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The Vintage Book of American Women Writers

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Overview

   The Vintage Book of American Women Writers is the first of its kind: a dazzling, monumental showcase of 350 years of poetry and fiction by American women. 
   Inspired and informed by her groundbreaking history A Jury of Her Peers, Elaine Showalter’s landmark anthology features the best work of writers ranging from Puritan poet Anne Bradstreet to contemporary stars like Annie Proulx and Jhumpa Lahiri. ...

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Overview

   The Vintage Book of American Women Writers is the first of its kind: a dazzling, monumental showcase of 350 years of poetry and fiction by American women. 
   Inspired and informed by her groundbreaking history A Jury of Her Peers, Elaine Showalter’s landmark anthology features the best work of writers ranging from Puritan poet Anne Bradstreet to contemporary stars like Annie Proulx and Jhumpa Lahiri. 
   For centuries women have been marginalized and overlooked in American literary history and Showalter’s collection corrects this injustice, allowing us to see our famous women writers in their full literary context and to encounter scores of lesser-known and forgotten writers who fully deserve to be rediscovered and enjoyed by new generations of readers. Sure to fuel debate for years to come, The Vintage Book of American Women Writers offers an epic overview of the canon in one readable, entertaining, and provocative volume.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Remarkable . . . . A Jury of Her Peers does an enormous service, houses a drop-dead reading list, and gives the reader a fluid framework"- Los Angels Times

"Exhilarating, provocative, revelatory, magisterial... The celebrated get their due…and so do the forgotten."- Slate

Kirkus Reviews

Overstuffed but still thin anthology highlighting women's contributions to American—and world—literature.

In a frustratingly brief introduction, Princeton emerita professor Showalter signals her intent to make "available works by important American women writers from 1650 to the present"—women whom she calls "the literary mothers of us all." She goes on to note, however, that both space considerations and the cost of copyright permissions prohibit including "many great women novelists." Poets and essayists suffer as well, and the anthology is a lopsided affair, with scarcely a word from Native American and Hispanic writers, from Leslie Silko or Sandra Cisneros, Joy Harjo or Denise Chavez. The anthology is somewhat better with African-American and Asian American writers, though again with some curious absences. That said, many of the selections show considerable awareness of the ethnic and economic diversity of American society, from a piece by Louisa May Alcott concerning a "contraband" slave to the little-known writer Mary Noailles Murfree, who, sandwiched between classics Sarah Orne Jewett and Kate Chopin, paints a richly detailed portrait of hardscrabble life in the Great Smoky Mountains. Some of the usual suspects are on hand, though some aren't; in a way, it's refreshing to find an anthology of this kind that does not include Eudora Welty's "Why I Live at the P.O.," though unusual to have no Welty at all. Showalter makes well-thought-through choices that avoid anthological clichés: The ever-problematic Mary Austin, for instance, is represented by two autobiographical pieces that are not often read these days, a century after they were written, while it's perhaps daring but smart to represent the always wonderful Willa Cather with a story from her debut book of short stories rather than her better-known mature novels. An anthology of this sort is impossible, of course, without founders Anne Bradstreet ("I am obnoxious to each carping tongue / Who says my hand a needle better fits") and Mary Rowlandson, though Showalter's headnotes are too brief and cursory to give uninitiated readers much sense of why they're important in the larger scheme of things.

A mixed bag, then: a one-of-a-kind anthology that, though large, needs to be larger still to do its job, and that begs for more extensive annotation and context.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400034451
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/11/2011
  • Pages: 848
  • Sales rank: 627,419
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.45 (d)

Meet the Author

Elaine Showalter, a professor emerita at Princeton University, is the author of numerous books, including the groundbreaking A Literature of Their Own: British Women Novelists from Brontë to Lessing and A Jury of Her Peers: Celebrating American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx. A frequent radio and TV commentator in the United Kingdom, she has chaired the Man Booker International Prize jury and judged the National Book Awards and the Orange Prize. She divides her time between Washington, D.C., and London.

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Read an Excerpt

Introduction by Elaine Showalter
The Mothers of Us all

Since they first began to appear in print over 350 years ago, American women writers have publicly insisted that they did not care about literary fame or immortality. Anne Bradstreet, whose book The Tenth Muse Newly Sprung Up in America was published in 1650, declared that she was contented with her humble domestic niche as a Puritan housewife and mother, and denied any interest in winning the laurel wreath or other poetic awards. If men did her the honor of reading her poems, she wrote, "Give thyme or parsley wreath, I ask no bays." In other words, Bradstreet was content to be the Poet Parsleyate, rather than the Poet Laureate, and her imagery of the kitchen of Parnassus would be echoed by many American women writers who came after her.

