Defining American Literature

26 09 2012

“All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn.” – Ernest Hemingway

Glancing through the course syllabus, it looks like I’ll be revisiting some classic literature during my American Realism/Naturalism/Modernism college course this term. In fact, it’s quite ironic that we’re reading Huck Finn when I spent several weeks discussing Twain as the father of American satire in my literature course last term.

Mark Twain, it appears, founded American literature (see Hemingway’s quote above). His voice was uniquely American in an age when America suffered disrespect in literary circles at the hand of snobbish Brits and Frenchies. Perhaps he wasn’t the first American to write literature. After all, America became a nation 75 years before Twain entered this world. Certainly some earlier author claims a foundational role. True, but Twain is one of the cornerstones, nonetheless.

Another Norton Anthology awaits discovery by my voracious reader’s brain. Happily, we won’t be assigned hundreds of pages of reading every week. We have seven weeks to digest Twain’s controversial classic.

Assignments included in the coursework for this class are a journal of reflections about the literature we’re reading and an annotated bibliography. The journal must be a minimum of two, typewritten pages per week (if you want an A. Do I want an A? Duh!) These pages don’t even have to be on the same subject. They do have to be well-written and thoughtful. Hey, those are my middle names! (Or not, but the implication of this cliché is clear.)

Of course, I’ve seen an annotated bibliography before. Now I’m going to get to see one up close and personal. Choose one of the author’s we’re studying this term. Does anyone think it’s wrong if I choose Jack London? Do you recall that project I did on White Fang several months back? I could revisit the scholarly journal articles I read then and annotate them. Isn’t that a better use of resources than trying to find a ton of new articles? Of course, I learned about Walt Whitman and Emily Dickenson in that class and read more of their poems during my poetry writing workshop. Researching either of them would be different and interesting.

All of this reflection – the bottom line is that I’m one literature class closer to graduation.

I’d love to hear what you think of Twain or Whitman or Dickinson? If you have advice for my project, go ahead and share it below. I love hearing from you. It reminds me that someone is reading this blog, after all.




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