The Oxford Companion to American Literature

The Oxford Companion to American Literature

by James D. Hart, Phillip Leininger

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For more than half a century, James D. Hart's The Oxford Companion to American Literature has been an unparalleled guide to America's literary culture, providing one of the finest resources to this country's rich history of great writers. Now this acclaimed work has been completely revised and updated to reflect current developments in the world of American letters


For more than half a century, James D. Hart's The Oxford Companion to American Literature has been an unparalleled guide to America's literary culture, providing one of the finest resources to this country's rich history of great writers. Now this acclaimed work has been completely revised and updated to reflect current developments in the world of American letters.

For the sixth edition, editors James D. Hart and Phillip Leininger have updated the Companion in light of what has happened in American literature since 1982. To this end, they have revised the entries on such established authors as Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer, and Joyce Carol Oates, and they have added more than 180 new entries on novelists (T. Coraghessan Boyle, Tim O'Brien, Louise Erdrich, Don De Lillo), poets (Rita Dove, Weldon Kees), playwrights (Wendy Wasserstein, August Wilson), popular writers (Stephen King, Louis L'Amour), historians (James M. McPherson, David Herbert Donald, William Manchester), naturalists (Aldo Leopold, Edward Abbey), and literary critics (Camille Paglia, Richard Ellmann). In addition, the Companion boasts more women's, African-American, and ethnic voices, with new entries on such luminaries as Charlotte Perkins Gilman, M.F.K. Fisher, William Least Heat-Moon, Ursula Le Guin, and Oscar Hijuelos, among many others.

These additions represent only some of the revisions for the new edition. Of course, the basic qualities of the Companion that readers have grown to know and love over the years are as superb as ever. With over 5,000 total entries, The Oxford Companion to American Literature reflects a dynamic balance between past and contemporary literature, surveying virtually every aspect of our national literature, from the Pulitzer Prize to pulp fiction, and from Walt Whitman to William F. Buckley, Jr. There are over 2,000 biographical profiles of important American authors (with information regarding their styles, subjects, and major works) and influential foreign writers as well as other figures who have been important in the nation's social and cultural history. There are more than 1,100 full summaries of important American novels, stories, essays, poems (with verse form noted), plays, biographies and autobiographies, tracts, narratives, and histories. The new edition provides historical background and astute commentary on literary schools and movements, literary awards, magazines, newspapers, and a wide variety of other matters directly related to writing in America. Finally, the book is thoroughly cross-referenced and features an extensive and fully updated index of literary and social history.

Ranging from Captain John Smith to John Updike, and from Anne Bradstreet to Anne Rice, the sixth edition of The Oxford Companion to American Literature is up to date, accurate, and comprehensive, a delight for both the casual browser and the serious student.

Editorial Reviews

Zom Zoms
Last revised in 1983, this compilation has been a reference mainstay since its inception in 1941. Hart, who authored all the previous editions, died during the preparation of this revision, and it was completed by Philip Leininger, an editor of "Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia of American Literature". Although this edition includes only 181 new entries, several hundred other articles have been revised or updated. A number of entries have been shortened. For instance, some articles on individual works no longer contain synopses. In addition, entries have been dropped, among them many U.S. presidents and some lesser-known figures and works Almost all of the new entries are for contemporary authors. A concerted effort to represent more women and minorities is reflected in the addition of such individuals as Bobbie Ann Mason, Rita Dove, Louise Erdrich, Sonia Sanchez, Oscar Hijuelos, James Welch, and August Wilson. In addition, several major best-selling novelists now appear, most notably Stephen King, Patricia Highsmith, and Anne Rice. Still, there are a number of surprising omissions, such as Gail Godwin, Neil Simon, Ellen Gilchrist, and Robert Olen Butler. Few new title entries were noted, and only one of these, "Ironweed", was published after 1980 For the most part, entries for modern authors are remarkably up-to-date. Those on Amy Clampitt, Ralph Ellison, and Peter Taylor note their deaths in 1994; the Pulitzer Prize lists include 1994 winners; and entries for contemporary writers frequently refer to 1994 publications. However, the article on Reynolds Price does not mention his autobiographical "A Whole New Life" (1994), and the chronological chart that concludes the volume only goes through 1993. Some information is incorrect: Kay Boyle died in 1992, not 1994, and the "Saturday Review" ceased publication in 1986, not 1982 Although the expanded coverage of modern authors offered by this edition significantly enhances its reference value, the "OCAL" needs a major overhaul in order to achieve greater balance in the coverage of the writers and writings of each century. More entries for minor authors and works should be shortened or eliminated, and the inclusion criteria for individual titles should be examined and articulated. Currently, numerous works published prior to the 1970s are accorded separate entries, but relatively few titles published since then receive such treatment, and those appear to be determined by whim rather than by significance. For instance, there are separate entries for three works by Joan Didion, but none for works by Eudora Welty or Toni Morrison Ironically, this work's closest competitor is the aforementioned "Benet's" ["RBB" D 15 91], which provides broader coverage since it also encompasses Canadian and Latin American literature. Moreover, its essays on general topics, such as children's literature, feminism, and "science fiction, are considerably more extensive, as are its entries on major authors. On the other hand, despite its flaws, the "OCAL" continues to be a significant reference source, and it now has the advantage of greater currency. Most libraries will need both works, but those that must make a choice would be better served by "Benet's".

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Oxford University Press, USA
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9.30(w) x 6.60(h) x 1.90(d)
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13 - 17 Years

Meet the Author

James D. Hart was Professor of American Literature at the University of California, Berkeley, and Director of its Bancroft Library. He is the author of The Popular Book and A Companion to California. He died in 1990.
Phillip Leininger, after a twenty-year career as acquiring editor for Holt and Harper, and as consulting editor for Oxford University Press, has taught literature, fiction, and poetry at Marist College, Empire State College, and at SUNY-Albany. He is co-editor of Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia of American Literature with George and Barbara Perkins and was in-house editor for The American Tradition in Literature and the Harper American Literature.

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