HarperCollins Reader's Encyclopedia of American Literature

HarperCollins Reader's Encyclopedia of American Literature

by George Perkins, Barbara Perkins

A classic reference work originally published forty years ago, The Reader's Encyclopedia of American Literature is an irresistable guide to nearly everything there is to know about American literature. The thousands of entries, contributed by more than 130 scholars, include biographies of novelists, playwrights, poets and critics, summaries of books and


A classic reference work originally published forty years ago, The Reader's Encyclopedia of American Literature is an irresistable guide to nearly everything there is to know about American literature. The thousands of entries, contributed by more than 130 scholars, include biographies of novelists, playwrights, poets and critics, summaries of books and plays, descriptions of characters, definitions of literary terms and movements, and much more. Featuring hundreds of longer essays on broad topics of interest such as Native American Prose and Poetry, Jewish American Literature, Humor in the United States, and Motion Pictures, the REAL is an authoritative and engrossing— and often quirky — guide to American life and the canon in all its variety and vigor.

This new edition, the first since 1991, has added 300 new writers who have come to prominence in the last decade, from Amy Tan and E. Annie Proulx to Oscar Hijuelos, Paul Auster, David Guterson, and many more. Over 1300 existing entries have been revised and updated in light of recent scholarship.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
This newly christened encyclopedia is a revised and updated edition of Ben t's Reader's Encyclopedia of American Literature, itself last updated in 1991 by the editors of this edition. As is normal in updating a work, the editors included those authors who have risen to prominence in the last decade, such as Oscar Hijuelos and E. Annie Proulx. However, the structure of the resource and its general contents have remained the same. The work consists of entries on titles, characters, authors, genres, historical people, historical events, and literary movements. Title entries include brief synopses and a short summation of a work's critical reception. Biographical entries include dates, a listing of works, a brief biographical sketch, a summary of critical opinion, and a list of further resources. While this information is useful, it is the essays that make this work so valuable. Diverse in subject, they include "History of American Literature," "Native American Prose and Poetry," and "The Globalization of American Literature," and their depth and breath are sufficient to satisfy the simply curious or to launch and, more importantly, lead a student into the subject at hand. There are other good reference works on American literature, particularly The Oxford Companion to American Literature (edited by Phillip Leininger, a coeditor here) and the 1991 edition of Ben t's. But given the reasonable price, most libraries will benefit from the updated information in this new incarnation. Recommended for all libraries. Neal Wyatt, Chesterfield Cty. P.L., VA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

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Abbey, Edward (1927–1989), novelist, nature writer, memoirist. Born in Indiana, Pennsylvania, Abbey grew up in nearby Home, served briefly in the military, attended several universities, and graduated from the University of New Mexico. He wrote of American desert and wilderness areas, extolling their beauty and lamenting the destruction wrought by humans. Early novels, including The Brave Cowboy (1956) and Fire on the Mountain (1962), stressed western themes, and he later gained great popularity with another novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang (1975), about a group that sabotages ecologically destructive industries. Fool's Progress (1988) continues the exploits of the Monkey Wrench Gang. He based Desert Solitaire (1968), nonfiction, on his work as a park ranger at Arches National Monument in Utah, and derived the bulk of his work thereafter from personal experience: books include Appalachian Wilderness (1970), about the western Pennsylvania of his youth; Cactus Country (1973), an illustrated coffee-table book; The Journey Home (1977); Abbey's Road (1979); and Down the River with Henry David Thoreau and Friends (1982). Beyond the Wall (1984) and One Life at a Time, Please (1988) are essay collections. See also Slumgullion Stew: A Reader (1985, reprinted as The Best of Edward Abbey, 1988) and The Serpents of Paradise: A Reader (1995).

Abbey, Henry (1842–1911), businessman, poet. Abbey wrote simple, mostly didactic verse. His first collection was May Dreams (1862); others are Ballads of Good Deeds (1872), Poems (1879), and Dream of Love (1910). His most memorable poem begins: “What do weplant when we plant a tree?”

Abbot, Willis J[ohn] (1863–1934), newspaperman, historian. Abbot wrote mainly for young people; his Blue Jackets of '76 (1888) and Battlefields and Campfires (1890) were especially popular. He first applied the phrase “the Great Commoner” to william jennings bryan.

