature. Please check back later for the full article.
Literacy among common people got its start in Finland during the Reformation. Michael Agricola, the first Finnish Reformer, studied in Wittenberg and, after coming back to Finland, translated the first books into Finnish. At first, books were only for priests, but in the middle of the 17th century, a literacy campaign throughout the Swedish Realm produced good effects. Some bishops in the diocese of Turku were also very active in writing basic religious literature, primers, catechisms, hymnals, and other materials for common people. The church examined parishioners as well, to check their reading skills. People were not allowed to get the status of godfather or godmother, or attend Eucharist, or marry without proper reading skills and knowledge of basic Christian doctrine. In the first phase, reading was only reading by rote, but by the last decades of 17th century, reading from the book and understanding the content were underlined by bishops and priests. During the 18th century, literacy emerged further, and literature published in Finnish became more varied.
During the 19th century, the literacy rate gradually went up in Finland. However, for the vast majority of the rural population, literacy meant only the very basic reading skills required and tested by the Lutheran church. The statute for primary schools was laid down in 1866, but the law of compulsory primary education was not enacted until 1921. From the 1860s, Finnish language was promoted by the Russian government. The Finnish-language literature and press afforded reading for large groups of population. The popular movements that began to be established during the last decades of the 19th century (temperance movement, agrarian youth movement, labor movement) provided possibilities for literary training. Among the lower-class people in rural Finland were many self-educated writers who submitted manuscripts to the Finnish Literature Society and sent news from their home parish to newspapers. Some of these became professional writers or journalists.
Daniel G. Brayton
Anne Bradstreet has long been the best-known English-language woman poet of the seventeenth century and one of the most famous early American literary figures. While numerous women writers of her era have, in the past two decades, gained a wider readership than ever before, largely because of the recuperative efforts of feminist literary scholars, Bradstreet has needed no such resurrection. She has been widely admired since her poems were first published in 1650. Her fame is often attributed to her status as one of the first English poets, male or female, writing in the Americas. Indeed, the title of the first published volume, The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America, suggests that the novelty of a poet writing in New England was a significant part of her appeal. Yet there can be no doubt that Bradstreet's work stands on its own. Readers appreciate her poetry for its passionate treatment of familial and theological themes and for its simple elegance.
From ancient Greece on, fictional narratives have entailed deciphering mystery. Sophocles’ Oedipus must solve the mystery of the plague decimating Thebes; the play is a dramatization of how he ultimately “detects” the culprit responsible for the plague, who turns out to be Oedipus himself. In the Poetics, Aristotle defines a successful plot as one that has a conflict (which can include, and often does include, a “mystery”) that rises to a climax, followed by a resolution of the conflict, a plot line that describes not only Oedipus Rex but also every Sherlock Holmes story.
A particular genre of mystery writing is defined by the mystery at the center of the story that is crucially, definitively solved by a particular person known as a detective, either private or police, who by ratiocination (close observation coupled with logical patterns of thought based on material evidence) uncovers and sorts out the relevant facts essential to a determination of who did the crime and how and why. The form of detective fiction throughout most of the 19th century was the short story published in various periodicals of the period. A few longer detective fictions were published as separate books in the 19th century, but book-length detective fiction, such as that by Agatha Christie, was really a product of the 20th century.
Most critics of detective fiction see the beginning of the genre in the three stories of Edgar Allan Poe which feature his amateur detective, Auguste Dupin, and were published in the 1840s. Although Poe’s 1840s stories as well as Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, which first appeared in the 1880s, are probably the most well known of 19th-century detective fictions, a number of other writers of generically recognizable detective fiction published stories in the almost fifty years between Poe and Conan Doyle, including a number that featured female detectives. Finally, from the 1890s into the early 20th century, a plethora of new detective fictions, still in short-story form for the most part, appeared not only in Britain but also in France and the United States.
Detective fiction has always been popular, but serious critical interest in the genre only developed in the 20th century. In the second half of that century, this critical interest expanded into the academic world. The popularity of the genre has only continued to grow. Both detective fictions (now nearly all novel length) and critical interest in the genre from a variety of perspectives are now an international phenomenon, and detective novels dominate many best-seller lists.
If we accept the well-known distinction that literary fiction is character driven and commercial fiction is plot driven, then the work of Harold Brodkey is the most literary American fiction of the twentieth century. Indeed, it is a critical commonplace to compare Brodkey's work with that of Marcel Proust (1871–1922), the French master of memory and psychological nuance. Born Aaron Roy Weintraub in Staunton (some sources say Alton), Illinois, on 31 October 1930, Harold Brodkey was adopted after the death of his mother by his father's cousins, Joseph and Doris Brodkey (the S.L. and Leila or Lila in his fiction), who lived in University City, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. Brodkey graduated from Harvard (cum laude) in 1952, the same year he married Joanna Brown (they were divorced in 1962), with whom he had a daughter, Emily Ann. In his early twenties he began to publish stories in The New Yorker magazine, which were collected to form his first book, First Love and Other Sorrows (1957). The title sardonically recalls the melancholic longing of the European romantic movement. The difference is that Brodkey's protagonists—boys, college students, young marrieds—are unheroic, suburban, and American. They reach for levels of passion and sublimity beyond their capacity, Brodkey all the while maintaining a tone of tender pathos. The first story, “The State of Grace,” recounts the failure of an unnamed thirteen-year-old boy to make a connection of redemptive love with Edward, a beautiful seven-year-old. In the last five of the nine stories, Brodkey portrays Laura—sensitive, intelligent, a representative white middle-class female of the 1950s—from adolescence to marriage and young motherhood. Two of these five stories are parodically titled: Piping down the Valleys Wild (a William Blake poem of paradisiacal vision) and The Dark Lady of the Sonnets (a reference to the powerfully sensual woman in William Shakespeare's sonnets). Laura and her world, Brodkey wants us to know, are poignantly distant from what Blake and Shakespeare evoked. In its depiction of innocence and loss, First Love and Other Sorrows resembles the stories of two other New Yorker writers of the 1950s—J. D. Salinger and John Updike
William R. Nash
Gwendolyn Brooks, American poet, novelist, activist, and teacher, stands out for her social engagement, her professional generosity, and her literary accomplishment. In a career that spanned six decades, Brooks concerned herself with portraying the lives of American blacks, especially people hampered by social and economic circumstances. Throughout her corpus, Brooks demonstrates sensitivity to the particulars of black life in America; when tracking the work chronologically, one sees evolving her sense of the black poet's most appropriate response to a racially charged society.
Charles Bukowski fought, drank, and tirelessly wrote his way to international renown by defining a new American outsider poetry. A self-mythologizing and ingenious promoter, Bukowski was also an extremely prolific novelist, columnist, short-story writer, and poet best known for his hard-bitten, minimalist portrayals of Los Angeles's underbelly. Bukowski provokes extreme reactions to his work. On the one hand he is a cult hero, a writer who sees through the pretensions of life and literature to depict the world in all its brutality and beauty. On the other hand he is dismissed as a primitive writer who spewed out a facile mixture of juvenile bile, self-absorbed rant, and clever posturing designed to get a rise from his audience and raise sales of his books. Bukowski published over sixty volumes of poetry and prose, and his works have been translated into more than a dozen languages. Though he lived hard and drank determinedly for most of his life, he died on 9 March 1994 from leukemia. At the time of his death, he had become wealthy from his many writings and lived in the comfortable suburb of San Pedro.