“Language,” Loren Eiseley wrote, “implies boundaries. A word spoken creates a dog, a rabbit, a man. It fixes their nature before our eyes.” What does well for a rabbit or a man, however, is inadequate for literature. The phrase “children's book” resembles a tent, baggy and capacious, containing all kinds of writing and drawing. For some critics, any book a child reads or plays with is a children's book. A Golden Touch and Feel book, Dorothy Kunhardt's Pat the Bunny, is for preschoolers. The “reader” imitates the characters Judy and Tom as they touch things. While Judy pats an illustrated bunny, the child touches a piece of cotton. After Paul smells flowers in an illustration, the reader sniffs a scented page. For children slightly more advanced are “Board Books,” small books whose pages are thick as cardboard to resist rough handling; Sandra Boynton's books are an example. At the other intellectual extreme are books read by precocious children. If a child reads John Steinbeck's East of Eden in the fifth grade, can the book be classified as a children's book? Or should it simply be labeled “extraordinary reading”?
Katherine O'Flaherty Chopin is best remembered for her novel The Awakening, which was greeted by popular critics as scandalous when it appeared in 1899. The controversy centered around the main female character's dissatisfaction with married life and her romantic attraction to a younger man. Chopin, however, was never one to be bound by convention and had been raised and educated by a series of headstrong women. Her outlook granted her a freedom to write without an internalized social censor; however, society was not yet ready for her work.
In 1898, U.S. imperialism spread beyond the continent’s borders and took possession of Puerto Rico during the Spanish–American War. This began the repeated waves of migration from the island to the mainland. In New York City (the main destination, along with Chicago), Puerto Ricans settled in East Harlem and the South Bronx, while the Lower East Side became the immigrant neighborhood par excellence. Adaptation strategies, common to previous immigrant communities, ensued, especially regarding the urban context and the reinvention of spaces. During the 1960s, authors such as Piri Thomas or Pedro Juan Soto began to narrate this complex experience, always in an unsteady balance between Puerto Rico and the United States. This first phase of literary output culminated the following decade (a period of deep economic and social crisis) in the so-called Nuyorican Experience, where “nuyorican” stands for “New York Puerto Rican”—a neologism that sums up the community's condition of “divided self” and defines the social and cultural horizon of a new generation of artists. In their works, poet-performer Pedro Pietri and writer Nicholasa Mohr expressed their peculiar view and sense of the city, both surreal and realistic, ironic and passionate.
In the 21st century, a new genre of Anglophone fiction has emerged—the climate change novel, often abbreviated as “cli-fi.” Many successful authors of literary fiction, such as Margaret Atwood, Paolo Bacigalupi, T. C. Boyle, Michael Crichton, Ian McEwan, Amitav Ghosh, Barbara Kingsolver, Ursula Le Guin, Lydia Millet, David Mitchell, Ruth Ozeki, Nathaniel Rich, Kim Stanley Robinson, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Marcel Theroux, have contributed to this new genre’s efforts to imagine the causes, effects, and feeling of global warming. Together, their work pulls the issue-oriented and didactic approach of activist fiction into contact with the intensive description and site specificity of Romantic nature writing. Cli-fi knits these tendencies together into a description of the effects of a dramatic change in the Earth’s climate on a particular location and a vision of the options available to a population seeking to adapt to or mitigate those effects.
Although cli-fi is resolutely contemporary and dedicated to creating new narratives adequate to current conditions, criticism devoted to the genre has carefully documented the persistence of national, masculinist, and anthropocentric tendencies in some of its major works. The dependence of cli-fi (and the environmental activism that inspires it) on capitalist visions of social progress has also received scrutiny. Some of these habits of representation have been inherited from literary predecessors such as Henry David Thoreau, Rachel Carson, Ernest Callenbach, and J. G. Ballard. Ballard’s Drowned World has proved an especially complicated source of inspiration for this new genre of the novel. In their efforts to update the motifs of these predecessors to the needs of the present, 21st-century cli-fi writers have experimented with the temporality, central figures, and mood of their fiction. These efforts have brought distinctive types of speculative and science fiction, as well as satires of climate change activism and new hybrid realisms, under the cli-fi umbrella. Although the genre still wrestles with inherited limitations, in every permutation, cli-fi novelists have prized innovation, experimentation, and creativity. Finally, all of their varied efforts involving cli-fi unite around an expectation that humanity and the planet can survive the changes associated with the Anthropocene.
