america – literature 20th century (after 1950s)


By the 1950s most of the major modernists were still alive but they seldom produced innovative work .

POETRY
A middle generation of 20th-century American poets emerged in the 1950s and 1960s, most of them born in the second decade of the century. Many ìbecame very famous, including Robert Lowell, Randall Jarrell, John Berryman, Theodore Roethke, Karl Shapiro, and Delmore Schwartz. They came to be known as confessional poets because of their use of modernist techniques to explore their own psychology and their lives. These techniques included irony, collage, and allusions.
Confessional poetry broke away from modernism’s dedication to impersonality and reopened poetry to intense self-exploration and frank revelation of personal experiences.
The confessional poets also became the first generation to teach the writing of poetry in America and developed poetry as a subject of some American colleges and universities. Anne Sexton in All My Pretty Ones (1962) and Sylvia Plath in Ariel (1966) followed their examples for deeper self-examinations. These poems are the description of the poets’ psychological breakdowns influenced by Freudian analysis and imagery. Both Sexton and Plath, committed suicide. Their poetry explored tortured family relationships and examined the female psyche, body, and the dynamics of mother-daughter interactions. Sexton’s and Plath’s poetry influenced the development of feminist poetry, by questioning the traditional roles society assigned to females opposing the prevailing mood of the 1950s and 1960s, that presented family as the source of stability and happiness.

Also important to the development of feminist poetry and in political investigation is Muriel Rukeyser; his poetry looks at labour problems and larger class issues. Another important female poet is Elizabeth Bishop. She was an intense observer of exotic and common things, always rendered in an uncommon language.

Rukeyser and Bishop served as sources for the poetry of Adrienne Rich, one of the most important poets of the second half of the 20th century. She offers a deep examination of motherhood and of what it means to be a woman in America in a remarkable series of books starting with her first collection, A Change of World, in 1951. However, she applies her anger not to self-destruction but to critique of society.

Poetry is now opening up to more experimental rhythms and more radical social thoughts. Some poets, including Richard Wilbur, Donald Justice, and Anthony Hecht, devote their entire careers to writing elegantly structured poems.. Others respond to radical political change by opening up their own work to new forms and structures.

W. S. Merwin writes poetry in traditional forms in the 1950s. Then, in The Moving Target (1963) he suddenly abandons punctuation and creates a new prophetic voice, free of conventional techniques. In later books such as The Lice (1967), he addresses societal ills, including ecological disasters as a result of human irresponsibility.
American poetry became less formal and more political, during the 1960s, when it faces the social turbulence of the Civil Rights movement and protests against the Vietnam War (1959-1975).

This break from new formalism traces back to Black Mountain College, an experimental school in North Carolina., where Olson taught, and where poets Robert Creeley, Robert Duncan, Ed Dorn, and others studied in the early 1950s

Charles Olson’s great work was The Maximus Poems (1953-1975), focussed on his hometown of Gloucester, Massachusetts. He develops a theory of poetry called projective verse, a return to an organic basis for open form, to a poetic line controlled by the poet’s breathing instead of by pre-set meter. His sudents describe the experience of reading and writing the new poetry as an “opening of the field,” the entering of a poetic space where one could wander and explore instead of being led along predetermined pathways. Olson’s example is followed by many groups.

The most famous is known as the Beats, so named for their opposition to American materialism after World War II and their faith in a coming beatification, a new spiritual America. The movement attracts poets like Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso, and Gary Snyder. It begins with a reading in San Francisco in 1955, when the greatest poet of the movement, Allen Ginsberg, reads his free-flowing, surrealistic Howl, the poem now considered the hallmark of the movement.

Their sources are Whitman and Williams that Ginsberg celebrats as his poetic progenitors and follows in their tradition as an essentially urban poet.
Snyder turns to the wilderness tradition in American literature and combines Zen Buddhism, Native American mythology, and deep ecological awareness in poetry that speaks eloquently of the human responsibility to the natural world.

From about 1960 an explosive new plurality of poetry prospers in America. Poets begin to explore the ways poetry to combine politics, sexuality, autobiography, and spirituality in an improvisational, jazzy mode.
One direction is a black arts movement during the 1960s. Influenced by the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s and early 1930s, blackpoetry is written in support of social revolution .

Gwendolyn Brooks writes poems about the Chicago slums since 1945, and in 1950 she becomes the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize for poetry. She writes more directly for a black audience, becoming, more “non-compromising.” LeRoi Jones, later known as Amiri Baraka, is a central figure in the movement. He specifically rejecs the modernists and embraces the chanting, rebellious voices of Whitman, Williams, and the Beats.

The new black poetry turns to the streets of the black communities for its language and to the powerful traditions of African American jazz, blues, and rock music for its rhythms. It also aligns itself with the poetry of oppressed people in other countries, particularly developing countries around the world.

Another direction away from formal modernism is the image poetry, a name given to the work of Robert Bly, James Wright, Galway Kinnell, and others born in the 1920s. These poets turn to what Bly calls a “deep inwardness,” looking to internal spiritual sources that lie deep within the self and taking leaps into the unconscious to retrieve mysterious, disturbing, and often healing images.

Yet another direction led to the New York School, a group of artists, writers, and musicians in which John Ashbery and Frank O’Hara represented poetry. Ashbery and O’Hara wrote wildly experimental poetry that derived from dada and from an embrace of Whitman’s open-road aesthetic—namely a desire to keep moving and to celebrate change, instability, and chance. The resulting poems provide verbal trips through landscapes of shifting discourse with no center and no fixed voice: modes of speech alternate rapidly, high diction is mixed with street slang, and moments from different realms of experience are juxtaposed.

This work influenced Susan Howe, Charles Bernstein, and others who are known as Language poets. This group attacks the idea of a unified voice and, through collaborative work, disguises or erases the distinctions between individual poets. In doing so, the Language poets work to undermine all the institutions that are built on America’s infatuation with individualism, including much of American poetry itself.

It is impossible to name the myriad schools and movements in American poetry that flourished near the turn of the century, when vigorous and unbridled variety marked the poetic scene more than ever. Philip Levine, Frank Bidart, Sharon Olds, Louise Glück, and many other poets were developing the confessional poem in surprising ways, focusing autobiographical examination in more intense lyric forms than earlier confessional poets had. C. K. Williams added to the confessional poem a sometimes brutal narrative edge as he extended the possibilities (and the length) of the long line favored by Whitman and Ginsberg. Jorie Graham extended the poetic line as well, developing Stevens’s philosophical poetry through fascinating labyrinths of speculation and imagery that cross and juxtapose the multiple cultures of her experience.

