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A Brief History of American Literature

ISBN: 978-1-4051-9231-6
420 pages
March 2011, Wiley-Blackwell
A Brief History of American Literature (1405192313) cover image


  • A Brief History of American Literature offers students and general readers a concise and up-to-date history of the full range of American writing from its origins until the present day. 
  • Represents the only up-to-date concise history of American literature 
  • Covers fiction, poetry, drama and non-fiction, as well as looking  at other forms of literature including folktales, spirituals, the detective story, the thriller and science fiction
  • Considers how our understanding of American literature has changed over the past twenty years
  • Offers students an abridged version of History of American Literature, a book widely considered the standard   survey text 
  • Provides an invaluable introduction to the subject for students of American literature, American studies and all those interested in the literature and culture of the United States
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Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments ix

1 The First Americans: American Literature During the Colonial and Revolutionary Periods 1

Imagining Eden 1

Writing of the Colonial and Revolutionary Periods 1

2 Inventing Americas: The Making of American Literature 1800–1865 47

Making a Nation 47

The Making of American Myths 47

The Making of American Selves 59

The Making of Many Americas 71

The Making of an American Fiction and Poetry 90

3 Reconstructing the Past, Reimagining the Future: The Development of American Literature 1865–1900 115

Rebuilding a Nation 115

The Development of Literary Regionalisms 115

The Development of Literary Realism and Naturalism 130

The Development of Women’s Writing 143

The Development of Many Americas 148

4 Making It New: The Emergence of Modern American Literature 1900–1945 159

Changing National Identities 159

Between Victorianism and Modernism 159

The Inventions of Modernism 176

Traditionalism, Politics, and Prophecy 211

Community and Identity 226

Mass Culture and the Writer 242

5 Negotiating the American Century: American Literature since 1945 249

Towards a Transnational Nation 249

Formalists and Confessionals 249

Public and Private Histories 263

Beats, Prophets, and Aesthetes 281

The Art and Politics of Race 296

Realism and Its Discontents 314

Language and Genre 328

Creating New Americas 345

Index 373

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Author Information

Richard Gray is Professor of Literature at the University of Essex and former Distinguished Visiting Professor at a number of universities in the United States. He is the first specialist in American literature to be elected a Fellow of the British Academy and has published over a dozen books on the topic, including the award-winning  Writing the South  (Ideas of an American Region (1986) and The Life of William Faulkner: A Critical Biography (1944).  His History of  American Literature is widely considered to be one of the standard works on the subject.
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"This is a wonderful book. Writing in an elegantly accessible style, Richard Gray offers the reader a truly comprehensive narrative of American literature from the seventeenth to the twenty-first centuries. The entire range, diversity, and richness of American writing are made available here in a single, superbly authoritative volume."
Andrew Hook, University of Glasgow

"Drawing upon a lifetime of reading and research in this field, and covering a huge range of material from the Bay Psalm Book to Walter Mosley, Richard Gray's Literature of the United States offers an excellent survey that holds the American cultural tradition in a compelling, synoptic whole."
Paul Giles, University of Sydney

"Richard Gray's A Brief History of American Literature is an extraordinary achievement. Gray offers us a fascinating and nuanced overview of United States writing, employing literary sensibility to examine a range of periods and genres."
Susan Castillo, King's College, London

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