Published on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Historic Preservation Act, Writing America is a unique, passionate, and eclectic series of meditations on literature and history, covering over 150 important National Register historic sites, all pivotal to the stories that make up America, from chapels to battlefields; from plantations to immigration stations; and from theaters to internment camps. The book considers not only the traditional sites for literary tourism, such as Mark Twain's sumptuous Connecticut home and the peaceful woods surrounding Walden Pond, but also locations that highlight the diversity of American literature, from the New York tenements that spawned Abraham Cahan's fiction to the Texas pump house that irrigated the fields in which the farm workers central to Gloria Anzaldua's poetry picked produce. Rather than just providing a cursory overview of these authors' achievements, acclaimed literary scholar and cultural historian Shelley Fisher Fishkin offers a deep and personal reflection on how key sites bore witness to the struggles of American writers and inspired their dreams. She probes the global impact of American writers' innovative art and also examines the distinctive contributions to American culture by American writers who wrote in languages other than English, including Yiddish, Chinese, and Spanish.
Only a scholar with as wide-ranging interests as Shelley Fisher Fishkin would dare to bring together in one book writers as diverse as Gloria Anzaldua, Nicholas Black Elk, David Bradley, Abraham Cahan, S. Alice Callahan, Raymond Chandler, Frank Chin, Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, Countee Cullen, Frederick Douglass, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Jessie Fauset, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Allen Ginsberg, Jovita Gonzalez, Rolando Hinojosa, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Lawson Fusao Inada, James Weldon Johnson, Erica Jong, Maxine Hong Kingston, Irena Klepfisz, Nella Larsen, Emma Lazarus, Sinclair Lewis, Genny Lim, Claude McKay, Herman Melville, N. Scott Momaday, William Northup, John Okada, Mine Okubo, Simon Ortiz, Americo Paredes, John P. Parker, Ann Petry, Tomas Rivera, Wendy Rose, Morris Rosenfeld, John Steinbeck, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Henry David Thoreau, Mark Twain, Yoshiko Uchida, Tino Villanueva, Nathanael West, Walt Whitman, Richard Wright, Hisaye Yamamoto, Anzia Yezierska, and Zitkala-Sa.
Leading readers on an enticing journey across the borders of physical places and imaginative terrains, the book includes over 60 images, and extended excerpts from a variety of literary works. Each chapter ends with resources for further exploration. Writing America reveals the alchemy though which American writers have transformed the world around them into art, changing their world and ours in the process.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2015-08-10
- Reviewer: Staff
America’s literary landscape proves both vast and interconnected in Stanford professor Fishkin’s (Lighting Out for the Territory) newest book, which shines a light on the relationships between American authors and the places where they live and work. Using the National Register of Historic Places as her guide, the author sparks interesting questions regarding how writers influence, and are influenced by, place. The locations discussed include Walden Pond, Angel Island in San Francisco Bay (the onetime site of a processing center for Asian immigrants depicted in Maxine Hong Kingston’s China Men), and the Brooklyn Ferry (discussed in relation to Walt Whitman). Chapters on Mark Twain and the massacre at Wounded Knee deal with the difference between history and memory. The influence of the writers included is far-reaching: Fishkin shows Paul Laurence Dunbar and Kingston tearing through racial barriers and Whitman helping to redefine the literary landscape, not just for other Americans but for writers such as Federico García Lorca, Jorge Luis Borges, and Pablo Neruda who read Whitman from afar. With passages by the various authors, Fishkin’s book offers a diverse look at our nation’s literary landscape and history. (Nov.)
Sweet holiday selections for serious readers
Merry and bright: that’s the forecast for bibliophiles this holiday season. Inspired gift ideas for lovers of literature are as plentiful as snowflakes in December. Our top recommendations are featured here.