In the last decades of the 20th century American poetry gained much of its energy from a melding of America’s many distinct cultural traditions. For example, Asian American writers—themselves part of a diverse and multicultured community—turned increasingly to poetry as a means of exploring both their integration into American culture and their growing sense of distinctive ethnic identity within that culture. Garrett Hongo, Alan Chong Lau, John Yau, and Cathy Song are just a few of the recent and remarkable poets whose work expands the definition of Asian American poetry.

Chicano and Chicana poetry also has a long history in America, much of it centered in New Mexico, where Victor Bernal published intricate lyrics in the early 20th century. But the amount of poetry increased dramatically after 1967, when Quinto Sol Publications was founded to publish Chicano and Chicana work. José Montoya, Rudolfo Anaya, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Cherrie Moraga, Benjamin Alire Sáenz, and Gary Soto are among the innovative Chicano and Chicana writers. Much of their work blends poetry and prose, Spanish and English, and oral and written traditions.

Native Americans, of course, have the longest sustained tradition of poetry in North America, and many of the powerful Native American writers at work today ground their work in the long-standing traditions and oral cultures of their peoples. As with Chicano and Chicana writers, some Native American poets wrote in English early in the nation’s history. But most Native American poetry in English is of relatively recent origin. The highly original group of writers at work at the close of the 20th century included N. Scott Momaday (of the Kiowa people), Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki), Simon Ortiz (Acoma), Sherman Alexie (Spokane/Coeur d’Alene), Carroll Arnett (Cherokee), Roberta Hill (Oneida), Wendy Rose (Hopi), James Welch (Blackfeet), Paula Gunn Allen (Laguna), Linda Hogan (Chicasaw), Joy Harjo (Creek), and Ray Young Bear (Mesquakie).

The history of American poetry is usually told as the story of great poets, from Anne Bradstreet through William Cullen Bryant, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, Marianne Moore, and Robert Frost. But these poets form a small part of America’s vast poetic production, much of which has been written by people whose names are forgotten. Journals and newspapers preserve much of their work, and scholars have just begun to rediscover 18th- and 19th-century American poetry in those archives. Similarly, much of the most popular, politically astute, and radical 20th-century poetry appeared in workers’ newspapers and journals and in popular songbooks. A great deal of this verse still awaits rediscovery.

The recent flowering of culturally diverse poetry has led scholars to seek out the roots of that diversity, and these sources continue to turn up in forgotten archives. Not only is current American poetry more diverse than it has ever been, but these discoveries mean that the poetry of the past is also more diverse than previously thought.

With the growth and reach of modern technology such as the Internet, American poetry in the 21st century has entered what is perhaps its most prolific period. The Internet dwarfs other mediums in its ability to make the work of thousands of new poets available to anyone who cares to read it. It also makes easily available a vast range of past poetic voices.

The Internet and its electronic environment are also altering the forms of poetry. Poets today experiment with kinetic structures in which words shift, alter, and transform themselves in innovative new ways, often combining with visual images and sound tracks. Hundreds of online poetry journals have emerged, making both traditional and radically new kinds of poetic expression possible. This work is sometimes grouped under the category of “new media poetry.” Some of this new poetry uses interactive software to actually involve the reader in the creation of the work.

This movement toward a merger of poetry with new delivery technologies had its beginnings early in the 20th century. The development of mass recording technology—such as the phonograph (record player)—allowed the easy distribution of songs, which began to fill the lyric needs of the culture as poetry once did. In the last several decades, songwriters such as Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, and Bruce Springsteen have gained notice as much for their poetic lyrics as for their catchy melodies. Harkening back to the jazz accompaniments of many Beat poetry readings, artists such as Ani DiFranco, Laurie Anderson, and Sekou Sundiata have blended poetry, music, performance, and visuals to create a hybrid and still unnamed new genre.

In recent years new forms continue to emerge that further connect poetry with its early oral roots. David Antin has been described as a “talk poet” whose performances mix comedy, storytelling, and poetry in intriguing ways. Poetry “slams” feature poets reciting their verse in competitions before boisterous audiences. Modern rap music artists produce dazzling works employing rhyme and rhythm, building on a largely African American tradition of urban poetry linked to black music. All of these developments show how the words of many poems today are not written on a page, but are sung, recited, improvised, cast into motion, and otherwise actively performed.

“To have great poets, there must be great audiences, too,” wrote Walt Whitman in 1855. His challenge remains valid today: Thousands of poets produce new work every year, all of them trying to connect with an audience. The demands on poetry audiences continue to increase as the range of poetic expression widens.

In the 21st century, scholars and lovers of poetry must be prepared to encounter a sometimes unsettling mix of styles, influences, traditions, and innovations. Diversity has always been the hallmark of American poetry, a characteristic that only intensifies as the notion of poetic “schools” gives way to an increasing blend of genres, voices, sources, and modes of production and distribution. Ultimately, however, whether it is in recordings or on the printed page, accompanied by music and videos or delivered in cyberspace, American poetry remains a vital and challenging part of America’s artistic production.

PROSE
After the war a group of American writers known as the Beat Generation communicated their profound alienation in contemporary society through their unconventional writings and lifestyle. The writers associated with the group, included novelists Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs and poets Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg. They writing had an improvisational quality, liberated from formal plot, often based on personal experience. One of the best-known Beat novel is Kerouac’s semiautobiographical On the Road (1957), which celebrates direct personal experience and freedom from everyday responsibilities.

Two of the most impressive novels about World War II were From Here to Eternity (1951) by James Jones and The Naked and the Dead (1948) by Norman Mailer, both about the adaptation of the individual to the restrictions of military life. Two novelists who began their successful careers with war books were James A. Michener and Irwin Shaw. Michener’s career began with a collection of short stories, Tales of the South Pacific (1947); Shaw’s novel The Young Lions (1948) is about the war in Europe.
John Hersey’s A Bell for Adano (1944) is a humoristic story about the occupation of an Italian town by U.S. Army forces. Thomas Heggen’s work Mr. Roberts (1946) is a bittersweet story about the U.S. Navy enriched with humour.

The protest movements of the 1950s and 1960s give origin to works that revealed the experiences of blacks and women.
Amiri Baraka investigates racial questions in his Home: Social Essays (1966) and Raise, Race, Rays, Raze: Essays Since 1965 (1971).
Eldridge Cleaver writes significant essays on American society in Soul on Ice (1967).
Black nationalist leader Malcolm X writes his influential work The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965) with Alex Haley, who later becomes famous as the author of the best-selling work Roots (1976), an account of Haley’s family history from its African beginnings to the present.
Maya Angelou, a poet-novelist and children’s author, writes several books that represent a powerful record of her life, starting with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), a description of her childhood in the South.