Billy Collins is the most popular poet in America, according to a 1999 article in the New York Times. Named Poet Laureate of the United States for 2001–2003, Collins appears often on public radio and his readings are packed with enthusiastic fans. Collins's work—funny, accessible, and wry—receives high marks from many corners of mainstream criticism, and he sells more books of poetry than anyone since Robert Frost. However, it is these very qualities that cause others to question Collins's achievement. Despite, or perhaps because of, the broad appeal of these poems, some think Collins's work is too clever or, because it is often funny, classify the work as light verse. Collins does not have much patience for the division that pits his poetry against “serious” work. “Poetry,” he says, “isn't supposed to make you feel dumb, it's supposed to enhance your life.”
From the first, North America's natural grandeur offered European explorers and settlers ample ground to stir imaginative wonder. Virtually ignoring native settlements, they saw before them a limitless, unpeopled wilderness of woodland abounding in game, fish, watercourses, and timber. Thus, trader-adventurer Thomas Morton, in his New English Canaan, rhapsodized on the “faire endowments” of a country that looked to him like “Nature's Masterpiece” when he landed from England on a spot of paradise near present-day Quincy, Massachusetts, sometime after 1622. “If this land be not rich,” he later declared, “then is the whole world poor.” By 1690 the largest settlement in the colonies amounted to no more than seven thousand Bostonians huddled on the edge of a mostly unmapped continent. In proportion to the meager population of British North America, colonists produced a startling quantity of written material, much of which has been preserved. Why, then, have later readers sometimes ignored or discounted this early writing as something beneath genuine literature?
Confessional poetry is verse in which the author describes parts of his or her life that would not ordinarily be in the public domain. The prime characteristic is the reduction of distance between the persona displayed in a poem and the author who writes it.
From the colonial period through to the present day, the U.S. South has been seen as aberrant or at least different, as separate from, the rest of the nation. Often thought of as backward and strange, the South has also been figured as the nation’s Other, home to anything that the United States disavows: racism, sexism, religious fundamentalism, poverty, and so on. While a debate rages in the field of southern studies about what and where the South exactly is—even whether the South should be spoken of as a solid geography—contemporary literature from the region continues to present the multiple meanings of place today. Indeed, in the 21st century particularly, southern literature is expanding and diversifying more than ever. Identifiable are three dominant trends in contemporary literature from the South. First, and perhaps most dominant, is the narrative of racial memory; this work explores the impacts and legacies of race relations in the region, from slavery and Native American removal through to Jim Crow and beyond. Second is the narrative of the southern environment; these narratives are stories that contemplate and focus on the region’s diverse landscapes, from mountainous Appalachia to the Mississippi Delta to the swampy Gulf. They are also narratives that engage with the dramatic effects of climate change and ecological disaster, highly pertinent in the contemporary era of the Anthropocene. Third, are narratives of an (un)changing South; this writing reflexively and critically explores the meaning of the region in a time of globalization and migration. When the population of the South—which has always been a diverse one—is changing in both dramatic and incremental ways, the stories and narratives of the region are clearly adapting too. Southern literature continues to ask complex questions about what the South means in today’s United States.
Charles Robert Baker
James Cooper (he legally added “Fenimore,” his mother's maiden name, in 1826) was born on 15 September 1789, in Burlington, New Jersey, a little more than five months after George Washington took the oath of office as the first president of the United States. He was the twelfth of thirteen children born to William Cooper and Elizabeth Fenimore, one of only seven to survive childhood. William Cooper was the quintessential early American: a religious man, a shrewd land developer, and a willing public servant. By the time James was born, William had amassed great wealth; had founded the settlement of Cooperstown on the shores of Otsego Lake in central New York State, where he built the family estate; and had been selected to serve as the first judge of the court of common pleas for Otsego County. He served as the county's representative in the Fourth (1795) and Sixth (1799) U.S. Congresses and was a leading figure in the history of the state. A staunch Federalist, Judge Cooper agreed with Alexander Hamilton that men of property should govern the American masses. As his ambitions grew, so did the number of his enemies; he died after being attacked from behind by a political opponent in 1809
On 21 July 1899, Harold Hart Crane was born in Garrettsville, Ohio, the only child of Clarence A. Crane and Grace Hart Crane. Crane's short, troubling life in large measure parallels the tenor of the times in which he lived. His twenties in personal age correspond with the Jazz Age of the 1920s, with all its brilliance, excess, and celebration, and the end of his life in 1932 coincides with both the demise of his dreams for a poetic synthesis of American culture and history and the great crash of the American economy. His life is the arc of a great creative gift through ecstasy, dissipation, progressive alcoholism, and psychological deterioration to despair and suicide, when a few minutes before noon on 27 April 1932, Crane walked to the stern of SS Orizaba, removed his overcoat, folded it neatly over the rail, and dropped into the Caribbean Sea. In Crane's short life he created some of the most lasting, most vital poetry ever written by an American.