Hoping for fame seemed unfeminine and self-aggrandizing, and they denied that such ambition inspired them to write. Rather than admitting their own ambitions, promoting their own creativity, or claiming their place in their nation's literary history, the founding mothers of American literature were more likely to avoid publicity and to deprecate their own achievements. They published anonymously or under a pseudonym, and they wrote conflicted accounts of their own longings to write. Lydia Maria Child signed her first novel, Hobomok (1824), "By an American"; she had been warned "that no woman could expect to be regarded as a lady after she had written a book." Child ruefully noted in her diary that for Christmas her husband had given her a laurel wreath, but "the leaves . . . were not very abundant."

When reviews of their works were scanty or harsh, women writers suffered in silence. But American male writers were more forthright and enterprising. When Leaves of Grass received only a handful or horrified reviews, Walt Whitman reviewed it himself—anonymously—as a work of genius by a true "American bard." Meanwhile, his great contemporary, Emily Dickinson, steadfastly refused to publish more than a handful of her poems during her lifetime.

Yet American women writers also believed that they were fully equal to the challenge of creating an American literature for a new nation. Women's rights and women's writing were closely allied after the Declaration of Independence. In 1792, Judith Sargent Murray wrote that women "were equally susceptible of literary acquirement," and envisaged herself "supplying the American stage with American scenes." Child and her generation of writers dedicated themselves to literature of their "native land." They shared common themes as well individual genius. From the beginning, they wrote with sympathy about the outcast, the slave, the Native American, the madwoman. They wrote dark fables about marriage. Over the centuries, they wrote both directly and figuratively about female experience and female sexuality, from abortion to menopause. They were fascinated by the images of the circus, the carnival, and the freak in relation to the situation of the odd woman and the artist. But they also wrote about male experience and, from the masculine perspective, about cowboys, ranchers, soldiers, boxers, and killers. The range of women's writing is much wider in subject and style than is generally supposed.

However, even when they were praised and celebrated in their own day, whether as bestsellers like Harriet Beecher Stowe or Nobel Prize-winners like Pearl Buck, American women writers have tended to disappear from literary history and national memory. I explore the multiple reasons for this phenomenon in my book, A Jury of Her Peers: American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx. But the main reason women do not figure in American literary history is because they have not been the ones to write it. And in the twenty-first century, we need historical chronology, literary contexts, and the sense of continuity as steps toward doing the fullest justice to American women's writing. We need a sense of chronology to see how women writers fit on the literary timeline of American literature, to understand them as belonging to and affecting literary traditions, and not simply as isolated and exceptional women who popped up from time to time. We need to see women writers in context, placed in relation to their contemporaries and their precursors. Finally, we need a canon of outstanding women writers over the past four centuries both to organize their history and to begin the arguments that keep literary discussion alive.

I intend this anthology both as a companion to A Jury of Her Peers, making available works by important American women writers from 1650 to the present; and also as a portable and readable introduction to the literary mothers of us all. Obviously it cannot claim to be comprehensive. I have had to leave out many great women novelists because of limitations of space, and some contemporary writers because of the expense of copyright permission. But The Vintage Book of American Women Writers is a collection of wonderful stories, essays, fables, and poems by a remarkable group of writers who have shaped our literary heritage.

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Table of Contents

Introduction:  The Mother of Us All
 
1. ANNE BRADSTREET (ca.1612–1672)
            “The Prologue” (1650)
            “The Author to Her Book” (1650)
            “In Reference to Her Children, 23 June 1659” (1678)
            “Here Follows Some Verses upon the Burning of Our House, July 
               10th, 1666” (1667)
            “To My Dear and Loving Husband” (1678)
 
2. MARY ROWLANDSON (1637–1711)
            A Narrative of the Captivity and the Restoration of Mrs. Mary 
               Rowlandson (1682)
 
3. JUDITH SARGENT MURRAY (1751–1820)
            “Desultory Thoughts upon the Utility of Encouraging a Degree of 
               Self-Complacency, especially in Female Bosoms” (1784)
            Lines from “On the Equality of the Sexes” (1790)
 
4. PHILLIS WHEATLEY (ca. 1753–1784)
               “On Being Brought from Africa to America” (1773)
 
5. SUSANNAH HASWELL ROWSON (1762–1824)
      From Charlotte Temple (1791):
               Chapter VI: An Intriguing Teacher
               Chapter XVIII: Reflections
 
6. CATHERINE MARIA SEDGWICK (1789–1867)
              “Cacoethes Scribendi” (1830)
 
7. LYDIA HUNTLEY SIGOURNEY (1791–1865)
            “Indian Names” (1849)
            “Requests for Writing” from Letters of Life (1866)
 