Abbott, Eleanor Hallowell [Mrs. Fordyce Coburn] (1872–1958), novelist, short-story writer. Granddaughter of jacob abbott and niece of lyman abbott, she wrote Molly Make Believe (1910), her most celebrated book, as well as Sick-a-Bed Lady and Other Stories (1911), Fairy Prince and Other Stories (1922), and Being Little in Cambridge When Everyone Else Was Big (1936, autobiographical).

Abbott, George (1887–1995), actor, playwright, director, producer. Born in Forestville, New York, and educated at the University of Rochester and in george pierce baker's legendary theater workshop at Harvard, Abbott became one of the most successful theatrical men of his time, enthusiastically feted on his one-hundredth birthday in 1987. Primarily identified with Broadway, Abbott also acted on television and directed several films, including All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), The Pajama Game (1957), and Damn Yankees (1979).

Originally an actor, Abbott earned his greatest celebrity as a director of such plays as pal joey (1940), Call Me Madam (1950), and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962). He collaborated with James Gleason on The Fall Guy (1925), with Phillip Dunning on broadway (1926), with Ann Preston Bridgers on Coquette (1928), with john cecil holm on Three Men on a Horse (1935), with Richard Bissell on The Pajama Game (1954), with Douglas Wallop on Damn Yankees (1955), and with jerome weidman on Fiorello! (1959). He wrote one novel, Tryout (1979), and a candid autobiography, Mister Abbott (1963), and directed his own new work, Frankenstein, at 101.

Abbott, Jack Henry (1944– ), convict, writer. Born Rufus Henry Abbot in Oscoda, Michigan, Jack Abbott served sentences in state and federal prisons from the time he was a teenager until his late thirties. He was briefly celebrated for In the Belly of the Beast: Letters from Prison (1981), a description of prison life championed by norman mailer. He enjoyed his celebrity as a free man for only a year. He was convicted of manslaughter in the stabbing death of a waiter and was sentenced in 1982 to fifteen years' further imprisonment.

Abbott, Jacob (1803–1879), clergyman, teacher, author of books for children. His twenty-eight Rollo Books (begun in 1834), stories about a boy named Rollo whose experiences on a New England farm and out in the wide world (including Europe), were used by Abbott to teach lessons of self-improvement, honesty, and industry. These stories and his Franconia Stories, the Gay Family series, and others helped break down the puritanic prejudice of the times against allowing children to read fiction. In all, Abbott wrote more than two hundred books, some with his brother, john s. abbott.

Abbott, John S[tevens] (1805–1877), clergyman, teacher, historian. Abbott collaborated with his brother Jacob. His own best-known work was The History of Napoleon Bonaparte (1855).

Abbott, Lyman (1835–1922), clergyman, editor. This son of jacob abbott began by studying law, later became a Congregationalist minister, succeeding henry ward beecher as pastor of the Plymouth Church in Brooklyn and as editor of a magazine originally called The Christian Union and later the outlook. He was a liberal in both theology and politics. He wrote The Theology of an Evolutionist (1897), Life of Henry Ward Beecher (1903) and Reminiscences (1915). Ira V. Brown wrote Lyman Abbott, Christian Evolutionist (1953).

Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1938), a play by robert e. sherwood. In this Pulitzer Prize-winning (1939) drama Sherwood shows Lincoln from his beginnings in New Salem until his departure for Washington as President. Lincoln grows in the play, becomes more certain of himself, yet remains humble. He frequently speaks actual words Sherwood selected from Lincoln's speeches and writings. One feels throughout the intensity of Sherwood's devotion to democracy, his belief in America. He prepared a movie version of the play (1939) and also a radio play that provided a sequel to it, Abe Lincoln in Washington (1948).

Abe Martin, a character in humorous newspaper columns and books by kin hubbard.

Abie's Irish Rose (produced 1922, published 1924), a comedy by Anne Nichols. A Jewish boy and an Irish girl fall in love. Fearing to tell their fathers about the affair, they are married by a Methodist minister. Their further attempts at...

The HarperCollins Reader's Encyclopedia. Copyright © by George Perkins. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

George Perkins is a professor at Eastern Michigan University and the author/editor of fifteen books on American literature, including the bestselling textbook The American Tradition in Literature.

Barbara Perkins has taught at the University of Pennsylvania and Eastern Michigan University and has cowritten five books with her husband and others.

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