Saturday, October 24, 2009

Notable E-book: American Ethnic Writers

It's always been easy enough to research well-established literary writers of the the type I generally refer to as "Dead White Guys." Esteemed writers like William Shakespeare, Nathaniel Hawthorne and John Milton have been read and studied by English students for a hundred years or more. Scores of scholarly treatises have been written about their lives and work. So, if you do a bit of research in any of our literature databases, you will find materials on the symbolism of "The Minister's Black Veil" without undo effort.

But in the last thirty years, the editors of literary anthologies and many college professors have tried to widen the spectrum of authors that students read. They have rediscovered "lost" women writers like Charlotte Perkins Gilman and looked to contemporary writers of every race and ethnicity to expand our experience of literature.

The problem is that it takes a long period of time for a body of literary criticism to develop around a particular author. And sometimes it is still hard to find even a short overview of a contemporary "minority" author who might appear in a textbook anthology.

One three volume set, published by Magill/Salem Press, and available on our GVRL platform, helps fill the gap. It is American Ethnic Writers, Revised Edition, published earlier this year. As the editors claim: "This edition of American Ethnic Writers covers not only the core writers and the classics of African American, Asian American, Hispanic/Latino, Jewish American, and Native American novels, short stories, plays, and poetry—but many recent voices as well." They continue that "all major American minority cultures are covered: African American, Asian American, Jewish American, Hispanic/Latino, Native American; the set also includes 94 women. The authors represented here are identified with one or more of the following ethnicities: African American (103), Caribbean (5), Chilean American (1), Chinese American (14), Cuban American (7), Dominican American (1), Filipino American (4), Japanese American (7), Jewish American (31), Korean American (1), Mexican American (24), Native American (20), Peruvian American (2), Puerto Rican (12), South and Southeast Asian American (6), Spanish American (1), and Vietnamese American (1)."

So, yes, you will find Sandra Cisneros and Gish Jen profiled here. And, clearly an attempt has been made to represent many forms of diversity beyond obvious racial/ethnic heritage, too. Gay authors like Harvey Fierstein and radical feminist writers like Andrea Dworkin can be found here. (Both are conveniently identified as "Jewish.") But even writers who are simply multicultural in their approach to literature and life are included, like the "Euro-American" Barbara Kingsolver.

To use the book, just click on the link in our online catalog entry. You can then either plug the name of the author you want into the "Search....within this publication" box to the left. Or you can browse authors using the "eTable of Contents" link in the middle of the opening page. The entries are clearly written, but brief. A good starting point for your interest and research. But don't forget to explore those previously mentioned literature databases to (hopefully) find more materials in the journal and reference book literature. And keep in mind that your author might be profiled in some other ebooks in our GVRL collection, as well.

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