OUR BELOVED DETECTIVE
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle introduced Sherlock Holmes to the world in 1887 in A Study in Scarlet, a novel for which he earned £25—not even peanuts compared to the bucks being generated by the lucrative sleuth today. Somehow, a century and a quarter after his debut, the detective has become an entertainment-industry titan as the star of a successful movie franchise and two popular TV series. Doyle’s detective is undoubtedly having a moment, so the timing couldn’t be better for The Sherlock Holmes Book, a handsomely illustrated volume that provides background on every case Holmes ever faced, starting with A Study in Scarlet and ending with The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place. Each case is accompanied by an easy-to-follow flowchart, which breaks down the deductive process Holmes used to crack it. In-depth character profiles, a Doyle biography and fascinating chapters on forensic science make this the ultimate Sherlock scrapbook. It’s a must-have for devotees of the great detective.
BIBLIOPHILES TRAVEL GUIDE
Perfect for the armchair traveler or the reader who enjoys hitting the road, Shelley Fisher Fishkin’s Writing America: Literary Landmarks from Walden Pond to Wounded Knee is a meticulously researched, beautifully written survey of the nation’s most beloved literary sites. From the Walt Whitman Birthplace in Huntington Station, New York, to the Sinclair Lewis Boyhood Home in Sauk Centre, Minnesota, the dream destinations of every book lover are included in this fascinating tour. Along with stops at familiar spots like Hannibal, Missouri, and Walden Pond, the narrative includes visits to South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation and sites in South Texas. Fishkin considers the storytelling traditions of these and other parts of the country, highlighting the great writers native to each, and the result is a vivid mosaic of the cultures, voices and geographies that inform America’s literary inheritance. Packed with photographs, this book features more than 150 National Register historic sites. It’s the ultimate trip advisor for lovers of literature and history.
CHARTING THE CLASSICS
In Plotted: A Literary Atlas, Andrew DeGraff interprets classic narratives as maps. Not the Google kind, mind you. DeGraff isn’t a conventional cartographer, he’s an artist, and his maps—subjective, frequently surreal topographic renderings of narratives both epic (Moby-Dick) and miniature (“A Good Man Is Hard to Find”)—rather than orienting the viewer, often have the opposite effect. DeGraff’s depictions defamiliarize well-known works, uncovering facets the reader never imagined. In his treatment of Hamlet, he tracks the path of the prince’s madness as it contaminates the palace of Elsinore. Inspired by the social factors at play in Pride and Prejudice, he maps the novel as a series of precarious catwalks between family estates. In all, DeGraff charts 30 narratives. He’s a genius at identifying and connecting a work’s key coordinates, then using them as the basis for remarkable visualizations. Each of his colorful, ingenious maps is accompanied by an introductory essay. With Plotted, he guides literature lovers off the beaten path and into newly charted territory.
THE MARCH CLAN REVISITED
There’s comfort to be found in the pages of a classic. A tried-and-true title holds out the promise of pleasure to a reader and never fails to keep the contract. Case in point: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott—surely one of the most reread works in all of American literature. The story of the March sisters, first published in 1868-69, receives the royal treatment in The Annotated Little Women, a deluxe edition of the novel filled with rare photographs, illustrations and other Alcott-related memorabilia. This lavish volume features notes and an introduction by John Matteson, who won a Pulitzer Prize for Eden’s Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father. Matteson offers insights into the author’s creative life and provides context for the novel, finding new dimensions in the familiar classic. Arriving in time for Christmas—the same holiday the Marches celebrate so memorably in the opening chapters of Little Women—this treasure trove of a book is the perfect gift for bibliophiles who fancy old favorites.
We may be living in an age of featherweight laptops and magic tablets, but the typewriter—that clunky classic—remains the most literary device of all. It’s an icon of the writing life, the truest emblem of an author (nothing says “vagabond novelist” like an Olivetti or Underwood). Journalist Tony Allan honors the PC’s stately precursor in Typewriter: The History, The Machines, The Writers. Providing a compact overview of the instrument’s evolution, Allan’s quirky volume is filled with typewriter trivia, retro posters and ads, vintage photos of classic machines and quotes—now golden—from those who pecked their way to fame (including, of course, Ernest Hemingway: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”). With a foreword by Paul Schweitzer, owner of the Gramercy Typewriter Company, this uncommon little stocking stuffer is the sort of thing literary types live for.