Modern American feminist writing can be divided into three categories, or waves.
In the first category are the writings, which show how roles and behaviours considered acceptable and appropriate for women limit their opportunities. A pioneering work in this category is The Feminine Mystique (1963) in which the writer Betty Friedan contrasts the notion that women can find realization only as wives and mothers, and, in so doing, women’s competition with men is obstacled.
The second category of feminist writing support the formation of groups to represent and promote women’s interests politically and socially. Two representative works of activist feminist writing, both published in 1970, are Sexual Politics by Kate Millett and The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution by Shulamith Firestone.
The third and most recent trend, termed cultural feminism, focuses more on the establishment of women’s cultures, re-considering subjects as literature, politics, and art from a specifically female viewpoint One of its early and influential spokespersons was Robin Morgan, whose essays are collected in Going Too Far (1978).
Another trend that gets notice in the 1960s is associated with the environment, and is characterized by a deep interest in the natural world as a physical, emotional, and spiritual resource. Environmental writing in American literature is often said to date back to the work by Henry David Thoreau, whose Walden; or, Life in the Woods (1854) supports a belief in nature’s intrinsic value. Later writers of the 19th and early 20th century encourage environmental conservation and protection of environmental resources, including naturalists and explorers. In 1949, A Sand County Almanac, by conservationist and philosopher Aldo Leopold, offers a simple formula for a balanced relationship between humankind and the land, which he calls the land ethic. It holds that each person must become a guardian of the land, and of the natural world. In the 1960s biologist Rachel Carson illustrates and discusses the extensive and irreversible damage caused by chemical pesticides, acid rain, and nuclear waste in Silent Spring (1964). This book reaches a large readership and advances the political cause of environmental protection. Environmental literature in the later 20th century includes a wide range of viewpoints. In Desert Solitaire (1968) and Voice Crying in the Wilderness (1989), Edward Abbey emphasizes the need for direct action by individuals on behalf of the environment.

The works of Vladimir Nabokov, J. D. Salinger, Joseph Heller, Thomas Pynchon, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Norman Mailer, and Don DeLillo represent the experimentation in style and form that began in the 1950s and has continued to the present.
Nabokov, although Russian-born, becomes one of the greatest masters of English prose. Lolita (1955) and Pale Fire (1962), novels with American settings, are tragicomedy that question about the standard categories for prose.
Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (1951) is at once humorous and terrifying in its precise portrayal of rebellious adolescence.
Catch-22 (1961) is a darkly comic and wildly inventive novel by Joseph Heller about the insanity of war and the absurdity of military authority.
The Crying of Lot 49 (1966), Pynchon is a sort of wild goose chase, with irrelevant clues to solve an impossible mystery.
Vonnegut bases his novel Slaughterhouse-Five (1969) on his experiences in a German prison camp during World War II. The narrative is multilevel and alternates between the camp and a fictional planet, incorporating elements of science fiction in the process.
Mailer’s The Armies of the Night (1968), about his experiences at peace marches, explicitly gives real events the dramatic approach of a novel.
DeLillo’s work faces various topics: the world of American football players; the role of the media in society; the effects of popular culture on the psychology of every man. His White Noise (1985) is a complex and often humorous study of nuclear age America.

Novelists John Cheever and John Updike explore upper-middle-class suburban life in a somewhat detached and satirical sryle.
Cheever’s novel The Wapshot Chronicle (1957) is a relatively benign story of an eccentric family; The Falconer (1977) is a depressing tale of fratricide.
Updike is famous for his series of four novels written between 1960 and 1990, the first book is Rabbit, Run (1960) about a man fleeing from life’s responsibilities and his own disillusion.

Joyce Carol Oates ‘s novels – A Garden of Earthly Delights (1967), Bellefleur (1980), and What I Lived For (1994)- combine strong naturalism with Gothic horror.
The works of Bernard Malamud; Canadian-born Saul Bellow, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1976; and Philip Roth witness the importance of the Jewish tradition in American fiction, which dates to the 1920s and 1930s.
Malamud’s The Fixer (1966) tells of the suffering of a Russian Jew who, accused of ritual murder of a child, refuses to succumb to bitterness.
Bellow’s works revolve around Jewish intellectuals and their quest for self-knowledge. His novel Herzog (1961) portrays a middle-aged man’s existential crisis after his wife leaves him.
Roth’s first success came with Goodbye, Columbus (1959). His American Pastoral (1997) that follows the psychological deterioration of an American family over several generations is a comment on the ills of American society in the late 20th century.

After the 1970s several African American female writers appeared in American literature.
Toni Morrison’s works – The Bluest Eye (1970), Beloved (1988) and Paradise (1998)- are on slavery and offer hope, particularly in the strong bonds among women. Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1993.
Other African American women whose prose enriched late 20th-century literature were Alice Walker, best known for The Color Purple (1982), and Gloria Naylor, who received a National Book Award for her first novel, The Women of Brewster Place (1982).

The second half of the century sees the rise of Native American novels.
House Made of Dawn (1968) by N. Scott Momaday is one of the first 20th-century works to discuss the contemporary Native American experience. Ceremony (1977) by is the story of a young man of mixed Native American and white ancestry who seeks to recover from the terrifying violence of his world. James Welch’s Fools Crow (1986) returns to 1870, a time of catastrophic change for the Blackfeet Native Americans of Montana. Louise Erdrich, whose novels include Love Medicine (1984) and Tales of Burning Love (1996), was another writer who took a hard look at Native American culture in the late 20th century.

Hispanic American and Asian American authors brought strong voices to American literature after the 1960s. The Mexican Rudolfo Anaya, author of the novels Bless Me, Ultima (1972) and Alburquerque (1994), and Sandra Cisneros, author of the novel The House on Mango Street (1983), have written about language, identity, cultural change, and other struggles of Hispanic American life.

Asian American literature deals mostly with the conflicts experienced by those who bridge two cultures.
Woman Warrior (1976) and China Men (1980), by Maxine Hong Kingston, is about the theme of the contraposition between the traditional culture of the elders and modern Americanisation of the younger generations in an interweaving of legend and narration.
The Joy Luck Club (1989) and The Kitchen God’s Wife (1991), by Amy Tan, dramatize conflicts between Chinese immigrants and their American-born children.

NON FICTION
At the beginning of the 20th century historians present traditional views of American history and account, but the fiction that comes out of World War II (1939-1945) does not have the desire to shock peculiar to previous war novels, on the contrary the writers seem to regard armed conflict with great philosophical detachment. After the explosion of the first atomic bomb at the end of the war, America and the world enter a new era during which the possibility of mass destruction weighs heavily on the collective consciousness. The idea of individuality—its negative consequences as well as transcendent powers—becomes a unifying principle of American literature following World War II.
The protest movements of the 1960s – the civil rights movement, the student movement, the anti-Vietnam War movement, the women’s movement, the gay rights movement, and the environmental movement- change, to varying degrees American culture.
A political issue that becomes the subject of extensive analysis by American writers during and after the 1960s is the Vietnam War (1959-1975). My Lai 4 (1970) by Seymour M. Hersh details a massacre of Vietnamese civilians by American troops in 1968. Frances FitzGerald wrote Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam (1972).

