American Art

American Art Collage

Summary of American Art

The United States' rich artistic history stretches from the earliest indigenous cultures to the more recent globalization of contemporary art. Centuries before the first European colonizers, Native American peoples had crafted ritual and utilitarian objects that reflected the natural environment and their beliefs. After the arrival of Europeans, artists looked to European tendencies in portraiture and landscape painting to craft representations of the new land, but it was not until the middle of the 19 th century with the Hudson River School that American artists were considered to have launched a cohesive movement. Through the early 20th century, artists still took cues from European avant-garde groups but increasingly focused on the denizens of American urban centers and the more rural Midwest. After World War II, the artists that comprised the Abstract Expressionist movement found international fame and notoriety, and for the first time, American artistic influence moved abroad, and later Minimalism and Pop Art greatly impacted the art world. Subsequently, with various global art centers and international connections, it is now more difficult to point to a specific American art trend, although one can still chart the influence of American artists in the global art sphere.

Key Ideas & Accomplishments

  • While not originally recognized by the European colonizers, the artistic creations of the indigenous Native American tribes were varied and long held. Abounding in various media and styles, Native American art encompassed the decorative, utilitarian, and ritualistic. Incorporating European styles and materials in the 19 th century, Native American artists transformed traditional subjects and processes to tell their stories and continue to do so today.
  • As the United States' territory grew through the 19 th century due to the annexation of land, both painting and photography propelled manifest destiny's ideas of American exceptionalism and romantic notions of national identity. Large landscape paintings depicting the American West captured the sublimity of the natural landscape, and photography in particular was instrumental in some cases in the creation of National Parks.
  • For many art historians, the designation "American Art" usually ended at World War II. After the international recognition of Abstract Expressionism, the art world became increasingly globalized and diffuse, with styles and trends practiced in all corners of the world, but recent scholarship has focused on the transnational dialogues that are occurring now and tracing those back to create a richer understanding of the art of the United States.

The Important Artists and Works of American Art

Thomas Cole: A Wild Scene (1831-32)

A Wild Scene

Artist: Thomas Cole

This dramatic landscape exemplifies the work of the Hudson River School. A stunning vista of rocky outcrops and precipitous mountains opens upon a waterfall, in the center right, breaking into a luminous pool that flows into the ocean on the left. A craggy ancient tree frames the right border, its twisted limbs curving vertically toward the darkly portentous sky. Native American figures, dressed in animal hides and armed with bows, occupy the lower third of the canvas, one outlined against the pink and blue patch of sky on the left, the others located beneath the two prominent trees. As art historians Elizabeth Mankin Kornhauser and Tim Baring wrote, the work is "a fine essay in the sublime: the rough, uncultivated landscape and dark, rolling clouds...convincingly represents an untamed wilderness." Precise detail reflects the influence of Naturalism, while what the artist described as its "flashing chiaroscuro and a spirit of motion pervading the scene, as though nature was just waking from chaos," reflects a Romanticist inspiration. Art historian Carl Pfluger wrote that Cole "virtually invented a new style of landscape, specializing in views of the wilderness." The artist described the painting as "a vision of the earliest form of society, the 'perfect state' of nature, with appropriate savage figures." The portrayal of Native Americans and the description of them as "savage" played into the growing mythology of uncultured peoples who on one hand added something like authenticity to the landscape but on the other were not "civilized" enough and had to be removed as settlers moved West during the era of Manifest Destiny. Cole and the Hudson River School significantly influenced American environmental movements, as well as new art directions, including American Regionalism and Group f/64. Contemporary artists Charles LeDray, Stephen Hannock, and Angie Keifer have repurposed Cole's works, as seen in LeDray's Empire (2015).

Oil on canvas - Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, Maryland

George Bellows: Cliff Dwellers (1913)

Cliff Dwellers

Artist: George Bellows

Bellows' Cliff Dwellers , with its depiction of the gritty vitality of slum life, exemplifies the Ashcan School. In a neighborhood of tenement buildings, its denizens crowd into the streets, engaged in a variety of activities; some women and children sit on the steps, a mother admonishes her child at center, while working men and a street vendor throng in the background. Only a touch of horizon and sky remains between the vertical rows of apartments and the network of clotheslines that diagonally cross the street from building to building. As the people gather outside to avoid the heat in the stifling apartments, the brushwork, vibrant and vigorous, creates a sense of physicality. Apartment dwellers can be glimpsed in the upper levels of the buildings, as they seem to be caught up in private conversations or lean out of their apartment windows. The work reflects the impact of immigration in the era, as recent arrivals were densely crowded into slum neighborhoods. Yet as art critic Michael Kimmelman writes, "the joylessness of the subject is undercut by the soft light that streams into the scene and by the characters on the stoops and in the streets whom Bellows endows with more charm than misery." Part of the second generation of the Ashcan School, Bellows used the group's then favored strategies in this work, employing a geometric compositional scheme as well as the "chords," or triads of complementary colors expounded by Hardesty G. Maratta's color theory. Yet, his fluid brushwork and vibrant color made his work distinctive, as he conveyed the robust swagger and energy of working class life.

Oil on canvas - Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Alfred Stieglitz: The Steerage (1907)

The Steerage

Artist: Alfred Stieglitz

This photograph has become famous both as a cultural document of immigration to America and as a pioneering work of American modernism and Straight Photography. The image is cropped to emphasize the diagonals of the gangplank horizontally crossing the frame while intersecting the massive column on the left, echoed by the stairway on the right intersecting the horizontal planes of the upper deck. The upper level, reserved for the well-to-do, seems peopled primarily by men, the shape of their hats catching the light as they look down into the steerage, where women and children, along with clothing hanging up at the left, create a sense of a lived-in space like a crowded tenement. Though the work highlights class and gender divisions, Stieglitz was primarily interested in its formal qualities, as its sharp focus converged on intersecting planes, shapes, and angles. Around 1900 Stieglitz began using large format cameras and considered this his first truly "modernist" picture, as he said, "Intensely direct. Not a trace of hand work on either negative or prints. No diffused focus. Just the straight goods." He published the photo in Camera Work in 1911 along with several of his other photographs.

Photogravure - The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Grant Wood: American Gothic (1930)

American Gothic

Artist: Grant Wood

Exemplifying American Regionalism, this iconic image depicts a dour couple in a frontal pose, reminiscent of folk art portraits, in front of their American Gothic Revival-style farmhouse. The man, aloof but confrontational, grips an upright pitchfork, while gazing directly at the viewer, while the woman's slight turn toward him conveys a hint of deference, as she stares into the distance with downturned brows and lips. The vertical lines of the pitchfork rising to the lightning rod on the roof and echoed in the fabric of the man's shirt and the house's paneling emphasize the stasis and rigidity of the figures. Influenced by Hans Memling, a 15 th- century German artist, Wood employed a grid-like structure, echoing patterns, and precise detail to create the instantly recognizable portrait. Yet for all of its apparent clarity and accessibility, the work has aroused much debate, over the identity and relationship of the couple and the artist's intention. Wood based the portraits on his dentist and his younger sister, but many viewers took the two for husband and wife. As art critic Dennis Kardon noted, "One is struck by the incredibly subtle details, cues, and complex formal structure that undermine any simple reading." When the work was first shown at the Art Institute of Chicago's 1930 annual exhibition, some debated whether the portrayal was ironic or meant to be, as Woods insisted, a celebration of the Iowa he loved. The work was also widely featured in national newspapers as embodying a new American art that portrayed hard-working American farmers. Subsequently, the image has been parodied in countless magazines, advertisements, videos, films, and TV series, making it among the most recognizable of American artworks.

Oil on Beaver Board - The Art Institute of Chicago

Dorothea Lange: Migrant Mother (1936)

Migrant Mother

Artist: Dorothea Lange

This iconic photograph depicts Florence Owen Thompson, a migrant mother with three of her seven children, at a pea pickers camp in California. Due to freezing rains, the crop had been destroyed, leaving the pea pickers out of work, and many of them faced starvation. Her face creased with worry, she looks into the distance as if contemplating a harsh and bleak future of poverty and grinding work. Her two young children on either side of her turn away from the camera, as if leaning into her for comfort and shelter, while an infant swaddled in worn blankets rests in her lap. In the 1930s, the image evoked a kind of modern Madonna and Child but viewed within Social Realism's unflinching look at the plight of workers. Lange took this photograph for the Farm Security Administration program, a program that both provided aid to farmers effected by the Dust Bowl and Great Depression and supported the work of photographers to document the human cost. Lange described the occasion in her notes, "I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was 32. She said that [she and her children] had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food." Taking a number of photographs of the mother and her children in their make shift shelter, Lange, felt this one was the most powerful image, due to its composition and its close-up focus on the mother. Almost immediately, the photograph was widely published throughout the United States and became the iconic image of the era, and today remains one of the most recognizable photographic images of all time.

Gelatin silver print - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Jacob Lawrence: The Migration of the Negro, Panel 3 (1940-41)

The Migration of the Negro, Panel 3

Artist: Jacob Lawrence

This painting depicts one of the sixty panels in the artist's Great Migration series, a signature work of the Harlem Renaissance. Depicted as elemental forms in flat planes of color, a group of African Americans, carrying their possessions, form a pyramidal shape that conveys their collective purpose and unified strength. Pressing horizontally forward, they also rise up, outlined against a barren hill, as a curving line of crows both echoes their flight and evokes a sense of danger escaped. Each of the works in the series had a caption, and this one reads "From every Southern town migrants left by the hundreds to travel north." Influenced by Mexican muralist José Clemente Orozco, Lawrence saw these small works, each 12 by 18 inches, as a single work, in effect, a mural but innovatively divided into parts. He worked on all sixty panels simultaneously. The panels also resemble film storyboards, and as art historian Elsa Smithgall noted, "He thought very carefully about the progression from one image to another," using "syncopated refrains that remind us of the backdrop of jazz." Calling his synthesis of broad color planes and flat linear design, "dynamic cubism," Lawrence was also, and primarily, influenced by his own childhood and the colors and shapes of Harlem. He studied with painter Charles Alston and, later, sculptor Augusta Savage, and as art historian Leslie King-Hammond noted, was the "first major artist of the 20th-century who was technically trained and artistically educated within the art community in Harlem." Fortune magazine featured Lawrence's series after its exhibition, and the Museum of Modern Art and The Phillips Collection purchased the work and divided the 60 panels between them. Lawrence's work later influenced Kerry James Marshall, Faith Ringgold, Robert Colescott, Hank Willis Thomas, and Alexis Gideon

Tempera on gesso on composition board - The Phillips Collection, Washington DC

Jackson Pollock: Autumn Rhythm No. 30 (1950)

Autumn Rhythm No. 30

Artist: Jackson Pollock

This work exemplifies Abstract Expressionism and what Harold Rosenberg defined as Action Painting. The "drip" painting, with its energetic swirling web of black, brown, and white lines, embodies a vortex of movement, as intense gestures verge toward chaos while unified and controlled by a sense of rhythm. The scale of the work at 8 by 17 feet creates a monumental effect, overwhelming and enveloping the viewer, and lacking a central focal point or hierarchal composition, every inch of the surface becomes equally significant. Pollock placed the unstretched canvas on his studio floor and used trowels, sticks, and paint poured directly from the can; he moved around the work's edges as he dribbled, flicked, spattered, poured, and flung pigment. He remarked to an interviewer, "When I am in my painting, I'm not aware of what I'm doing...the painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through." Pollock created his first "drip" painting in 1947, which his wife, the artist Lee Krasner described, "seemed like monumental drawing, or maybe painting with the immediacy of drawing - some new category." Allan Kaprow recognized this "new category" in his 1958 essay "The Legacy of Jackson Pollock" where he argued that Pollock took painting as far as it could go, and now artists had to leave the canvas all together. A host of artists, including Richard Serra, Bruce Nauman, Carl Andre, Robert Morris, Eva Hesse, and Claes Oldenburg, went beyond painting in Happenings, Minimalism, and Post-Minimalism to explore the implications of the pioneering Abstract Expressionist's work.

Enamel on canvas - The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Andy Warhol: Gold Marilyn Monroe (1962)

Gold Marilyn Monroe

Artist: Andy Warhol

This signature work of Pop Art depicts an image of Marilyn Monroe, centered within a gold background, that suggests a Byzantine religious icon. The black and white publicity photo that the artist used was taken from the hit film Niagara (1953) where Monroe, having developed her signature make-up look, played the femme fatale who met a tragic end. The film noir was famous for its nearly nude scenes of the actress and its 30-second long filming of her walking away down the street, in slow motion with her hips swaying. Here, a garish color palette has transformed the photo, though its underlying black and white creates a sense of emerging darkness. By portraying her as an icon, Warhol subtly critiques the modern cult of celebrity, as well as suggesting that it was this depersonalization that drove the tragedy. While the surface is gold and shiny, the space she inhabits is empty. At the same time, only her disembodied head is depicted, suggesting a lack of agency and empowerment, leaving her to be the object of a gaze. In August 1962, the superstar Marilyn Monroe died from an overdose of sleeping pills, and the world became obsessed with her life, her film career, her celebrity as a "sex goddess," and the tragedy that both occurred throughout her life and led to her death. Warhol made a series of works from this image, reproducing it again and again, just as it was reproduced in magazines and newspapers, evoking the superstar as a brand, another item on the shelf of consumer culture. Warhol's Diptych (1962), another work in his Marilyn series, was named by a survey of 500 artists and critics as the third "most influential piece of modern art," in 2004.

Silkscreen - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Robert Smithson: Spiral Jetty (1970)

Spiral Jetty

Artist: Robert Smithson

This famous Earth Work is a counter clockwise, 1500-foot long spiral that extends into the Great Salt Lake in Utah, replicating the growth patterns of crystals and seashells. Smithson chose the northeastern section of the lake because the environment had been negatively impacted when the Southern Pacific Railroad cut off the influx of fresh water into the lake in 1959, resulting in an explosion of Dunaliella salina , saltwater tolerant red algae. He found the resulting red and violet hues evoked a dystopian landscape and felt that the piece would draw attention to how human action could both ruin and transform the environment. Shaped out of mud, crystalized salt, and black basalt, the shape has taken on the crystallization and coloration of changing conditions, but for many years remained completely submerged underwater. Spiral Jetty embodies the artist's emphasis on the concept of entropy, or the devolution of systems over time. At the same time, the shape evokes a primal symbol, often replicated on ancient cave walls and stones within many cultural contexts. As art critic Jonathan Jones noted, "When Smithson built Spiral Jetty , he reinvented the stone age. Its mysterious marking of the landscape deliberately resembles the prehistoric architecture of neolithic Britain...has forebears in the Americas, from the Nazca lines of Peru to...Serpent Mound... This neo-primitivism lives on in art, from James Turrell's continuing bid to turn Roden Crater in Arizona into an astral observatory (or temple) to Olafur Eliasson's current efforts to place 12 huge lumps of Arctic ice in the heart of Paris."

Mud, precipitated salt crystals, rocks, water coil - Rozel Point, Great Salt Lake, Utah

George Segal: Gay Liberation (1980)

Gay Liberation

Artist: George Segal

This life-sized work depicts a gay couple and a lesbian couple in intimate conversation. One man has his arm around the shoulder of the other, as he turns toward him as if listening attentively. While holding hands and turned toward one another in conversation, the two women relax on a park bench. The work creates a sense of comfortable privacy within a public space, here in the triangular park in Greenwich Village. The sculpture commemorates the events that followed a New York police raid on the gay bar Stonewall Inn in the summer of 1969. The Stonewall protests that erupted became a primary impetus for the Gay Pride movement. Segal created his sculptures by using orthopedic bandages dipped in plaster that he then applied to living models. He then placed the cast figures, usually in small groups, in an ordinary setting as if at a lunch table or in a train station. Though part of the Pop Art movement, unlike most of the Pop artists he explored existentialist themes and the psychology of the underlying human condition. As a result by the early 1980s he had begun creating memorial works like this one, followed by The Holocaust (1982) and Depression Bread Line (1991). Though the work was commissioned in 1972, due to controversy, it wasn't installed until 1992. Anti-gay critics were offended by the celebration of gay couples or by the public display of affection. Those who had participated in the Stonewall protests felt the work's two Caucasian couples failed to represent the diversity of the gay community that led the movement. As a result, the work has continued to be a flashpoint of Queer art, often repurposed or reimagined by contemporary artists.

Bronze, steel, white lacquer - Christopher Park, New York

Barbara Kruger: I shop therefore I am (1990)

I shop therefore I am

Artist: Barbara Kruger

In this famous Feminist and Conceptual piece, Kruger combines text and a magazine image, creating what art critic Ron Rosenbaum described as "formal verbal defacements of glossy magazine pages, glamorous graffiti." The phrase refers to stereotyped media portrayals of women who seem to live for shopping, while the masculine hand, displaying the phrase like an ad markup, reflects how those advertising campaigns are primarily created by men and based upon their assumptions. The work's use of color makes the slogan more direct, powerfully contrasting with the grainy black and white of the background image, as it rephrases the famous statement of the French philosopher René Descartes, "I think, therefore I am." As Rosenbaum noted, "She has appropriated this statement to fit the idea of material consumption," creating an effect of "short machine-gun bursts of words that when isolated, and framed by Kruger's gaze, linger in your mind, forcing you to think twice, thrice about clichés and catchphrases, introducing ironies into cultural idioms and the conventional wisdom they embed in our brains." Kruger first worked as a page designer for Mademoiselle magazine then went on to work in other high-level graphic design and advertising jobs, where as Rosenbaum described, "She turned out to be a master at using type seductively to frame and foreground the image and lure the reader to the text." Leaving the field, she employed those same strategies to challenge social assumptions, saying, "Although my art work was heavily informed by my design work on a formal and visual level, as regards meaning and content the two practices parted ways." Favoring a direct and powerful approach, she said, "to deal with the complexities of power and social life... as far as the visual presentation goes I purposely avoid a high degree of difficulty."

Photographic Silkscreen/Vinyl

Kehinde Wiley: Napoleon Leading the Army Over the Alps (2005)

Napoleon Leading the Army Over the Alps

Artist: Kehinde Wiley

This large equestrian portrait depicts a contemporary African-American man riding a rearing white steed, in an appropriation and re-visioning of Jacques-Louis David's famous Bonaparte Crossing the Grand Saint-Bernard Pass, 20 May 1800 . The young man wears camouflage army fatigues, a white bandanna, and red sweatbands, as a gold cloak swirls and flows around his shoulders, echoing the gesture of his tattooed arm pointing upward and onward. On the rocky path, stones are inscribed, as in David's image, with the names of military leaders, including "BONAPARTE," "HANNIBAL," AND "KAROLUS MAGNUS," though Wiley has added "WILLIAMS," lending equal importance to the name of his model. The long history of American portraiture had developed out of the European tradition where it communicated the subject's wealth, social standing, and cultural significance. By depicting an anonymous young black man in what Wiley has called a "hyper-heroic" depiction - using a monumental canvas and reducing the scale of the horse to emphasize the figure of the rider - the work reflects his belief that "art is about communicating power, and it's been that way for hundreds of years...What I choose to do is take people who happen to look like me, black and brown, people all over the world increasingly, and allowing them to occupy that field of power." At the same time, his work critiques the marginalization and disenfranchisement of black males in contemporary America. A pioneering example of Identity Politics, the work expresses the artist's statement, "My painting is about the world that we live in. Black men live in the world. My choice is to include them. This is my way of saying yes to us."

Oil on canvas - Brooklyn Museum of Art, Brooklyn, New York

American Art (Early-1900)

Native american art.

Before Europeans colonized North America, rich, complex art traditions flourished among many indigenous tribes who had developed a highly stylized vocabulary that employed complex geometric patterns and used near abstracted forms that both evoked the natural world and symbolized ancestral and mythological stories. The objects were often utilitarian and, at the same time, imbued with ritual significance. However, the newly arrived colonists in the Eastern United States primarily viewed those traditions as curiosities or arts and crafts, while aspiring to British fine art traditions and cultural values. Native American artists adapted the new materials and techniques brought by the colonists, including floral embroidery, beads, and silver smithing.

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At the same time, some indigenous artists developed a European style to depict native subjects. David Cusick, a Tuscarora artist, published his Sketches of Ancient History of the Six Nations in 1828, and, along with his brother Dennis, a watercolorist, established the Iroquois Realist School. The first Native American art movement included over 25 Iroquois artists, who employed drawing, painting, and printmaking to realistically depict their tribe's beliefs, history, fashion, and lifestyle. Edmonia Lewis, of Mississauga Ojibwe and African-American descent, became internationally known for her Neoclassical sculpture, like The Death of Cleopatra (1876), exhibited at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. In the early 1900s, Native American art began to receive national and international attention. The Kiowa Six, Spencer Asah, James Auchiah, Jack Hokeah, Stephen Mopope, Lois Smoky, and Monroe Tsatoke, were celebrated for their Ledger drawings that employed strong outlined, flat areas of bold color. The group exhibited at the 1928 First International Art Exposition in Prague and the Venice Biennale in 1932.

Harriet Powers' Bible Quilt (1885-86), a unique quilt that illustrates scenes from the bible.

Much American folk art is utilitarian in nature, as sculptures were primarily figureheads for ships, weathervanes, and carved gravestones, but framed embroideries and velvet paintings were also made for wall decorations. Early American folk painters were called limners, from a term limning, meaning, "to outline in clear, sharp detail." Often self-taught, limners travelled from town to town and made a living by offering to paint anything, from signs for local merchants to farm implements and carriages. As the colonies reflected the British cultural values that viewed portraiture as a sign of social standing, fine art portraitists like the French born Henrietta Johnston, who emigrated to Charleston, South Carolina around 1705, gravitated to the cities, while limners made it possible for ordinary people in small towns to have their portraits painted. Boldly colored and outlined without modeling or shading, folk art portrayals were often intimate, depicting the sitter with a few objects that were of personal significance. Beginning his career as limner, Edward Hicks became famous for his The Peaceable Kingdom (1829-31), a work that expressed his Quaker values in a dynamic folk style. Folk art also drew upon African American traditions; in the 1880s Harriet Powers, a former slave, began exhibiting her quilts, depicting powerful narratives in bold color and geometric forms and patterns.

American Architecture

Thomas Jefferson's home Monticello embodied the Neoclassical ideals of the young nation.

After the Revolutionary War, when the young nation was building its identity, early American architecture drew from British and Neoclassical architecture. Based on the work and theory of the Venetian Renaissance architect, Andrea Palladio, Neoclassicism was the dominant architectural style in 18 th- century Europe. Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, was also an innovative architect, and his design for Monticello (1772-1809), his home in Virginia, exemplified the Neoclassical style, employing a Palladian portico with four colored columns. During his Presidency, his ideas also informed Benjamin Henry Latrobe's designs of the U.S. Capitol building, launching what became known as the Federal style, favored for official buildings.

Developing around 1830 within the context of Neoclassicism, Beaux-Arts architecture rejected Neoclassicism's formality to incorporate elements from Renaissance , Baroque , and Late Gothic architecture . In the United States, the Beaux-Arts style, led by Richard Morris Hunt, became known as the "American Renaissance," or "American Classicism." Hunt actively promoted the popular style, which was employed in designs for private mansions and public buildings, including the Biltmore House (1889-95) built for the tycoon George Vanderbilt. In the 20 th century, American Beaux-Arts architects returned to less ornamental and classical designs, exemplified by Henry Bacon and Daniel Chester French's Lincoln Monument (1914-22).

The Chrysler Building (1930) adapted Art Deco architecture, creating a streamlined, modern style.

