American Literature — Prose
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American prose is a large field of study, and we have an extraordinary number of resources at the Rosenthal Library. An exhaustive list would be too long and too non-specific to be useful—below is a guide to help you find the resources particular to your project as well as a short list of particular reference works in the level 3 stacks. When doing a search through the CUNY Catalog for books on your topic of study, you will most likely need to add keywords to narrow your search to your particular interest.
To narrow your search for works in the CUNY Catalog it helps to do an advanced, rather than a basic, search. In an advanced search you can enter Boolean terms to expand, exclude, or narrow your search. You can also define your search by format, if you're interested in e-books or films, or by location in the library, which is relevant if you want to limit your search to authoritative reference works. The reference works at Rosenthal include dictionaries, handbooks, encyclopedias, bibliographies and original works of literature by and about American writers (though original works are mostly located in the stacks, not in reference). Much of the material about American literature is in circulation or in e-books rather than in reference; try searching the collection for particular themes or a particular author you are researching.
Subject verses author searches
Remember that when searching for books BY an author you will enter the author's name (last name, first name) in the Author entry field in your search. If you are searching for works ABOUT an author you enter the author's name (last, first) under the Subject entry field in your search.
General Subject Headings:
You might want to narrow your search by century, or period, or you might not. Because the subject headings for different centuries are organized the same, here is an example of how you might use subject headings to expand or narrow your search. Note that a shorter subject heading will search more broadly, while adding terms to your topic heading will narrow it. A subject heading tree might look like this:
- American literature
- American literature—20th century
- American literature—20th century—biography
- American literature—20th century—biography—Dictionaries
- American fiction
- American fiction—19th century—History and criticism
- Short stories, American—insert century—insert book type
- Authors, American—insert century—insert book type
- Authors, American—History and criticism
You can also narrow your terms by identity categories, like:
- American fiction—Women authors
- American fiction—Irish-American authors
These are examples of the progression of subject headings you can use to find works on American literature. If you're not certain, try entering the beginning of the term in your search under 'subject starts with' to find a list of similar headings and go from there.
A tip: If you find a book that exactly describes your topic, try clicking on a subject heading within the title's record. From here, you will be given the option of finding more books with the same exact subject heading, or a list of similar subject headings. You might also want to simply explore the books next to the title on the shelf—because books are arranged in the library by subject, chances are high you will discover similarly useful books right next to each other.
Another tip: 'History and criticism' is a useful narrowing device to differentiate novels by American authors verses critical works about novels by American authors.
- PS126-138 — American Literature — Biography, Memoir
- PS153-173 — American Literature — Treatment of special subjects
- PS301-326 — American Literature — Poetry
- PS330-353 — American Literature — Drama
- PS370-380 — American Literature — Prose Fiction
- PS700-3576 — American Literature — Individual Authors
Companions are ready reference resources designed to help readers understand complex concepts within the work; entries tend to be alphabetic by entry and indexed by subject. Depending on the specificity of the resource, one can look up an author, a character, a common theme, a work, and more, and read scholarly interpretations on the topic. They tend to give a broader scope than a book analyzing only one author, or theme, but are good for grounding information.
Here are some examples:
- The Cambridge History of American Literature—eight volumes (Reference Level 3 - PS92 .C34 1994)
- An excellent resource providing historical context to American literature, starting with colonial literature and ending in 1990. Each volume ends with a detailed historical timeline that highlights the terrain covered in the book.
- The Columbia Companion to the Twentieth-Century American Short Story (Reference Level 3 - PS374.S5 C57 2000)
- Entries are by author and provides a biography, an analysis of major themes, and critical notes. Contents are also indexed by identity category, ie Asian American short stories, lesbian and gay short stories, working class short stories, etc.
- A Reader's Companion to the Short Story in English (Reference Level 3 - PS374.S5 R43 2001 and Electronic Resource)
- The authors are mostly American but include any works written in English. The emphasis is more on critical analysis than on biography, though it's included.
- Modern American Literature (Reference Level 3 - PS221.M53 1999)
- Three volumes of entries about modern American writers from a critical perspective; entries list chunks of critical commentary from the time of the work's publication. Much of this criticism is decades old, and yet it's a rare glimpse into critical reception you might not easily find in databases.
- The Oxford Companion to American Literature Electronic Resource
- Over 2,000 biographical profiles of American writers, subjects, and influential American figures, as well as summaries of major works.
- Oxford Encyclopedia of American Literature (Reference Level 3 - PS21.O94 2004)
- Covers major writers in American history and provides background information and literary themes. Bibliographies include works edited.
- HarperCollins Reader's Encyclopedia of American Literature (Reference Level 3 - PS41 .B4 2002)
- Entries are short but this encyclopedia covers extensive topics, including authors, works, events, concepts, and references found in literary works.
- The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English (Reference Level 3 - PR85 .C29 2006)
- Mostly British writers, but also covers American and Irish writers.
