Literature: Posts

Discover the Routledge Introductions to American Literature series

The new Routledge Introductions to American Literature series provides critical introductions to the most important topics in American Literature, outlining the key literary, historical, cultural and intellectual contexts. We talked to series editors D. Quentin Miller and Wendy Martin to find out more.

1 – Could you tell us a little about your backgrounds? What lead to your interest in American Literature?

Wendy - I have had a deep love for American Literature and American Studies since high school and chose to major in English with an emphasis on American Literature when I was an undergraduate at UC Berkeley. After spending several months in Western Europe, I decided to come home and get a Ph.D in American Literature; after exposure to so many other cultures and traditions, I wanted to understand my own country in the deepest possible ways. I was trained in early American Literature which gave me an immensely important foundation for the study of American Literature and Culture as a whole. In my view, you really can’t truly understand the mindset of the United States and its literature and culture unless you understand the Puritans; we live with Puritan values, in secular form, to this very day. My graduate training gave me a wide lens with which to approach my work for which I am extremely grateful.

Quentin - Like Wendy, I came to American literature after I had developed interests in European literature as an undergraduate, especially Irish literature after I had spent a year in Ireland.As with many expatriates, living in another country caused me to become more curious about my own.In graduate school I delved deeper and deeper into the American literary canon, eventually settling on the contemporary period and African American literature as my fields of particular interest.But all American literature interests me, especially the notion that our understanding of the tradition is always being rewritten.We have no Shakespeare in our tradition, no central figure who is an absolute monarch.We labelled the mid-nineteenth century The American Renaissance and the 1920s The Harlem Renaissance, but we may be in a literary renaissance right now.It's an ever-expanding horizon line.

2 – How did this series develop?

Quentin - The series began when Doug Field and I started talking about an African American volume for another Routledge series.It dawned on us and on Polly Dodson [Literature Editor at Routledge] that the volume we wanted to write really constituted a valuable introduction to the field, and in fact that such introductions would be valuable volumes to produce.Wendy and I had worked on The Heath Anthology of American Literature for a number of years, and we partnered up to edit the series, building on the work that we had accomplished with the other editors of that path-breaking anthology.

3 – How do you decide which areas to cover and how do you go about finding the right person to write each title?

Making decisions about the topics of a book and the possible authors is always challenging. We have developed a list of topics that we would like to see covered, and then we look for scholars whose expertise matches these topics. Often, scholars will come to us with a proposal which works well for us.Our first three volumes reflect a radical departure from the traditionally biased views of literature that associated it with the perspectives exclusively of male writers of Anglo-Saxon descent.We will build outward from these volumes to continue to construct the kaleidoscope that is American literary history.

4 – The first three titles cover African American Literature, Modernism and American Women Writers. What can readers expect next?

In general, this series will offer volumes that cover important periodic and thematic categories. In addition to volumes on traditional periods such as the Puritan era, Transcendentalism, Modernism, and Post-Modernism, readers can expect volumes in this series on literary traditions that reflect our nation's multicultural and multiethnic nature.We will also pursue volumes on other emerging areas in the study of American Literature and Culture like American Nature Writing, Gay and Lesbian American literature, and American children's literature. We will also address emerging fields of post-canonical, transnational, hemispheric, oceanic perspectives. The field of American Literature is dynamic and reflects the ever-changing nature of the culture we live in.

5 – How do you see the books in the series being used in courses?

Because the books in this series provide a detailed and nuanced overview of important topics and perspectives in American Literature, they are invaluable resources for teachers and students in courses. These books both frame the “big picture” and provide in-depth detail on a given topic.We can envision the volumes being assigned as required or recommended reading in courses on both the undergraduate and graduate level as a way to frame and contextualize the primary works covered in the courses.

6 – What makes the series different from others available?

This series provides the best scholarship on a given topic in lucid, accessible prose.Moreover, we are committed to reflecting the changing nature of American literature which always tells a new story.The trajectory of American literature, like the nation it comes from, leads to the future instead of complacently repeating past stories.Our books reflect the dynamic nature of a body of work that is never content to repeat itself.