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General News    H4'ed 9/23/11

Is Today's American Literature Worth Reading?

By Sherwood Ross  Posted by Sherwood Ross (about the submitter)       (Page 1 of 1 pages)   1 comment
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Is American literature today worth reading?

In the past decade, the U.S. has lost a generation of great writers. Among the talented departed are novelists Kurt Vonnegut (" Slaughterhouse Five") , Norman Mailer (" The Naked and The Dead") , J.D. Salinger (" The Catcher in the Rye") , John Updike (" Rabbit, Run") , and playwright Arthur Miller (" Death of a Salesman") , to name a few.

One critic, Anis Shivani, recently wrote in the Huffington Post that, yes, there is a new American literature, and that it stinks.

I cannot agree with Shivani's assessment. Our contemporary writers are turning out a quality product. They have picked up the torch of their cultural predecessors.

We see Hemingway's influence in the works of Andre Dubus(" The Lieutenant") and Raymond Carver ( Cathedral") . We see all three---Hemingway, Dubus and Carver---in the works of Richard Ford (" The Sportswriter") . There are smatterings of William Carlos Williams in (poet)Elizabeth Bishop (" North & South") . And there's a bit of James and a lot of Hawthorne in Joyce Carol Oates (" Them") , Toni Morrison (" Song of Solomon") and Cormac McCarthy (" The Road") .

The giants of American---such as novelists Henry James, Ernest Hemingway, F.Scott Fitzgerald, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville--have attained a stature that is hard to match. But our crop of new writers shows true promise.

We are carried into the 21st Century's early decades by Henry Louis Gates (" African American Lives") , Danzy Senna, ("Caucasia") and Gish Jen ( "Typical American") who, like all good authors, know their history, their sociology, their stuff.

Sadly, American literature in the hands of American critics, is still too often 'hyphenated' and pigeonholed. Reviewers speak of 'Korean-American' writers or 'gay writers' or 'Black novelists' instead of simply stating that they are Ours, as the writers criticize, describe, ponder, and search.

Is American literature perfect? Surely not, and thank heavens. The craft is still fledgling here, and as typically occurs among youth, we have prodigies, navel-gazers, the disaffected, superstars, and everyone in between. Is there an American literature? Yes! And ask me again in 100 years.

(Author Defusco-Sullivan is Professor of Writing at the American College of History and Legal Studies in Salem, N.H.)


(Reach The American College of History and Legal Studies, of Salem, N.H., on the Web at www.achls.org ; on Twitter @LawandHistory; and on Facebook at: HTTP://www.facebook.com/ACHLS . )

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Sherwood Ross worked as a reporter for the Chicago Daily News and contributed a regular "Workplace" column for Reuters. He has contributed to national magazines and hosted a talk show on WOL, Washington, D.C. In the Sixties he was active as public (more...)
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