In the monumental, absorbing A New Literary History of America, editors Greil Marcus and Werner Sollors have assembled a fascinating collection of writings on a range of subject matters: everything from maps, diaries and Supreme Court decisions to religious tracts, public debates, comic strips and rock and roll.
Over 200 essays were commissioned for A New Literary History of America, and the contributors range from Jonathan Lethem to Sarah Vowell to visual artist Kara Walker. They are contemporary poets, novelists, journalists, screenwriters, painters, professors and what the editors call “cultural citizens”—not specialists who simply observe the culture, but enthusiasts who participate in it. Each provides a unique perspective and acts as an invaluable guide through this “matrix of American culture.” The editors’ aim is “not to smash a canon or create a new one” but to “generate a new and fresh sense of America.” Beginning in 1507 with the Spanish conquistadors, the book covers it all, from the Salem witch trials to Hawaiian queens to Malcolm X and Mickey Mouse.
In 1,000-odd pages, Marcus and Sollors have compiled a remarkable history of America. Their expanded definition of literary encompasses “not only what is written but also what is voiced, what is expressed, what is invented, in whatever form.” Most of all, A New Literary History of America is a reminder of just how vibrant and diverse United States history—and culture—really is.
Lacey Galbraith writes from Nashville.