Some writers of fiction turn to non-fiction during the post-war period. Truman Capote invents what he calls the “non-fiction novel” with In Cold Blood (1966), a traumatic account of the murder of a Kansas family based on interviews with the murderers. Norman Mailer’s books The Armies of the Night and Miami and the Siege of Chicago, both published in 1968 lucidly describe and interpret political protest.

LITERARY CRITICISM
One of the sharpest literary critics and theorists in 20th-century America is Edmund Wilson. Erudite yet never pedantic, he is detached from any formal school of criticism. Axel’s Castle (1931) ascertains his literary intelligence, and later critical works, such as The Wound and the Bow (1941) and The Bit Between My Teeth: A Literary Chronicle of 1950-1965 (1965), confirm his stature.
In the 1970s literary theory flourishes at Yale University, where Harold Bloom is concerned with the anxiety and the creative stimulus from literary influence and with the desirability of academic consensus on which literary works were truly important. He expressed these views in The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry (1973) and The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages (1994).
Based on the academic movement known as deconstruction, originated by literary critic Jacques Derrida, other Yale scholars assert that there are various levels of interpretation layers of meaning in a text.
In the 1980s and 1990s many literary theorists turn their attention toward culture and history, analysing the ways in which literature shapes and is characterized by the world in which it is written.

CURRENT TRENDS
American literature at the beginning of the 21st century is exceptionally diverse, with multicultural influences as new voices continue to emerge within the Native American, African American, Asian American, and Hispanic American communities and other minorities not yet represented.

The concept of cultural hybridity, in which an individual’s physical self and cultural self can be two different halves of the same whole, is a uniquely American phenomenon. Asian American authors such as Chang-Rae Lee and Eric Liu are among the most active in developing this theme. Bilingualism is also a popular theme among many American authors, reflecting both the alienation and the strong cultural identity that comes from being a non-native English speaker in the United States. Gender issues remain major topics in 21st century American literature, and more gay and lesbian authors are publishing their work and bringing their community and concerns into focus.
In addition to these new cultural voices, American prose experiences revitalization within previously established traditions. Writers such as Jonathan Franzen (The Corrections, 2001) and Nicholson Baker (Box of Matches, 2003) are offering ambitious new models for the novel that also incorporate traditional forms.

As the literature of the new century takes shape, American authors as a group still share common ground in responding to the important issues of their country and the world at large. While creating unique worlds for various distinct communities, America’s diverse literary voices continue to reflect the unique characteristics of its land, people, and culture.

DRAMA
The 1960s – The civil rights movement and antiwar protests of the mid-1960s produce an explosion in American drama and many new dramatists emerge. Experimental theatre companies, including the Living Theater and the Open Theater place performers and audience members in the same physical space. The Serpent (1968) by Jean-Claude Van Itallie eliminates physical barriers between actors and audience and recreates Biblical stories through prendere spunto modern events such as the assassination of John F. Kennedy. In Megan Terry’s Calm Down Mother (1965) one actor plays multiple roles.

Small-scale musicals and comedies are also popular during this decade. These include the modern romance The Fantasticks (1960), written by Tom Jones with music by Harvey Schmidt, and the antiwar rock musical Hair (1967), by Gerome Ragni and James Rado. Both are long-running hits and continue to influence plays into the late 20th century. Neil Simon emerges as a major playwright of comedies in the 1960s with such works as Barefoot in the Park (1963) and The Odd Couple (1965).

A number of playwrights of the time present different points of view, giving voice to traditionally disenfranchised members of American culture. Many African American dramatic voices of the 1960s had a confrontational edge. In his violent play Dutchman (1964), Amiri Baraka portrays white society’s fear and hatred of an educated black protagonist. The autobiographical Funnyhouse of a Negro (1962) by Adrienne Kennedy addresses the difficulties of being an American of mixed racial ancestry.

The 1970s and 1980s – Sam Shepard and David Mamet emerge in the 1970s and 1980s.
Shepard’s bitter drama explores the American family and the often-destructive myths of the American West in Buried Child (1978) and True West (1980).
Mamet creates a darkly comic style that imitates the fragmented speech of the mumbling.
Mamet’s American Buffalo (1975) uses a Chicago rubbish shop as a symbol of American capitalism, and his winning Glengarry Glen Ross (1983), that wins the Pulitzer-Prize, depicts the moral decay brought about by the win-at-all-costs ethic of the American salesman.

Beginning in the 1970s the movement known as postmodernism found expression in the American theater. This came primarily through staging and direction, rather than in the subject matter of the plays themselves. Postmodern staging and design tended toward the minimal and sometimes incorporated images from earlier plays and productions, while postmodern directors sought to uncover multiple layers of meaning in a play. In particular, these approaches were effectively used by feminist playwrights such as Maria Irene Fornés and Wendy Wasserstein. In Fefu and Her Friends (1977) and The Conduct of Life (1985), Fornés employed spatial experiments such as moving the audience from room to room instead of changing stage scenery. Wasserstein explored the complex social issues raised by the women’s movement in Uncommon Women and Others (1977) and The Heidi Chronicles (1988), which won the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for drama.

In the late 1970s Lanford Wilson had success with realistic ensemble pieces, which had large casts and no one central character. His works, such as The Fifth of July (1978), perpetuated the ensemble tradition of Williams, Clifford Odets, and William Inge. American musicals also enjoyed experimental developments in the work of composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim. His romantic A Little Night Music (1973) was written entirely in three-four time, and his Into the Woods (1987) refashioned traditional fairy tales for adults.

By the 1980s many American playwrights found themselves tied to topics of current interest. ‘Night Mother (1983) by Marsha Norman discussed the question of when suicide might be justifiable. The Normal Heart (1985) by Larry Kramer confronted the devastation wrought by the AIDS epidemic. In his M. Butterfly (1988) David Henry Hwang artfully used the famous opera Madama Butterfly (1904), by Italian composer Giacomo Puccini, to examine the ways in which Western civilization feminizes Eastern civilization.

During this time two new playwrights took audiences into new territory while expressing themselves in language as different as their subject matter. Eric Overmyer harnessed sophisticated language, satire, and vibrant theatricality to dissect a corrupt social and political infrastructure in On the Verge (1986) and In Perpetuity Throughout the Universe (1988).

August Wilson was another American playwright who came to prominence in the 1980s. Wilson uses African American vernacular English in his narrowly focused domestic dramas, each of which is set in a different decade of the 20th century. Among the best of these are Fences (1985), portraying the conflicts between a father and son, and The Piano Lesson (1987), which focus on the dispute between a brother and sister over selling a family heirloom to buy the land that their ancestors worked as slaves. Both plays won the Pulitzer Prize.