- The Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century Fiction—three volumes (Reference Level 3 - PR881 .E48 2011)
- Volume two covers American literature. Entries are mostly background information on the authors with lists of further reading.
Guides/Companions by Identity Group
In the PS153 section of the reference shelves there are dozens of encyclopedias focusing on literature by American authors, collected by ethnic, racial, or other identity categories. These encyclopedias are, for the most part, all in one section on the shelf. Here is a short list of useful resources:
- Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the US
- PS147.O94 1995
- Encyclopedia of African American Women Writers
- Reference Level 3 - PS153 .N5 E49 2007
- Writing African American Women: An Encyclopedia of Literature by and about Women of Color (2 volumes)
- Reference Level 3 - PS153 .N5 W756 2006
- Encyclopedia of American Indian Literature
- Reference Level 3 - PS153 .I52 E53 2007
- Encyclopedia of Asian American Literature
- Reference Level 3 - PS153 .A84 O37 2007
- The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Multiethnic American Literature
- Reference Level 3 - PS153 .M56 G74 2005
- Encyclopedia of Hispanic American Literature
- Reference Level 3 - PS153 .H56 R36 2008
- Southern Writers: A New Biographical Dictionary
- Reference Level 3 - PS261 .S595 2006
- Contemporary Jewish-American Novelists : A Bio-Critical Sourcebook
- Reference Level 3 - PS374.J48 C66 1997
- Electronic Resource
- The Columbia Guide to Contemporary African American Fiction
- Reference Level 3 - PS374 .N4 D533 2005
Companions to Individual Authors
In the reference section we also have a wide array of companions to individual authors, which discuss their works, their themes, critical analysis, and biographical background in depth. Depending on the book, some provide line by line analysis. These works sit in the reference level 3 with call numbers ranging from PS1294.C63 1988 (Kate Chopin Companion) to PS3573.I45677 Z89 2004 (August Wilson).
- Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition
- The OED is the authoritative dictionary of the English language and provides both current and historical definitions of over 500,000 words. Includes etymological notes and extensive quotations documenting the usage of words over time.
Bibliographies compile citations of critical works discussing texts, which can be organized by topic, theme, work, or lines of text within works. Note that printed bibliographies only contain citations up until the book's publication; more recently published critical essays will be found in our electronic databases, which are frequently updated. Here is an example of an extensive bibliography on Native American literature:
- The Native American in Long Fiction: An Annotated Bibliography: Supplement, 1995–2002 (Reference Level 3 - Z1231 .F4 B42 2003)
- There are 13 books in the Native American Bibliographies series
Anthologies are collections of original works selected for inclusion by an editor. Anthologies are not listed in the catalog under search terms, but in the advanced search function you can add the keyword 'anthology' to your search terms to display collections of writing. Two examples of classic anthologies are:
- The Norton Anthology of American Literature
- PS507 .N65 2008
- The Story and its Writer: An Introduction to Short Fiction
- PN6120.2 .S85 2007
- MLA International Bibliography
- The most scholarly and comprehensive database for articles and books on the modern languages, literatures, folklore, and linguistics and literary aspects of film. More than 66,000 citations are added annually.
- Covers over 500 journals in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. Full text is available for all articles as recently as about 5 years ago.
- Project Muse
- Full-text access to over 200 journals from university presses and scholarly societies, focusing on the humanities and social sciences. A smaller database than JSTOR, but they index an excellent list of journals and their full-text content is more recent.
- Literature Criticism Online
- Compiles excerpts of the most important literary criticism on an author or work. The essays are chosen to provide a useful overview of critical work on the literary works in question. Note that you can narrow your search by series, which are organized by century.
- Humanities Full Text
- Cover-to-cover indexing and abstracting of key English-language publications in the literature of the humanities.
- Dictionary of Literary Biography
- An excellent resource for career biographies of literary authors. Entries include biographical information, bibliographies and information about critical reception. The DLB Documentary Series, which provides primary material to support the biographies, and the DLB Yearbook Series, which covers each year's literary highlights, are also included.
Journals and E-Journals
We subscribe to many journals covering American Literature, and most of them are indexed in the databases listed above. However, to see a list of what we carry by subject, try going to Find E-Journals, then narrow by subject, selecting Languages and Literatures, then further narrow by American Literature. You'll find a list of 120 journals with descriptions of which database indexes them. Note that some of these are freely accessible through the Directory of Open Access Journals, which you can also search by topic.
- African American Women Writers of the 19th Century
- Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies
- Antislavery Literature Project
- William Faulkner on the Web
- Edgar Allen Poe Digital Collection
- Langston Hughes Papers
- Walt Whitman Archive
MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 7th ed.
- Stacks (Call # A-L Level 4; Call # P-Z Level 5) - LB2369 .G53 2010
- Desk Reference Level 3 - LB2369 .G53 2010
- Online MLA Formatting and Style Guide from the OWL at Purdue