Beginning in 1890 and influenced by the British Arts and Crafts movement and Japonism , the highly influential Art Nouveau movement featured organic, flowing, floral motifs. Art Nouveau architects viewed the building, its interior spaces, and details, as a unified whole. Louis Comfort Tiffany , Louis Sullivan , and Frank Lloyd Wright were influenced by Art Nouveau. Sullivan's Wainwright Building (1891) used a frieze with a decorative motif of celery-leaf foliage, decorative spandrels, and an elaborate entrance door. Such architectural motifs became popular for skyscrapers and high rises, as seen in New York's Decker Building (1892). Later, in the 20 th century, Art Deco was adapted to Public Works projects and iconic buildings such as William Van Alen's Chrysler Building (1930).

Richard Neutra's Lovell Health House showcases the International Style's use of steel, glass, and concrete.

Beginning in 1914, the International Style emphasized the use of steel, glass, and concrete. Emerging during the aftermath of World War I and viewed as reflecting the modern age, it was often used for postwar housing. Austrian architects Richard Neutra and R.M. Schindler introduced the style when they moved to America in the 1910 and worked with Frank Lloyd Wright. Though both men created notable International Style buildings, as seen by Neutra's Lovell Health House (1929), the aesthetic did not truly flourish in the United States until after World War II, when economic expansion led to a boom in skyscraper construction. Leading architects, including Walter Gropius , Marcel Breuer , and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe , came to the United States in the post-war period and taught a new generation of American architects, while designing notable buildings. Mies for instance, built the Seagram Building (1954-58) in New York and the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago (completed in 1956). The International Style, with its glass curtains and industrial construction, was also used for fast-food restaurants and gas stations as America undertook construction of new interstates, connecting the country from coast to coast.

Beginning in 1950, Brutalism , also called New Brutalism, was a style of massive architecture that primarily employed unfinished, precast concrete. The style became popular for university campus buildings, performance art venues, libraries, government buildings, and corporate offices throughout the United States. Paul Rudolph was a leading proponent of the style as seen in his Yale Art and Architecture Building (1958). Due to American enthusiasm for the style, European architects adopted the style in their major commissions; Le Corbusier with Oscar Niemeyer , Wallace Harrison, and Max Abramovitz designed the United Nations Headquarters (1948-52), and Marcel Breuer worked with a number of American architectural teams to design Boston City Hall (1963-68). Breuer and Hamilton Smith's Breuer Building (1966), home to the Whitney Museum of American Art and later an expanded Metropolitan Museum, was also a trendsetting Brutalist design.

Hudson River School (1826-70)

The Hudson River School , led by Thomas Cole , who was born in Britain but emigrated to the United States when he was seventeen, was the first recognized American art movement. Centered in upper New York state, which was then wilderness, the artists associated with the movement emphasized the sublime and unique beauty of the American landscape. Influenced by Romanticism's concept of the sublime and Naturalism's emphasis on precise observed detail, Cole's landscapes like Kaaterskill Upper Fall, Catskill Mountains (1825) and Dunlap Lake with Dead Trees (Catskill) (1825) depicted American scenes to evoke the limitless possibilities of the new nation.

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Following Cole's death in 1848, Asher B. Durand , influenced by the French Barbizon School , led the turn toward a more naturalistic painting. The artists Frederic Edwin Church , Albert Bierstadt , John Frederick Kensett , George Inness , and Thomas Moran formed the second generation. Their works became enormously popular, as the exhibition of just one panoramic painting could draw thousands of visitors. In the 1860s, as Manifest Destiny with its call to go West became a dominant national force, Bierstadt and Moran turned their attention to panoramas of the dramatic western landscape, and, along with William Keith and Thomas Hill, were sometimes called the Rocky Mountain School. Their works also inspired and informed the movement to preserve America's natural wonders, including the Yellowstone and Grand Tetons Parks. Alternatively, the intimate scale and feeling of George Inness's works like The Delaware Valley (c.1863), and John Frederick Kensett's depictions of light reflecting on bodies of water played a pioneering role in developing what later came to be called Luminism.

Luminism (1850-75)

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The term Luminism was developed by art historians in the 1950s to identify a style that flourished from 1850-1870 among a number of American landscape painters. They drew upon a number of influences, including the landscape painting of the Dutch Golden Age , photography, and the genre landscapes of George Harvey, William Sidney Mount, and George Caleb Bingham. John Frederick Kensett, who led the movement, emphasized the landscape itself, with very little, if any, human presence; he focused on the play of light and atmosphere upon a body of water, as seen in his View of the Shrewsbury River, New Jersey (1859). Rather than exploring new vistas and rugged landscapes, each of the Luminists was associated with a particular locale, as the artist returned to the same scenes, painting the changing light and atmosphere from day to day or season to season. The Luminists, who included Kinsett, Fitz Henry Lane, Jasper Francis Cropsey, Sanford Robinson Gifford, and Martin Johnson Heade, preferred small-scale intimate works that emphasized the individual's communion with nature, reflecting Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau's philosophy of Transcendentalism , which held that spiritual truth was revealed in the contemplation of nature.

Tonalism (1870-1915)

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Tonalism emerged in the early 1870s in James McNeill Whistler's series of Nocturnes that emphasized tonal harmonies, often in muted greens, blues, and dark colors, to depict landscapes at twilight. Of works like his famous and controversial Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket (c.1875), Whistler said, "A nocturne is an arrangement of line, form and color first," but he also felt tonal harmonies were the visual equivalent of musical compositions. Born in America, Whistler lived most of his life in Britain where he played a pioneering role in a number of movements, including Japonism , the Aesthetic Movement , and the Anglo-Japanese aesthetic. Tonalists George Inness and Albert Pinkham Ryder were also influenced by the Barbizon School . Using gold and brown tones to depict a landscape at sunrise or sunset, Inness emphasized spiritual expression in works like Sunrise (1887), while Ryder often introduced a mythological narrative element into his mysterious landscapes that were precursors of Symbolism . In 1899 Henry Ward Ranger founded the Old Lyme Colony in Connecticut, seeing it as an "American Barbizon." A second generation of Tonalists, including Allen Butler Talcott, Henry Cook White, Bruce Crane, William Henry Howe, Louis Paul Dessar, and Jules Turcas, joined the artistic colony. In 1903 Childe Hassam joined the colony and briefly took up the style before abandoning it in favor of American Impressionism.

American Impressionism (1880-1920)

american art and literature assignment

American Impressionism was primarily inspired and influenced by the French Impressionists , including Claude Monet , Pierre-August Renoir , and Alfred Sisley among others, who first exhibited together in Paris in 1874. French Impressionism influenced both the expatriates John Singer Sargent and James McNeill Whistler , though neither fully embraced the movement. Mary Cassatt became America's first well-known Impressionist. Moving to Paris in 1866, she became close friends with Edgar Degas and associated and exhibited with many of the leading Impressionists. Her works, full of vibrant color, expressive brushstrokes, often portrayed intimate gatherings in relaxed bourgeois environments, as well as many depictions of a mother and child, and were enormously popular in the United States. In 1883, the first U.S. exhibition of the French Impressionists Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, and Manet influenced the artists William Merritt Chase , Childe Hassam , and Edmund C. Trabell. A number of thriving artist colonies devoted to American Impressionism developed throughout the country.

American Art (1900-1950)

Ashcan school (1900-15).

american art and literature assignment

The Ashcan School was a group of artists including John Sloan , George Luks , Everett Shinn , and William James Glackens , all students of Robert Henri , then located in Philadelphia. Drawing upon earlier masters, including Diego Velázquez , Francisco de Goya , and the later Realists like Édouard Manet , the group employed classical methods to create realistic and gritty scenes of modern, working-class life, or what Henri called "art for life's sake." After the group relocated to New York City, a second generation of artists followed, including George Bellows , whose Disappointments of the Ash Can (1915) gave the movement its name. In 1908, Edwin Lawson, Arthur B. Davies, and Maurice Prendergast joined the core group, known as The Eight, as they formed their own exhibition in opposition to the then dominant system of juried exhibitions by the National Academy of Design. Using gestural brushwork and a dark color palette, the artists' unidealized subjects aligned them with an innovative modern sensibility, which influenced the later Social Realism movement and the artists Edward Hopper and Ben Shahn . Sloan and Henri also taught and influenced many of the artists of the Fourteenth Street School .

Photography: Pictorialism, Straight Photography, and Beyond (1902-Present)

Modern Photography , emerging out of scientific explorations of botany, archaeology, and movement, incorporated a host of artistic styles. Pictorialism was an international photographic movement that used darkroom manipulations, composite images, posed and staged scenes, and blurred and soft focus to emphasize individual expression. Beginning in Britain in the 1840s, by the mid-1880s Pictorialism had become a flourishing movement. In 1902 in New York, Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen advocated for the importance of photography and launched the journal Camera Work in 1903 and The Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession in 1905.

american art and literature assignment

Straight Photography , emphasizing the technology of the camera itself, rejected Pictorialism in favor of sharply focused images that were rich in detail. In 1907, Stieglitz in his photographs like The Steerage began to explore the "straight" image without prior posing of the subject or subsequent use of darkroom manipulations. He influenced a number of leading photographers and ardently promoted the works of Paul Strand in a 1917 issue of Camera Work . Many of these works employed close-up shots with tight cropping to emphasize near abstract patterns and form, as seen in Strand's Porch Shadows (1916). Straight Photography became a dominant trend that continues to the present day.

The emphasis upon abstract pattern and form influenced the development of Abstract Photography , which began in 1916 with Alvin Langdon Coburn's Vortographs (1916). Stieglitz called him the "youngest star" of the Photo-Secession group, and Coburn began exploring abstract images as early as 1912. Both Paul Strand and Stieglitz were to explore near abstraction as well.

american art and literature assignment

In 1931, Edward Weston , Imogen Cunningham , Ansel Adams , and Willard Van Dyke formed Group f/64 in San Francisco. The movement emphasized what Van Dyke described as "pure photography...defined as possessing no qualities of technic, composition or idea, derivative of any other art-form" and made its public debut in a 1932 exhibition at the M.H. de Young Museum. Though many of the photographers had begun their careers as Pictorialists, they now firmly rejected that movement's emphasis on fuzzy "artistic" effects, composed scenes, and darkroom manipulations. Their subject matter was often ordinary and frequently taken from nature, as Cunningham became known for her series of Magnolia blossoms, Weston for his images of a single green pepper, Adams for his images of Yosemite Park. Group f/64, and in particular Weston and Adams, also revitalized Abstract Photography, which re-emerged in the 1940s in the works of Minor White and Aaron Siskind.

Synchromism (1912-24)

american art and literature assignment

Synchromism emphasized abstract paintings that primarily employed the color scale to create a visual "symphony," or musical effect. Morgan Russell and Stanton Macdonald-Wright , both young Americans living in Paris, founded America's first avant-garde movement in 1912. They adopted the color theories of Ernest Percyval-Tudor, a Canadian living in Paris, who believed that twelve colors of the spectrum corresponded to the twelve steps of the musical scale, and Russell coined the name for the movement by combining "symphony" with "chrome." Russell's Synchromy in Green (1913) launched the movement at the 1913 Salon des Indépendants in Paris, where it influenced Lee Simonson, a modernist theater set designer, and John Edward Thompson who later became known as the "dean of Colorado art" for introducing modern art to the area.

Harlem Renaissance (1920 - early 1940s)

american art and literature assignment

The term Harlem Renaissance defines a period when music, literature, theater, painting and sculpture flourished within the rich and vibrant culture of New York's Harlem neighborhood. The movement, known for diverse styles, celebrated the "New Negro," a concept advanced by writer Alain Locke that emphasized a new African American sense of dignity, founded in equal rights and connected to the rich cultural traditions of Africa and Egypt. Following the Great Migration that began around 1910 when many African Americans left the southern states for the greater opportunity and freedom of the north, vibrant communities developed in Harlem as well as Chicago and Philadelphia. Meta Vaux Warrick's sculpture Ethiopia (1921) was an early pioneering influence, and international success of the earlier African American artists Mary Edmonia Lewis and Henry Ossawa Tanner became a defining model. Working in a variety of styles, artists including Aaron Douglas , Augusta Savage , Archibald J. Motley Jr. and the photographer James Van Der Zee became leading figures of the new movement. Their work and teaching subsequently informed a subsequent generation that included Jacob Lawrence , Beauford Delaney , and William H. Johnson .

Fourteenth Street School (1920-40)

In the 1950s, the term Fourteenth Street School was developed to define the works of Kenneth Hayes Miller, Isabel Bishop, and Reginald Marsh made in the 1920s and 1930s. Their subjects were taken from the New York neighborhood around Union Square and Fourteenth Street. The area, known as the "poor man's 5th Avenue," was a rising mercantile center, featuring retail department stores, whose sales, featuring the latest fashion at inexpensive prices, drew thousands of middle-class shoppers. Miller, a leader of the movement, began painting portrayals of the women shoppers in the 1920s. Teaching at the Art Center League, he influenced Bishop and March, as well as Raphael Soyer and Edward Laning, who also became later members of the group. Influenced by the Renaissance and Baroque masters, the group's figurative treatments often lent a kind of classical dignity to the portrayals of matronly shoppers, office girls, and career girls, who were seen as the embodiment of the "New Woman" and progressive prosperity. Due to realistic treatment of modern life, the movement is often included under Social Realism , though it shared little of that movement's attack upon the status quo or interest in political content.

American Regionalism (1928-43)

american art and literature assignment

American Regionalism was not a deliberately formed movement but a style and approach that developed organically in the works of Thomas Hart Benton , John Steuart Curry , and Grant Wood . The three emphasized realistic depictions of rural life and ordinary situations, and each of them was associated with a particular region: Curry with Kansas, Benton with Missouri, and Wood with Iowa. They drew upon a number of divergent influences: Wood was influenced by the Northern Renaissance artist Hans Memling, Benton had been part of the Synchromist movement, and Curry utilized his prior experience in illustration, but their work consistently rejected modern European art and abstraction, in favor of a figurative approach to subjects that reflected what they saw as a uniquely American spirit. Wood's American Gothic (1930), when awarded a bronze medal at an Art Institute of Chicago competition, publicly launched the movement, as the work received national attention in newspapers and magazines. By the end of the 1930s, as Fascism threatened Europe, the movement's identification with a nationalist art came under critical fire, though other artists, including the well-known illustrator Norman Rockwell and the artist Andrew Wyeth continued to portray realistic scenes of ordinary American life, often connected to particular regions.

Social Realism (1929 - late 1950s)

american art and literature assignment

Social Realism developed organically among artists who emphasized realistic depictions of the lower and working class, often within an urban environment, in order to radically transform society. Focusing on the plight of workers, the artists associated with the movement were influenced by the murals of José Clemente Orozco , the rise of labor rights organizations, and the call to worker's rights from leftist organizations like the John Reed Society. The movement initially drew upon the optimism following the Mexican and Russian revolutions and was further shaped by the global depression that began in 1929 as well as the rise of Fascism in the 1930s. Rejecting European avant-garde movements for their isolation from social issues, artists like William Gropper , Hugo Gellert , Max Weber , and Moses and Raphael Soyer viewed art as a weapon to fight the capitalist exploitation of the working class. The artists Ben Shahn , Philip Evergood , and Antonio Berni were also important members of the movement, as were Aaron Douglas and Jacob Lawrence , both also part of the Harlem Renaissance . In the 1930s, WPA -sponsored documentary photographers, including Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans , were loosely associated with the movement as they depicted the rural poor and the devastating impact of the Great Depression, as well as the Dust Bowl that ravaged the agricultural Midwest.

American Art (1950-Onward)

Abstract expressionism, color field painting, post-painterly and hard-edge abstraction (1943-65).

american art and literature assignment

Abstract Expressionism began in the early 1940s, centered in New York and led by Jackson Pollock , Clyfford Still , Willem de Kooning , Mark Rothko , and Adolph Gottlieb . As the leading Surrealists fled Europe during World War II for New York, the Abstract Expressionists were influenced by Surrealism's emphasis on automatism, an art that tapped into the unconscious. While the artists had begun their careers painting representational images, they moved toward increasing abstraction. Peggy Guggenheim's Art of This Century Gallery exhibited and supported the emerging movement, and she commissioned Pollock's monumental and innovative Mural (1943). The critic Clement Greenberg played a leading role in advocating for the movement, emphasizing purely visual and abstract effects of the paintings. American's first international art movement, Abstract Expressionism also effectively established New York as the center of the modern art world and led to a number of other developments, including Color Field Painting , Action Painting , Post-painterly abstraction , and hard-edge painting .

Color Field Painting, which began in the late 1940s, led by Clyfford Still , Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman , emphasized color as a powerfully expressive object. Still's canvases deployed bold colors in jagged forms; Rothko turned toward diaphanous rectangles of color, and Newman created "zip" paintings, where vertical strips of color intersected large horizontal fields of color. Greenberg championed Color Field Painting, with its emphasis on flatness and non-illusionistic space, as the way forward for advanced painting.

In 1952, influential art critic Harold Rosenberg in his essay "The American Action Painters" focused on the act of the artist in deciding to paint, thus coining the term Action Painting in favor of Abstract Expressionism. Franz Kline , Willem de Kooning , and Jackson Pollock were associated with the term, as Rosenberg saw their works as emphasizing the event and process of painting itself. The spontaneous movements of the artist, random drips and splashes, and energetic gestures, resulted in a work that conveyed the action of the work's making.

In 1964, Greenberg curated the exhibition Post-Painterly Abstraction for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The show included work by 31 artists, including Morris Louis and Helen Frankenthaler , as well as the West Coast artists Sam Francis and John Ferren . Ellsworth Kelly , Howard Mehring , Jules Olitski , and Kenneth Noland were also included. Greenberg wrote that these artists "have a stress contrasts of pure hue rather than contrasts of light and dark...In their reaction against the 'handwriting' and the 'gestures' of Painterly Abstraction, these artists also favor a relatively anonymous execution." The Washington Color School , led by Noland and included Gene Davis, Morris Louis , and Thomas Downing among others, emphasized abstract art where color was emphasized to create form.

Drawing from the Color Field Painters, hard-edge painting was a term that defined a trend toward economical forms, impersonal execution, and clean lines. In the 1950s, Californian art critic Jules Langsner described the trend that used "forms [that] are finite, flat, rimmed by a hard, clean edge...They are autonomous shapes, sufficient unto themselves as shapes." In the 1960s the trend was also associated with Al Held , Ellsworth Kelly , Morris Louis , Frank Stella , Miriam Schapiro , and Kenneth Noland .

Around 1950 in the Bay Area of San Francisco, David Park , Richard Diebenkorn , and Elmer Bischoff rejected pure abstraction in favor of figurative subjects. The Bay Area Painters also included Manuel Neri, Nathan Oliveira, and Joan Brown. Many of the artists had begun their careers as Abstract Expressionists and retained elements of that movement in their landscapes and portraits, while at the same time celebrating local culture and landscape.

Also, by the mid-1950s a number of Second Generation of Abstract Expressionists , including Jack Beal , Jane Freilicher , and Nell Blaine , rejected the movement and turned toward figurative art. Including Fairfield Porter , Alex Katz , and Lois Dodd , the loose association of New York artists spearheaded a new emphasis on realism that became known as Contemporary Realism .

Neo-Dada (1952-70)

american art and literature assignment

Beginning in 1952, Neo-Dada developed, as Jasper Johns , Allan Kaprow , and Robert Rauschenberg , began to employ " readymades ," mass media, and performances. The artists rejected the existentialist heroics connected with Abstract Expressionism in favor of mundane subjects and blurred the traditional boundaries between media. Influenced by Marcel Duchamp and Dada , the movement had its start at Black Mountain College in North Carolina in 1952 and included Rauschenberg, the choreographer Merce Cunningham , and the composer John Cage . Cage's Theatre Piece No. 1 (1952) exemplified the group's emphasis on audience interaction, multiple media, and the role of chance.

Allan Kaprow created "environments," using sculptural collages to create installation pieces and later, after taking Cage's class, added aural components. He developed the term "happenings" to describe the quasi-theatrical events where, influenced by Futurism's concept of the event as overwhelming all boundaries and Dada's emphasis on the role of chance, the boundary between event and audience was broken.

Many Fluxus artists, including George Brecht , Robert Whitman, and Robert Watts, were interested in Neo-Dada and happenings. Fluxus, described as an "anti-art" movement, had utopian goals of wanting to change one's relation to art and to underscore the artfulness of everyday objects and actions. Leading members of the group Dick Higgins, Jackson Mac Low, and Al Hans met in Cage's 1959 class at the New School. Fluxus artists often used humor to undercut and dismiss high art. George Maciunas, the founder of Fluxus, described Fluxus as "a fusion of Spike Jones, gags, games, Vaudeville, Cage, and Duchamp." Fluxus was an international movement that also included Yoko Ono , Nam June Paik , and Joseph Beuys. Paik pioneered the development of Video Art , when he presented his video footage of the Pope's visit to New York as a serious artwork in 1965.

Pop Art and Photorealism (mid 1950s-1970s)

Pop Art was an international movement that had begun in Britain in 1952, led by the Independent Group, including Richard Hamilton , Eduardo Paolozzi , and the architects Alison and Peter Smithson, but the American version became the trendsetting and dominant form. Led by Andy Warhol , Roy Lichtenstein , Claes Oldenburg , and James Rosenquist , the artists used images taken from mass media and popular culture to challenge the distinction between "high" and "low" art and to critique and celebrate consumer culture. Warhol , Rosenquist , and Ed Ruscha were influenced by their early work as graphic designers and illustrators.

Photorealism , also called Hyperrealism, painted photographic images projected onto a large canvas, often with an airbrush, to resemble a finished photograph. Richard Estes , Chuck Close , Robert Bechtle , Ralph Goings , and Audrey Flack drew upon different influences, including Pop Art and Minimalism , and employed a variety of techniques, as they worked independently of one another. They often depicted objects from consumer culture, as in Ralph Goings' McDonalds Pickup (1970) or Richard Estes's Supreme Hardware Store (1970).

Minimalism and Post-Minimalism (1960 - Present)

american art and literature assignment

In New York in the early 1960s, Minimalist artists such as Donald Judd , Carl Andre , Sol LeWitt , and Robert Morris created works from industrial materials while employing a cool and anonymous approach. Influenced by Russian Constructivism , Minimalists emphasized the materiality of the medium as perceived by the viewer and preferred industrial materials and fabrication. Rejecting Greenberg's formalist conception of painting, they emphasized an approach that, using a minimum of shape, color, and other elements, was also called "Systemic Painting," or "Reductive Art." Frank Stella , Tony Smith , Richard Serra , Ronald Bladen , and Dan Flavin were associated with the movement that quickly became dominant in America and internationally, while informing other developments, including Post-Minimalism and the Light and Space movement .

Post-Minimalism included a number of trends, including Process Art , Performance and Body Art , Site-Specific Art , and some aspects of Conceptual Art . Art critic Lucy Lippard curated Eccentric Abstraction in 1968, an exhibition that included work by Louise Bourgeois , Eva Hesse , and Bruce Nauman , whose pieces were made of soft or pliable materials. Some artists associated with Post-Minimalism extended the Minimalist interest in anonymous and abstract objects into other areas, while others reacted against Minimalism's cool anonymous approach in favor of emotional expression. Lynda Benglis, Eva Hesse, and Louise Bourgeois used resins and latex, while Nancy Graves used materials to simulate animal hides, and the resulting works created an organic expressive effect. Sol LeWitt , Richard Serra , and Vito Acconci were also included among the Post-Minimalists.

Based in California and influenced by Minimalism, Robert Irwin began creating large installations using light sources in 1969 and pioneered what became known as the Light and Space movement . Larry Bell , James Turrell , John McCracken and Helen Pashgian were all associated with the movement that used industrial materials, including neon and argon lights, cast acrylic, and polyester resins to create perceptual experiences. Drawing upon new scientific research and technologies, they created works that emphasized the interaction of light and space.

