Free Resources for Students and Teachers of English as a Foreign Language in China - by Paul Sparks

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Paul Sparks - Online English Lesson Plans, Lesson Material and Ideas for "Culture of English Speaking Countries Lessons" for Xiangtan Normal University...




American Literature

American literature begins with the orally transmitted myths, legends, tales, and lyrics (always songs) of Indian cultures. There was no written literature among the more than 500 different Indian languages and tribal cultures that existed in North America before the first Europeans arrived. American literature is normally divided up into different periods:

1600 - 1800 "Founding to Revolution"

Willilam Bradford "Mayflower Compact"

Benjamin Franklin "Autobiography"

Thomas Paine "Common Sense"

Thomas Jefferson "Declaration of Independence"

James Madison "U.S. Constitution"

1800 - 1850 "The Young Nation"

Lewis & Clark "Journals of the Expedition"

James Fenimore Cooper "The Last of the Mohicans"

Sojourner Truth "Narrative of Sojourner Truth"

Ralph Waldo Emerson "Nature"

Henry David Thoreau "Walden"

Elizabeth Cady Stanton "Declaration of Sentiments"

Nathaniel Hawthorne "The Scarlet Letter"

1850 - 1865 "Slavery & Civil War"

Frederick Douglass "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass"

Harriet Beecher Stowe "Uncle Tom's Cabin"

Mary Chestnut "A Diary From Dixie"

Abraham Lincoln "Gettysburg Address "

1865 - 1901 "Rebuilding America & the Guilded Age"

Mark Twain "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn"

Willa Cather "O Pioneers!"

Black Elk "Black Elk Speaks"

Booker T. Washington "Up From Slavery"

W.E.B. Du Bois "The Souls of Black Folk"

Henry Adams "The Education of Henry Adams"

Edith Wharton "The Age of Innocence"

1901 - 1929 "Progressive Era & Reaction"

Upton Sinclair "The Jungle"

Theodore Roosevelt "The Winning of the West"

Theodore Dreiser "Sister Carrie"

Will Rogers "Roger-isms: The Cowboy Philosopher on Prohibition"

H.L. Mencken "The American Language"

Langston Hughes "Montage of a Dream Deferred"

Zora Neale Hurston "Their Eyes Were Watching God"

Ernest Hemingway "The Sun Also Rises"

F. Scott Fitzgerald "The Great Gatsby"

1929 - 1945 "Depression & War"

John Steinbeck "The Grapes of Wrath"

William Faulkner "The Sound and the Fury"

Ayn Rand "The Fountainhead"

Walter Lippmann "Public Opinion"

Ernie Pyle "Here is Your War"

1945 - 1961 "Early Cold War"

Whittaker Chambers "Witness"

Jack Kerouac "On the Road"

1961 - 1975 "Social Transformation to Vietnam"

James Baldwin "Another Country"

Betty Friedan "The Feminine Mystique"

Russell Kirk "The Conservative Mind"

William F. Buckley "God and Man at Yale"

David Halberstam "The Best and the Brightest"

Neil Sheehan "A Brighnt Shinning Lie"

  • Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672) - The first published book of poems by an American was also the first American book to be published by a woman -- Anne Bradstreet. The book was published in England, given the lack of printing presses in the early years of the first American colonies.

  • Jupiter Hammon (1720-c. 1800) - The black American poet Jupiter Hammon, a slave on Long Island, New York, is remembered for his religious poems as well as for An Address to the Negroes of the State of New York (1787), in which he advocated freeing children of slaves instead of condemning them to hereditary slavery. His poem "An Evening Thought" was the first poem published by a black male in America. 

  • Until 1825, most American authors paid printers to publish their work. They therefore had to be wealthy. The exception, Benjamin Franklin, though from a poor family, was a printer by trade and could publish his own work. 

  • Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) - Franklin recorded his early life in his famous autobiography. Writer, printer, publisher, scientist, philanthropist, and diplomat, he was the most famous and respected private figure of his time. He was the first great self-made man in America. Franklin taught himself languages, read widely, and practiced writing for the public.

  • The first important fiction writers widely recognized today, Charles Brockden Brown, Washington Irving, and James Fenimore Cooper, used American subjects, historical perspectives, themes of change, and nostalgic tones.

  • Washington Irving (1789-1859) - He is best remembered for the stories, "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow."

  • The Romantic movement, which originated in Germany but quickly spread to England, France, and beyond, reached America around the year 1820.

  • THE BRAHMIN POETS - In their time, the Boston Brahmins (as the patrician, Harvard-educated class came to be called) supplied the most respected and genuinely cultivated literary arbiters of the United States. Their lives fitted a pleasant pattern of wealth and leisure directed by the strong New England work ethic and respect for learning. The most important Boston Brahmin poets were Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and James Russell Lowell.

  • Margaret Fuller (1810-1850) - Margaret Fuller, an outstanding essayist, was born and raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts. From a modest financial background, she was educated at home by her father (women were not allowed to attend Harvard). The first professional woman journalist of note in America.

  • Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) - Emily Dickinson was a shy, withdrawn, village woman, almost unpublished and unknown, created some of the greatest American poetry of the 19th century has fascinated the public since the 1950s, when her poetry was rediscovered.  She wrote 1,775 poems.

  • Herman Melville (1819-1891) - Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, Melville's masterpiece, is the epic story of the whaling ship.

  • SAMUEL CLEMENS (MARK TWAIN) (1835-1910) - Samuel Clemens, better known by his pen name of Mark Twain is most famous for writing The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Twain actually wrote many different types of stories. We find romance in Roughing It (1872), and boyish idealism in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876). There is a story of sixteenth-century England in The Prince and the Pauper (1882), and a river-boat story in Life on the Mississippi (1884). Many people know about Huck and Jim, and their "free and easy and comfortable" life on their raft in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884). The story of Camelot is told in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889). Nevertheless, Twain is remembered most for the Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn adventure stories that many people first read as children. 

  • T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) - Thomas Stearns Eliot was born in St. Louis, Missouri, to a well- to-do family with roots in the northeastern United States. He received the best education of any major American writer of his generation at Harvard College, the Sorbonne, and Merton College of Oxford University.

  • Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) - In 1954 he received the Nobel Prize, but because of a troubled family background, illness, and the belief that he was losing his gift for writing, Hemingway shot himself in 1961. Hemingway is the most popular American novelist of the century.

  • Tennessee Williams (1911-1983) - His work focused on disturbed emotions. He wrote more than 20 full-length dramas, the most famous - The Glass Menagerie (1944) and A Streetcar Named Desire (1947).

  • Saul Bellow (1915- ) - Born in Canada and raised in Chicago, he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1976. Early novels include Dangling Man (1944) and The Victim (1947), later novels include Seize the Day (1956).

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