1900

After Modernism

The confessional poets

Beat Generation

War Narratives

The Black Experience Multicultural Voices
By the 1950s most of the major modernists were still alive but they seldom produced innovative work .
A middle generation of 20th-century American poets emerged in the 1950s and 1960s, most of them born in the second decade of the century. Many ìbecame very famous, including Robert Lowell, Randall Jarrell, John Berryman, Theodore Roethke, Karl Shapiro, and Delmore Schwartz. They came to be known as confessional poets because of their use of modernist techniques to explore their own psychology and their lives. These techniques included irony, collage, and allusions.
Confessional poetry broke away from modernism’s dedication to impersonality and reopened poetry to intense self-exploration and frank revelation of personal experiences.
The confessional poets also became the first generation to teach the writing of poetry in America and developed poetry as a subject of some American colleges and universities. Anne Sexton in All My Pretty Ones (1962) and Sylvia Plath in Ariel (1966) followed their examples for deeper self-examinations. These poems are the description of the poets’ psychological breakdowns influenced by Freudian analysis and imagery. Both Sexton and Plath, committed suicide. Their poetry explored tortured family relationships and examined the female psyche, body, and the dynamics of mother-daughter interactions. Sexton’s and Plath’s poetry influenced the development of feminist poetry, by questioning the traditional roles society assigned to females opposing the prevailing mood of the 1950s and 1960s, that presented family as the source of stability and happiness.

Also important to the development of feminist poetry and in political investigation is Muriel Rukeyser; his poetry looks at labour problems and larger class issues. Another important female poet is Elizabeth Bishop. She was an intense observer of exotic and common things, always rendered in an uncommon language.

Rukeyser and Bishop served as sources for the poetry of Adrienne Rich, one of the most important poets of the second half of the 20th century. She offers a deep examination of motherhood and of what it means to be a woman in America in a remarkable series of books starting with her first collection, A Change of World, in 1951. However, she applies her anger not to self-destruction but to critique of society.

Poetry is now opening up to more experimental rhythms and more radical social thoughts. Some poets, including Richard Wilbur, Donald Justice, and Anthony Hecht, devote their entire careers to writing elegantly structured poems.. Others respond to radical political change by opening up their own work to new forms and structures.

W. S. Merwin writes poetry in traditional forms in the 1950s. Then, in The Moving Target (1963) he suddenly abandons punctuation and creates a new prophetic voice, free of conventional techniques. In later books such as The Lice (1967), he addresses societal ills, including ecological disasters as a result of human irresponsibility.
American poetry became less formal and more political, during the 1960s, when it faces the social turbulence of the Civil Rights movement and protests against the Vietnam War (1959-1975).

This break from new formalism traces back to Black Mountain College, an experimental school in North Carolina., where Olson taught, and where poets Robert Creeley, Robert Duncan, Ed Dorn, and others studied in the early 1950s

Charles Olson’s great work was The Maximus Poems (1953-1975), focussed on his hometown of Gloucester, Massachusetts. He develops a theory of poetry called projective verse, a return to an organic basis for open form, to a poetic line controlled by the poet’s breathing instead of by pre-set meter. His sudents describe the experience of reading and writing the new poetry as an “opening of the field,” the entering of a poetic space where one could wander and explore instead of being led along predetermined pathways. Olson’s example is followed by many groups.

The most famous is known as the Beats, so named for their opposition to American materialism after World War II and their faith in a coming beatification, a new spiritual America. The movement attracts poets like Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso, and Gary Snyder. It begins with a reading in San Francisco in 1955, when the greatest poet of the movement, Allen Ginsberg, reads his free-flowing, surrealistic Howl, the poem now considered the hallmark of the movement.

Their sources are Whitman and Williams that Ginsberg celebrats as his poetic progenitors and follows in their tradition as an essentially urban poet.
Snyder turns to the wilderness tradition in American literature and combines Zen Buddhism, Native American mythology, and deep ecological awareness in poetry that speaks eloquently of the human responsibility to the natural world.

From about 1960 an explosive new plurality of poetry prospers in America. Poets begin to explore the ways poetry to combine politics, sexuality, autobiography, and spirituality in an improvisational, jazzy mode.
One direction is a black arts movement during the 1960s. Influenced by the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s and early 1930s, blackpoetry is written in support of social revolution .

Gwendolyn Brooks writes poems about the Chicago slums since 1945, and in 1950 she becomes the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize for poetry. She writes more directly for a black audience, becoming, more “non-compromising.” LeRoi Jones, later known as Amiri Baraka, is a central figure in the movement. He specifically rejecs the modernists and embraces the chanting, rebellious voices of Whitman, Williams, and the Beats.

The new black poetry turns to the streets of the black communities for its language and to the powerful traditions of African American jazz, blues, and rock music for its rhythms. It also aligns itself with the poetry of oppressed people in other countries, particularly developing countries around the world.

Another direction away from formal modernism is the image poetry, a name given to the work of Robert Bly, James Wright, Galway Kinnell, and others born in the 1920s. These poets turn to what Bly calls a “deep inwardness,” looking to internal spiritual sources that lie deep within the self and taking leaps into the unconscious to retrieve mysterious, disturbing, and often healing images.

Yet another direction led to the New York School, a group of artists, writers, and musicians in which John Ashbery and Frank O’Hara represented poetry. Ashbery and O’Hara wrote wildly experimental poetry that derived from dada and from an embrace of Whitman’s open-road aesthetic—namely a desire to keep moving and to celebrate change, instability, and chance. The resulting poems provide verbal trips through landscapes of shifting discourse with no center and no fixed voice: modes of speech alternate rapidly, high diction is mixed with street slang, and moments from different realms of experience are juxtaposed.

This work influenced Susan Howe, Charles Bernstein, and others who are known as Language poets. This group attacks the idea of a unified voice and, through collaborative work, disguises or erases the distinctions between individual poets. In doing so, the Language poets work to undermine all the institutions that are built on America’s infatuation with individualism, including much of American poetry itself.

It is impossible to name the myriad schools and movements in American poetry that flourished near the turn of the century, when vigorous and unbridled variety marked the poetic scene more than ever. Philip Levine, Frank Bidart, Sharon Olds, Louise Glück, and many other poets were developing the confessional poem in surprising ways, focusing autobiographical examination in more intense lyric forms than earlier confessional poets had. C. K. Williams added to the confessional poem a sometimes brutal narrative edge as he extended the possibilities (and the length) of the long line favored by Whitman and Ginsberg. Jorie Graham extended the poetic line as well, developing Stevens’s philosophical poetry through fascinating labyrinths of speculation and imagery that cross and juxtapose the multiple cultures of her experience.

In the last decades of the 20th century American poetry gained much of its energy from a melding of America’s many distinct cultural traditions. For example, Asian American writers—themselves part of a diverse and multicultured community—turned increasingly to poetry as a means of exploring both their integration into American culture and their growing sense of distinctive ethnic identity within that culture. Garrett Hongo, Alan Chong Lau, John Yau, and Cathy Song are just a few of the recent and remarkable poets whose work expands the definition of Asian American poetry.