Earth Art and Environmental Art (1960s - Present)

american art and literature assignment

Also called Land Art or Earthworks, Earth Art was an outgrowth of Minimalism, as the earth itself became both the material object and the site specific to art, and artists used the site's available natural materials, such as mud, earth, and stone, to design large-scale projects that were keyed to the site's significance. Often including some element of performance, Earth Art shared certain trends with Post-Minimalism, including Performance Art , process art , and Installation Art . The 1969 Earth Art exhibition at Cornell University, which including the works of Robert Smithson , Walter De Maria , Michael Heizer , Robert Morris , Dennis Oppenheim , and Hans Haacke , launched the movement. The artists, like Smithson, were often inspired by ancient sites, including Stonehenge or the Native American Serpent Mound, and saw their works as subject to changing conditions and entropy, the devolution of a system over time. Nancy Holt , Richard Long , Agnes Denes , and Andy Goldsworthy were also leading Earth Work artists.

The movement influenced the development of Environmental Art , also known as ecological art. Emphasizing a non-invasive approach, Environmental artists saw themselves as collaborating with the environment and exploring human interaction with natural environments. Betty Beaumont , Andy Goldsworthy , Agnes Denes , Meg Webster , Olafur Eliasson , herman de vries , Nils Udo , and Chris Jordan are the leading artists of the movement. They employed a variety of approaches; Beaumont transformed power plant waste into an underwater reef in her Ocean Landmark (1978-80), while Goldsworthy, over a period of four years, working, as he said, "in collaboration with nature," arranged pieces of limestone from fields where he worked as a gardener to create his Pinfold Cones (1981-85).

Postmodernism (1960s - Present)

american art and literature assignment

In the 1960s, a heady atmosphere of experimentation reigned, leading to the development of Conceptual Art , Feminist Art , Body Art , and Performance Art . Though these art movements were international, American artists played a significant role in their development, and their subsequent expansion into a number of trends.

Influenced by Minimalism's reductive simplicity, Conceptual art emphasized that the concept of a work was more important than its form or even completion. Sol LeWitt's "Paragraphs on Conceptual Art" (1967) became the de facto manifesto of the movement; he wrote that the artwork "no matter what form it may finally have it must begin with an idea." Walter De Maria , Ed Ruscha , Marina Abramović , Dan Graham , and the German artist Joseph Beuys were just a few of the leading artists who became part of the movement. In the atmosphere of experimentation, new trends developed, including Institutional Critique , led by an international array of artists, including Hans Haacke , Michael Asher , Daniel Buren , and Marcel Broodthaers , and The Pictures Generation , including Sherrie Levine , Cindy Sherman , Robert Longo , Barbara Kruger , and Richard Prince . A number of Conceptual artists created installation pieces, as Installation Art became a primary trend, employed in a number of movements. Additionally conceptual practices informed Neo-Geo , or Neo-Geometric Conceptualism, a term that defined the works of Peter Halley , Ashley Bickerton , Jeff Koons , and Meyer Vaisman following their 1986 exhibition in New York. Using appropriative strategies, the group used geometric form to ironically distance itself from abstract painting, while also using previous works as readymades that could be appropriated.

american art and literature assignment

Out of the Civil Rights movement, the emerging Gay Pride movement, and anti-war fervor, Feminist Art developed in the late 1960s. Women's art organizations like the Art Worker's Coalition and Women Artists in Revolution were formed to address gender inequity and other feminist issues within the art community. Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro founded the California Institute of the Art's Feminist Art Project and Womanhouse , a project where women artists could collaborate and create major installations. Mary Beth Edelson , Lynda Benglis , Martha Rosler , Carolee Schneemann , Suzanne Lacy , Leslie Labowitz , Bia Lowe , Barbara Kruger , and the Guerilla Girls were leading feminist artists, as the movement explored diverse approaches, and the artists involved became associated with several movements simultaneously. Judy Chicago became famous for her Dinner Party (1974-79), an iconic example of both Feminist Art and Installation Art, while Carolee Schneemann's performances were pioneering in the Feminist, Body Art, and Performance movements. Feminist Art actively supported and inspired the development of Queer Art , focused on queer identity and connected to the Gay Pride movement and the AIDS crisis, and ushered in an era of Identity Art and Identity Politics that focused on the experience of marginalized groups and the inequities they faced.

In the 1960s, Performance art emphasized live events where the artist, sometimes with collaborators or performers, erased all boundaries between the artist and the artwork. The international movement drew upon a number of early avant-garde trends, including Dada , Futurism , and Surrealism , but was more recently sourced in the 1950s works of John Cage , Fluxus artists , and Allan Kaprow's happenings . Staging what were sometimes called "actions," performance artists often confronted the audience. The movement was closely linked to the development of Body Art , as American artists, including Chris Burden , Carolee Schneemann , and Hannah Wilke , employed their own body as the medium.

Useful Resources on American Art

Imagining America: Icons of 20th Century American Art

  • American Visions: Robert Hughes 8 episodes Our Pick PBS
  • The Civil War and American Art: 7 videos Smithsonian American Art Museum
  • Interview with Robert Hughes on American Visions Our Pick C-Span
  • African American Art Our Pick Talk by Virginia Mecklenburg
  • American Vision: The Epic History of Art in America Our Pick By Robert Hughes
  • A History of American Art By Daniel M. Mendelowitz
  • American Art: History and Culture By Wayne Craven
  • Native North American Art By Janet Catherine Berlo and Ruth B. Phillips
  • African-American Art: A Visual and Cultural History By Lisa Farrington
  • American Photography By Miles Orvell
  • Nature's Nation: American Art and Environment At Princeton University Art Museum By Clayton Press / Forbes / October 30, 2018
  • Art and Identity in the British North American Colonies, 1700-1776 Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Nineteenth-Century American Folk Art Metropolitan Museum of Art Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Hudson River School Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Americans in Paris 1860-1890 Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • American Impressionism Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Ashcan School Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946) and American Photography Metropolitan Museum of Art

Related Artists

Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Biography, Art & Analysis

Related Movements & Topics

Abstract Expressionism Art & Analysis

Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle

Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Valerie Hellstein

American Literature

Course overview, course content, unit 1: beginnings, unit 2: romanticism.

The second unit will focus mainly on Transcendentalism and Dark Romanticism, though we will spend some time with Whitman & Dickinson as well. We will begin by exploring several essays of the Transcendentalist movement and consider how this philosophy might still be working in our own time. We will then read a selection of short stories and poems in the Dark Romantic style, going into greater depth with this period for the first major essay. Finally, we will explore the poetry of Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson and consider which, if any, literary period these two iconic poets belong to, bringing us to important questions about how literary periods are shaped and defined. The wide variety of texts and short written responses in this unit will provide ample opportunity for us to consider how an author’s purpose and audience influence his/her methods, culminating in the large essay in which students will compare two authors from the same period.

Unit 3: Realism and Naturalism

This unit will address the related periods of Realism and Naturalism, with three weeks dedicated to reading and writing about  The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn . We will begin by considering the historical and cultural events that resulted in such a dramatic shift in America’s prevalent literary style and how the characteristics of Realism differ from those of the Romantic period. We will then shift into a discussion of race and regionalism before taking on  Huck Finn . After the novel, we will explore the rise of female voices and experience in Realist fiction and the emerging role of women in American Literature. We will end the unit by reading several short stories in the Naturalist style.

Unit 4: Modernism

This unit is divided into three major sections: Modern Poetry,  The Great Gatsby , and The Harlem Renaissance. As with the previous units, we will begin by discussing the historical and cultural context that resulted in the shift to new literary styles and techniques. We will highlight these differences by beginning with a study of Modern poetry, with a focus on the Imagists; we will consider how these poets used words to capture the essence of a single image and compare it to our own use of social media today. Next, we will continue our exploration of the theme of The Great American Novel by tackling  The Great Gatsby , which will also be the focus of the major essay for the second semester. Finally, we will conclude the unit by delving into the Harlem Renaissance, examining the rise of African American art and literature, and we will end the unit by reading one of the great novels of that period,  Their Eyes Were Watching God .

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American Literature I: An Anthology of Texts From Early America Through the Civil War

(7 reviews)

american art and literature assignment

Jenifer Kurtz, Virginia Western Community College

Copyright Year: 2020

Publisher: VIVA

Language: English

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american art and literature assignment

Reviewed by Kole Matheson, Lecturer, Old Dominion University on 6/15/23

The text is relatively comprehensive in that it covers literary works from early America through the Civil War, as noted in its title. Importantly, many Native American stories and writers are included to include William Apess, Tecumseh, and a... read more

Comprehensiveness rating: 4 see less

The text is relatively comprehensive in that it covers literary works from early America through the Civil War, as noted in its title. Importantly, many Native American stories and writers are included to include William Apess, Tecumseh, and a handful of early creation stories, which were first archived by Arthur Parker in the early 20th century based on oral tradition. Furthermore, each of the six sections of the text contains at least one introduction that offers historical context for the accompanying readings. However, there is not an index or glossary included, nor are their example activities or assignments in the text. As a professor of American literature, my approach to teaching this course is theory-based in that all assigned readings are studied according to established understandings of literary criticism, such as dramatic construction, narratology, and new historicism. Such theoretical understandings and supplemental materials are absent.

Content Accuracy rating: 4

The text is accurate and mostly error-free. The only glaring error in the text is that the literary work from Samson Occom, Mohegan Native American, is promised in the “Author Introduction” on page 265; however, the following page skips to Elizabeth Ashbridge. As such, this important Native author’s work is erroneously omitted. This is a deeply unfortunate omission, especially from the perspective of Indigenous Studies of American Literature. Regarding bias, the text is intentional to include other Native authors; however, the very nature of early American literature is biased against people of color, a bias that cannot be directly attributed to the text itself but rather is a symptom of bias of readers and archivists in early America.

Relevance/Longevity rating: 4

The text is relevant with regard to perspectives on early American literature. The six sections of the text are up-to-date with the field’s perspective on the major movements of the written word in the United States. Arguably, early American literature will remain relevant, as the study of literature from this time period will endure and therefore remain current in the future, barring significant discoveries and propagation of novel texts that are more than a century old. One possible update might be to include more early Native American literature as passed down through oral tradition.

Clarity rating: 4

Relative to the content, the text is written clearly. The various introductions to literary periods are written with lucid prose. However, especially difficult for students new to early American literature, lexical and orthographic choices of early authors reflect the time period from which they come; as such, students will likely experience some difficulty with reading, for example, the section on “European Exploration Accounts,” which begins with the “Letter of Discovery” from Columbus on page 26. A glossary of terms or page-specific footnotes would be helpful to students who seek to decipher the more archaic forms of the English language published in the text.

Consistency rating: 5

The text is consistent in terms of terminology and framework and is organized chronologically into six major movements of early American literature, each containing its respective introduction on historical context and an accompanying author biography.

Modularity rating: 5

The text is modular in that smaller readings can be assigned at different points within the course, as guided by the six movements in early American literature that organize the text itself. Enormous blocks of text are sometimes present with the anthologized works; however, this is to be expected in that long-form literary works are included. Despite this, students might have some difficulty with navigating a PDF that is over 1,000 pages long. Printing assigned readings would help with the overall modularity of the text.

Organization/Structure/Flow rating: 5

As previously mentioned, the text is organized into six sections that reflect the field’s perspective on early American literature. Accompanying each section is an introduction to the literature of the period, along with a brief biographical sketch of the early American author. This creates an accessible rhythm of information that helps with readability, (i.e. students are able to predict what information will come next, based on the text's organization pattern from one section to the next).

Interface rating: 5

The text’s interface is well formatted. Images of authors are well aligned, section headings are consistent, and the literary works themselves are spaced appropriately, line-by-line.

Grammatical Errors rating: 5

Section introductions and author bios are free of grammatical errors, according to the rules of Standard American English. Some early writings may not be considered grammatical by today’s standards; however, this reflects the continual evolution of what society deems grammatical.

Cultural Relevance rating: 4

The text is culturally appropriate, provided it is read with the cultural-exclusion in mind that is a defining feature of early American literature. For example, Native Americans are oftentimes referred to in derogatory terms, as was the norm of early America. However, the author makes note of these perspectives in section introductions so as to be more inclusive and understanding of a variety of cultural perspectives that may encounter the text.

I approve of this text as a reference anthology for a course in early American literature, and plan to use it for its presentation of Native authors especially. Significant supplementation is required, however, (e.g. assignment sheets, lecture notes, theoretical interpretations).

Reviewed by Millard Southern, Professor, Kalamazoo College on 1/20/23

The book was very comprehensive in scope and content. read more

Comprehensiveness rating: 5 see less

The book was very comprehensive in scope and content.

Accuracy was spot on!!

Relevance received high marks.

Clarity rating: 5

Clarity was brief but to the point.

I liked the consistency of this book.

Modularity was impeccable.

Structure and flow was easy to follow.

Interface was the highlight of this book.

Grammar and content was strong.

Cultural relevance was ok.

Reviewed by Frances Johannsen, Professor of English, Hutchinson Community College on 11/16/21

The text offers a good variety of readings that are typical of any early American Lit. textbook. I appreciate that the editors include several early Native American creation stories. In addition to these, I would have liked to have seen some of... read more

The text offers a good variety of readings that are typical of any early American Lit. textbook. I appreciate that the editors include several early Native American creation stories. In addition to these, I would have liked to have seen some of the early Native American poetry and songs as well. The editors introduce each new section with a short narrative and offer source notes at the end of each selection. Pictures and illustrations are decent quality; I was able to enlarge most of the maps (I'm using the .pdf format of the text), but the map associated with "Introduction to Literature of Colonial America" on p. 124 was blurry and not readable past about 150% enlargement. I agree with some of the other reviewers about the lack of women writers; however, this is a problem I've encountered with nearly every anthology published today. I don't expect a survey course textbook to include every piece of literature ever written, so I simply supplement these readings in my classes.

Content Accuracy rating: 5

The text seems to be accurate, but as I mention earlier, the instructor using this textbook will need to supplement the readings to include works by non-white male writers. Translations of some of the texts are different from those I've used in my classes, but that's a matter of personal preference. I am puzzled, however, by the change in font size in some of the writings. For example, on page 26, the "Letter of Discovery (1493)" by Christopher Columbus begins with one font size then changes to a larger one about halfway through the page. It then goes back to a smaller font size on page 29. Is there a reason for this? Things like this would have rarely caught my attention in the past. More recently, however, we have been moving toward using documents that are accessibility approved. Serif fonts, like the one used in this textbook, don't meet the accessibility requirements of our college and would have to be reformatted. Since this is an OER, it could probably be done by converting the .pdf into an editable form, but that takes a lot of time and effort. As for the introductions, the authors keep them sparse and convey only basic facts about each writer. Although they don't cover every aspect of each writer's life, they also don't confer any biases or opinions. It leaves plenty of room for students to explore the writers and come up with their own opinions about them. It's an opportunity for a teaching exercise.

Relevance/Longevity rating: 5

The bare bones nature of the introductions means that the textbook will not become obsolete in the near future. They contain just the facts. If the textbook is ever updated, I would like to see a greater variety of writers represented. While the old standby writers should remain, other lesser-known writers could be included such Mercy Otis Warren, Susanna Rowson, Hannah Bond (Crafts), and perhaps others. I would also like to see a visual timeline that includes dates, major milestone events, and the writers associated with those dates.

My comments on clarity are less about the content and more about the aesthetics of the text. I am reading the .pdf version of the textbook, so that may have something to do with the aforementioned font changes and blurry images. An at the end of the textbook, an index of authors and works would be helpful as well as a glossary of terms.

Consistency rating: 4

The content of the textbook is consistent. The typeface is not.

The textbook is divided into periods in early American history, and each period is arranged sequentially. There are roughly the same number of readings for each period. The editors also indicate the citation for each reading so that the instructor and the students can easily refer to the original source material.

The sections and the writings within them are are arranged logically and in sequential order. Since there is no index, the students will need to rely on the Table of Contents to locate authors and readings or the ctrl+find option on their computers.

Interface rating: 4

I had issues with font changes and blurred map images in my .pdf version of the text. The Table of Contents could be formatted differently to make it more readable. The listing of all of the readings seem to run together even though the parts are labeled. Visually, the section headings don't stand out very well. As an electronic source, though, students can use the "find" option on their computer to locate specific readings or authors.

I did not see any grammatical errors.

Cultural Relevance rating: 5

The authors are presented in the introductions using factual information about their lives and their works. I did not notice any glaring biases in any of the editors' comments in the introductions.

For an OER textbook, this American Literature 1 anthology has met my expectations. There has obviously been a tremendous amount of work that went into putting this textbook together. For all its flaws of omission, it's a textbook that's worthy of reviewing as an alternative to the outrageously expensive printed anothologies we have all had to rely on in the past. My students balk at the price of our textbooks and some have had to resort to borrowing other students' books or searching the internet for the individual writings. I don't want cost to be a barrier to their learning, and this textbook is a viable option.

Reviewed by Hannah Saltmarsh, Assistant Professor of English, Mount Mercy University on 10/26/21

The book doesn't cover key aspects of American Literature, including sufficient representation of slave narratives, black writers, and women writers. I was surprised there were more Native American writers presented than I would have expected. read more

Comprehensiveness rating: 1 see less

The book doesn't cover key aspects of American Literature, including sufficient representation of slave narratives, black writers, and women writers. I was surprised there were more Native American writers presented than I would have expected.

Content Accuracy rating: 1

The text doesn't offer diverse voices and perspectives in early American Literature, thus it is biased towards white male writers seen as "traditional." For example, I noted an absence of slave narratives by Douglass or Jacobs; lack of women writers and black women writers such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman or Ida B. Wells.

Relevance/Longevity rating: 1

The text could be implemented so long as there are supplemental texts and links to represent other writers such as black writers and women writers; however, it might present to students that the anthology is the "canon" and the supplemental links are just "Add-ons" and appear to have less value.

No issues with clarity.

No issues. The editors might consider other headers and writers or periods in addition.

Organization/Structure/Flow rating: 3

There should be more discussion and a longer section for slavery, esp. given the importance and impact and traumas of American slavery on early American literature.

No issues with interface.

Cultural Relevance rating: 1

The text needs to represent diverse cultural voices and experiences, and include more background information on writers, themes, literary reception, cultural aspects; for example, there is not sufficient discussion of Native American myths in the introductory note.

Reviewed by Sean McPherson, Adjunct English Professor, Berkshire Community College on 6/30/21

This text covers all of the major literary movements that you would find in an Am Lit 1 course well. I like that this text includes Native American oral tales and literature of the European explorers in the beginning. Many anthologies skip right... read more

This text covers all of the major literary movements that you would find in an Am Lit 1 course well.

I like that this text includes Native American oral tales and literature of the European explorers in the beginning. Many anthologies skip right over these. So, it's nice to have them available.

"Day of Doom" is missing, but I'm not surprised at this. Many anthologies forget to include Wigglesworth for some reason, even though it is a significant text that should be included.

Each section begins with an introduction, which is good. Those cover the big picture elements, which frees teachers up to provide more in depth explanations.

Otherwise, the texts that are included sufficiently cover the breadth and depth of what would be covered in an Am Lit 1 course.

The text offers a wide range of standard authors to choose from as well as some tertiary authors who might be of interest. This gives teachers options, which is good. Again, though, "Day of Doom" is missing.

Also, technically, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" should be in the "Literature of the Revolutionary Period" due to when it was published, but I understand why it is not. It makes more sense for it to be at the end of the "Literature of Colonial America" section, although not entirely accurate.

The accuracy of this text is reliable.

Since this anthology deals with historical texts, obsolescence really doesn't apply here. The only thing that I could think of that might be an issue is the lack of texts from each time period from people of color. That doesn't necessarily make the text irrelevant, but not as complete as it could be. The major authors are included, so the text does it's job. I think if you are teaching with a free text, it's assumed that teachers will have to fill in some gaps if thematically appropriate for individual courses.

The historical authors' texts are what they are, so clarity is not an issue there. That leaves the introductory sections written by editors. Those introductions are written clearly, not over complicating the historical background with combined ideas and events. The language is accessible for student readers. Paragraphs are broken up to be reader friendly. Those sections even contain visuals when needed, like maps, to help students visualize necessary information.

The text is broken up into logical sections with appropriate titles. The predictable organization is expected from an anthology. Each section begins with an introduction, and then each section contains the readings. Easy peasy.

The text is divided into organized sections appropriate for the time periods. It's easy to locate texts and understand the historical continuum.

Interface may seem like a no-brainer, but I've read/used textbooks that are unnecessarily complicated to navigate. The textbook pages are not clear, and you have to scroll, scroll, scroll to find what you want. The .pdf version of this textbook is standard. The table of contents on the side bar makes it easy to find what you want quickly. I appreciate that since I've encountered texts that aren't so user friendly.

The text contains no grammatical errors.

The text is not culturally insensitive or offensive. Although, as I mentioned earlier, there is a lack of texts from people of color. This is a tough call, though, for editors since including more authors has the possibility of making the anthology too wieldy. I've seen textbooks do this successfully, so I know it can be done. It's not a small task, though, and should be done with care.

I like this textbook because it does what it is supposed to do: clearly organize the literary time periods and include introductions to those periods and introduce the authors within them, cover the major authors you would find in an Am Lit 1 course, and make it easy to navigate. Teachers will have to enhance the readings with more in depth explanations, but that is expected. I recommend this textbook because it is comprehensive, clearly organized, and reliable.

Reviewed by Anne Greenhoe, Adjunct Instructor, Portland Community College on 6/13/21

The anthology provides a sample of genres and voices over the periods that formed and established a new country. The six chapters focus on thoughts that were influential at the time rather than on the players. Some voices that are surveyed in high... read more

The anthology provides a sample of genres and voices over the periods that formed and established a new country. The six chapters focus on thoughts that were influential at the time rather than on the players. Some voices that are surveyed in high school and read widely in college courses (namely Frederick Douglass) from different political and social movements that were parallel to the surveyed literature are not included here. This is an introduction to Early American Literature. It it not an all-inclusive anthology. There is a sampling of voices from different cultural backgrounds and viewpoints.

There are different viewpoints from the eras represented. The creation story, How the World Was Made (Cherokee) can be easily compared to the onslaught of European colonists that came in the 1500-1600s, and their justification for immigrating.

John Winthrop, in his essay A Modell of Christian Charitie (1630), was written on the ship from England to colonial America, justifying why it’s right, good, and God’s will for him and other religious peoples to immigrate to the colony. In a letter, echoing Frederick Douglass’s dissent and disbelief, Phillis Wheatly’s Letter to Rev. Samson Occom (1774) is framed in ridicule as she acknowledges the hypocrisy of the American term “freedom.” Her viewpoint does not capture the rage of Douglass, but it is no less important in recognizing and voicing the chasm between Winthrop’s “brotherly love” and the ongoing existence of slavery.

There is accuracy here for an introductory survey course in Early American literature. The book represents different viewpoints that students can access in a first year college course, though readers will find voices missing.

Because the text is entirely filled with primary sources, the content is relevant. I would use this book as a representation of thought in a period of time in American history. There are voices missing, but as with all textbooks, supplementing gives direction and depth to a course.

The author’s prose is accessible and easily understood for a first year literature course student.

Consistency rating: 2

The framework was confusing to me. The titles of the six sections reflect periods in history, but internally, most of the organization is by authors’ births. The subheadings for social periods within the history could be highlighted in some way, i.e., indented or additional subheadings. For example, in Chapter 1: Literature of Exploration and Discovery, the first section is Native American Accounts and the second section is European Exploration Accounts. It’s easy to understand that these are comparing and contrasting viewpoints.

In Chapter 5: Literature of the Romantic Era, there is the introduction of the period, then the introductions of different authors follow. But then, there is an introduction to Women and the Cult of Domesticity, but without the introduction to the single author, Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Edgar Alan Poe has eight short stories included but no reference as to why he is important to American literature, while in his introduction, John Winthrop’s move to American is important because his colony became “New England’s chief colony.”

The text is easily and readily divisible into smaller reading sections that can be assigned at different points within the course (i.e., enormous blocks of text without subheadings should be avoided). The text should not be overly self-referential, and should be easily reorganized and realigned with various subunits of a course without presenting much disruption to the reader.

The bulk of the text are primary documents, so the modality is sectioned into the original print format: large chunks of text and archaic sentence styles. I want this when reading a primary document.

My adult basic ed students and first year writing students would find the organization of the book confusing at first sight, but this would be due to the Table of Contents. On the title page, the Table of Contents has clear organization, but when Contents is open while document is open, too, there is no delineation between headings. All listings look the same with no visual difference. I had to use the numbers on the Table of Contents to move back and forth between texts.

The titles of the six sections which are arranged in chronological order, are presented in logical, clear fashion.

There are no interface issues. The pictures of authors are the only images.

I didn't see gammatical erros. The primary texts have archaic language, but this is necessary for purpose of the book.

Cultural Relevance rating: 3

The texts included in the anthology of dominant beliefs and genres of the periods represented. Essays anchored in religious beliefs are found in the birth of a nation as religious sects immigrated to find religious freedom, while poetry and short stories appear more frequently as the country becomes richer and more free time is had for leisure and for defining who we are as a nation, separate from other countries, through literature. The text represents the dominant culture in the U.S. during the times included. More diverse and underrepresented voices, cultures, and beliefs could be added to represent the times we live in today as we search for a common history. Again, if I was using this text, supplements would need to be used to give depth and meaning in today’s classroom.

I teach adult basic education, developmental education, intensive ESL, and first year writing courses. I would use the book for examples of primary resources to analyze for social studies and augment a review of the Charter Documents. I could also use this for more advanced classes as a compare and contrast base for argumentative essays, but I would not as a whole book for the type of classes I teach.

Reviewed by Jane Rosecrans, Professor of English, J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College on 3/29/21

A number of important works are missing from this anthology. There is very little coverage of slavery or the abolition movement, the primary social reform of the 19th century. There are no black writers cover in the section "Literature of 19th... read more

Comprehensiveness rating: 2 see less

A number of important works are missing from this anthology. There is very little coverage of slavery or the abolition movement, the primary social reform of the 19th century. There are no black writers cover in the section "Literature of 19th Century Reform"; only white writers are represented. None of the major African-American writers are included -- Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, William Wells Brown, Harriet Wilson. There is no discussion of the fugitive slave narrative or of the abolition movement. Uncle Tom's Cab in is omitted. There is no discussion of the women's movement of the 19th century and no novels by women from the 1850s. The only Black writers I see here are Equiano, Sojourner Truth, and Wheatley.

In addition, sections on Wheatley, Paine, and Jefferson are problematic. The introductions are often simple biography and do not include some of the issues and controversies surrounding each writer. This is especially true of Phillis Wheatley and Thomas Jefferson. In order to better understand the religious evolution of American, "A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom" or his letter to Danbury should have been included and the introduction to Jefferson should have included the controversy surrounding Jefferson and race. "Laws" from NOTES ON THE STATE OF VIRGINIA should have been included here because it offers Jefferson's views on race. Also regarding religion, an excerpt from Paine's AGE OF REASON should have been included.

This anthology does a better job with American Indian writers from the first unit to Schoolcraft and Apess later.

Finally, Whitman and Dickinson are included in the last section on social reform. They should have been included in a new section on romantic poetry.

Content Accuracy rating: 3

The content provided is accurate but there are problems with omission. The introductions provide basic biographical material. For example, the introduction to Thomas Jefferson includes none of the controversies involving Jefferson and race/slavery.

Relevance/Longevity rating: 3

This anthology omits many important African-American writers. It includes many women writers and American Indian writers. The updates that will be necessary are substantial, not only in terms of writers and works included (see above), but also in terms of introductory information. There need to be introductions on American Indian myths, slavery, the abolition movement, the women's movement and romantic poetry. Then introduction to the romantic movement needs substantial revision as it is very brief.

Clarity rating: 3

The anthology is clear and includes some notes. The notes are uneven, however. For example, there are notes for Emerson's "Self-Reliance" but not for the Iroquois "Creation Story," which includes an introduction but does not include any information about creation stories or Indian myths.

The text is consistent in terms of terminology but it needed more terminology and concepts explained.

Modularity rating: 2

I had real problems with the modules. I would have revised and added new modules. The consecutive numbering of chapters was also problematic. There are six units but no subheadings and because of the issues with organization (see below), the writers and literary texts cannot be easily reorganized or realigned using a different criteria for modules such as a thematic set of modules.

Organization/Structure/Flow rating: 1

I found the organization of this anthology very difficult to follow. 1. Each unit (there are six) needed to include sub-sections as well as writers and readings under each sub-section. Each writer needed to then have her/his own subsection including the introduction and the readings. This makes it so much easier to read. So for example, Literature of Exploration and Discovery Native American Literature Introduction Creation Stories Iroquois Introduction "Creation Story" 2. I also found the way in which units were created to be problematic. For example, Whitman and Dickinson are included on the last unit on reform; neither writer was actively involved in reform. They should have appeared in a different unit on romantic poetry. This unit also includes a poem by Longfellow that has to do with his youth rather than with reform, so it is also misplaced. All of the poets should appear in a separate unit that should discuss poetry differently and which would also distinguish poetry from the first half of the 1i9th century from Whitman, who revolutionized American poetry. Some of these differences are discussed in the introduction to Whitman, but there needs to be a unit that focuses on poetry as a whole, especially given that students have more difficulty with poetry than with most other genres. This was clearly the most problematic unit. It included non-reform literature with reform literature, but it was not comprehensive and did not mention slavery, abolition, and women's rights as movements explicitly; rather this information was buried in introductory notes to individual writers.

Interface rating: 2

There are interface issues on every page. "Powered by Pressbooks" appears in the middle of each text and "share this book" and OER license information also appears in the middle of some texts. Some texts also suffer from interface issues under the "Source" section.

I did not see any writing, spelling, sentence structure or other grammatical issues in this anthology. I thought the writing was clear and direct.

As I have explained in several sections of this review, there is a lack of coverage of African-American writers and texts and a lack of coverage of social movements and literary movements that were important to women and Black writers of the 19th century. There is no attention paid to how marginal groups including American Indians, women, and African-Americans were perceived. There is no discussion of racism or sexism, which are important to understanding the many of these texts by both white writers and people of color as well as men and women. There is no discussion of how early explorers viewed the indigenous population they encountered; this material would provide a cultural context for readings and would thus help both faculty and students better understand the literature. Likewise, there is no discussion of slavery or racism for both white and black writers, which, again, is crucial to understanding these texts. For example, Thomas Jefferson mentions Phillis Wheatley by name in NOTES ON THE STATE OF VIRGINIA. That chapter should have been included but information about race should also have been included in their respective introductions. Another example regards the women's movement and Elizabeth Cady Stanton's "Declaration of Sentiments." She mentions the Seneca Falls convention in the introduction to Stanton but includes no section on the rise of women writers (or domestic fiction) in the 19th century, the sexist perceptions of women that were prevalent at the time, or the lack of women's rights. There is no discussion of the rise of African-American novel. All of these materials are to be expected in a 21st century American literature anthology.

I would not use this anthology in my ENG 241 course. It is simply too limited and omits too many writers and literary works.

Table of Contents

  • I. Literature of Exploration and Discovery
  • II. Literature of Colonial America
  • III. Literature of the Revolutionary Period
  • IV. Literature of the New Nation
  • V. Literature of the Romantic Era
  • VI. Literature of Nineteenth Century Reform

Ancillary Material

About the book.

This book offers an anthology of texts that includes letters, journals, poetry, newspaper articles, pamphlets, sermons, narratives, and short fiction written in and about America beginning with collected oral stories from Native American tribes and ending with the poetry of Emily Dickinson. Many major and minor authors are included, providing a sampling of the different styles, topics, cultures, and concerns present during the formation and development of America through the mid-nineteenth century.

About the Contributors

Jenifer Kurtz , Virginia Western Community College

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Early American Art and Literature ONLINE ASSIGNMENT

american art and literature assignment

  • Word Document File ,



This assignment is a great way to introduce or review a topic for students learning remotely. The article link is provided and students complete the following assignment:

1. Go to the following link and Read the article (1 Page Articles 10 Minute Read)

2. Write (4) Interesting Facts Below in complete sentences:

3. Summarize this topic in 4-5 Sentences in your own Words

4. What did you find most interesting about this topic?

5. Insert and Explain (2) pictures related to the topic in the provided Image spaces

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An Exploration of Romanticism Through Art and Poetry

An Exploration of Romanticism Through Art and Poetry

  • Resources & Preparation
  • Instructional Plan
  • Related Resources

In this lesson, students use art and poetry to explore and understand major characteristics of the Romantic period. First, students are introduced to the historical, societal, and literary characteristics of the Romantic period. Next, students deepen their understanding of Romanticism through an evaluation of William Wordsworth's definition of poetry. Students then complete an explication of a painting from the Romantic period, noting its defining characteristics. They use the TP-CASTT method to complete a literary analysis of Wordsworth's poem "The World is Too Much With Us," using their knowledge of Romantic characteristics to classify the poem as Romantic. In the final session, students begin to write an essay showing their understanding of Romanticism.

Featured Resources

  • Poetry Analysis—TP-CASTT : This resource explains the TP-CASTT method of poetry analysis and provides a blank chart for use in analysis.
  • Characteristics of Romanticism : This printable chart lists characteristics of Romanticism, along with explanations of each.
  • Is It Romantic? : Students can use this chart to identify elements from any work and explain how they reflect characteristics of Romanticism.

From Theory to Practice

In the introduction of his book Reading in the Dark , John Golden observes that students "tend to be visually oriented, able to point out every significant image in a three-minute MTV music video, but when it comes to doing the same with a written text, they stare at it as if they are reading German." Golden goes on to state "the skills they use to decode the visual image are the same skills they use for a written text" (xiii). Golden's book outlines how to use film to help students practice their skills so they can then be transferred to written texts. This lesson is based on the same principle but uses a painting instead of a film to reinforce the skills that students use to analyze a work of literature. Further Reading

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • Copies of "The World Is Too Much With Us" by William Wordsworth
  • Characteristics of Romanticism  
  • Statements that Embody or Suggest Romanticism  
  • Wordsworth Quote Word Web  
  • Wordsworth Quote Word Web—Teacher Copy  
  • Artwork Explication: The Raft of the Medusa  
  • Is It Romantic?  
  • The Raft of the Medusa Romantic Characteristics  
  • Essay Assignment  
  • Romanticism Essay Rubric


  • Familiarize yourself with the historical background behind Théodore Géricault's painting The Raft of the Medusa .  
  • Test the ReadWriteThink The Raft of the Medusa interactive on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tool.  
  • Make copies or transparencies of all necessary handouts, including two copies per student of the Is It Romantic? handout.  
  • Print out a copy of the Wordsworth Quote Word Web Teacher Copy for your reference.  
  • Familiarize yourself with Romanticism with the History Guide's Toward a Definition of Romanticism .

Student Objectives

Students will

  • identify and explain how the characteristics of a literary genre are reflected in a work of art and piece of literature.  
  • examine the details in a work of art by sketching and labeling its major elements.  
  • synthesize knowledge of the ways that a painting uses subject, symbolism, color and light, composition, movement, and perspective to draw conclusions about the overall tone and theme of a work of art.  
  • analyze the overall significance, meaning, and theme of a work of art and literature through an explication of its individual elements.  
  • explain how specific elements (diction, symbolism, characterization, tone, and elements of plot) establish the tone and theme of a work of art and a piece of literature.  
  • explain how the elements establish both a work of art and a piece of literature as examples of Romanticism.

Session One

  • Begin the lesson by asking students to write a paragraph response to the following question: What does it mean to call something Romantic ? Have students share their responses with the class and discuss how students' answers are similar and different. Write several responses on the board and save them for later.
  • Display a transparency of the Romanticism Statements , and as you read through them, have students indicate on a sheet of paper whether they personally agree or disagree with each statement by recording "A" for agree or "D" for disagree.
  • 3 or fewer As = "not Romantic"  
  • 4 or 5 As = "sort of Romantic"  
  • 6 or 7 As = "highly Romantic"  
  • 8-10 As = "extremely Romantic"
  • How has your understanding of Romanticism changed?  
  • Briefly describe your definition of Romantic.  
  • How is your definition of Romantic similar to and different from Romanticism?

Session Two

  • What are the five characteristics of Romanticism?  
  • What were some of the basic Romantic beliefs?  
  • Do you think these beliefs are relevant today? Why or why not?
  • After a whole-class discussion of these characteristics, break the class into five small groups and have each group discuss one of them. Do group members agree or disagree with the Romantic philosophy on this point? Why? Each group should be prepared to present their position to the class during the next session.

Session Three

  • Have each of the five groups from Session Two present the results of their discussion to the whole class. Review the characteristics of Romanticism with students before moving on to the next activity.
  • Write the phrase "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings" on the board. Introduce the concept by explaining that it is from an introduction William Wordsworth wrote for a book of poems titled Lyrical Ballads . Explain that the book, published in 1802, contains poems written by Wordsworth and Samuel Coleridge, and is considered by many to be the beginning of the Romantic Movement in literature.
  • Pass out the Wordsworth Quote Word Web handout to students. Use the handout to lead a discussion of how Wordsworth's statement corresponds with the characteristics of Romanticism. Students can refer back to the Characteristics of Romanticism handout, if necessary. You might also wish to review connotation and denotation before students complete this activity.
  • First have students identify the denotative meanings for the words "spontaneous," "overflow," "powerful," and "feelings." Have students refer to classroom or online references such as Merriam-Webster Online as needed.
  • Have students record their responses on the Wordsworth Quote Word Web handout. Use the notes on the Wordsworth Quote Word Web Teacher Copy to guide students' responses.
  • Then ask students to suggest some possible connotative meanings for the words on the Wordsworth Quote Word Web . Encourage students to consider both positive and negative connotations of the words. For example, a "spontaneous" person can be seen as both exciting and interesting, as well as disorganized. Make a list of students' responses.
  • Then ask students to consider both the denotative and connotative meanings and describe how all of these words connect to one or more of the characteristics of Romanticism.

Session Four

  • What images do you see in Géricault's painting?  
  • What do you think Géricault's purpose was in depicting this event?  
  • What do you like about the painting? Why?  
  • What don't you like about the painting? Why?
  • Then have students visit the ReadWriteThink The Raft of the Medusa interactive. Review how this tool is used, and then allow enough time for students to explore the painting. They should click on each highlighted area to learn more and respond to prompts about the painting. Have students print out their work when they are finished.  
  • A "pyramid of hope" is created in the center of the painting by dead figures at the bottom, dying figures in the middle, and a topmost figure waving a rag at the top.  
  • A large wave in the mid-left side of the painting threatens to break on the raft.  
  • Rays of sunlight breaking on the horizon at the top of the painting.  
  • On the right side a tiny image of a rescue ship can be seen on the distant horizon.  
  • In the far right hand corner of the raft is a bloodstained axe.
  • After students have completed the interactive activity, distribute the Artwork Explication: The Raft of the Medusa handout. Have students work on completing the sheet with a partner or in small groups during the rest of this session. Students should then complete this activity for homework.

Session Five

  • Review students' completed Artwork Explication: The Raft of the Medusa sheets. Take time to answer any questions students have about the assignment before moving on to the next step.
  • Review with students the five primary characteristics of Romanticism. Then distribute the Is It Romantic? handout. Have students complete the chart by recording examples from the painting that illustrate characteristics of the Romantic period in the first column. In the second column they should explain how each example fits the Romantic characteristic.
  • After students complete the handout, discuss the following question as a class or in small groups: What characteristics of the painting The Raft of the Medusa qualify the work as Romantic? If students work in small groups, have them record their responses and report back to the class. Circulate among the groups as well, in order to monitor students' understanding of the task. Examples of possible student responses can be found on the The Raft of the Medusa Romantic Characteristics sheet.

Session Six

  • Title: Ponder the title before reading the poem.  
  • Paraphrase: Translate the poem into your own words.  
  • Connotation: Contemplate the poem for meaning beyond the literal.  
  • Attitude: Observe both the speaker's and the poet's attitude (tone).  
  • Shifts: Note shifts in speakers and in attitudes.  
  • Title: Examine the title again, this time on an interpretive level.  
  • Theme: Determine what the poet is saying.
  • Distribute copies of the poem " The World Is Too Much With Us " by William Wordsworth as well as the Poetry Analysis—TP-CASTT handout. On the first page of the handout are analysis questions to help guide students in using the steps in the TP-CASTT method to complete an analysis of the poem. Students will use the answers to the analysis questions to complete the blank TP-CASTT chart on the second page of the Poetry Analysis—TP-CASTT handout.
  • Circle the projected image of the following words in the poem's title: "World," "Too Much," "Us."  
  • Ask students to identify the denotative and connotative meanings for each of the circled words.  
  • Demonstrate how students should mark up the copy of their poem with notes about the connotative and denotative meanings of the words in the title.
  • Use the image of the text projected onto a white board as a tool to help guide students through each step of the TP-CASTT process. As you work through each step, have students record their responses on the blank TP-CASTT chart. Alternately, you may wish to complete the first one or two steps as a group and then have students work in small groups to compete the chart.

Session Seven

  • Review with students the five primary characteristics of Romanticism. You may wish to have students refer back to the Characteristics of Romanticism handout.
  • Distribute the Is It Romantic? handout. Have students complete the chart by recording examples from Wordsworth's poem " The World Is Too Much With Us " that illustrate characteristics of the Romantic period in the first column. In the second column they should explain how each example fits the Romantic characteristic. Encourage students to use the notes that they created in the previous session to help them complete the chart. Wikipedia provides additional background information on Proteus and Triton , references Wordsworth uses in the poem. You might want to share this information or have students read these pages as an additional tool in classifying this poem as Romantic.
  • After students complete the handout, discuss as a class or in small groups the characteristics of the poem " The World Is Too Much With Us " that qualify the work as Romantic. If students work in small groups, have them record their responses and report back to the class. Circulate among the groups as well, in order to monitor students' understanding of the task.

Session Eight

  • Have students begin to apply their new learning by beginning to write an essay using one of the options on the Essay Assignment sheet. Allow students time in class to begin their essays.
  • Students may complete the essays for homework, if necessary. Share the Romanticism Essay Rubric with students to use as a guide before they begin to write and allow time for student questions about the assignment and rubric.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Evaluate the thesis statement, organization, supporting evidence, analysis, fluency, and mechanics of students’ essays using the Romanticism Essay Rubric . Provide feedback to students based on the rubric evaluation.  
  • Informally assess students’ participation in whole- and small-group activities. Did students participate fully in discussions and other activities? Did students freely share ideas and opinions? How well did students work cooperatively within their groups? How well did students demonstrate an understanding of Romanticism and Romantic characteristics?  
  • Use students’ Is It Romantic? sheets to check for their understanding of the Romantic characteristics of The Raft of the Medusa and “ The World Is Too Much With Us .”  
  • Review students’ answers to the Artwork Explication: The Raft of the Medusa handout to check how well they have analyzed the piece of art for diction, characterization, imagery, symbolism, tone, plot, and theme.
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Through discussion, drawing, and writing, students compare how William Carlos Williams's poetry and Cubist and Precisionist painting employ similar artistic strategies, enhancing their understanding of both kinds of text.

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ENGL 250 A: American Literature

Bob Abrams

English 250A, Autumn 2021

M, W 4:30-6:20, Low 101

Prof. Robert E. Abrams

Office: B427 Padelford    

Office hours, Virtual, by appointment (to be announced)

Phone 206-765-0547,  E-mail: [email protected] 

  Course Description:

We'll read a wide variety of literary texts written by a diversity of American authors to cover a range of issues, including American colonial history, the struggle to write poetry in fresh, innovative ways, White/Native-American relations, the rise of American feminism, and slavery followed by its long aftermath.  Reading assignments will be manageable, and they are designed to cover a wide spectrum of American issues in a range of literary forms. 

One text is available for purchase at the University Bookstore: Scott Momaday, The Way to Rainy Mountain.  For your convenience, all other readings for this course will be available in the Pages section of Canvas.

Office Hours:

Office Hours are virtual--online, by Zoom, rather than in person.  Office hours throughout the quarter will be held every Thursday afternoon, from 1 -3 PM,   by   appointment (email me ahead of time for a reserved slot of time).  

Here is the link to join an office hour at your scheduled time:  (Links to an external site.)

 (Links to an external site.) Meeting ID: 957 5090 8380

Important Notice:

Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Faculty Syllabus Guidelines and Resources.  Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form available at: (Links to an external site.) .

                                                                       Assignments and Due Dates

1. A take-home, open-book final examination, which you will have plenty of time to complete, will be available on Canvas beginning at 9 AM, Monday, December 13; the deadline for submission will be 11 PM,  Tues, Dec 14.  The exam will count for half of your total course grade.  No make-up exam will be available until the following quarter, so make every effort to take this exam if you want to avoid an Incomplete ("I') grade. The exam will cover all reading assignments, and let me add that you'll probably do a better job on this exam if you attend classroom lectures. In part the exam will consist of short questions in which you briefly identify characters, episodes, and major ideas from your readings by author and by text. The second part of your exam will consist of several short essay questions based on your reading of assigned materials.  

2. The preliminary draft of a 10-12 page essay, which you must develop in order to receive "W'" credit in this course, is due prior to 11 PM on Weds, November 10.   You will not receive a grade on the preliminary draft.  Only the final draft of your essay, revised in the light of my criticism on your preliminary draft, will be graded, and the grade will count for 50 per cent of your total course grade.  Let me add that the opportunity to revise your essay in the light of my criticism should result in your receiving a higher grade than otherwise on your essay. The final, revised draft of your essay is due Friday, Dec 10, prior to 11  PM .  Both your preliminary and final essays should be submitted to my email address as attachments in the Word format.  

It is imperative that you submit the preliminary draft of your essay to me on time in order to give me time to submit it back to you with criticism and required revisions, resulting, hopefully, in an improved final draft.  Since I'll need time to comment on your preliminary draft, the grade which you receive for your essay will be reduced .1 of a point (on the university 4-point scale) for each day in which the preliminary draft is late.  

Your essay should be in 14-point font, double-spaced, and with one-inch margins all around. 

Take time to organize your essay such that idea leads to idea in a coherent, flowing fashion.  Your essay should end with a solid concluding paragraph, and it should begin with an opening paragraph in which you succinctly announce what you intend to say in the rest of the paper. Edit your essay scrupulously.  Since this is a course in which you earn "W" credit, the quality of your writing will count heavily toward the grade that you earn on your essay.  Make sure that your interpretations and ideas are based on closely reviewed textual detail; avoid vague, abstract generalizations; base your ideas on careful reading of the text or texts that you have selected for analysis.


Students who believe that they have especial trouble writing polished, error-free essays in English should make every effort to take advantage of the facilities offered by the University on the way to composing their essay.  The link above should take you to directions which will explain how to make an appointment to review a draft-in-progress of your essay. 

You do   not   need to cite page references when quoting or referring to texts assigned in this class.   Use endnotes (which appear at the end of your essay) only when referring to outside sources such as a scholarly article or book (and, by the way, I actually prefer that   you do your own thinking ; you are by no means required to read outside sources when developing your essay).  Endnote styles vary.  If you use endnotes, I am not fussy about the style that you adopt.  You’ll find numerous endnote styles available online: simply select one of them and be consistent.  They are the same as footnote styles except for placement at the end of your essay.

Select   one   of the following prompts in writing your essay:

1. Focus on readings assigned in this course written by Emerson and Whitman.  Begin your essay by considering the ways in which a truly democratic society involves considerably more than endowing all citizens with the right to vote.   Then explore how the two American writers whom you have selected sought to broaden and enlarge the idea of democracy in their writings.  

2. The idea of a hidden or veiled America—more troubling and unsettling than the “America” that is often bragged about in grandiose political speeches, or mythologized in slogans such as “the land of the free”—emerges in many of the texts which you will read in this course.  Hawthorne, for example, explores the dark underside of the American Revolution itself in “My Kinsman, Major Molineux”;  he does not glamorize and romanticize American history.  In The Souls of Black Folk , Du Bois asks his readers to look behind the “veil” to discover a post-slavery, African-American experience largely hidden from white Americans.  In The Awakening,  we have a protagonist—Edna Pontellier—who is beginning to encounter dimensions of herself otherwise hushed up, repressed, and concealed behind restrictive ideals of feminine behavior defining American motherhood and the gender expectations of late nineteenth-century America.  In your essay, select two texts assigned in this course, and assess in detail how the texts you have selected highlight a less idealized—if perhaps also a more instructive—vision of America than a sloganized, mythologized America often affirmed by politicians and celebrants of the American way.  

3. Scholars and historians pretty much agree—and Frederick Douglass himself confesses—that he wrote his slave Narrative in keeping with various pressures: the pressure to simplify his language because many Americans at the time wouldn’t believe that a ex-slave could write complex, elaborate prose; the unspoken pressure not to offend or startle a white northern audience which for all its protestations of being liberal and progressive retained conservative, mid-Victorian tastes and taboos.  Later African-American texts assigned in this course by Du Bois and Ellison, in contrast, break free of such pressures.   Authors such as Du Bois and Ellison produce literature that is considerably more complex, more multi-dimensional in its voices and techniques, more elaborate, more freely venturesome, more willing to provoke and disturb, and less self-policed.  Develop an  essay in which you explore the break-out and flowering of African-American writing.  Write first on Douglass’s slave narrative—which arguably does manage to be valuable even if written under pressure—and then write on either The Souls of Black Folk or Invisible Man : texts in which African-American writers write with demonstrably more freedom from self-censorship and self-restraint.  

4. Throughout much of its history, mainstream American literature has developed under the shadow of squeamishness regarding the human body, and has endorsed a restricted version of sexuality.  Some American writers, in contrast, from Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself through Chopin’s The Awakening and beyond, have focused on the human body, its sexuality, its pleasures and its demands in reaction to a sanitized American culture. This prompt asks you to select at least two texts read during this course which in the past have challenged mainstream American attitudes toward the body and toward sexuality. My suggestion is that you begin with Whitman’s “Song of Myself” before selecting your next text, with The Awakening emerging as a likely choice as well.  

5. Compare and contrast Fuller’s Summer on the Lakes with Scott Momaday’s The Way to Rainy Mountain.   In writing about her trip into the upper middle west in the middle of the nineteenth century, it’s obvious that even though Fuller is a white, liberal woman from New England with good intentions, the way she writes about the indigenous peoples she encounters is limited in many respects by prejudices,  biases and other obstacles as well. After having assessed Fuller’s text as an inadequate window into native American life, turn to Momaday’s text, and demonstrate how such a text opens up a more revealing window if not into all native American tribes and cultures, then at least into the Kiowa people, their history, their values, their underlying cultural assumptions, and myths.  Make sure that your essay is based on a detailed assessment of the two contrastive texts that you are considering.

Here's the earlier prompt:

America is sometimes termed a “settler culture.”  By definition American “settler culture”--European-based and white--not only occupies a landscape originally inhabited by indigenous peoples, but furthermore, as part of its “settlement,” tries to clear these peoples out of the way, to quarantine them to reservations, or even to kill them off.  For this prompt, write an essay on Fuller’s Summer on the Lakes and on Momaday’s The Way to Rainy Mountain .  Assess how these texts address white/native-American relations within a settler-culture America.

                                                                    Grading Policy for the Course  You will end up with two grades, each contributing 50 per cent to your overall course grade: (1) The grade at the end of the quarter based on the strength of the final draft of your 10-12 page essay.  (2) The grade which you receive on your final examination. 

INCOMPLETES : I quote University Incomplete Policy directly: “Incomplete grades may only be awarded if you are doing satisfactory work up until the last two weeks of the quarter.” 

PLAGIARISM : NOTE CAREFULLY: ALL WRITTEN ASSIGNMENTS IN THIS COURSE SHOULD REPRESENT YOUR OWN THINKING AND WRITING. IN OTHER WORDS, THEY SHOULD NOT BE PLAGIARIZED. PLAGIARISM IS A VERY SERIOUS OFFENSE, AND ALL CASES OF PLAGIARISM IN THIS CLASS WILL BE REPORTED TO THE UNIVERSITY FOR APPROPRIATE DISCIPLINARY ACTION.\ The following statement was prepared by the Committee on Academic Conduct in the College of Arts and Sciences. It amplifies the Student Conduct Code (WAC 478‐120). One of the most common forms of cheating is plagiarism, using another’s words or ideas without proper citation. When students plagiarize, they usually do so in one of the following six ways: • Using another writer’s words without proper citation. If you use another writer’s words, you must place quotation marks around the quoted material and include a footnote or other indication of the source of the quotation. • Using another writer’s ideas without proper citation. When you use another author’s ideas, you must indicate with footnotes or other means where this information can be found. Your instructors want to know which ideas and judgments are yours and which you arrived at by consulting other sources. Even if you arrived at the same judgment on your own, you need to acknowledge that the writer you consulted also came up with the idea. • Citing your source but reproducing the exact words of a printed source without quotation marks. This makes it appear that you have paraphrased rather than borrowed the author’s exact words. • Borrowing the structure of another author’s phrases or sentences without crediting the author from whom it came. This kind of plagiarism usually occurs out of laziness: it is easier to replicate another writer’s style than to think about what you have read and then put it in your own words. The following example is from A Writer’s Reference by Diana Hacker (New York, 1989, p. 171). o Original: If the existence of a signing ape was unsettling for linguists, it was also startling news for animal behaviorists. o Unacceptable borrowing of words: An ape who knew sign language unsettled linguists and startled animal behaviorists. • Borrowing all or part of another student’s paper or using someone else’s outline to write your own paper.

Course Schedule (Note: all readings are available in Pages in Canvas, with the exception of The Way to Rainy Mountain,  by Scott Momaday, which is available at the University Bookstore).


Sep 29: Introduction to the Course            

                                             New World Promise and Hope                                     

Oct 4: Emerson: selections from “Nature,” from “The American Scholar,” and from "The Divinity School Address." (

Oct 6: Emerson: Selections from "Circles," from "The Poet," and from "Experience.” 

Oct 11: Whitman, “Song of Myself”

Oct 13:   Continued discussion of “Song of Myself”

                           Revisiting the American Colonial Past: The Dark Side of American History

Oct 18:  Hawthorne, “Young Goodman Brown”   

Oct 20:  Hawthorne, “My Kinsman, Major Molineux”   

                                  White America and Native American Cultures and Worlds

Oct 25:  Margaret Fuller, Summer on the Lakes

Oct 27:  Preface to “Chief Seattle’s Speech,” “Chief Seattle’s Speech,” and the selections in “Native American Speech Excerpts”  

Nov 1:  Read Scott Momaday, The Way to Rainy Mountain.  Copies available at the UW Bookstore.

                                        The Rise of American Feminism

Nov 3, 8:  Kate Chopin, The Awakening  



                                  American Off-Centeredness: Immigration and Dramatic Change

Nov 10:  Crane, "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky," "The Blue Hotel"

                                                American Slavery and Its Long Aftermath

Nov 15  Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

Nov 17: W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk   (first of two sessions)  Please bring your laptops or other devices to class in order to review the visual materials designated as "image" in Pages on Canvas.  Many of these visuals entail disturbing and shocking stereotypes of African Americans widely available in late nineteenth-century America. 

Nov 22: Second Session on The Souls of Black Folk.    Again, please bring laptops of other devices to class to review iisual materials designated as "image" in Pages on Canvas. 

Nov 24:  Open class

Nov 29:   Ellison, “Harlem is Nowhere,”  and opening chapter of Ellison, Invisible Man

Dec 1 :  Continued discussion of Invisible Man.

Dec 6:  Final remarks on Invisible Man.

Dec 8: Course Conclusion. 

Submission of your revised 10-12 page essay due by 11 PM, Fri, Dec 10.

Take-home, open-book final examination available on Canvas beginning at 9 AM, Monday, December 13, and ending at 11 PM,  Tues, Dec 14.   Canvas will not permit you to submit your exam after this deadline.

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Education | American Museum of Western Art

Art and Literature

' title=

Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, The Last of the Mohicans , 1850.

Background Information

For centuries, European artists had a tradition of creating grandiose artworks based on literature. Artists in United States carried on this tradition, but eventually felt the need to create artwork that celebrated the history and literary achievements of their own country. It was during this time that artists began to look toward American literature for subject matter—stories that were often based on adventures in the American West. The artwork created with narratives as inspiration often romanticized life on the frontier, and described Native American culture as rapidly coming to an end.

For example, this painting depicts a scene from James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans . This book became symbolic of Euro-Americans’ perceptions of and feelings toward Native Americans at the time. From when the book was published in the 1820s through the time when Leutze painted this in 1850, Native Americans were being relocated away from their ancestral homes to the West in order to accommodate a growing Euro-American population. Many Euro-Americans at the time considered Native American cultures to be noble and traditional, and feared they were quickly becoming extinct.

Look Closer

' title=

Look carefully at the character in the painting. Observe his pose,

facial expression,

and surroundings.

Think about how the artist has composed this scene. Notice what is happening  in the background,

and contemplate the artist’s inclusion of symbolic elements in his composition. 

Look carefully at the character in the painting. Observe his pose 1 , facial expression 2 , and surroundings 3 . Notice what is happening in the background 4 , and contemplate the artist’s inclusion of symbolic elements in his composition 5 .Think about how the artist has composed this scene. Notice how you feel, and what this painting might make you think as you, the viewer, look at it.

Discussion Questions

  • If you have never read the story, The Last of the Mohicans, what might you learn about it from looking at this painting alone?
  • What words would describe the character?
  • Do you think this might be the beginning, middle, or the end of the story? Why?
  • Do you see anything in the painting that might have symbolic meaning? If so, what do you think it means?

The artist, Emanuel Leutze, spent much of his career creating a grand narrative painting tradition of the Americas. His work highlighted key events in history (see Washington Crossing the Delaware ) , and episodes from American literature . Create your own contemporary grand narrative. Look at the contemporary events happening in the world around you in the news, internet, or blog posts. Gather 3-5 important topics—stories or events that will go down in history. Choose one of these topics, research it further, and write about it in an essay, poem, graphic novel, or short story. After writing about it, choose a scene from your creative writing to illustrate as a grand narrative painting. Feel free to emphasize the event using symbolism, emotion, color, and scale, as Leutze did in his painting.

Materials: Current events Paper Pencils Colored pencils/crayons/markers/watercolors

Grade levels:  P-12  CO Standards

Visual Arts (2020)

Preschool: 1.1 ; 2.1; 3.1; 4.1

Kindergarten: 1.1 ; 2.1 ; 3.1; 4.1

1st Grade: 1.1 ; 2.1 ; 3.1 ; 4.1

2nd Grade: 1.1 ; 2.1 ; 3.1 ; 4.1

3rd Grade: 1.1-2; 3 2.1-2; 3 3.1-2; 3 4.1-2

4th Grade: 1.1 ; 2.1-2 ; 3.1-2; 4.1

5th Grade: 1.1-2 ; 2.1-2 ; 3.1,-2 ; 4.1

6th Grade: 1.1-2 ; 2.1-2 ; 3.1-3 ; 6 4.1-3

7th Grade: 1.1-3 ; 2.1-2 ; 3.1-3 ; 4.1-3

8th Grade: 1.1-3 ; 2.1-2 ; 3.1-3 ; 8 4.1-3

High School: 1.1-3 ; 2.1-3 ; 3.1-3 ; 4.1-3

Social Studies (2020)

Preschool: 1.1 ; 2.1

Kindergarten: 1.1-2 ; 2.1

1st Grade: 1.1-2 ; 2.1-2 ; 4.1-2

2nd Grade: 1.1-2; 2.1-2 ; 3.1 ; 4.1

3rd Grade: 1.1-2 ; 4.1

4th Grade: 1.1-2 ; 2.2 ; 3.1 ; 4.1

5th Grade: 1.1-2 ; 2.2

6th Grade: 1.1-2 ; 2.1-2

7th Grade: 1.1

8th Grade: 1.1-2 ; 2.1-2 ; 4.1

High School 1.1-3 ; 2.1-3 ; 3.1-4 ; 4.1-2

Reading, Writing and Communicating (2020)

Preschool: 1.1-2; 2.1 ; 3.1 ; 4.1

Kindergarten: 1.1-2 ; 2.1-3 ; 3.1-4 ; 4.1

1st Grade: 1.1-2 ; 2.1-3 ; 3.1-4 ; 4.1

2nd Grade: 1.1-2 ; 2.1-3 ; 3.1-4 ; 4.1

3rd Grade: 1.1-2 ; 2.1-3 ; 3.1-4 ; 4.1

4th Grade: 1.1-2 ; 2.1-3 ; 3.1-4 ; 4.1

5th Grade: 1.1-2 ; 2.1-3 ; 3.1-4 ; 4.1

6th Grade: 1.1-2 ; 2.1-3 ; 3.1-4 ; 4.1

7th Grade: 1.1-2 ; 2.1-3 ; 3.1-4 ; 4.1

8th Grade: 1.1 ; 2.1-3 ; 3.1-4 ; 4.1

9th/10th Grade: 1.1 ; 2.1-3 ; 3.1-4 ; 4.1

11th/12th Grade: 1.1-2 ; 2.1-3 ; 3.1-4 ; 4.1

american art and literature assignment

Browse Course Material

Course info.

  • Prof. Shankar Raman


As taught in.

  • Film and Video

Learning Resource Types

Introduction to literary theory, assignments.

Written work should be typed or word-processed (double-spaced, 12pt Times New Roman or equivalent, with 1" margins).

Response Paper (PDF) A brief response to modes of reading covered in the first three weeks (about 3 pages).

Oral Presentations (PDF) 15–20 minute Presentation of Assigned Readings + shorter presentations / questions throughout term

Take-Home Midterm (PDF) Short Essays responding to questions handed out (8–10 pages).

Final Paper (PDF) Longer essay either theoretically-oriented or a careful reading of a text of your choice, drawing on what you have read over the term (6–8 pages).


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The 1 00 Best Books of the 21st Century

Finally! 20 - 1

Stack of 20 books

As voted on by 503 novelists, nonfiction writers, poets, critics and other book lovers — with a little help from the staff of The New York Times Book Review.

Many of us find joy in looking back and taking stock of our reading lives, which is why we here at The New York Times Book Review decided to mark the first 25 years of this century with an ambitious project: to take a first swing at determining the most important, influential books of the era. In collaboration with the Upshot, we sent a survey to hundreds of literary luminaries , asking them to name the 10 best books published since Jan. 1, 2000.

Stephen King took part. So did Bonnie Garmus, Claudia Rankine, James Patterson, Sarah Jessica Parker, Karl Ove Knausgaard, Elin Hilderbrand, Thomas Chatterton Williams, Roxane Gay, Marlon James, Sarah MacLean, Min Jin Lee, Jonathan Lethem and Jenna Bush Hager, to name just a few . And you can also take part! Vote here and let us know what your top 10 books of the century are.

We hope you’ll discover a book you’ve always meant to read, or encounter a beloved favorite you’d like to pick up again. Above all, we hope you’re as inspired and dazzled as we are by the breadth of subjects, voices, opinions, experiences and imagination represented here.

The 100 Best Books of the 21st Century

  • Jump straight to the Top 20
  • See how your favorite authors voted
  • Submit your own Top 10
  • Let us help you find a new book to read from the list
  • Sign up to receive the Books newsletter

Book cover for Tree of Smoke

Tree of Smoke

Denis Johnson 2007

Like the project of the title — an intelligence report that the newly minted C.I.A. operative William “Skip” Sands comes to find both quixotic and useless — the Vietnam-era warfare of Johnson’s rueful, soulful novel lives in shadows, diversions and half-truths. There are no heroes here among the lawless colonels, assassinated priests and faith-stricken NGO nurses; only villainy and vast indifference.

Liked it? Try “ Missionaries ,” by Phil Klay or “ Hystopia ,” by David Means.

Interested? Read our review . Then reserve it at your local library or buy it from Amazon , Apple , Barnes & Noble or Bookshop .

Book cover for How to Be Both

How to Be Both

Ali Smith 2014

This elegant double helix of a novel entwines the stories of a fictional modern-day British girl and a real-life 15th-century Italian painter. A more conventional book might have explored the ways the past and present mirror each other, but Smith is after something much more radical. “How to Be Both” is a passionate, dialectical critique of the binaries that define and confine us. Not only male and female, but also real and imaginary, poetry and prose, living and dead. The way to be “both” is to recognize the extent to which everything already is. — A.O. Scott, critic at large for The Times

Liked it? Try “ Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi ,” by Geoff Dyer or “ The Argonauts ,” by Maggie Nelson.

Book cover for Bel Canto

Ann Patchett 2001

A famed opera singer performs for a Japanese executive’s birthday at a luxe private home in South America; it’s that kind of party. But when a group of young guerrillas swoops in and takes everyone in the house hostage, Patchett’s exquisitely calibrated novel — inspired by a real incident — becomes a piano wire of tension, vibrating on high.

Book cover for Bel Canto

My wife and I share books we love with our kids, and after I raved about “Bel Canto” — the voice, the setting, the way romance and suspense are so perfectly braided — I gave copies to my kids, and they all loved it, too. My son was in high school then, and he became a kind of lit-pusher, pressing his beloved copy into friends’ hands. We used to call him the Keeper of the Bel Canto. — Jess Walter, author of “Beautiful Ruins”

Liked it? Try “ Nocturnes ,” by Kazuo Ishiguro or “ The Piano Tuner ,” by Daniel Mason.

Book cover for Men We Reaped

Men We Reaped

Jesmyn Ward 2013

Sandwiched between her two National Book Award-winning novels, Ward’s memoir carries more than fiction’s force in its aching elegy for five young Black men (a brother, a cousin, three friends) whose untimely exits from her life came violently and without warning. Their deaths — from suicide and homicide, addiction and accident — place the hidden contours of race, justice and cruel circumstance in stark relief.

Liked it? Try “ Breathe: A Letter to My Sons ,” by Imani Perry or “ Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir ,” by Natasha Trethewey.

american art and literature assignment

Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments

Saidiya Hartman 2019

A beautiful, meticulously researched exploration of the lives of Black girls whom early-20th-century laws designated as “wayward” for such crimes as having serial lovers, or an excess of desire, or a style of comportment that was outside white norms. Hartman grapples with “the power and authority of the archive and the limits it sets on what can be known” about poor Black women, but from the few traces she uncovers in the historical record, she manages to sketch moving portraits, restoring joy and freedom and movement to what, in other hands, might have been mere statistics. — Laila Lalami, author of “The Other Americans”

Liked it? Try “In the Wake: On Blackness and Being,” by Christina Sharpe or “ All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, A Black Family Keepsake ,” by Tiya Miles.

Book cover for Bring Up the Bodies

Bring Up the Bodies

Hilary Mantel 2012

The title comes from an old English legal phrase for summoning men who have been accused of treason to trial; in the court’s eyes, effectively, they are already dead. But Mantel’s tour-de-force portrait of Thomas Cromwell, the second installment in her vaunted “Wolf Hall” series, thrums with thrilling, obstinate life: a lowborn statesman on the rise; a king in love (and out of love, and in love again); a mad roundelay of power plays, poisoned loyalties and fateful realignments. It’s only empires, after all.

stack of books facing backward

Liked it? Try “ This Is Happiness ,” by Niall Williams or “ The Western Wind ,” by Samantha Harvey.

Interested? Read our review . Then reserve it at your local library or buy it from Amazon , Apple or Barnes & Noble .

Book cover for On Beauty

Zadie Smith 2005

Consider it a bold reinvention of “Howards End,” or take Smith’s sprawling third novel as its own golden thing: a tale of two professors — one proudly liberal, the other staunchly right-wing — whose respective families’ rivalries and friendships unspool over nearly 450 provocative, subplot-mad pages.

Book cover for On Beauty

“You don’t have favorites among your children, but you do have allies.”

Let’s admit it: Family is often a kind of war, even if telepathically conducted. — Alexandra Jacobs, book critic for The Times

Liked it? Try “ Crossroads ,” by Jonathan Franzen.

Book cover for Station Eleven

Station Eleven

Emily St. John Mandel 2014

Increasingly, and for obvious reasons, end-times novels are not hard to find. But few have conjured the strange luck of surviving an apocalypse — civilization preserved via the ad hoc Shakespeare of a traveling theater troupe; entire human ecosystems contained in an abandoned airport — with as much spooky melancholic beauty as Mandel does in her beguiling fourth novel.

Liked it? Try “ Severance ,” by Ling Ma or “ The Passage ,” by Justin Cronin.

Book cover for The Days of Abandonment

The Days of Abandonment

Elena Ferrante; translated by Ann Goldstein 2005

There is something scandalous about this picture of a sensible, adult woman almost deranged by the breakup of her marriage, to the point of neglecting her children. The psychodrama is naked — sometimes hard to read, at other moments approaching farce. Just as Ferrante drew an indelible portrait of female friendship in her quartet of Neapolitan novels, here, she brings her all-seeing eye to female solitude.

Book cover for The Days of Abandonment

“The circle of an empty day is brutal, and at night it tightens around your neck like a noose.”

It so simply encapsulates how solitude can, with the inexorable passage of time, calcify into loneliness and then despair. — Alexandra Jacobs

Liked it? Try “ Eileen ,” by Ottessa Moshfegh or “ Aftermath: On Marriage and Separation ,” by Rachel Cusk.

Book cover for The Human Stain

The Human Stain

Philip Roth 2000

Set during the Clinton impeachment imbroglio, this is partly a furious indictment of what would later be called cancel culture, partly an inquiry into the paradoxes of class, sex and race in America. A college professor named Coleman Silk is persecuted for making supposedly racist remarks in class. Nathan Zuckerman, his neighbor (and Roth’s trusty alter ego), learns that Silk, a fellow son of Newark, is a Black man who has spent most of his adult life passing for white. Of all the Zuckerman novels, this one may be the most incendiary, and the most unsettling. — A.O. Scott

Liked it? Try “ Vladimir ,” by Julia May Jonas or “ Blue Angel ,” by Francine Prose.

Book cover for The Sympathizer

The Sympathizer

Viet Thanh Nguyen 2015

Penned as a book-length confession from a nameless North Vietnamese spy as Saigon falls and new duties in America beckon, Nguyen’s richly faceted novel seems to swallow multiple genres whole, like a satisfied python: political thriller and personal history, cracked metafiction and tar-black comedy.

Liked it? Try “ Man of My Time ,” by Dalia Sofer or “ Tomás Nevinson ,” by Javier Marías; translated by Margaret Jull Costa.

Book cover for The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between

Hisham Matar 2016

Though its Pulitzer Prize was bestowed in the category of biography, Matar’s account of searching for the father he lost to a 1990 kidnapping in Cairo functions equally as absorbing detective story, personal elegy and acute portrait of doomed geopolitics — all merged, somehow, with the discipline and cinematic verve of a novel.

Liked it? Try “ A Day in the Life of Abed Salama: Anatomy of a Jerusalem Tragedy ,” by Nathan Thrall, “ House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East ,” by Anthony Shadid or “ My Father’s Fortune ,” by Michael Frayn.

american art and literature assignment

The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis

Brevity, thy name is Lydia Davis. If her work has become a byword for short (nay, microdose) fiction, this collection proves why it is also hard to shake; a conflagration of odd little umami bombs — sometimes several pages, sometimes no more than a sentence — whose casual, almost careless wordsmithery defies their deadpan resonance.

Liked it? Try “ Ninety-Nine Stories of God ,” by Joy Williams or “ Tell Me: Thirty Stories ,” by Mary Robison.

Book cover for Detransition, Baby

Detransition, Baby

Torrey Peters 2021

Love is lost, found and reconfigured in Peters’s penetrating, darkly humorous debut novel. But when the novel’s messy triangular romance — between two trans characters and a cis-gendered woman — becomes an unlikely story about parenthood, the plot deepens, and so does its emotional resonance: a poignant and gratifyingly cleareyed portrait of found family.

Book cover for Detransition, Baby

Peters’s sly wit and observational genius, her ability to balance so many intimate realities, cultural forces and zeitgeisty happenings made my head spin. It got me hot, cracked me up, punched my heart with grief and understanding. I’m in awe of her abilities, and will re-read this book periodically just to remember how it’s done. — Michelle Tea, author of “Against Memoir”

Liked it? Try “ I Heard Her Call My Name: A Memoir of Transition ,” by Lucy Sante or “ Didn’t Nobody Give a Shit What Happened to Carlotta ,” by James Hannaham.

Book cover for Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom

Frederick Douglass

David W. Blight 2018

It is not hard to throw a rock and hit a Great Man biography; Blight’s earns its stripes by smartly and judiciously excavating the flesh-and-bone man beneath the myth. Though Douglass famously wrote three autobiographies of his own, there turned out to be much between the lines that is illuminated here with rigor, flair and refreshing candor.

Liked it? Try “ The Grimkes: The Legacy of Slavery in an American Family ,” by Kerri K. Greenidge or “Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865,” by James Oakes.

Book cover for Pastoralia

George Saunders 2000

An ersatz caveman languishes at a theme park; a dead maiden aunt comes back to screaming, scatological life; a bachelor barber born with no toes dreams of true love, or at least of getting his toe-nubs licked. The stories in Saunders’s second collection are profane, unsettling and patently absurd. They’re also freighted with bittersweet humanity, and rendered in language so strange and wonderful, it sings.

Liked it? Try “ Swamplandia! ,” by Karen Russell or “ Friday Black ,” by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah.

Book cover for The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer

The Emperor of All Maladies

Siddhartha Mukherjee 2010

The subtitle, “A Biography of Cancer,” provides some helpful context for what lies between the covers of Mukherjee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, though it hardly conveys the extraordinary ambition and empathy of his telling, as the trained oncologist weaves together disparate strands of large-scale history, biology and devastating personal anecdote.

Liked it? Try “ Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End ,” by Atul Gawande, “ Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery ,” by Henry Marsh or “ I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life ,” by Ed Yong.

Book cover for When We Cease to Understand the World

When We Cease to Understand the World

Benjamín Labatut; translated by Adrian Nathan West 2021

You don’t have to know anything about quantum theory to start reading this book, a deeply researched, exquisitely imagined group portrait of tormented geniuses. By the end, you’ll know enough to be terrified. Labatut is interested in how the pursuit of scientific certainty can lead to, or arise from, states of extreme psychological and spiritual upheaval. His characters — Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg and Erwin Schrödinger, among others — discover a universe that defies rational comprehension. After them, “scientific method and its object could no longer be prised apart.” That may sound abstract, but in Labatut’s hands the story of quantum physics is violent, suspenseful and finally heartbreaking. — A.O. Scott

Liked it? Try “ The Rigor of Angels: Borges, Heisenberg, Kant, and the Ultimate Nature of Reality ,” by William Egginton, “ The Noise of Time ,” by Julian Barnes or “The End of Days,” by Jenny Erpenbeck; translated by Susan Bernofsky.

Book cover for Hurricane Season

Hurricane Season

Fernanda Melchor; translated by Sophie Hughes 2020

Her sentences are sloping hills; her paragraphs, whole mountains. It’s no wonder that Melchor was dubbed a sort of south-of-the-border Faulkner for her baroque and often brutally harrowing tale of poverty, paranoia and murder (also: witches, or at least the idea of them) in a fictional Mexican village. When a young girl impregnated by her pedophile stepfather unwittingly lands there, her arrival is the spark that lights a tinderbox.

Liked it? Try “ Liliana’s Invincible Summer: A Sister’s Search for Justice ,” by Cristina Rivera Garza or “ Fever Dream ,” by Samanta Schweblin; translated by Megan McDowell.

Book cover for Pulphead

John Jeremiah Sullivan 2011

When this book of essays came out, it bookended a fading genre: collected pieces written on deadline by “pulpheads,” or magazine writers. Whether it’s Sullivan’s visit to a Christian rock festival, his profile of Axl Rose or a tribute to an early American botanist, he brings to his subjects not just depth, but an open-hearted curiosity. Indeed, if this book feels as if it’s from a different time, perhaps that’s because of its generous receptivity to other ways of being, which offers both reader and subject a kind of grace.

Liked it? Try “ Sunshine State ,” by Sarah Gerard, “ Consider the Lobster ,” by David Foster Wallace or “ Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It ,” by Geoff Dyer.

Book cover for The Story of the Lost Child

The Story of the Lost Child

Elena Ferrante; translated by Ann Goldstein 2015

All things, even modern literature’s most fraught female friendship, must come to an end. As the now middle-aged Elena and Lila continue the dance of envy and devotion forged in their scrappy Neapolitan youth, the conclusion of Ferrante’s four-book saga defies the laws of diminishing returns, illuminating the twined psychologies of its central pair — intractable, indelible, inseparable — in one last blast of X-ray prose.

Liked it? Try “The Years That Followed,” by Catherine Dunne or “From the Land of the Moon,” by Milena Agus; translated by Ann Goldstein.

american art and literature assignment

A Manual for Cleaning Women

Lucia Berlin 2015

Berlin began writing in the 1960s, and collections of her careworn, haunted, messily alluring yet casually droll short stories were published in the 1980s and ’90s. But it wasn’t until 2015, when the best were collected into a volume called “A Manual for Cleaning Women,” that her prodigious talent was recognized. Berlin writes about harried and divorced single women, many of them in working-class jobs, with uncanny grace. She is the real deal. — Dwight Garner, book critic for The Times

american art and literature assignment

“I hate to see anything lovely by myself.”

It’s so true, to me at least, and I have heard no other writer express it. — Dwight Garner

Liked it? Try “ The Flamethrowers ,” by Rachel Kushner or “ The Complete Stories ,” by Clarice Lispector; translated by Katrina Dodson.

Book cover for Septology

Jon Fosse; translated by Damion Searls 2022

You may not be champing at the bit to read a seven-part, nearly 700-page novel written in a single stream-of-consciousness sentence with few paragraph breaks and two central characters with the same name. But this Norwegian masterpiece, by the winner of the 2023 Nobel Prize in Literature, is the kind of soul-cleansing work that seems to silence the cacophony of the modern world — a pair of noise-canceling headphones in book form. The narrator, a painter named Asle, drives out to visit his doppelgänger, Asle, an ailing alcoholic. Then the narrator takes a boat ride to have Christmas dinner with some friends. That, more or less, is the plot. But throughout, Fosse’s searching reflections on God, art and death are at once haunting and deeply comforting.

Book cover for Septology

I had not read Fosse before he won the Nobel Prize, and I wanted to catch up. Luckily for me, the critic Merve Emre (who has championed his work) is my colleague at Wesleyan, so I asked her where to start. I was hoping for a shortcut, but she sternly told me that there was nothing to do but to read the seven-volume “Septology” translated by Damion Searls. Luckily for me, I had 30 hours of plane travel in the next week or so, and I had a Kindle.

Reading “Septology” in the cocoon of a plane was one of the great aesthetic experiences of my life. The hypnotic effects of the book were amplified by my confinement, and the paucity of distractions helped me settle into its exquisite rhythms. The repetitive patterns of Fosse’s prose made its emotional waves, when they came, so much more powerful. — Michael Roth, president of Wesleyan University

Liked it? Try “ Armand V ,” by Dag Solstad; translated by Steven T. Murray.

Book cover for An American Marriage

An American Marriage

Tayari Jones 2018

Life changes in an instant for Celestial and Roy, the young Black newlyweds at the beating, uncomfortably realistic heart of Jones’s fourth novel. On a mostly ordinary night, during a hotel stay near his Louisiana hometown, Roy is accused of rape. He is then swiftly and wrongfully convicted and sentenced to 12 years in prison. The couple’s complicated future unfolds, often in letters, across two worlds. The stain of racism covers both places.

Liked it? Try “ Hello Beautiful ,” by Ann Napolitano or “ Stay with Me ,” by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀.

Book cover for Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow

Gabrielle Zevin 2022

The title is Shakespeare; the terrain, more or less, is video games. Neither of those bare facts telegraphs the emotional and narrative breadth of Zevin’s breakout novel, her fifth for adults. As the childhood friendship between two future game-makers blooms into a rich creative collaboration and, later, alienation, the book becomes a dazzling disquisition on art, ambition and the endurance of platonic love.

Liked it? Try “ Normal People ,” by Sally Rooney or “ Super Sad True Love Story ,” by Gary Shteyngart.

Book cover for Exit West

Mohsin Hamid 2017

The modern world and all its issues can feel heavy — too heavy for the fancies of fiction. Hamid’s quietly luminous novel, about a pair of lovers in a war-ravaged Middle Eastern country who find that certain doors can open portals, literally, to other lands, works in a kind of minor-key magical realism that bears its weight beautifully.

Liked it? Try “ The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida ,” by Shehan Karunatilaka or “ A Burning ,” by Megha Majumdar.

Book cover for Olive Kitteridge

Olive Kitteridge

Elizabeth Strout 2008

When this novel-in-stories won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2009, it was a victory for crotchety, unapologetic women everywhere, especially ones who weren’t, as Olive herself might have put it, spring chickens. The patron saint of plain-spokenness — and the titular character of Strout’s 13 tales — is a long-married Mainer with regrets, hopes and a lobster boat’s worth of quiet empathy. Her small-town travails instantly became stand-ins for something much bigger, even universal.

Liked it? Try “ Tom Lake ,” by Ann Patchett or “ Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage ,” by Alice Munro.

Book cover for The Passage of Power

The Passage of Power

Robert Caro 2012

The fourth volume of Caro’s epic chronicle of Lyndon Johnson’s life and times is a political biography elevated to the level of great literature. His L.B.J. is a figure of Shakespearean magnitude, whose sudden ascension from the abject humiliations of the vice presidency to the summit of political power is a turn of fortune worthy of a Greek myth. Caro makes you feel the shock of J.F.K.’s assassination, and brings you inside Johnson’s head on the blood-drenched day when his lifelong dream finally comes true. It’s an astonishing and unforgettable book. — Tom Perrotta, author of “The Leftovers”

Liked it? Try “ G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century ,” by Beverly Gage, “ King: A Life ,” by Jonathan Eig or “ American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer ,” by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin.

Book cover for Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets

Secondhand Time

Svetlana Alexievich; translated by Bela Shayevich 2016

Of all the 20th century’s grand failed experiments, few came to more inglorious ends than the aspiring empire known, for a scant seven decades, as the U.S.S.R. The death of the dream of Communism reverberates through the Nobel-winning Alexievich’s oral history, and her unflinching portrait of the people who survived the Soviet state (or didn’t) — ex-prisoners, Communist Party officials, ordinary citizens of all stripes — makes for an excoriating, eye-opening read.

Liked it? Try “ Gulag ,” by Anne Applebaum or “ Is Journalism Worth Dying For? Final Dispatches ,” by Anna Politkovskaya; translated by Arch Tait.

Book cover for The Copenhagen Trilogy: Childhood, Youth, Dependency

The Copenhagen Trilogy

Tove Ditlevsen; translated by Tiina Nunnally and Michael Favala Goldman 2021

Ditlevsen’s memoirs were first published in Denmark in the 1960s and ’70s, but most English-language readers didn’t encounter them until they appeared in a single translated volume more than five decades later. The books detail Ditlevsen’s hardscrabble childhood, her flourishing early career as a poet and her catastrophic addictions, which left her wedded to a psychotic doctor and hopelessly dependent on opioids by her 30s. But her writing, however dire her circumstances, projects a breathtaking clarity and candidness, and it nails what is so inexplicable about human nature.

Liked it? Try “ The End of Eddy ,” by Édouard Louis; translated by Michael Lucey.

Book cover for All Aunt Hagar’s Children

All Aunt Hagar’s Children

Edward P. Jones 2006

Jones’s follow-up to his Pulitzer-anointed historical novel, “The Known World,” forsakes a single narrative for 14 interconnected stories, disparate in both direction and tone. His tales of 20th-century Black life in and around Washington, D.C., are haunted by cumulative loss and touched, at times, by dark magical realism — one character meets the Devil himself in a Safeway parking lot — but girded too by loveliness, and something like hope.

Book cover for All Aunt Hagar’s Children

“It was, I later learned about myself, as if my heart, on the path that was my life, had come to a puddle in the road and had faltered, hesitated, trying to decide whether to walk over the puddle or around it, or even to go back.”

The metaphor is right at the edge of corniness, but it's rendered with such specificity that it catches you off guard, and the temporal complexity — the way the perspective moves forward, backward and sideways in time — captures an essential truth about memory and regret. — A.O. Scott

Liked it? Try “ The Office of Historical Corrections ,” by Danielle Evans or “ Perish ,” by LaToya Watkins.

Book cover for The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

The New Jim Crow

Michelle Alexander 2010

One year into Barack Obama’s first presidential term, Alexander, a civil rights attorney and former Supreme Court clerk, peeled back the hopey-changey scrim of early-aughts America to reveal the systematic legal prejudice that still endures in a country whose biggest lie might be “with liberty and justice for all.” In doing so, her book managed to do what the most urgent nonfiction aims for but rarely achieves: change hearts, minds and even public policy.

Liked it? Try “ Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America ,” by James Forman Jr., “ America on Fire: The Untold History of Police Violence and Black Rebellion Since the 1960s ,” by Elizabeth Hinton or “ Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent ,” by Isabel Wilkerson.

Interested? Reserve it at your local library or buy it from Amazon , Apple , Barnes & Noble or Bookshop .

Book cover for The Friend

Sigrid Nunez 2018

After suffering the loss of an old friend and adopting his Great Dane, the book’s heroine muses on death, friendship, and the gifts and burdens of a literary life. Out of these fragments a philosophy of grief springs like a rabbit out of a hat; Nunez is a magician. — Ada Calhoun, author of “Also a Poet: Frank O’Hara, My Father, and Me”

Book cover for The Friend

“The Friend” is a perfect novel about the size of grief and love, and like the dog at the book’s center, the book takes up more space than you expect. It’s my favorite kind of masterpiece — one you can put into anyone’s hand. — Emma Straub, author of “This Time Tomorrow”

Liked it? Try “ Autumn ,” by Ali Smith or “ Stay True: A Memoir ,” by Hua Hsu.

Book cover for Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity

Far From the Tree

Andrew Solomon 2012

In this extraordinary book — a combination of masterly reporting and vivid storytelling — Solomon examines the experience of parents raising exceptional children. I have often returned to it over the years, reading it for its depth of understanding and its illumination of the particulars that make up the fabric of family. — Meg Wolitzer, author of “The Interestings”

Liked it? Try “ Strangers to Ourselves: Unsettled Minds and the Stories That Make Us ,” by Rachel Aviv or “ NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity ,” by Steven Silberman.

Book cover for We the Animals

We the Animals

Justin Torres 2011

The hummingbird weight of this novella — it barely tops 130 pages — belies the cherry-bomb impact of its prose. Tracing the coming-of-age of three mixed-race brothers in a derelict upstate New York town, Torres writes in the incantatory royal we of a sort of sibling wolfpack, each boy buffeted by their parents’ obscure grown-up traumas and their own enduring (if not quite unshakable) bonds.

Liked it? Try “ Shuggie Bain ,” by Douglas Stuart, “ Fire Shut Up in My Bones ,” by Charles Blow or “ On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous ,” by Ocean Vuong.

Book cover for The Plot Against America

The Plot Against America

Philip Roth 2004

What if, in the 1940 presidential election, Charles Lindbergh — aviation hero, America-firster and Nazi sympathizer — had defeated Franklin Roosevelt? Specifically, what would have happened to Philip Roth, the younger son of a middle-class Jewish family in Newark, N.J.? From those counterfactual questions, the adult Roth spun a tour de force of memory and history. Ever since the 2016 election his imaginary American past has pulled closer and closer to present-day reality. — A.O. Scott

Liked it? Try “ Biography of X ,” by Catherine Lacey or “ The Netanyahus: An Account of a Minor and Ultimately Even Negligible Episode in the History of a Very Famous Family ,” by Joshua Cohen.

Book cover for The Great Believers

The Great Believers

Rebecca Makkai 2018

It’s mid-1980s Chicago, and young men — beautiful, recalcitrant boys, full of promise and pure life force — are dying, felled by a strange virus. Makkai’s recounting of a circle of friends who die one by one, interspersed with a circa-2015 Parisian subplot, is indubitably an AIDS story, but one that skirts po-faced solemnity and cliché at nearly every turn: a bighearted, deeply generous book whose resonance echoes across decades of loss and liberation.

Liked it? Try “ The Interestings ,” by Meg Wolitzer, “ A Little Life ,” by Hanya Yanagihara or “ The Emperor’s Children ,” by Claire Messud.

Book cover for Veronica

Mary Gaitskill 2005

Set primarily in a 1980s New York crackling with brittle glamour and real menace, “Veronica” is, on the face of it, the story of two very different women — the fragile former model Alison and the older, harder Veronica, fueled by fury and frustrated intelligence. It's a fearless, lacerating book, scornful of pieties and with innate respect for the reader’s intelligence and adult judgment.

Liked it? Try “ The Quick and the Dead ,” by Joy Williams, “ Look at Me ,” by Jennifer Egan or “ Lightning Field ,” by Dana Spiotta.

Book cover for 10:04

Ben Lerner 2014

How closely does Ben Lerner, the very clever author of “10:04,” overlap with its unnamed narrator, himself a poet-novelist who bears a remarkable resemblance to the man pictured on its biography page? Definitive answers are scant in this metaphysical turducken of a novel, which is nominally about the attempts of a Brooklyn author, burdened with a hefty publishing advance, to finish his second book. But the delights of Lerner’s shimmering self-reflexive prose, lightly dusted with photographs and illustrations, are endless.

Book cover for 10:04

“Shaving is a way to start the workday by ritually not cutting your throat when you’ve the chance.”

“10:04” is filled with sentences that cut this close to the bone. Comedy blends with intimations of the darkest aspects of our natures, and of everyday life. Who can shave anymore without recalling this “Sweeney Todd”-like observation? — Dwight Garner

Liked it? Try “ The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. ,” by Adelle Waldman, “ Open City ,” by Teju Cole or “ How Should a Person Be? ,” by Sheila Heti.

Book cover for Demon Copperhead

Demon Copperhead

Barbara Kingsolver 2022

In transplanting “David Copperfield” from Victorian England to modern-day Appalachia, Kingsolver gives the old Dickensian magic her own spin. She reminds us that a novel can be wildly entertaining — funny, profane, sentimental, suspenseful — and still have a social conscience. And also that the injustices Dickens railed against are still very much with us: old poison in new bottles. — A.O. Scott

Liked it? Try “ James ,” by Percival Everett or “ The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store ,” by James McBride.

Book cover for Heavy: An American Memoir

Kiese Laymon 2018

What is the psychic weight of secrets and lies? In his unvarnished memoir, Laymon explores the cumulative mass of a past that has brought him to this point: his Blackness; his fraught relationship to food; his family, riven by loss and addiction and, in his mother’s case, a kind of pathological perfectionism. What emerges is a work of raw emotional power and fierce poetry.

Liked it? Try “ Men We Reaped ,” by Jesmyn Ward or “ Another Word for Love ,” by Carvell Wallace.

Book cover for Middlesex

Jeffrey Eugenides 2002

Years before pronouns became the stuff of dinner-table debates and email signatures, “Middlesex” offered the singular gift of an intersex hero — “sing now, O Muse, of the recessive mutation on my fifth chromosome!” — whose otherwise fairly ordinary Midwestern life becomes a radiant lens on recent history, from the burning of Smyrna to the plush suburbia of midcentury Grosse Pointe, Mich. When the teenage Calliope, born to doting Greek American parents, learns that she is not in fact a budding young lesbian but biologically male, it’s less science than assiduously buried family secrets that tell the improbable, remarkable tale.

Liked it? Try “ The Nix ,” by Nathan Hill, “ The Heart’s Invisible Furies ,” by John Boyne or “ The Signature of All Things ,” by Elizabeth Gilbert.

Book cover for Stay True

Hua Hsu 2022

An unlikely college friendship — Ken loves preppy polo shirts and Pearl Jam, Hua prefers Xeroxed zines and Pavement — blossoms in 1990s Berkeley, then is abruptly fissured by Ken’s murder in a random carjacking. Around those bare facts, Hsu’s understated memoir builds a glimmering fortress of memory in which youth and identity live alongside terrible, senseless loss.

Liked it? Try “ Truth & Beauty: A Friendship ,” by Ann Patchett, “ The Best Minds: A Story of Friendship, Madness, and the Tragedy of Good Intentions ,” by Jonathan Rosen or “ Just Kids ,” by Patti Smith.

Book cover for Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America

Nickel and Dimed

Barbara Ehrenreich 2001

Waitress, hotel maid, cleaning woman, retail clerk: Ehrenreich didn’t just report on these low-wage jobs; she actually worked them, trying to construct a life around merciless managers and wildly unpredictable schedules, while also getting paid a pittance for it. Through it all, Ehrenreich combined a profound sense of moral outrage with self-deprecating candor and bone-dry wit. — Jennifer Szalai, nonfiction book critic for The Times

Liked it? Try “ Poverty, by America ,” by Matthew Desmond or “ The Working Poor: Invisible in America ,” by David K. Shipler.

Book cover for The Flamethrowers

The Flamethrowers

Rachel Kushner 2013

Motorcycle racing across the arid salt flats of Utah; art-star posturing in the downtown demimonde of 1970s New York; anarchist punk collectives and dappled villas in Italy: It’s all connected (if hardly contained) in Kushner’s brash, elastic chronicle of a would-be artist nicknamed Reno whose lust for experience often outstrips both sense and sentiment. The book’s ambitions rise to meet her, a churning bedazzlement of a novel whose unruly engine thrums and roars.

Liked it? Try “ City on Fire ,” by Garth Risk Hallberg or “ The Girls ,” by Emma Cline.

Book cover for The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11

The Looming Tower

Lawrence Wright 2006

What happened in New York City one incongruously sunny morning in September was never, of course, the product of some spontaneous plan. Wright’s meticulous history operates as a sort of panopticon on the events leading up to that fateful day, spanning more than five decades and a geopolitical guest list that includes everyone from the counterterrorism chief of the F.B.I. to the anonymous foot soldiers of Al Qaeda.

Liked it? Try “ Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 ,” by Steve Coll or “ MBS: The Rise to Power of Mohammed bin Salman ,” by Ben Hubbard.

Book cover for Tenth of December

Tenth of December

George Saunders 2013

For all of their linguistic invention and anarchic glee, Saunders’s stories are held together by a strict understanding of the form and its requirements. Take plot: In “Tenth of December,” his fourth and best collection, readers will encounter an abduction, a rape, a chemically induced suicide, the suppressed rage of a milquetoast or two, a veteran’s post-­traumatic impulse to burn down his mother’s house — all of it buffeted by gusts of such merriment and tender regard and daffy good cheer that you realize only in retrospect how dark these morality tales really are.

Book cover for Tenth of December

Nobody writes like George Saunders. He has cultivated a genuinely original voice, one that is hilarious and profound, tender and monstrous, otherworldly and deeply familiar, much like the American psyche itself. With each of these stories, you feel in the hands of a master — because you are. — Matthew Desmond, author of “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City”

Liked it? Try “Delicate Edible Birds: And Other Stories,” by Lauren Groff, “ Oblivion: Stories ,” by David Foster Wallace or “ The Nimrod Flipout: Stories ,” by Etgar Keret, translated by Miriam Shlesinger and Sondra Silverston.

Book cover for Runaway

Alice Munro 2004

On one level, the title of Munro’s 11th short-story collection refers to a pet goat that goes missing from its owners’ property; but — this being Munro — the deeper reference is to an unhappy wife in the same story, who dreams of leaving her husband someday. Munro’s stories are like that, with shadow meanings and resonant echoes, as if she has struck a chime and set the reverberations down in writing.

Liked it? Try “ Homesickness ,” by Colin Barrett or “ The Collected Stories of Lorrie Moore .”

Book cover for Train Dreams

Train Dreams

Denis Johnson 2011

Call it a backwoods tragedy, stripped to the bone, or a spare requiem for the American West: Johnson’s lean but potent novella carves its narrative from the forests and dust-bowl valleys of Spokane in the early decades of the 20th century, following a day laborer named Robert Grainier as he processes the sudden loss of his young family and bears witness to the real-time formation of a raw, insatiable nation.

Liked it? Try “ That Old Ace in the Hole ,” by Annie Proulx or “ Night Boat to Tangier ,” by Kevin Barry.

Book cover for Life After Life

Life After Life

Kate Atkinson 2013

Can we get life “right”? Are there choices that would lead, finally, to justice or happiness or save us from pain? Atkinson wrestles with these questions in her brilliant “Life After Life” — a historical novel, a speculative novel, a tale of time travel, a moving portrait of life before, during and in the aftermath of war. It gobbles up genres and blends them together until they become a single, seamless work of art. I love this goddamn book. — Victor LaValle, author of “Lone Women”

Book cover for Life After Life

“‘Fox Corner — that’s what we should call the house. No one else has a house with that name and shouldn’t that be the point?’

‘Really?’ Hugh said doubtfully. ‘It’s a little whimsical, isn’t it? It sounds like a children’s story. The House at Fox Corner. ’

‘A little whimsy never hurt anyone.’

‘Strictly speaking, though,’ Hugh said, ‘can a house be a corner? Isn’t it at one?’

So this is marriage, Sylvie thought.”

“Her brilliant ear. Her humor. Her openness. Her peculiar gifts. Some of her books are perfect. The rest are merely superb.” — Amy Bloom, writer

Liked it? Try “Light Perpetual,” by Francis Spufford or “ Neverhome ,” by Laird Hunt.

Book cover for Trust

Hernan Diaz 2022

How many ways can you tell the same story? Which one is true? These questions and their ethical implications hover over Diaz’s second novel. It starts out as a tale of wealth and power in 1920s New York — something Theodore Dreiser or Edith Wharton might have taken up — and leaps forward in time, across the boroughs and down the social ladder, breathing new vitality into the weary tropes of historical fiction. — A.O. Scott

Book cover for Trust

Be prepared for some serious mind games! Set in New York City in the 1920s and ’30s, the story of a Manhattan financier and his high-society wife is told through four “books” — a novel, a manuscript, a memoir and a journal. But which version should you trust? Is there even one true reality?

As we sift our way through these competing narratives, Diaz serves us clues and red herrings in equal measure. We know we are being gamed, but we’re not sure exactly which character is gaming us. While each reader will draw their own conclusion when they reach the end of this complex and thrilling book, what is never disputed is the ease with which money and power can bend reality itself. — Dua Lipa, singer and songwriter behind the Service95 Book Club

Liked it? Try “ This Strange Eventful History ,” by Claire Messud or “ The Luminaries ,” by Eleanor Catton.

Book cover for The Vegetarian

The Vegetarian

Han Kang; translated by Deborah Smith 2016

One ordinary day, a young housewife in contemporary Seoul wakes up from a disturbing dream and simply decides to … stop eating meat. As her small rebellion spirals, Han’s lean, feverish novel becomes a surreal meditation on not just what the body needs, but what a soul demands.

Book cover for The Vegetarian

“I want to swallow you, have you melt into me and flow through my veins.”

“The Vegetarian” is a short novel with a mysterious, otherworldly air. It feels haunted, oppressive … It’s a story about hungers and starvation and desire, and how these become intertwined.” — Silvia Moreno-Garcia, author of “Mexican Gothic”

Liked it? Try “ My Year of Rest and Relaxation ,” by Ottessa Moshfegh or “ Convenience Store Woman ,” by Sayaka Murata; translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori.

Book cover for Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood

Marjane Satrapi 2003

Drawn in stark black-and-white panels, Satrapi’s graphic novel is a moving account of her early life in Iran during the Islamic Revolution and her formative years abroad in Europe. The first of its two parts details the impacts of war and theocracy on both her family and her community: torture, death on the battlefield, constant raids, supply shortages and a growing black market. Part 2 chronicles her rebellious, traumatic years as a teenager in Vienna, as well as her return to a depressingly restrictive Tehran. Devastating — but also formally inventive, inspiring and often funny — “Persepolis” is a model of visual storytelling and personal narrative.

Liked it? Try “ '>Martyr! ,” by Kaveh Akbar or “ Disoriental ,” by Négar Djavadi; translated by Tina Kover.

Interested? Read our review . Then reserve it at your local library or buy it from Amazon , Barnes & Noble or Bookshop .

Book cover for A Mercy

Toni Morrison 2008

Mercies are few and far between in Morrison’s ninth novel, set on the remote colonial land of a 17th-century farmer amid his various slaves and indentured servants (even the acquisition of a wife, imported from England, is strictly transactional). Disease runs rampant and children die needlessly; inequity is everywhere. And yet! The Morrison magic, towering and magisterial, endures.

Liked it? Try “ Year of Wonders ,” by Geraldine Brooks or “ The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois ,” by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers.

Book cover for The Goldfinch

The Goldfinch

Donna Tartt 2013

For a time, it seemed as if Tartt’s vaunted 1992 debut, “The Secret History,” might be her only legacy, a once-in-a-career comet zinging across the literary sky. Then, more than a decade after the coolish reception to her 2002 follow-up, “The Little Friend,” came “The Goldfinch” — a coming-of-age novel as narratively rich and riveting as the little bird in the Dutch painting it takes its title from is small and humble. That 13-year-old Theo Decker survives the museum bombing that kills his mother is a minor miracle; the tiny, priceless souvenir he inadvertently grabs from the rubble becomes both a talisman and an albatross in this heady, haunted symphony of a novel.

Liked it? Try “ Freedom ,” by Jonathan Franzen or “ Demon Copperhead ,” by Barbara Kingsolver.

Book cover for The Argonauts

The Argonauts

Maggie Nelson 2015

Call it a memoir if you must, but this is a book about the necessity — and also the thrill, the terror, the risk and reward — of defying categories. Nelson is a poet and critic, well versed in pop culture and cultural theory. The text she interprets here is her own body. An account of her pregnancy, her relationship with the artist Harry Dodge and the early stages of motherhood, “The Argonauts” explores queer identity, gender politics and the meaning of family. What makes Nelson such a valuable writer is her willingness to follow the sometimes contradictory rhythms of her own thinking in prose that is sharp, supple and disarmingly heartfelt. — A.O. Scott

Liked it? Try “My 1980s and Other Essays,” by Wayne Koestenbaum, “ No One Is Talking About This ,” by Patricia Lockwood or “ On Immunity ,” by Eula Biss.

Book cover for The Fifth Season

The Fifth Season

N.K. Jemisin 2015

“The Fifth Season” weaves its story in polyphonic voice, utilizing a clever story structure to move deftly through generational time. Jemisin delivers this bit of high craft in a fresh, unstuffy voice — something rare in high fantasy, which can take its Tolkien roots too seriously. From its heartbreaking opening (a mother’s murdered child) to its shattering conclusion, Jemisin shows the power of what good fantasy fiction can do. “The Fifth Season” explores loss, grief and personhood on an intimate level. But it also takes on themes of discrimination, human breeding and ecological collapse with an unflinching eye and a particular nuance. Jemisin weaves a world both horrifyingly familiar and unsettlingly alien. — Rebecca Roanhorse, author of “Mirrored Heavens”

Liked it? Try “ American War ,” by Omar El Akkad or “ The Year of the Flood ,” by Margaret Atwood.

Book cover for Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945

Tony Judt 2005

By the time this book was published in 2005, there had already been innumerable volumes covering Europe’s history since the end of World War II. Yet none of them were quite like Judt’s: commanding and capacious, yet also attentive to those stubborn details that are so resistant to abstract theories and seductive myths. The writing, like the thinking, is clear, direct and vivid. And even as Judt was ruthless when reflecting on Europe’s past, he maintained a sense of contingency throughout, never succumbing to the comfortable certainty of despair. — Jennifer Szalai

Liked it? Try “ We Don’t Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Ireland ,” by Fintan O’Toole, “ Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin ,” by Timothy D. Snyder or “ To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918 ,” by Adam Hochschild.

american art and literature assignment

A Brief History of Seven Killings

Marlon James 2014

“Brief”? For a work spanning nearly 700 pages, that word is, at best, a winky misdirection. To skip even a paragraph, though, would be to forgo the vertiginous pleasures of James’s semi-historical novel, in which the attempted assassination of an unnamed reggae superstar who strongly resembles Bob Marley collides with C.I.A. conspiracy, international drug cartels and the vibrant, violent Technicolor of post-independence Jamaica.

Liked it? Try “ Telex From Cuba ,” by Rachel Kushner or “ Brief Encounters With Che Guevara ,” by Ben Fountain.

Book cover for Small Things Like These

Small Things Like These

Claire Keegan 2021

Not a word is wasted in Keegan’s small, burnished gem of a novel, a sort of Dickensian miniature centered on the son of an unwed mother who has grown up to become a respectable coal and timber merchant with a family of his own in 1985 Ireland. Moralistically, though, it might as well be the Middle Ages as he reckons with the ongoing sins of the Catholic Church and the everyday tragedies wrought by repression, fear and rank hypocrisy.

Book cover for Small Things Like These

This is the book I would like to have written because its sentences portray a life — in all its silences, subtleties and defenses — that I would hope to live if its circumstances were mine. It’s never idle, I guess, to be asked what we would give up for another. — Claudia Rankine, author of “Citizen”

Liked it? Try “ The Rachel Incident ,” by Caroline O’Donoghue or “ Mothers and Sons ,” by Colm Tóibín.

Book cover for H Is for Hawk

H Is for Hawk

Helen Macdonald 2015

I read “H Is for Hawk” when I was writing my own memoir, and it awakened me to the power of the genre. It is a book supposedly about training a hawk named Mabel but really about wonder and loss, discovery and death. We discover a thing, then we lose it. The discovering and the losing are two halves of the same whole. Macdonald knows this and she shows us, weaving the loss of her father through the partial taming (and taming is always partial) of this hawk. — Tara Westover, author of “Educated”

Book cover for H Is for Hawk

“There is a time in life when you expect the world to be always full of new things. And then comes a day when you realize that is not how it will be at all. You see that life will become a thing made of holes. Absences. Losses. Things that were there and are no longer.”

Chosen by Tara Westover.

Liked it? Try “ The Friend ,” by Sigrid Nunez or “Braiding Sweetgrass,” by Robin Wall Kimmerer.

Book cover for A Visit From the Goon Squad

A Visit From the Goon Squad

Jennifer Egan 2010

In the good old pre-digital days, artists used to cram 15 or 20 two-and-a-half-minute songs onto a single vinyl LP. Egan accomplished a similar feat of compression in this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, a compact, chronologically splintered rock opera with (as they say nowadays) no skips. The 13 linked stories jump from past to present to future while reshuffling a handful of vivid characters. The themes are mighty but the mood is funny, wistful and intimate, as startling and familiar as your favorite pop album. — A.O. Scott

Liked it? Try “ Girl, Woman, Other ,” by Bernardine Evaristo, “ Doxology ,” by Nell Zink or “ Telegraph Avenue ,” by Michael Chabon.

Book cover for The Savage Detectives

The Savage Detectives

Roberto Bolaño; translated by Natasha Wimmer 2007

“The Savage Detectives” is brash, hilarious, beautiful, moving. It’s also over 600 pages long, which is why I know that my memory of reading it in a single sitting is definitely not true. Still, the fact that it feels that way is telling. I was not the same writer I’d been before reading it, not the same person. Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, the wayward poets whose youth is chronicled in “Detectives,” became personal heroes, and everything I’ve written since has been shaped by Bolaño’s masterpiece. — Daniel Alarcón, author of “At Night We Walk in Circles”

Liked it? Try “ The Old Drift ,” by Namwali Serpell or “The Literary Conference,” by César Aira; translated by Katherine Silver.

Book cover for The Years

Annie Ernaux; translated by Alison L. Strayer 2018

Spanning decades, this is an outlier in Ernaux’s oeuvre; unlike her other books, with their tight close-ups on moments in her life, here such intimacies are embedded in the larger sweep of social history. She moves between the chorus of conventional wisdom and the specifics of her own experiences, showing how even an artist with such a singular vision could recognize herself as a creature of her cohort and her culture. Most moving to me is how she begins and ends by listing images she can still recall — a merry-go-round in the park; graffiti in a restroom — that have been inscribed into her memory, yet are ultimately ephemeral. — Jennifer Szalai

Liked it? Try “ Leaving the Atocha Station ,” by Ben Lerner, “ All Fours ,” by Miranda July or “Swimming in Paris: A Life in Three Stories,” by Colombe Schneck; translated by Lauren Elkin and Natasha Lehrer.

Book cover for Between the World and Me

Between the World and Me

Ta-Nehisi Coates 2015

Framed, like James Baldwin’s “The Fire Next Time,” as both instruction and warning to a young relative on “how one should live within a Black body,” Coates’s book-length letter to his 15-year-old son lands like forked lightning. In pages suffused with both fury and tenderness, his memoir-manifesto delineates a world in which the political remains mortally, maddeningly inseparable from the personal.

Liked it? Try “ American Sonnets For My Past and Future Assassin ,” by Terrance Hayes, “ Don’t Call Us Dead ,” by Danez Smith or “ Black Folk Could Fly ,” by Randall Kenan.

Book cover for Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

Alison Bechdel 2006

“A queer business.” That’s how Bechdel describes her closeted father’s death after he steps in the path of a Sunbeam Bread truck. The phrase also applies to her family’s funeral home concern; their own Victorian, Addams-like dwelling; and this marvelous graphic memoir of growing up gay and O.C.D.-afflicted (which generated a remarkable Broadway musical). You forget, returning to “Fun Home,” that the only color used is a dreamy gray-blue; that’s how vivid and particular the story is. Even the corpses crackle with life. — Alexandra Jacobs

Book cover for Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

I read “Fun Home” with creative writing students in a course I teach at Dartmouth College called “Investigative Memoir.” The first time I taught it, a student wrote in their anonymous course evaluation, “I should not have been exposed to this” — the censorious voice tends to be passive. The last time I taught it, a student said that if they’d found this in their high school library — in a state in which such books are now all but illegal in high school libraries — it would have changed their life. I’m long past my schooling, but “Fun Home” still changes my life every time I return. — Jeff Sharlet, author of “The Undertow: Scenes from a Slow Civil War”

Liked it? Try “ Blankets ,” by Craig Thompson, “ My Dirty Dumb Eyes ,” by Lisa Hanawalt or “ Small Fry ,” by Lisa Brennan-Jobs.

Book cover for Citizen

Claudia Rankine 2014

“I, too, am America,” Langston Hughes wrote, and with “Citizen” Rankine stakes the same claim, as ambivalently and as defiantly as Hughes did. This collection — which appeared two years after Trayvon Martin’s death, and pointedly displays a hoodie on its cover like the one Martin wore when he was killed — lays out a damning indictment of American racism through a mix of free verse, essayistic prose poems and visual art; a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist in both poetry and criticism (the first book ever nominated in two categories), it took home the prize in poetry in a deserving recognition of Rankine’s subtle, supple literary gifts.

Liked it? Try “ Voyage of the Sable Venus: And Other Poems ,” by Robin Coste Lewis, “How to be Drawn,” by Terrance Hayes or “ Ordinary Notes ,” by Christina Sharpe.

Book cover for Salvage the Bones

Salvage the Bones

Jesmyn Ward 2011

As Hurricane Katrina bears down on the already battered bayou town of Bois Sauvage, Miss., a motherless 15-year-old girl named Esch, newly pregnant with a baby of her own, stands in the eye of numerous storms she can’t control: her father’s drinking, her brothers’ restlessness, an older boy’s easy dismissal of her love. There’s a biblical force to Ward’s prose, so swirling and heady it feels like a summoning.

Liked it? Try “ Southern Cross the Dog ,” by Bill Cheng or “ The Yellow House: A Memoir ,” by Sarah Broom.

Book cover for The Line of Beauty

The Line of Beauty

Alan Hollinghurst 2004

Oh, to be the live-in houseguest of a wealthy friend! And to find, as Hollinghurst’s young middle-class hero does in early-1980s London, that a whole intoxicating world of heedless privilege and sexual awakening awaits. As the timeline implies, though, the specter of AIDS looms not far behind, perched like a gargoyle amid glittering evocations of cocaine and Henry James. Lust, money, literature, power: Rarely has a novel made it all seem so gorgeous, and so annihilating.

Liked it? Try “ Necessary Errors ,” by Caleb Crain.

Book cover for White Teeth

White Teeth

Zadie Smith 2000

“Full stories are as rare as honesty,” one character confides in “White Teeth,” though Smith’s debut novel, in all its chaotic, prismatic glory, does its level best to try. As her bravura book unfurls, its central narrative of a friendship between a white Londoner and a Bengali Muslim seems to divide and regenerate like starfish limbs; and so, in one stroke, a literary supernova was born.

Liked it? Try “ Lionel Asbo: State of England ,” by Martin Amis or “ Americanah ,” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Book cover for Sing, Unburied, Sing

Sing, Unburied, Sing

Jesmyn Ward 2017

Road trips aren’t supposed to be like this: an addled addict mother dragging her 13-year-old son and his toddler sister across Mississippi to retrieve their father from prison, and feeding her worst habits along the way. Grief and generational trauma haunt the novel, as do actual ghosts, the unrestful spirits of men badly done by. But Ward’s unflinching prose is not a punishment; it loops and soars in bruising, beautiful arias.

Book cover for Sing, Unburied, Sing

“Home is about the earth. Whether the earth open up to you. Whether it pull you so close the space between you and it melt and it beats like your heart. Same Time.”

“This passage from ‘Sing, Unburied, Sing’ means so much to me. Richie says it to the protagonist, Jojo. He’s a specter, a child ghost, a deeply wounded wanderer, and yet also so wise.” — Imani Perry, author of “Breathe” and “South to America”

Liked it? Try “ The Turner House ,” by Angela Flournoy or “ Lincoln in the Bardo ,” by George Saunders.

Book cover for The Last Samurai

The Last Samurai

Helen DeWitt 2000

Sibylla, an American expat in Britain, is a brilliant scholar: omnivore, polyglot, interdisciplinary theorist — all of it. Her young son, Ludo, is a hothouse prodigy, mastering the “Odyssey” and Japanese grammar, fixated on the films of Akira Kurosawa. Two questions arise: 1) Who is the real genius? 2) Who is Ludo’s father? Ludo’s search for the answer to No. 2 propels the plot of this funny, cruel, compassionate, typographically bananas novel. I won’t spoil anything, except to say that the answer to No. 1 is Helen DeWitt. — A.O. Scott

Liked it? Try “ The Instructions ,” by Adam Levin.

Book cover for Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas

David Mitchell 2004

Mitchell’s almost comically ambitious novel is indeed a kind of cumulus: a wild and woolly condensation of ideas, styles and far-flung milieus whose only true commonality is the reincarnated soul at its center. The book’s six nesting narratives — from 1850s New Zealand through 1930s Belgium, groovy California, recent-ish England, dystopian Korea and Hawaii — also often feel like a postmodern puzzle-box that whirls and clicks as its great world(s) spin, throwing off sparks of pulp, philosophy and fervid humanism.

Liked it? Try “ Same Bed Different Dreams ,” by Ed Park or “ Specimen Days ,” by Michael Cunningham.

Book cover for Americanah

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie 2013

This is a love story — but what a love story! Crisscrossing continents, families and recent decades, “Americanah” centers on a Nigerian woman, Ifemelu, who discovers what it means to be Black by immigrating to the United States, and acquires boutique celebrity blogging about it. (In the sequel, she’d have a Substack.) Ifemelu’s entanglements with various men undergird a rich and rough tapestry of life in Barack Obama’s America and beyond. And Adichie’s sustained examination of absurd social rituals — like the painful relaxation of professionally “unacceptable” hair, for example — is revolutionary. — Alexandra Jacobs

Liked it? Try “ We Need New Names ,” by NoViolet Bulawayo, “ Netherland ,” by Joseph O’Neill or “ Behold the Dreamers ,” by Imbolo Mbue.

Book cover for Atonement

Ian McEwan 2002

Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done, or so the saying goes. But what a naïve, peevish 13-year-old named Briony Tallis sets in motion when she sees her older sister flirting with the son of a servant in hopelessly stratified pre-war England surpasses disastrous; it’s catastrophic. It’s also a testament to the piercing elegance of McEwan’s prose that “Atonement” makes us care so much.

Liked it? Try “ The Sense of an Ending ,” by Julian Barnes, “ Brooklyn ,” by Colm Toíbín or “ Life Class ,” by Pat Barker.

Book cover for Random Family

Random Family

Adrian Nicole LeBlanc 2003

More than 20 years after it was published, “Random Family” still remains unmatched in depth and power and grace. A profound, achingly beautiful work of narrative nonfiction, it is the standard-bearer of embedded reportage. LeBlanc gave her all to this book, writing about people experiencing deep hardship in their full, lush humanity. — Matthew Desmond, author of “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City”

Book cover for Random Family

I hate “Random Family.” It robbed us nonfiction writers of all our excuses: Well, it’s easier for fiction writers to achieve that level of interiority. Until “Random Family” entered the chat. It’s easier to create emotion on screen. Until “Random Family” entered the chat. It’s impossible to capture and understand a community if you’re an outsider. Until “Random Family” entered the chat.

Based on a decade of painstaking reporting in a social micro-world, it is a book of total immersion, profound empathy, rigorous storytelling, assiduous factualness, page-turning revelation and literary rizz. I hate “Random Family” because it took away all the excuses. I adore it because it raised the sky. — Anand Giridharadas, author of “The Persuaders: At the Front Lines of the Fight for Hearts, Minds, and Democracy”

Liked it? Try “ Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival & Hope in an American City ,” by Andrea Elliott or “ When Crack Was King: A People’s History of a Misunderstood Era ,” by Donovan X. Ramsey.

Book cover for The Overstory

The Overstory

Richard Powers 2018

We may never see a poem as lovely as a tree, but a novel about trees — they are both the stealth protagonists and the beating, fine-grained heart of this strange, marvelous book — becomes its own kind of poetry, biology lesson and impassioned environmental polemic in Powers’s hands. To know that our botanical friends are capable of communication and sacrifice, sex and memory, is mind-altering. It is also, you might say, credit overdue: Without wood pulp, after all, what would the books we love be made of?

Liked it? Try “ Greenwood ,” by Michael Christie or “ Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures ,” by Merlin Sheldrake.

Book cover for Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage

Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage

Alice Munro 2001

Munro’s stories apply pointillistic detail and scrupulous psychological insight to render their characters’ lives in full, at lengths that test the boundaries of the term “short fiction.” (Only one story in this book is below 30 pages, and the longest is over 50.) The collection touches on many of Munro’s lifelong themes — family secrets, sudden reversals of fortune, sexual tensions and the unreliability of memory — culminating in a standout story about a man confronting his senile wife’s attachment to a fellow resident at her nursing home.

Liked it? Try “ So Late in the Day: Stories of Women and Men ,” by Claire Keegan or “ Nora Webster ,” by Colm Tóibín.

Book cover for Behind the Beautiful Forevers

Behind the Beautiful Forevers

Katherine Boo 2012

If the smash movie “Slumdog Millionaire” gave the world a feel-good story of transcending caste in India via pluck and sheer improbable luck, Boo’s nonfiction exploration of several interconnected lives on the squalid outskirts of Mumbai is its sobering, necessary corrective. The casual violence and perfidy she finds there is staggering; the poverty and disease, beyond bleak. In place of triumph-of-the-human-spirit bromides, though, what the book delivers is its own kind of cinema, harsh and true.

Liked it? Try “ Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea ,” by Barbara Demick or “ Waiting to Be Arrested at Night: A Uyghur Poet's Memoir of China's Genocide ,” by Tahir Hamut Izgil; translated by Joshua L. Freeman.

Book cover for Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City

Matthew Desmond 2016

Like Barbara Ehrenreich or Michelle Alexander, Desmond has a knack for crystallizing the ills of a patently unequal America — here it’s the housing crisis, as told through eight Milwaukee families — in clear, imperative terms. If reading his nightmarish exposé of a system in which race and poverty are shamelessly weaponized and eviction costs less than accountability feels like outrage fuel, it’s prescriptive, too; to look away would be its own kind of crime.

Liked it? Try “ Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America ,” by Barbara Ehrenreich or “ Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive ,” by Stephanie Land.

Book cover for Erasure

Percival Everett 2001

More than 20 years before it was made into an Oscar-winning movie, Everett’s deft literary satire imagined a world in which a cerebral novelist and professor named Thelonious “Monk” Ellison finds mainstream success only when he deigns to produce the most broad and ghettoized portrayal of Black pain. If only the ensuing decades had made the whole concept feel laughably obsolete; alas, all the 2023 screen adaptation merited was a title change: “American Fiction.”

Liked it? Try “ Yellowface ,” by R.F. Kuang or “ The Sellout ,” by Paul Beatty.

Book cover for Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland

Say Nothing

Patrick Radden Keefe 2019

“Say Nothing” is an amazing accomplishment — a definitive, impeccably researched history of the Troubles, a grim, gripping thriller, an illuminating portrait of extraordinary people who did unspeakable things, driven by what they saw as the justness of their cause. Those of us who lived in the U.K. in the last three decades of the 20th century know the names and the events — we were all affected, in some way or another, by the bombs, the bomb threats, the assassinations and attempted assassinations. What we didn’t know was what it felt like to be on the inside of a particularly bleak period of history. This book is, I think, unquestionably one of the greatest literary achievements of the 21st century. — Nick Hornby, author of “High Fidelity”

Liked it? Try “ A Fever in the Heartland: The Ku Klux Klan's Plot to Take Over America, and the Woman Who Stopped Them ,” by Timothy Egan or “ We Own This City: A True Story of Crime, Cops, and Corruption ,” by Justin Fenton.

Book cover for Lincoln in the Bardo

Lincoln in the Bardo

George Saunders 2017

A father mourns his young son, dead of typhoid; a president mourns his country riven by civil war. In Saunders’s indelible portrait, set in a graveyard populated by garrulous spirits, these images collide and coalesce, transforming Lincoln’s private grief — his 11-year-old boy, Willie, died in the White House in 1862 — into a nation’s, a polyphony of voices and stories. The only novel to date by a writer revered for his satirical short stories, this book marks less a change of course than a foregrounding of what has distinguished his work all along — a generosity of spirit, an ear acutely tuned to human suffering.

Liked it? Try “ Sing, Unburied, Sing ,” by Jesmyn Ward, “ Grief Is the Thing With Feathers ,” by Max Porter or “ Hamnet ,” by Maggie O’Farrell.

Book cover for The Sellout

The Sellout

Paul Beatty 2015

Part of this wild satire on matters racial, post-racial, maybe-racial and Definitely Not Racial in American life concerns a group known as the Dum Dum Donut Intellectuals. One of them has produced an expurgated edition of an American classic titled “The Pejorative-Free Adventures and Intellectual and Spiritual Journeys of African-American Jim and His Young Protégé, White Brother Huckleberry Finn, as They Go in Search of the Lost Black Family Unit.” Beatty’s method is the exact opposite: In his hands, everything sacred is profaned, from the Supreme Court to the Little Rascals. “The Sellout” is explosively funny and not a little bit dangerous: an incendiary device disguised as a whoopee cushion, or maybe vice versa. — A.O. Scott

Book cover for The Sellout

Some voices are so sharp they slice right through reality to reveal everything we’ve been hiding or ignoring or didn’t know was there. This novel cut into me — as a writer and reader and American. It’s fearless and funny and unlike anything else I’ve read. — Charles Yu, author of “Interior Chinatown”

Liked it? Try “ Harry Sylvester Bird ,” by Chinelo Okparanta or “ We Cast a Shadow ,” by Maurice Carlos Ruffin.

american art and literature assignment

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

Michael Chabon 2000

Set during the first heyday of the American comic book industry, from the late 1930s to the early 1950s, Chabon’s exuberant epic centers on the Brooklyn-raised Sammy Clay and his Czech immigrant cousin, Joe Kavalier, who together pour their hopes and fears into a successful comic series even as life delivers them some nearly unbearable tragedies. Besotted with language and brimming with pop culture, political relevance and bravura storytelling, the novel won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2001.

american art and literature assignment

“The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay” combines eloquent prose, captivating characters, a deeply researched setting and an adventure that previously only belonged to the pulps. High art and low art and who the heck cares? Chabon opened the doors not just for comic book nerds, but for every kind of nerd, including this gay one. Chabon’s book made me the writer I am, and I’m still dazzled by it: the century's first masterpiece. — Andrew Sean Greer, author of “Less”

Liked it? Try “ Carter Beats the Devil ,” by Glen David Gold or “ The Fortress of Solitude ,” by Jonathan Lethem.

Book cover for Pachinko

Min Jin Lee 2017

“History has failed us, but no matter.” So begins Lee’s novel, the rich and roiling chronicle of a Korean family passing through four generations of war, colonization and personal strife. There are slick mobsters and disabled fishermen, forbidden loves and secret losses. And of course, pachinko, the pinball-ish game whose popularity often supplies a financial lifeline for the book’s characters — gamblers at life like all of us, if hardly guaranteed a win.

Liked it? Try “ Homegoing ,” by Yaa Gyasi, “ The Covenant of Water ,” by Abraham Verghese or “ Kantika ,” by Elizabeth Graver.

Book cover for Outline

Rachel Cusk 2015

This novel is the first and best in Cusk’s philosophical, unsettling and semi-autobiographical Outline trilogy, which also includes the novels “Transit” and “Kudos.” In this one an English writer flies to Athens to teach at a workshop. Along the way, and once there, she falls into intense and resonant conversations about art, intimacy, life and love. Cusk deals, brilliantly, in uncomfortable truths. — Dwight Garner

Liked it? Try “ Checkout 19 ,” by Claire-Louise Bennett or “ Topics of Conversation ,” by Miranda Popkey.

Book cover for The Road

Cormac McCarthy 2006

There is nothing green or growing in McCarthy’s masterpiece of dystopian fiction, the story of an unnamed man and his young son migrating over a newly post-apocalyptic earth where the only remaining life forms are desperate humans who have mostly descended into marauding cannibalism. Yet McCarthy renders his deathscape in curious, riveting detail punctuated by flashes of a lost world from the man’s memory that become colorful myths for his son. In the end, “The Road” is a paean to parental love: A father nurtures and protects his child with ingenuity and tenderness, a triumph that feels redemptive even in a world without hope. — Jennifer Egan, author of “A Visit From the Goon Squad”

Liked it? Try “ On Such a Full Sea ,” by Chang-rae Lee or “ The Buried Giant ,” by Kazuo Ishiguro.

Book cover for The Year of Magical Thinking

The Year of Magical Thinking

Joan Didion 2005

Having for decades cast a famously cool and implacable eye on everything from the Manson family to El Salvador, Didion suddenly found herself in a hellscape much closer to home: the abrupt death of her partner in life and art, John Gregory Dunne, even as their only child lay unconscious in a nearby hospital room. (That daughter, Quintana Roo, would be gone soon too, though her passing does not fall within these pages.) Dismantled by shock and grief, the patron saint of ruthless clarity did the only thing she could do: She wrote her way through it.

Liked it? Try “ When Breath Becomes Air ,” by Paul Kalanithi, “ Crying in H Mart ,” by Michelle Zauner or “ Notes on Grief ,” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

american art and literature assignment

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Junot Díaz 2007

Díaz’s first novel landed like a meteorite in 2007, dazzling critics and prize juries with its mix of Dominican history, coming-of-age tale, comic-book tropes, Tolkien geekery and Spanglish slang. The central plotline follows the nerdy, overweight Oscar de León through childhood, college and a stint in the Dominican Republic, where he falls disastrously in love. Sharply rendered set pieces abound, but the real draw is the author’s voice: brainy yet inviting, mordantly funny, sui generis.

Liked it? Try “ Deacon King Kong ,” by James McBride or “ The Russian Debutante’s Handbook ,” by Gary Shteyngart.

Book cover for Gilead

Marilynne Robinson 2004

The first installment in what is so far a tetralogy — followed by “Home,” “Lila” and “Jack” — “Gilead” takes its title from the fictional town in Iowa where the Boughton and Ames families reside. And also from the Book of Jeremiah, which names a place where healing may or may not be found: “Is there no balm in Gilead?” For John Ames, who narrates this novel, the answer seems to be yes. An elderly Congregationalist minister who has recently become a husband and father, he finds fulfillment in both vocation and family. Robinson allows him, and us, the full measure of his hard-earned joy, but she also has an acute sense of the reality of sin. If this book is a celebration of the quiet decency of small-town life (and mainline Protestantism) in the 1950s, it is equally an unsparing critique of how the moral fervor and religious vision of the abolitionist movement curdled, a century later, into complacency. — A.O. Scott

Book cover for Gilead

“Then he put his hat back on and stalked off into the trees again and left us standing there in that glistening river, amazed at ourselves and shining like the apostles. I mention this because it seems to me transformations just that abrupt do occur in this life, and they occur unsought and unawaited, and they beggar your hopes and your deserving.”

From a dog-eared, battered, underlined copy of Marilynne Robinson’s “Gilead,” I offer the following quote which undoes me every time I read it — transformation and its possibility is so much a part of what I read for. — Kate DiCamillo, novelist

Liked it? Try “Tinkers,” by Paul Harding or “ Zorrie ,” by Laird Hunt.

Book cover for Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go

Kazuo Ishiguro 2005

Kathy, Ruth and Tommy are boarders at an elite English school called Hailsham. Supervised by a group of “guardians,” the friends share music and rumors while navigating the shifting loyalties and heartbreaks of growing up. It’s all achingly familiar — at times, even funny. But things begin to feel first off, then sinister and, ultimately, tragic. As in so much of the best dystopian fiction, the power of “Never Let Me Go” to move and disturb arises from the persistence of human warmth in a chilly universe — and in its ability to make us see ourselves through its uncanny mirror. Is Ishiguro commenting on biotechnology, reproductive science, the cognitive dissonance necessary for life under late-stage capitalism? He’d never be so didactic as to tell you. What lies at the heart of this beautiful book is not social satire, but deep compassion.

Liked it? Try “ Station Eleven ,” by Emily St. John Mandel, “ Oryx and Crake ,” by Margaret Atwood or “ Scattered All Over the Earth ,” by Yoko Tawada; translated by Margaret Mitsutani.

Book cover for Austerlitz

W.G. Sebald; translated by Anthea Bell 2001

Sebald scarcely lived long enough to see the publication of his final novel; within weeks of its release, he died from a congenital heart condition at 57. But what a swan song it is: the discursive, dreamlike recollections of Jacques Austerlitz, a man who was once a small refugee of the kindertransport in wartime Prague, raised by strangers in Wales. Like the namesake Paris train station of its protagonist, the book is a marvel of elegant construction, haunted by memory and motion.

Liked it? Try “ Transit ,” by Rachel Cusk or “ Flights ,” by Olga Tokarczuk; translated by Jennifer Croft.

Book cover for The Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad

Colson Whitehead 2016

“The Underground Railroad” is a profound revelation of the intricate aspects of slavery and nebulous shapes of freedom featuring an indomitable female protagonist: Cora from Georgia. The novel seamlessly combines history, horror and fantasy with philosophical speculation and cultural criticism to tell a compulsively readable, terror-laden narrative of a girl with a fierce inner spark who follows the mysterious path of her mother, Mabel, the only person ever known to have escaped from the Randall plantations.

I could hardly make it through this plaintively brutal novel. Neither could I put it down. “The Underground Railroad” bleeds truth in a way that few treatments of slavery can, fiction or nonfiction. Whitehead’s portrayals of human motivation, interaction and emotional range astonish in their complexity. Here brutality is bone deep and vulnerability is ocean wide, yet bravery and hope shine through in Cora’s insistence on escape. I rooted for Cora in a way that I never had for a character, my heart breaking with each violation of her spirit. Just as Cora inherits her mother’s symbolic victory garden, we readers of Whitehead’s imaginary world can inherit Cora’s courage. — Tiya Miles, author of “All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake”

Book cover for The Underground Railroad

“Mabel had packed for her adventure. A machete. Flint and tinder. She stole a cabin mate’s shoes, which were in better shape. For weeks, her empty garden testified to her miracle. Before she lit out she dug up every yam from their plot, a cumbersome load and ill-advised for a journey that required a fleet foot. The lumps and burrows in the dirt were a reminder to all who walked by. Then one morning they were all smoothed over. Cora got on her knees and planted anew. It was her inheritance.”

Chosen by Tiya Miles.

Liked it? Try “ The Prophets ,” by Robert Jones Jr., “ Washington Black ,” by Esi Edugyan or “ The American Daughters ,” by Maurice Carlos Ruffin.

Book cover for 2666

Roberto Bolaño; translated by Natasha Wimmer 2008

Bolaño’s feverish, vertiginous novel opens with an epigraph from Baudelaire — “An oasis of horror in a desert of boredom” — and then proceeds, over the course of some 900 pages, to call into being an entire world governed in equal parts by boredom and the deepest horror. The book (published posthumously) is divided into five loosely conjoined sections, following characters who are drawn for varying reasons to the fictional Mexican city of Santa Teresa: a group of academics obsessed with an obscure novelist, a doddering philosophy professor, a lovelorn police officer and an American reporter investigating the serial murders of women in a case with echoes of the real-life femicide that has plagued Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. In Natasha Wimmer’s spotless translation, Bolaño’s novel is profound, mysterious, teeming and giddy: Reading it, you go from feeling like a tornado watcher to feeling swept up in the vortex, and finally suspect you might be the tornado yourself.

Liked it? Try “ Compass ,” by Mathias Énard; translated by Charlotte Mandell.

Book cover for The Corrections

The Corrections

Jonathan Franzen 2001

With its satirical take on mental health, self-improvement and instant gratification, Franzen’s comic novel of family disintegration is as scathingly entertaining today as it was when it was published at the turn of the millennium. The story, about a Midwestern matron named Enid Lambert who is determined to bring her three adult children home for what might be their father’s last Christmas, touches on everything from yuppie excess to foodie culture to Eastern Europe’s unbridled economy after the fall of communism — but it is held together, always, by family ties. The novel jumps deftly from character to character, and the reader’s sympathies jump with it; in a novel as alert to human failings as this one is, it is to Franzen’s enduring credit that his genuine affection for all of the characters shines through.

Book cover for The Corrections

Sometimes we have a totemic connection to a book that deepens our appreciation. I had Jonathan Franzen's brand-new doorstop of a hardcover with me when I was trapped in an office park hotel outside Denver after 9/11. The marvelous, moving, often very funny novel kept me company when I needed company most. As Franzen himself wrote, “Fiction is a solution, the best solution, to the problem of existential solitude.” — Chris Bohjalian, author of “The Flight Attendant”

Liked it? Try “ Middlesex ,” by Jeffrey Eugenides, “ Commonwealth ,” by Ann Patchett or “ The Bee Sting ,” by Paul Murray.

Book cover for The Known World

The Known World

Edward P. Jones 2003

This novel, about a Black farmer, bootmaker and former slave named Henry Townsend, is a humane epic and a staggering feat of wily American storytelling. Set in Virginia during the antebellum era, the milieu — politics, moods, manners — is starkly and intensely realized. When Henry becomes the proprietor of a plantation, with slaves of his own, the moral sands shift under the reader’s feet. Grief piles upon grief. But there is a glowing humanity at work here as well. Moments of humor and unlikely good will bubble up organically. Jones is a confident storyteller, and in “The Known World” that confidence casts a spell. This is a large novel that moves nimbly, and stays with the reader for a long time. — Dwight Garner

Liked it? Try “ The Water Dancer ,” by Ta-Nehisi Coates or “ A Mercy ,” by Toni Morrison.

Book cover for Wolf Hall

Hilary Mantel 2009

It was hard choosing the books for my list, but the first and easiest choice I made was “Wolf Hall.” (“The Mirror and the Light,” the third book in Mantel’s trilogy, was the second easiest.)

We see the past the way we see the stars, dimly, through a dull blurry scrim of atmosphere, but Mantel was like an orbital telescope: She saw history with cold, hard, absolute clarity. In “Wolf Hall” she took a starchy historical personage, Thomas Cromwell, and saw the vivid, relentless, blind-spotted, memory-haunted, grandly alive human being he must have been. Then she used him as a lens to show us the age he lived in, the vast, intricate spider web of power and money and love and need — right up until the moment the spider got him. — Lev Grossman, author of “The Bright Sword”

Liked it? Try “ The Lion House: The Coming of a King ,” by Christopher de Bellaigue or “ The Books of Jacob ,” by Olga Tokarczuk; translated by Jennifer Croft.

Book cover for The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration

The Warmth of Other Suns

Isabel Wilkerson 2010

Wilkerson’s intimate, stirring, meticulously researched and myth-dispelling book, which details the Great Migration of Black Americans from South to North and West from 1915 to 1970, is the most vital and compulsively readable work of history in recent memory. This migration, she writes, “would become perhaps the biggest underreported story of the 20th century. It was vast. It was leaderless. It crept along so many thousands of currents over so long a stretch of time as to be difficult for the press truly to capture while it was under way.” Wilkerson blends the stories of individual men and women with a masterful grasp of the big picture, and a great deal of literary finesse. “The Warmth of Other Suns” reads like a novel. It bears down on the reader like a locomotive. — Dwight Garner

Liked it? Try “ The Twelve Tribes of Hattie ,” by Ayana Mathis, “ All Aunt Hagar’s Children ,” by Edward P. Jones or “ Traveling Black: A Story of Race and Resistance ,” by Mia Bay.

Book cover for My Brilliant Friend

My Brilliant Friend

Elena Ferrante; translated by Ann Goldstein 2012

The first volume of what would become Ferrante’s riveting four-book series of Neapolitan novels introduced readers to two girls growing up in a poor, violent neighborhood in Naples, Italy: the diligent, dutiful Elena and her charismatic, wilder friend Lila, who despite her fierce intelligence is seemingly constrained by her family’s meager means. From there the book (like the series as a whole) expands as propulsively as the early universe, encompassing ideas about art and politics, class and gender, philosophy and fate, all through a dedicated focus on the conflicted, competitive friendship between Elena and Lila as they grow into complicated adults. It’s impossible to say how closely the series tracks the author’s life — Ferrante writes under a pseudonym — but no matter: “My Brilliant Friend” is entrenched as one of the premier examples of so-called autofiction, a category that has dominated the literature of the 21st century. Reading this uncompromising, unforgettable novel is like riding a bike on gravel: It’s gritty and slippery and nerve-racking, all at the same time.

Liked it? Try “ The Book of Goose ,” by Yiyun Li, “ Cold Enough for Snow ,” by Jessica Au or “ Lies and Sorcery ,” by Elsa Morante; translated by Jenny McPhee.

I haven’t read any of these books yet ...

If you’ve read a book on the list, be sure to check the box under its entry, and your final count will appear here. (We’ll save your progress.)

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In collaboration with the Upshot — the department at The Times focused on data and analytical journalism — the Book Review sent a survey to hundreds of novelists, nonfiction writers, academics, book editors, journalists, critics, publishers, poets, translators, booksellers, librarians and other literary luminaries, asking them to pick their 10 best books of the 21st century.

We let them each define “best” in their own way. For some, this simply meant “favorite.” For others, it meant books that would endure for generations.

The only rules: Any book chosen had to be published in the United States, in English, on or after Jan. 1, 2000. (Yes, translations counted!)

After casting their ballots, respondents were given the option to answer a series of prompts where they chose their preferred book between two randomly selected titles. We combined data from these prompts with the vote tallies to create the list of the top 100 books.

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  7. Early American Art and Literature ONLINE ASSIGNMENT

    The article link is provided and students complete the following assignment: 1. Go to the following link and Read the article (5-10 minute read time) 2. Write (4) Interesting Facts Below in complete sentences: 3. Summarize this topic in 4-5 Sentences in your own Words. 4.

  8. American Romantic Art & Literature

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  9. Assignments

    You will sign up for your tasks early in the term, a different one for each essay. At the writing workshop before each due date, you will work with the other writers in your editorial group to refine your work. Your essays should explain the historical, biographical, or literary context for reading the text and should show how knowing this ...

  10. American Art

    Breuer and Hamilton Smith's Breuer Building (1966), home to the Whitney Museum of American Art and later an expanded Metropolitan Museum, was also a trendsetting Brutalist design. Hudson River School (1826-70) ... literature, theater, painting and sculpture flourished within the rich and vibrant culture of New York's Harlem neighborhood.

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    History and Literature 97 Thursdays, 1-4 Barker 128 Nicholas Donofrio [email protected] Barker 044 ... A. Joan Saab, from For the Millions: American Art and Culture Between the Wars (2004) 2/10 Secondary source analysis due 2/11 The Documentary Imagination and Cultural Nationalism ... Late assignments will be marked down one step (e.g ...

  12. arts and arts american literature Flashcards and Study Sets

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  16. Early American Art and Literature ONLINE ASSIGNMENT

    The article link is provided and students complete the following assignment: 1. Go to the following link and Read the article (1 Page Articles 10 Minute Read) 2. Write (4) Interesting Facts Below in complete sentences: 3. Summarize this topic in 4-5 Sentences in your own Words. 4.

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  18. American Literature

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  19. ENGL 250 A: American Literature

    Reading assignments will be manageable, and they are designed to cover a wide spectrum of American issues in a range of literary forms. One text is available for purchase at the University Bookstore: Scott Momaday, The Way to Rainy Mountain. For your convenience, all other readings for this course will be available in the Pages section of Canvas.

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    This book became symbolic of Euro-Americans' perceptions of and feelings toward Native Americans at the time. From when the book was published in the 1820s through the time when Leutze painted this in 1850, Native Americans were being relocated away from their ancestral homes to the West in order to accommodate a growing Euro-American population.

  22. Assignments

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  24. 100 Best Books of the 21st Century

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