8. CAROLINE KIRKLAND (1801–1864)
            Chapter XXVIII, from A New Home—Who’ll Follow? (1839)
 
9. LYDIA MARIA CHILD (1802–1880)
            “The Church in the Wilderness” (1828)
 
10. MARGARET FULLER (1810–1850)
            From “Autobiographical Sketch” (1852)
 
11. FRANCES SARGENT LOCKE OSGOOD (1811–1850)
            “He Bade Me Be Happy”(1849)
            “Ah! Woman Still” (1850)
 
12. FRANCES MIRIAM BERRY WHICHER (1811–1852)
            “The Widow Essays Poetry” from The Widow Bedott Papers
               (1856)
 
13. “FANNY FERN” (Sara Payson Willis Parton) (1811–1872)
            Mrs. Stowe’s Uncle Tom (1853)
 
14. HARRIET BEECHER STOWE (1811–1896)
            “The Village Do–Nothing” from Oldtown Folks, (1869)
 
15. ELIZABETH STUART PHELPS (1815–1852)
            “The Angel Over the Right Shoulder, or, The Beginning of 
               a New Year” (1852)
 
16. LOUISA AMELIA SMITH CLAPPE (1819–1906)
            Letter 19, from The Shirley Letters from the California Mines, 
               1851–1852,
(1922)
 
17. JULIA WARD HOWE (1819–1910)
            “The Heart’s Astronomy” from Passion-Flowers (1853)
            “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” (1862)
 
18. ALICE CARY (1820–1871)
            “The Bridal Veil” (1866)
 
19. ELIZABETH DREW STODDARD (1823–1902)
            “The Poet’s Secret” (1860)
            “Before the Mirror”(1860)
 
20. PHOEBE CARY (1824–1871)
            “Jacob”(1886)
            “When Lovely Woman” (1886)
 
21. LUCY LARCOM (1824–1893)
            “A Loyal Woman’s No” (1863)
            “Weaving” (1869)
 
22. FRANCES E.W. HARPER (1825–1911)
            “Aunt Chloe” (1872)
            “Aunt Chloe’s Politics” (1872)
            “Learning to Read” (1872)
            “The Triumph of Freedom—A Dream” (1860)
 
23. ROSE TERRY COOKE (1827–1892)
            “Bluebeard’s Closet” (1861)
            “Arachne” (1881)
            “Odd Miss Todd” (1882)
 
24. EMILY DICKINSON (1830–1886)
            138: “To fight aloud, is very brave -”
            269:“Wild nights – Wild nights!”
            339: “I like a look of Agony,”
 
25. HELEN HUNT JACKSON (1830–1885)
            “The Prince’s Little Sweetheart” (1885)
 
26. REBECCA HARDING DAVIS (1831–1910)
            “Marcia” (1876)
 
27. LOUISA MAY ALCOTT (1832–1888)
            “My Contraband” (1863)
            “Transcendental Wild Oats” (1873)
 
28. HARRIET PRESCOTT SPOFFORD (1835–1921)
            “Circumstance” (1860)
 
29. SARAH PIATT (1836–1919)
            “The Palace-Burner” (1872)
            “A New Thanksgiving” (1910)
 
30. CONSTANCE FENIMORE WOOLSON (1840–1894)
            “Miss Grief” (1880)
            “Rodham the Keeper” (1880)
 
31. ELIZABETH STUART PHELPS WARD (1844–1911)
            “The Tenth of January” (1868)
 
32. EMMA LAZARUS (1849–1887)
            “Echoes” (1880)
            “The New Colossus” (1883)
 
33. SARAH ORNE JEWETT (1849–1909)
            “A Circus at Denby” (1877)
            “A White Heron” (1886)
 
34. MARY NOAILLES MURFREE (Charles Egbert Craddock
        (1850–1922)
            “The ‘Harnt’ that Walks Chilhowee” (1884)
 
35. KATE CHOPIN (1850–1904)
            “The Story of an Hour” (1894)
            “At the ’Cadian Ball” (1894)
            “The Storm” (1898)
 
36. MARY E. WILKINS FREEMAN (1852–1930)
            “A New England Nun” (1891)
            “Old Woman Magoun” (1909)
            “Noblesse” (1914)
 
37. GRACE KING (1852–1932)
            “The Little Convent Girl” (1893)
 
38. CHARLOTTE PERKINS GILMAN (1860–1935)
            “The Yellow Wall-paper” (1892)
            “Why I Wrote ‘The Yellow Wall-paper’” (1913)
 
