Help Me Write: What Constitutes Literary Importance?
Author Kevin J. Hayes has been very busy writing American Literature: A Very Short Introduction, but he needs your help. Find out what you can do below.
Last week I boasted to friends that I had written my first blog. Longtime bloggers may find my sense of accomplishment overblown, but last week’s blog did mark my entry to this innovative world of communication. Being new to the blogosphere, I was unsure what kind of responses I would receive. As things turned out, the comments were quite useful. They point to a major problem facing American Literature: A Very Short Introduction. This little book about a big topic requires me to make some tough choices. Who should I include? Who can I exclude? Where should I discuss each author?
Responding to my query about American travel writers, James suggested I include Hunter S. Thompson. Though a great Thompson fan, I am excluding him from the travels chapter. Instead, I’ll put him with novels. The sixties took the postmodern novel to a dead end, but it gave rise to an exciting literary movement: New Journalism. For a time, journalists exceeded novelists in terms of literary virtuosity. As a digression in my novels chapter, I will discuss the work of such writers as Truman Capote, Peter Maas, Tom Wolfe, and Hunter S. Thompson.
Ideally, I would like to discuss every author only once. But what should I do about authors who wrote in different genres? Pick their most important genre and ignore the others? Only major figures who excelled in multiple genres can justify separate discussions. Take Henry James for instance. Best known as a novelist, James was also a fine travel writer and memoirist. I can justify discussing James in two or three different places, but I do not have room to discuss every genre of every author.
So, here are my questions. Which American authors excelled in more than one literary genre? Where should I discuss them? Are they important enough to deserve discussion in more than one chapter? Boy, that’s a loaded question. Here’s a more fundamental one: what constitutes literary importance?