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Help Me Write!

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.

When I was studying for my exams at the University of Delaware, I found little books about big subjects to be the most useful study aids. Despite the usefulness and convenience of these little books, I still resented the time studying took. I was eager to finish my degree and start my career, to stop reading the work of others and start writing work of my own. As part of the studying process, I drafted a brief history of American literature. After passing all my exams, I realized my draft history had been a way to force myself to keep studying. I set it aside without a second thought, graduated, and moved to Oklahoma. The draft history disappeared along the way.

Upon completing my forthcoming biography, The Road to Monticello: The Life and Mind of Thomas Jefferson, I wanted to work on a tiny little book next, so I started writing American Literature: A Very Short Introduction. The book will consist of eight chapters and will be organized in a rough chronological manner. Each chapter will concentrate on a particular literary genre and will have a central focus, too. For example, Chapter 7, the first chapter I drafted, presents an overview of the novel refracted through the idea of the “great American novel.”

I’m working on Chapter 2 now. It will trace the story of American travel writing from colonial times through the twentieth century. Though travel writing constitutes some of the best writing in the colonial American period (see Daniel Royot’s fine chapter in the recent Oxford Handbook to Early American Literature), literary histories have typically slighted subsequent travel writings in favor of belletristic literature. Deciding which travel writers to include has proven to be more difficult than I initially anticipated. I need help. Obviously, I do not have room to discuss too many travel narratives in such a short book. Here’s my question: which travel writers should I include?

Recent Comments

  1. hermit greg

    Are you intending to include primarily t.w. that was published as t.w.? That would help exclude a lot of excellent journals, for example, such as Audobon’s Mississippi journal. Also, do you intend to avoid overlap with other short books such as Larzer Ziff’s Return Passages?

    Otherwise: Bartram, though it may be worth branching out from him; Washington Irving as a t.w. is good; William Wells Brown; L.M. Child wrote some good though perhaps too fluffy magazine pieces…

  2. [...] 15, 2008 · No Comments Kevin J. Hayes could use a little assistance: He’s working on a book titled American Literature: A Very Short Introduction. Much of it [...]

  3. [...] 15, 2008 · No Comments Kevin J. Hayes could use a little assistance. He’s working on a book titled American Literature: A Very Short Introduction, much of which [...]

  4. Cassie

    If you’re including more modern travel writers, Bill Bryson is a great one. Some of my favorite books of his are “A Walk in the Woods,” “In a Sunburned Country,” and “I’m a Stranger Here Myself.” All great, entertaining travelogues!

  5. James

    I have to weigh in supporting the late, great Hunter S. Thompson. While certainly not a pure travel writer, his narratives really seem authentically of the time and place in which they were written, often in stream-of-consciousness. Influenced by Hemingway, “The Great Shark Hunt” or any of his earlier material would be the best place to start, and “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved” is a personal favorite. Cheers, and good luck!

  6. Kevin J. Hayes

    Hermit Greg and Cassie provide some good comments. I had not thought about Audobon (or about Larry Ziff as a travel writer). I will definitely include William Bartram. Irving and Child are also good suggestions. The problem is that this is a very short book. I do not have room to discuss most authors more than once. I will treat Irving in the short stories chapter (“Rip” and “Sleepy Hollow”). And I mention Child’s novel “Hobomok” in Chapter 1.

    My brother, Brian Hayes (author of the coming of age novel, “A Boy Scout in Holywood”), has recommended Bryson to me as well, but I remain leary. Throughout American literary history, there has been an inverse relationship between popularity and literary quality. Bryson seems too popular.

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  8. phyllis ellen funke

    Having been a so-called “travel writer,” however reluctantly at first, since the late Sixties, I’d surely like to help. But may I suggest there be a clearer definition of “travel”—especially vs. “tourism?” And the underscoring of how recent American travel writing is so very different from travel writing elsewhere. Also, note might be made of
    today’s apparent trends—from the worship of “The 10 Best Beaches” lists to ultra-emphasis in general on chic hype of “in” hotels, nightclubs, etc. rather
    than a sense of place and its
    people(s). That said, there’s one writer-editor I can think of whose collected works have appeared in book form. But I’d want to contact him first for permission to identify him. He’s been “allowed” to write as he sees and feels in the past; I don’t know what may constrain him currently. I doubt, though, that he’d refuse to mention rain in Hawaii, or nippiness in Denmark in June—both tiny examples of matters over which I’ve been censored by publications once of note.

    Awaiting further word and instructions—

    Phyllis (Ellen) Funke

  9. Kevin J. Hayes

    Looking at travel writing as literature, I think we can automatically exclude “10 Best Beaches” and the like. I think we can exclude nearly all advice books. These things are useful for this year’s vacation, but 10 or a 100 years from now no one will read them as literature. Are their travel essays being written now that will stand up as literature a 100 years from now?

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