39. EDITH WHARTON (1862–1937)
            “The Valley of Childish Things” (1896)
 
40. SUI SIN FAR (Edith Maude Eaton) (1865–1914)
            “The Inferior Woman” (1912)
 
41. MARY AUSTIN (1868–1934)
            “The Walking Woman” (1907)
            “Frustrate” (1912)
 
42. WILLA CATHER (1873–1947)
            “Paul’s Case: A Study in Temperament” (1905)
 
43. AMY LOWELL (1874–1925)
            “The Sisters” (1925)
 
44. GERTRUDE STEIN (1874–1946)
            “Miss Furr and Miss Skeene” (1922)
 
45. ALICE MOORE DUNBAR-NELSON (1875–1935)
            “A Carnival Jangle” (1895)
 
46. ZITKALA-ŠA (1876–1938)
            “A Warrior Daughter” (1902)
 
47. SUSAN GLASPELL (1876–1948)
            “A Jury of Her Peers” (1917)
 
48. DOROTHY CANFIELD FISHER (1879–1958)
            “The Bedquilt” (1906)
 
49. ANNE SPENCER (1882–1975)
            “White Things” (1923)
            “Letter to My Sister” (1927)
 
50. ELINOR WYLIE (1885–1928)
            “Wild Peaches” (1921)
            “Anti-feminist Song, for My Sister” (1929)
 
51. ANZIA YEZIERSKA (ca. 1885–1970)
            “Wild Winter Love” (1927)
 
52. HILDA DOOLITTLE (H.D.) (1886–1961)
            “Oread” (1915)
            “Eurydice” (1917)
 
53. MARIANNE MOORE (1887–1972)
            “Silence” (1924)
            “Poetry” (1935)
 
54. KATHERINE ANNE PORTER (1890–1980)
            “The Circus” (1944)
 
55. ZORA NEALE HURSTON (1891–1960)
            “Sweat” (1926)
 
56. EDNA ST.VINCENT MILLAY (1892–1950)
            “First Fig” (1920)
            “Second Fig”(1920)
            “What Lips My Lips Have Kissed” (1923)
 
57. MARIA CRISTINA MENA (1893–1965)
            “The Vine-Leaf” (1914)
 
58. DOROTHY PARKER (1893–1967)
            “Big Blonde” (1929)
 
59. GENEVIEVE TAGGARD (1894–1948)
            “Everyday Alchemy” (1922)
 
60. LOUISE BOGAN (1897–1970)
            “Women” (1923)
            “Evening in the Sanitarium” (1941)
            “Several Voices out of a Cloud” (1941)
 
61. MERIDEL LE SUEUR (1900–1996)
            “Annunciation” (1935)
 
62. TESS SLESINGER (1905–1945)
            “Missus Flinders” (1932)
 
63. ANN PETRY (1908–1997)
            “The Migraine Workers” (1967)
 
64. ELIZABETH BISHOP (1911–1979)
            “One Art” (1976)
 
65. JEAN STAFFORD (1915–1979)
            “The Echo and the Nemesis” (1950)
 
66. JAMES TIPTREE, JR. (Alice Bradley Sheldon) (1915–1987)
            “The Last Flight of Dr. Ain” (1969)
 
67. SHIRLEY JACKSON (1916–1965)
            “The Lottery” (1948)
 
68. GWENDOLYN BROOKS (1917–2000)
            “The Rise of Maud Martha” (1955)
            “The Bean Eaters”(1960)
            “We Real Cool” (1960)
 
69. HISAYE YAMAMOTO (1921–)
            “Seventeen Syllables” (1949)
 
70. FLANNERY O’CONNOR (1925–1964)
            “Revelation” (1964)
 
71. ANNE SEXTON (1928–1974)
            “Her Kind” (1960)
            “Housewife” (1962)
 
72. CYNTHIA OZICK (1928–)
            “We are the Crazy Lady and Other Feisty Feminist 
               Fables” (1972) 
 
73. URSULA K. LE GUIN (1929–)
            “She Unnames Them” (1985)
 
74. ADRIENNE RICH (1929–)
            “Power” (1978)
 
75. SYLVIA PLATH (1932–1963)
            “Stings” (1962)
            “Wintering”(1962)
 
76. ANNIE PROULX (1935–)
            “55 Miles to the Gas Pump” (2000)
 
77. JOYCE CAROL OATES (1938–)
            “Golden Gloves” (1985)
 
78. MAXINE HONG KINGSTON (1940–)
            “On Discovery” (1980)
 
79. AMY TAN (1952–)
            “Two Kinds” (1989)
 
80. JHUMPA LAHIRI (1967–)
            “A Temporary Matter” (1998)
 
Acknowledgments
 
 

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