Chicano and Chicana poetry also has a long history in America, much of it centered in New Mexico, where Victor Bernal published intricate lyrics in the early 20th century. But the amount of poetry increased dramatically after 1967, when Quinto Sol Publications was founded to publish Chicano and Chicana work. José Montoya, Rudolfo Anaya, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Cherrie Moraga, Benjamin Alire Sáenz, and Gary Soto are among the innovative Chicano and Chicana writers. Much of their work blends poetry and prose, Spanish and English, and oral and written traditions.

Native Americans, of course, have the longest sustained tradition of poetry in North America, and many of the powerful Native American writers at work today ground their work in the long-standing traditions and oral cultures of their peoples. As with Chicano and Chicana writers, some Native American poets wrote in English early in the nation’s history. But most Native American poetry in English is of relatively recent origin. The highly original group of writers at work at the close of the 20th century included N. Scott Momaday (of the Kiowa people), Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki), Simon Ortiz (Acoma), Sherman Alexie (Spokane/Coeur d’Alene), Carroll Arnett (Cherokee), Roberta Hill (Oneida), Wendy Rose (Hopi), James Welch (Blackfeet), Paula Gunn Allen (Laguna), Linda Hogan (Chicasaw), Joy Harjo (Creek), and Ray Young Bear (Mesquakie).

V New Sources and Forms
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The history of American poetry is usually told as the story of great poets, from Anne Bradstreet through William Cullen Bryant, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, Marianne Moore, and Robert Frost. But these poets form a small part of America’s vast poetic production, much of which has been written by people whose names are forgotten. Journals and newspapers preserve much of their work, and scholars have just begun to rediscover 18th- and 19th-century American poetry in those archives. Similarly, much of the most popular, politically astute, and radical 20th-century poetry appeared in workers’ newspapers and journals and in popular songbooks. A great deal of this verse still awaits rediscovery.

The recent flowering of culturally diverse poetry has led scholars to seek out the roots of that diversity, and these sources continue to turn up in forgotten archives. Not only is current American poetry more diverse than it has ever been, but these discoveries mean that the poetry of the past is also more diverse than previously thought.

With the growth and reach of modern technology such as the Internet, American poetry in the 21st century has entered what is perhaps its most prolific period. The Internet dwarfs other mediums in its ability to make the work of thousands of new poets available to anyone who cares to read it. It also makes easily available a vast range of past poetic voices.

The Internet and its electronic environment are also altering the forms of poetry. Poets today experiment with kinetic structures in which words shift, alter, and transform themselves in innovative new ways, often combining with visual images and sound tracks. Hundreds of online poetry journals have emerged, making both traditional and radically new kinds of poetic expression possible. This work is sometimes grouped under the category of “new media poetry.” Some of this new poetry uses interactive software to actually involve the reader in the creation of the work.

This movement toward a merger of poetry with new delivery technologies had its beginnings early in the 20th century. The development of mass recording technology—such as the phonograph (record player)—allowed the easy distribution of songs, which began to fill the lyric needs of the culture as poetry once did. In the last several decades, songwriters such as Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, and Bruce Springsteen have gained notice as much for their poetic lyrics as for their catchy melodies. Harkening back to the jazz accompaniments of many Beat poetry readings, artists such as Ani DiFranco, Laurie Anderson, and Sekou Sundiata have blended poetry, music, performance, and visuals to create a hybrid and still unnamed new genre.

In recent years new forms continue to emerge that further connect poetry with its early oral roots. David Antin has been described as a “talk poet” whose performances mix comedy, storytelling, and poetry in intriguing ways. Poetry “slams” feature poets reciting their verse in competitions before boisterous audiences. Modern rap music artists produce dazzling works employing rhyme and rhythm, building on a largely African American tradition of urban poetry linked to black music. All of these developments show how the words of many poems today are not written on a page, but are sung, recited, improvised, cast into motion, and otherwise actively performed.

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“To have great poets, there must be great audiences, too,” wrote Walt Whitman in 1855. His challenge remains valid today: Thousands of poets produce new work every year, all of them trying to connect with an audience. The demands on poetry audiences continue to increase as the range of poetic expression widens.

In the 21st century, scholars and lovers of poetry must be prepared to encounter a sometimes unsettling mix of styles, influences, traditions, and innovations. Diversity has always been the hallmark of American poetry, a characteristic that only intensifies as the notion of poetic “schools” gives way to an increasing blend of genres, voices, sources, and modes of production and distribution. Ultimately, however, whether it is in recordings or on the printed page, accompanied by music and videos or delivered in cyberspace, American poetry remains a vital and challenging part of America’s artistic production.

After the war a group of American writers known as the Beat Generation communicated their profound alienation in contemporary society through their unconventional writings and lifestyle. The writers associated with the group, included novelists Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs and poets Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg. They writing had an improvisational quality, liberated from formal plot, often based on personal experience. One of the best-known Beat novel is Kerouac’s semiautobiographical On the Road (1957), which celebrates direct personal experience and freedom from everyday responsibilities.

Two of the most impressive novels about World War II were From Here to Eternity (1951) by James Jones and The Naked and the Dead (1948) by Norman Mailer, both about the adaptation of the individual to the restrictions of military life. Two novelists who began their successful careers with war books were James A. Michener and Irwin Shaw. Michener’s career began with a collection of short stories, Tales of the South Pacific (1947); Shaw’s novel The Young Lions (1948) is about the war in Europe.
John Hersey’s A Bell for Adano (1944) is a humoristic story about the occupation of an Italian town by U.S. Army forces. Thomas Heggen’s work Mr. Roberts (1946) is a bittersweet story about the U.S. Navy enriched with humour.

The protest movements of the 1950s and 1960s give origin to works that revealed the experiences of blacks and women.
Amiri Baraka investigates racial questions in his Home: Social Essays (1966) and Raise, Race, Rays, Raze: Essays Since 1965 (1971).
Eldridge Cleaver writes significant essays on American society in Soul on Ice (1967).
Black nationalist leader Malcolm X writes his influential work The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965) with Alex Haley, who later becomes famous as the author of the best-selling work Roots (1976), an account of Haley’s family history from its African beginnings to the present.
Maya Angelou, a poet-novelist and children’s author, writes several books that represent a powerful record of her life, starting with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), a description of her childhood in the South.

