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Norman Mailer: Novelist, Activist, and New Journalist

By Kristin Masters. Jul 26, 2018. 9:00 AM.

Topics: American Literature

On January 31, 1923, Norman Kingsley Mailer was born in Long Branch, New Jersey. He'd grow to become one of the preeminent American authors of the 20th century, writing about 40 books and countless essays and stories. Mailer's work earned him two Pulitzer Prizes and the National Book Award, while his politics garnered some less positive criticism.

     
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McSweeney's Publishing Company: Notable Titles

By Brian Hoey. Jul 16, 2018. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Awarded Books, American Literature, First Editions

The brainchild of acclaimed author and philanthropist Dave Eggers, McSweeney’s has been publishing vibrant, frequently off-kilter writing in various forms for more than 20 years. While for many the name McSweeney’s primarily conjures up images of McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, (i.e. the good people who brought us “It’s Decorative Gourd Season, Motherf*ckers”), the publisher also puts out a quarterly literary magazine as well as standalone books. Though these various concerns may seem disparate, there is certainly a unity to the various Eggers-run projects, and readers can expect anything with the McSweeney’s stamp to showcase an often wry (though sometimes quite serious), literary sense of adventure.

     
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How Harriet Beecher Stowe (and Lincoln) Freed the Slaves

By Andrea Koczela. Jun 14, 2018. 9:00 AM.

Topics: American History, American Literature

In the mid-eighteen hundreds, women had no voice in American politics. Yet one woman, Harriet Beecher Stowe, played a central role in triggering the Civil War and bringing about the abolition of slavery. Prior to Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, abolitionists were considered an extremist group—even in the North. Yet the publication of Uncle Tom changed everything. In honor of her birthday, let's take a look at Harriet Beecher Stowe's influence.

     
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Tom Wolfe: Fiction, Journalism, and Legacy

By Brian Hoey. May 16, 2018. 9:00 AM.

Topics: American Literature, Literature

Tom Wolfe, acclaimed journalist and writer, has died at the age of 88. In his honor, we revisit his life and work today. The prospect of writing a blog post on Tom Wolfe and his influence is daunting. The man who has been such a presence in the world of American letters these past forty years, having authored The Bonfire of the Vanities (1987) and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968), looms large, not just over a new generation of writers and journalists, but over the blogosphere in particular. He did, after all, call out blogs for being "a universe of rumors," citing Wikipedia in particular as being an institution that only "a primitive could believe a word of." How a primitive could successfully navigate all the way to Wikipedia may be a good inquiry for another time, but the pressing question still remains: how do you blog about the man who hated blogs?

     
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Hawthorne Heights: How John Updike Rewrote "The Scarlet Letter"

By Brian Hoey. Mar 16, 2018. 9:00 AM.

Topics: American Literature

Remember the film Easy A (2010), in which Emma Stone stars as a high-school student ostracized for her (invented) promiscuity? In the film, Stone’s character eventually takes to wearing a read letter “A” on her person in reference to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s seminal novel of adultery and Puritanism, The Scarlet Letter (1850), on which the film’s screenplay is partially based. In one sense, it’s amazing that Hawthorne’s novel, which was one of America’s first important literary works, continues to assert its cultural relevance in the 21st century. In another sense, though, we really oughtn’t be surprised. After all, there have been numerous instances of artists updating The Scarlet Letter for contemporary audiences. In one particular such instance, “contemporary” meant 1988, and the artist was the revered John Updike. 

     
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Teju Cole and the Art of the Twitter Novel

By Audrey Golden. Feb 28, 2018. 9:00 AM.

Topics: American Literature, Literature, Book History

What defines a novel or a short story? In the age of e-books, novels and short stories clearly don’t need to be physical objects with pages that you hold in your hands. But must these works take certain forms? Certainly, many writers from the early twentieth century and onward have pushed the boundaries of the literary form, from Jean Toomer’s Cane (1923), which was initially published as short-story pieces and poems in various journals, to a work like Italo Calvino’s If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler (1979) or Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves (2000). Of course, if we’re being honest, books like Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759) pushed similar formal boundaries decades earlier. Yet those texts share at least one thing in common: if you want to buy a hard copy, you can still do so. What about novels that require social media platforms in order to exist? We’re thinking specifically about Teju Cole’s “Hafiz” (2014), a work published in its entirety on Twitter, one tweet at a time.

     
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Four Interesting Facts About John Steinbeck

By Matt Reimann. Feb 27, 2018. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Legendary Authors, American Literature

There were only two authors whose work I encountered in each year of high school: Shakespeare and John Steinbeck. His novellas like The Pearl and Of Mice and Men, his novels The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden, even his inspiring Nobel address, informed my burgeoning understanding of what an American writer sought to accomplish and examine. Steinbeck turned his attention and sympathy toward that majority of people—those who toil, who care for their family, who seek joy and exaltation in however rare supply those delights may be. His style, mixing the merits of both American plainspokenness and figurative language, comforts me whenever I need to pull something off the shelf.

     
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Anaïs Nin's Struggle for Success

By Adrienne Rivera. Feb 21, 2018. 9:00 AM.

Topics: American Literature

Anaïs Nin, born Angela Anaïs Juana Antolina Rosa Edelmira Nin y Culmell in 1903, was the daughter of Cuban expats living in France. Though her early life was spent in Spain and France, her family moved to the United States when she was young. All of Nin's work was written and published in English. As a diarist, novelist, short story writer, and critic, Nin was embraced by the feminist movement in the 1960s, bringing a renewed interest to the craft she had honed her entire life. But before this recognition, Nin struggled to achieve any kind of success, self-publishing four out of the nine books she published in her lifetime. Despite a lack of enthusiasm for her work throughout the majority of her life and a scandal that erupted after her death that caused a temporary cessation in the publication of her work, she is today regarded as a feminist icon and pioneer in the melding of fiction and autobiography. She is likewise celebrated for her bold depictions of sex, abortion, incest, and other topics that were at the time taboo.

     
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In Their Own Words: Books to Be Inspired by on President's Day

By Matt Reimann. Feb 19, 2018. 9:00 AM.

Topics: American History, American Literature

The British have had ripe occasion recently to appreciate a leader whose oratory and philosophy were integral to his ability to improve the world. With movies like Dunkirk and Darkest Hour and TV shows like The Crown, memories of Winston Churchill, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, sting all the more sharply as they are juxtaposed against what many view as the failures of some of our current leaders to live up to truly noble aspirations. It's always good to remember our presidents and statesmen who led with a certain moral obligation, integrity of character, humanistic concern, and displayed a talent for language.

     
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Autobiography from the Civil Rights Movement

By Audrey Golden. Jan 31, 2018. 9:00 AM.

Topics: American History, American Literature, History

Have you been following news about civil rights activism on social media and in your community? Are you wondering more about how current protests for equality have ties to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s in America, as well as similar movements in other parts of the world? We want to say up front that we couldn’t possible write about, in a short article, all of the significant biographies and autobiographies that concern leaders of civil rights and freedom movements in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. With that being said, we have selected a handful of texts that we think are not only important to read, but also offer interesting and distinct modes of autobiography from the Civil Rights Movement.

     
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