Charles Berger, professor of English, University of Utah; author of Forms of Farewell: The Late Poetry of Wallace Stevens (University of Wisconsin Press, 1985):
James L Kugel, ed., Poetry and Prophecy: The Beginnings of a Literary Tradition (Cornell, 1990). "This is an excellent collection of statements about the origins of poetry in prophecy and about how various religious and poetic traditions--Greek, Latin, Jewish, Islamic--have differentiated between poets and prophets... It's really a treasure-house of deep reflection, wisdom, and spirituality... a must-read for anyone interested in poetry."
Alfred Bendixen, professor of English, Cal State Los Angeles; executive director, American Literature Association, editor of Haunted Women: The Best Supernatural Tales by American Women Writers (1985):
"In the last five years, the real breakthroughs in the study of American literature have not come from critical texts," says Bendixen, "but from those series which have rediscovered neglected American writers. These offer the most exciting revelations about American culture and the complex nature of our literary history." He singles out three university press series for particular plaudits: The Northeastern Library of Black Literature (which has resurrected out-of-print works by Richard Wright and W.E.B. Dubois, along with a number of literary artifacts of the Harlem Renaissance); Rutgers University Press's Schomburg Library of Nineteenth Century Black Women Writers (edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the series includes spiritual narratives, slave testimonies, romances, poetry, and journalism).
Nina Baym, professor of English, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; author of Novels, Readers and Reviewers: Responses to Fiction in Antebellum America (Cornell University Press, 1984) and co-editor of the Norton Anthology of American Literature (1989):
Cary Nelson, Repression and Recovery: Modern American Poetry and the Politics of Cultural Memory, 1910-1945 (University of Wisconsin Press, 1989). The book concentrates, says Baym, "on openly political, mostly left-wing, poets, like those writing for the magazine The Masses in the interwar period, who have just disappeared from our literary history.... Nelson also considers the political poetry of Langston Hughes (which Hughes later removed from his own collections) as well as some of the more conservative poets, like Ezra Pound, who begin to look quite different in a context where everyone is writing political poetry.... Without making any particular clairns for the quality of this poetry, it explores the phenomenon of its repression" and "makes you think about other writers who have dropped out of American literary history and how it is that that happens."
Linda Wagner-Martin, professor of English, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; author of The Modern American Novel, 1914-1945: A Critical History (1990):
Paul Lauter, Canons and Context (Oxford, 1991). Wagner-Martin admires this "solidly grounded" collection of essays about how the canon has been constituted and contested because "it says the important things about why the canon is being expanded... he manages to take the discussion back to the texts themselves and to get away from some of the politics--though you couldn't, nor would you want to, get away from them all.... It would be nice if a lot of people went out and picked this book up, especially now, as the discussion [of multiculturalism and the canon] seems to be getting more and more vituperative."
Valerie Smith, professor of English, UCLA; author of Self-Discovery and Authority in Afro-American Narrative (1987):
Patricia J. Williams, The Alchemy of Race and Rights (Harvard, 1991). "This is a splendid exploration of the legal, theoretical, and ideological implications of personal narrative," says Smith. "In captivating prose, Williams prompts the reader to think innovatively about such wide-ranging topics as pedagogy, publishing, slavery, Tawana Brawley, and the racial subtext of consumerism."
Are there any great books you think we missed? Let us know.