Women’s Experience
Modern American feminist writing can be divided into three categories, or waves.
In the first category are the writings, which show how roles and behaviours considered acceptable and appropriate for women limit their opportunities. A pioneering work in this category is The Feminine Mystique (1963) in which the writer Betty Friedan contrasts the notion that women can find realization only as wives and mothers, and, in so doing, women’s competition with men is obstacled.
The second category of feminist writing support the formation of groups to represent and promote women’s interests politically and socially. Two representative works of activist feminist writing, both published in 1970, are Sexual Politics by Kate Millett and The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution by Shulamith Firestone.
The third and most recent trend, termed cultural feminism, focuses more on the establishment of women’s cultures, re-considering subjects as literature, politics, and art from a specifically female viewpoint One of its early and influential spokespersons was Robin Morgan, whose essays are collected in Going Too Far (1978).

The Environment
Another trend that gets notice in the 1960s is associated with the environment, and is characterized by a deep interest in the natural world as a physical, emotional, and spiritual resource. Environmental writing in American literature is often said to date back to the work by Henry David Thoreau, whose Walden; or, Life in the Woods (1854) supports a belief in nature’s intrinsic value. Later writers of the 19th and early 20th century encourage environmental conservation and protection of environmental resources, including naturalists and explorers. In 1949, A Sand County Almanac, by conservationist and philosopher Aldo Leopold, offers a simple formula for a balanced relationship between humankind and the land, which he calls the land ethic. It holds that each person must become a guardian of the land, and of the natural world. In the 1960s biologist Rachel Carson illustrates and discusses the extensive and irreversible damage caused by chemical pesticides, acid rain, and nuclear waste in Silent Spring (1964). This book reaches a large readership and advances the political cause of environmental protection. Environmental literature in the later 20th century includes a wide range of viewpoints. In Desert Solitaire (1968) and Voice Crying in the Wilderness (1989), Edward Abbey emphasizes the need for direct action by individuals on behalf of the environment.

Experimentation
The works of Vladimir Nabokov, J. D. Salinger, Joseph Heller, Thomas Pynchon, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Norman Mailer, and Don DeLillo represent the experimentation in style and form that began in the 1950s and has continued to the present.
Nabokov, although Russian-born, becomes one of the greatest masters of English prose. Lolita (1955) and Pale Fire (1962), novels with American settings, are tragicomedy that question about the standard categories for prose.
Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (1951) is at once humorous and terrifying in its precise portrayal of rebellious adolescence.
Catch-22 (1961) is a darkly comic and wildly inventive novel by Joseph Heller about the insanity of war and the absurdity of military authority.
The Crying of Lot 49 (1966), Pynchon is a sort of wild goose chase, with irrelevant clues to solve an impossible mystery.
Vonnegut bases his novel Slaughterhouse-Five (1969) on his experiences in a German prison camp during World War II. The narrative is multilevel and alternates between the camp and a fictional planet, incorporating elements of science fiction in the process.
Mailer’s The Armies of the Night (1968), about his experiences at peace marches, explicitly gives real events the dramatic approach of a novel.
DeLillo’s work faces various topics: the world of American football players; the role of the media in society; the effects of popular culture on the psychology of every man. His White Noise (1985) is a complex and often humorous study of nuclear age America.

Novelists John Cheever and John Updike explore upper-middle-class suburban life in a somewhat detached and satirical sryle.
Cheever’s novel The Wapshot Chronicle (1957) is a relatively benign story of an eccentric family; The Falconer (1977) is a depressing tale of fratricide.
Updike is famous for his series of four novels written between 1960 and 1990, the first book is Rabbit, Run (1960) about a man fleeing from life’s responsibilities and his own disillusion.

Joyce Carol Oates ‘s novels – A Garden of Earthly Delights (1967), Bellefleur (1980), and What I Lived For (1994)- combine strong naturalism with Gothic horror.

Diversity
The works of Bernard Malamud; Canadian-born Saul Bellow, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1976; and Philip Roth witness the importance of the Jewish tradition in American fiction, which dates to the 1920s and 1930s.
Malamud’s The Fixer (1966) tells of the suffering of a Russian Jew who, accused of ritual murder of a child, refuses to succumb to bitterness.
Bellow’s works revolve around Jewish intellectuals and their quest for self-knowledge. His novel Herzog (1961) portrays a middle-aged man’s existential crisis after his wife leaves him.
Roth’s first success came with Goodbye, Columbus (1959). His American Pastoral (1997) that follows the psychological deterioration of an American family over several generations is a comment on the ills of American society in the late 20th century.

After the 1970s several African American female writers appeared in American literature.
Toni Morrison’s works – The Bluest Eye (1970), Beloved (1988) and Paradise (1998)- are on slavery and offer hope, particularly in the strong bonds among women. Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1993.
Other African American women whose prose enriched late 20th-century literature were Alice Walker, best known for The Color Purple (1982), and Gloria Naylor, who received a National Book Award for her first novel, The Women of Brewster Place (1982).

The second half of the century sees the rise of Native American novels.
House Made of Dawn (1968) by N. Scott Momaday is one of the first 20th-century works to discuss the contemporary Native American experience. Ceremony (1977) by is the story of a young man of mixed Native American and white ancestry who seeks to recover from the terrifying violence of his world. James Welch’s Fools Crow (1986) returns to 1870, a time of catastrophic change for the Blackfeet Native Americans of Montana. Louise Erdrich, whose novels include Love Medicine (1984) and Tales of Burning Love (1996), was another writer who took a hard look at Native American culture in the late 20th century.

Hispanic American and Asian American authors brought strong voices to American literature after the 1960s. The Mexican Rudolfo Anaya, author of the novels Bless Me, Ultima (1972) and Alburquerque (1994), and Sandra Cisneros, author of the novel The House on Mango Street (1983), have written about language, identity, cultural change, and other struggles of Hispanic American life.

Asian American literature deals mostly with the conflicts experienced by those who bridge two cultures.
Woman Warrior (1976) and China Men (1980), by Maxine Hong Kingston, is about the theme of the contraposition between the traditional culture of the elders and modern Americanisation of the younger generations in an interweaving of legend and narration.
The Joy Luck Club (1989) and The Kitchen God’s Wife (1991), by Amy Tan, dramatize conflicts between Chinese immigrants and their American-born children.

Nonfiction
Public Affairs and History
At the beginning of the 20th century historians present traditional views of American history and account, but the fiction that comes out of World War II (1939-1945) does not have the desire to shock peculiar to previous war novels, on the contrary the writers seem to regard armed conflict with great philosophical detachment. After the explosion of the first atomic bomb at the end of the war, America and the world enter a new era during which the possibility of mass destruction weighs heavily on the collective consciousness. The idea of individuality—its negative consequences as well as transcendent powers—becomes a unifying principle of American literature following World War II.
The protest movements of the 1960s – the civil rights movement, the student movement, the anti-Vietnam War movement, the women’s movement, the gay rights movement, and the environmental movement- change, to varying degrees American culture.
A political issue that becomes the subject of extensive analysis by American writers during and after the 1960s is the Vietnam War (1959-1975). My Lai 4 (1970) by Seymour M. Hersh details a massacre of Vietnamese civilians by American troops in 1968. Frances FitzGerald wrote Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam (1972).

