Literary America, it's called, and the front cover sub-text states: "A chronicle of American writers from 1607 to 1952 with 170 photographs of the American scene that inspired them"--compiled and written by David E. Scherman and Rosemarie Redlich (Redlich is a "redhaired Viennese" and Scherman a New Yorker, both of whom had worked for Life magazine).
Famous American writers: Captain John Smith, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Washington Irving . . . Cooper, Thoreau, Emerson, Twain, Whitman, Melville--on to more modern writers: Jack London, Willa Cather, T.S. Eliot, Carl Sandburg . . . Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Richard Wright.
But here are some other American writers of the 93 chosen in 1952 as significant: Artemus Ward, Lafeadio Heran, Hamlin Garland, Winston Churchill (not the Brit P.M.), Ellen Glasgow, John P. Marquand.
Either my education was shabby and my reading habits spotty, or a "contemporary" vision of who is going to pen the classics is a chancy affair. I admit there are holes in the fabric of my education, but I suspect the time-tested process of letting time winnow out the classics is best.
I intend to research and read more deeply. This is my chance to fill a few neglected corners of my education. Perhaps public domain ebooks through Project Gutenberg will yield unexpected treasures.
A tidbit chosen at random from the "unknowns": Frank Norris "is now generally credited" with bringing naturalism to the American writing scene. I have heard of his novel The Octopus, but to be honest, I thought it was one of Upton Sinclair's novels, along with Sinclair's muckraker The Jungle. Norris died at thirty-two years of age, his trilogy of "man in a struggle with social forces" only two thirds completed.
Learn something every day . . .
I've made some personal connection with this book published the year of my birth. I think I'll keep it out of the "discard" pile a little longer.
Copyright 2011 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved