Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Network of American Writers

Was anyone else a bit dumbfounded when they read pages 944 and 945 of Volume B? These outlined an extensive, intricate network of American writers from 1820-1865. They all had contact with and influenced each other's most famous works! I found it incredible that the sphere of writing was this small. I started to compare it to today's world of literature and I feel that there are very few similarities.

Do famous writers today reach out to one another for advice and help? Who is our modern day Emerson? Thoreau? Dickinson? If they're not talking with one another, should they be? My inkling is that yes, communication and cooperation are crucial for the expansion and development of ideas. Society has changed though, and there is no doubt that most of us are self-centered when it comes to success. Perhaps the lack of fame and fortune made it easier for authors to be open and honest with each in the 19th century. With the millions of dollars and movie deals that are on the line today, we're a lot more reserved when it comes to sharing our thoughts. Unless, of course, the publishing deal is already on the table!

Any thoughts?


  1. One point worth emphasizing is the potentially countercultural thrust of literary culture. We know about Emerson et. al because they've been institutionalized and have become a central part of most educational curricula. When they were writing, though, I don't know that there were tons and tons of other, casual, people who were getting together to write. The eras might not be so different is all I'm saying.

    However, in the 20th Century, these people did get together to write. Can we think of any other collectives of writers?

  2. When you list these writers who came together to share their ideas, you can automatically identify what literary movement they were a part of and helped shape. For example, when you think of Emerson and Thoreau, you think of Transcendentalism and Romanticism. When you think of Ginsberg and Kerouac, you think of the Beat generation. Generally, they conveyed similar themes and messages in their stories. It's hard to tell what literary movement we are in now, maybe because it is not history for us yet. The most recent literary movement I can think of is Postmodernism, but I think we've moved past that, or at least are in the process of moving away from it. What will be next, I wonder?

    Enjoying literature has become much more of an individualistic past time. During previous generations, people didn't have the technology we now possess to keep them busy, so literature served as a major source of (group) entertainment. It was pretty common to read aloud to company at social events before the 21st century. Now, do you ever go to book clubs? I don't think I even know anybody that does.

  3. I think that while technology and publication deals have slightly impeded the desire for writers to share their ideas and spread influence, it has also paved the way for easier communication between writers. Take this blog for instance. Common, everyday writers and bloggers (such as ourselves) come together to share ideas and pass inspiration back and forth between each other. One day we might find that blogging created a great network of American writers.