Some writers of fiction turn to non-fiction during the post-war period. Truman Capote invents what he calls the “non-fiction novel” with In Cold Blood (1966), a traumatic account of the murder of a Kansas family based on interviews with the murderers. Norman Mailer’s books The Armies of the Night and Miami and the Siege of Chicago, both published in 1968 lucidly describe and interpret political protest.

Literary Criticism
One of the sharpest literary critics and theorists in 20th-century America is Edmund Wilson. Erudite yet never pedantic, he is detached from any formal school of criticism. Axel’s Castle (1931) ascertains his literary intelligence, and later critical works, such as The Wound and the Bow (1941) and The Bit Between My Teeth: A Literary Chronicle of 1950-1965 (1965), confirm his stature.
In the 1970s literary theory flourishes at Yale University, where Harold Bloom is concerned with the anxiety and the creative stimulus from literary influence and with the desirability of academic consensus on which literary works were truly important. He expressed these views in The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry (1973) and The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages (1994).
Based on the academic movement known as deconstruction, originated by literary critic Jacques Derrida, other Yale scholars assert that there are various levels of interpretation layers of meaning in a text.
In the 1980s and 1990s many literary theorists turn their attention toward culture and history, analysing the ways in which literature shapes and is characterized by the world in which it is written.

Current Trends
American literature at the beginning of the 21st century is exceptionally diverse, with multicultural influences as new voices continue to emerge within the Native American, African American, Asian American, and Hispanic American communities and other minorities not yet represented.

The concept of cultural hybridity, in which an individual’s physical self and cultural self can be two different halves of the same whole, is a uniquely American phenomenon. Asian American authors such as Chang-Rae Lee and Eric Liu are among the most active in developing this theme. Bilingualism is also a popular theme among many American authors, reflecting both the alienation and the strong cultural identity that comes from being a non-native English speaker in the United States. Gender issues remain major topics in 21st century American literature, and more gay and lesbian authors are publishing their work and bringing their community and concerns into focus.
In addition to these new cultural voices, American prose experiences revitalization within previously established traditions. Writers such as Jonathan Franzen (The Corrections, 2001) and Nicholson Baker (Box of Matches, 2003) are offering ambitious new models for the novel that also incorporate traditional forms.

As the literature of the new century takes shape, American authors as a group still share common ground in responding to the important issues of their country and the world at large. While creating unique worlds for various distinct communities, America’s diverse literary voices continue to reflect the unique characteristics of its land, people, and culture.

DRAMA
The 1960s
The civil rights movement and antiwar protests of the mid-1960s produce an explosion in American drama and many new dramatists emerge. Experimental theatre companies, including the Living Theater and the Open Theater place performers and audience members in the same physical space. The Serpent (1968) by Jean-Claude Van Itallie eliminates physical barriers between actors and audience and recreates Biblical stories through prendere spunto modern events such as the assassination of John F. Kennedy. In Megan Terry’s Calm Down Mother (1965) one actor plays multiple roles.

Small-scale musicals and comedies are also popular during this decade. These include the modern romance The Fantasticks (1960), written by Tom Jones with music by Harvey Schmidt, and the antiwar rock musical Hair (1967), by Gerome Ragni and James Rado. Both are long-running hits and continue to influence plays into the late 20th century. Neil Simon emerges as a major playwright of comedies in the 1960s with such works as Barefoot in the Park (1963) and The Odd Couple (1965).

A number of playwrights of the time present different points of view, giving voice to traditionally disenfranchised members of American culture. Many African American dramatic voices of the 1960s had a confrontational edge. In his violent play Dutchman (1964), Amiri Baraka portrays white society’s fear and hatred of an educated black protagonist. The autobiographical Funnyhouse of a Negro (1962) by Adrienne Kennedy addresses the difficulties of being an American of mixed racial ancestry.

The 1970s and 1980s
Sam Shepard and David Mamet emerge in the 1970s and 1980s.
Shepard’s bitter drama explores the American family and the often-destructive myths of the American West in Buried Child (1978) and True West (1980).
Mamet creates a darkly comic style that imitates the fragmented speech of the mumbling.
Mamet’s American Buffalo (1975) uses a Chicago rubbish shop as a symbol of American capitalism, and his winning Glengarry Glen Ross (1983), that wins the Pulitzer-Prize, depicts the moral decay brought about by the win-at-all-costs ethic of the American salesman.

Beginning in the 1970s the movement known as postmodernism found expression in the American theater. This came primarily through staging and direction, rather than in the subject matter of the plays themselves. Postmodern staging and design tended toward the minimal and sometimes incorporated images from earlier plays and productions, while postmodern directors sought to uncover multiple layers of meaning in a play. In particular, these approaches were effectively used by feminist playwrights such as Maria Irene Fornés and Wendy Wasserstein. In Fefu and Her Friends (1977) and The Conduct of Life (1985), Fornés employed spatial experiments such as moving the audience from room to room instead of changing stage scenery. Wasserstein explored the complex social issues raised by the women’s movement in Uncommon Women and Others (1977) and The Heidi Chronicles (1988), which won the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for drama.

In the late 1970s Lanford Wilson had success with realistic ensemble pieces, which had large casts and no one central character. His works, such as The Fifth of July (1978), perpetuated the ensemble tradition of Williams, Clifford Odets, and William Inge. American musicals also enjoyed experimental developments in the work of composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim. His romantic A Little Night Music (1973) was written entirely in three-four time, and his Into the Woods (1987) refashioned traditional fairy tales for adults.

By the 1980s many American playwrights found themselves tied to topics of current interest. ‘Night Mother (1983) by Marsha Norman discussed the question of when suicide might be justifiable. The Normal Heart (1985) by Larry Kramer confronted the devastation wrought by the AIDS epidemic. In his M. Butterfly (1988) David Henry Hwang artfully used the famous opera Madama Butterfly (1904), by Italian composer Giacomo Puccini, to examine the ways in which Western civilization feminizes Eastern civilization.

During this time two new playwrights took audiences into new territory while expressing themselves in language as different as their subject matter. Eric Overmyer harnessed sophisticated language, satire, and vibrant theatricality to dissect a corrupt social and political infrastructure in On the Verge (1986) and In Perpetuity Throughout the Universe (1988).

August Wilson was another American playwright who came to prominence in the 1980s. Wilson uses African American vernacular English in his narrowly focused domestic dramas, each of which is set in a different decade of the 20th century. Among the best of these are Fences (1985), portraying the conflicts between a father and son, and The Piano Lesson (1987), which focus on the dispute between a brother and sister over selling a family heirloom to buy the land that their ancestors worked as slaves. Both plays won the Pulitzer Prize.

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