A Journey Through American Literature

Overview


A vivid snapshot of America's kaleidoscopic literary tradition, A Journey Through American Literature illuminates the authors, works, and events that have shaped our cultural heritage. Kevin J. Hayes charts this history through a series of approachable thematic chapters--Narrative Voice and the Short Story, the Drama of the Everyday, the Great American Novel--that reveal the richness of American literature while providing a compelling set of footholds with which to engage it. Among the topics covered are the ...
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Overview


A vivid snapshot of America's kaleidoscopic literary tradition, A Journey Through American Literature illuminates the authors, works, and events that have shaped our cultural heritage. Kevin J. Hayes charts this history through a series of approachable thematic chapters--Narrative Voice and the Short Story, the Drama of the Everyday, the Great American Novel--that reveal the richness of American literature while providing a compelling set of footholds with which to engage it. Among the topics covered are the role of travel and the symbolism of geography, characters and the importance of voice and dialect, self-definition and the American dream, new beginnings, and the role of memory. Hayes not only discusses the main canonical genres like poetry, drama, and the novel, but also looks at travel writing, autobiography, and frame tales. Key writers like Mark Twain, Ralph Ellison, Emily Dickinson, and Harriet Jacobs are central players in the drama while dozens more create a backdrop that gives this history depth. The book also features over 20 illustrations, a bibliography, and a chronology listing the key events and work in America's literary history.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Hayes has read widely and deeply and commands his material always. Organizing the material by genre and sub-genre rather than strictly by chronology makes the work highly readable and original." --Jerome Loving, author of Mark Twain: The Adventures of Samuel L. Clemens

"Reading Kevin Hayes's personal tour through American literature is like chatting with a one-person book club, whose knowledge comes across in discussing the famous as well as overlooked and interesting writers. Rather than a chronological approach, Hayes takes us on a journey through different genres, making it easy to see how works cluster together by forms and themes. This is an enjoyable and informative read." --Joel Myerson, coeditor of The Oxford Handbook to Transcendentalism

"Hayes' argument that American writing is obsessed with inventing the American person neatly and impressively comprehends the majority of American texts. " -- First Things

"A Journey Through American Literature is a delightful collection of insight, excerpts, and advice. With the book as a guide, readers are likely to approach American writing with better understanding and appreciation, sampling Faulkner with less fear and viewing Seinfeld with more respect." -- ForeWord

"Valuing concision and clarity, [Hayes] offers reasonable, clear critical assessments. And his canvas is comprehensive, covering both iconic texts and obscure works often relegated to the historical footnote...Recommended." --Choice

"I would like put this book into the hands of graduate and undergraduate students of American literature to help them develop a sense of the scope of possibility for future scholarship in the field--and into the hands of many of my colleagues, to remind us what we used to stay up late talking about." --Studies in American Naturalism

Library Journal
Hayes (English, Univ. of Central Oklahoma; The Road to Monticello: The Life and Mind of Thomas Jefferson) takes the reader on a journey that is impressive in scope but necessarily limited in depth. In his time line at the end of the book, Hayes starts with a 1608 work by John Smith and concludes with Jonathan Franzen's Freedom. He attempts to cover the territory between those works as he considers everything from travel literature to autobiographies, short stories, poetry, drama, and novels. The pace is somewhat frenetic as he discusses, thematically, Mary Rowlandson's famous 1682 captivity narrative and only a few pages later comments on DNA scientist James D. Watson's autobiography of almost 300 years later. In the chapter on short stories, he spends about as much time on the work of Augustus Baldwin Longstreet as he does on that of Ernest Hemingway. Given the shortcomings of such a cursory view, Hayes offers some provocative statements that might spark debate or motivate further reading. In his chapter on drama, for example, he considers the writers of The Simpsons as among the most creative in America today. VERDICT This easy read is a quick overview of writing in America that will appeal primarily to teachers and introductory literature students.—Anthony J. Pucci, Notre Dame H.S., Elmira, NY
Kirkus Reviews
American literature in fewer than 200 pages? Fasten your seatbelts. Hayes (English/Univ. of Central Oklahoma; The Road to Monticello: The Life and Mind of Thomas Jefferson, 2008) invites us aboard a runaway train careening through the literature of America, zigzagging from Capt. John Smith to Jonathan Franzen. The journey is chronological only within chapters; the organization otherwise is by genre. His first full sentence is the thesis: "American literature is about identity." Like any similar volume, this one has all the virtues--and failures--of brevity. There is comfort in a simple thesis, surely, though it invites readers to wonder how Hamlet and much of the rest of British literature is not about identity. Hayes' chapter topics (travel narrative, biography, short story, poetry, drama and the novel) offer a sensible set of destinations, but more literary readers will wonder why some of their favorite writers--Phillis Wheatley, Edwin Arlington Robinson, Kate Chopin, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Sam Shepard and other luminaries--are either not here at all or are confined to a clause or phrase. Hayes occasionally pauses to consider a single work, some of which are no-brainers (Emerson's "Self-Reliance," Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography, The Great Gatsby), some mere head-scratchers (Melville's poem "Donelson," Louis Armstrong's Swing That Music). The author also includes some writers few will know--e.g., Josiah Gregg, James Lane Allen, Augustus Baldwin Longstreet. Hayes' grasp of American literary history is impressive, though not flawless. He writes that As I Lay Dying is told by "several different characters"; there are actually 15. For readers craving a one-night stand with American letters, this is satisfying; for a more enduring relationship, look elsewhere.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199862078
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 3/2/2012
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Kevin J. Hayes is Professor of English at the University of Central Oklahoma and the author of The Road to Monticello: The Life and Mind of Thomas Jefferson.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
1. Beginnings
2. Travels
3. Autobiography
4. Narrative Voice and the Short Story
5. Poetry
6. The Drama of the Everyday
7. The Great American Novel
8. Endings Timeline

Index

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