Cover image for Encyclopedia of American literature / Steven R. Serafin, general editor ; Alfred Bendixen, associate editor.
Encyclopedia of American literature / Steven R. Serafin, general editor ; Alfred Bendixen, associate editor.
Serafin, Steven.
Publication Information:
New York : Continuum, 1999.
Physical Description:
xiv, 1305 pages ; 29 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS21 .E53 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Oversize Non-Circ

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From John Smith to Jack Kerouc, Cotton Mather to Toni Morrison, Edgar Allan Poe to Stephen King, the story of American literature is many stories - of ancient-indigenous peoples, early settlers, men and women enslaved and liberated, war and peace, and immigrants seeking better lives.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

This is a one-volume snapshot of the current canon of American literature, its development, its luminaries, and its legacy of "commonality and diversity." It is intended as a comprehensive survey of literature from colonial times to the present, "that is by definition American in scope." The editors, one an editor of other important reference works such as titles in the Dictionary of Literary Biography series and the other the founder of the American Literature Association, have gathered more than 300 contributors to write 1,100 biographical and critical articles and 70 topical essays. The former vary in length and coverage depending on the prominence of the subject (for example, F. Scott Fitzgerald earns more than twice the space as Isaac Asimov), but they have the same basic elements: birth and death dates and places, a critical examination of the subject's life and works, a summary paragraph that justifies the subject's inclusion in the encyclopedia, and a brief bibliography of further reading. The topical entries are much more focused on the development and influence of a genre, region, or theme. Examples are African American literature, the detective story, language and dialect, modernism, and the South. The entry on science fiction is about 1,500 words and surveys the history of the genre, beginning with the early versions (Mary Shelley and Jules Verne) before focusing on the genre's development in America from Hugo Gernsback's Ralph 124C 41+ (1911) to Gregory Benford's Cosm (1998). Index entries are primarily personal names, although some groups of writers (cyberpunk fiction, writers of; expatriates) are also listed. For individuals, index entries provide birth and death dates in addition to page numbers. This volume is less comprehensive than The Oxford Companion to American Literature [RBB O 1 95], now in its sixth edition. Oxford has more than 5,000 entries and includes characters, titles, and more topical entries, in addition to authors. Entries in Encyclopedia of American Literature, on the other hand, are generally longer: almost a page for Grace Paley, as opposed to seven lines in Oxford; five pages on romance, which Oxford covers in 15 lines. Both volumes treat authors not found in the other. Encyclopedia of American Literature is a worthy addition to literature reference collections in academic and public libraries.

Library Journal Review

This hefty one-volume encyclopedia, produced by Serafin, the editor of the ongoing Dictionary of Literary Biography, and Bendixen, the founder of the American Literature Association, takes a different approach to the subject than other one-volume encyclopedias currently available. While the Oxford Companion to American Literature (LJ 7/83), now in its sixth edition, and to a lesser extent Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia of American Literature (LJ 1/92) attempt to cover the topic exhaustively with mostly short, factual entries focusing on individual works, characters, and organizations, this new work takes a more selective view. Because the book starts with the notion that American literature is best explained through stories of its writers, the vast majority of the book's 1100 entries are about authors. Only 70 articles cover topics such as the major genres (drama, mystery, poetry, science fiction, the short story), ethnic and regional literatures, and religion. The editors selected those authors whose work represents the development of American literature from the Colonial period to the present, balancing authors with international reputations against important but lesser-known regional and ethnic writers. Signed by one of 300 contributors, the entries include full names, dates, places of birth and death, a long original essay, and a bibliography. The essays are lengthy and interpretive, relating the author's work to its context. This will be of great use to students and general readers alike. With its concentration on authors and fewer, longer articles, much of this book's ready-reference value will depend on its index, which was not seen by this reviewer. A wise purchase as an update and complement to the Oxford Companion.√ĄPaul A. D'Alessandro, Portland P.L., ME (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Compiled by two English professors who have edited other literary reference works, this encyclopedia of American literature, Colonial times to the present, consists of one- to six-page essays of two types: critical essays on authors, and 70 assorted topical essays on "genre, period, ethnicity and discipline"--e.g., "The Detective Story," "Film and Literature," "The Confidence Man." The biographical essays are primarily critical reviews of works but include brief biographical information as well. All essays are signed and contain cross-references and brief bibliographies. The 300 contributors are US and Canadian, but their affiliations beyond that are not named. The volume includes a one-page "Guide to Topical Articles" and a name-subject index. The editors intended to be fairly comprehensive, and there seem few glaring omissions. The source's principal contributions, compared to other similar American literature reference sources, are its topical essays and the inclusion of recent authors. The prose style is colloquial and quite accessible to undergraduates and above. N. G. Stewart; Georgetown University