Children of the Raven and the Whale

Children of the Raven and the Whale: Visions and Revisions in American Literature (University of Virginia Press, 2019) revisits concepts Perry Miller discussed in his 1956 classic of American literary criticism, The Raven and the Whale: The War of Words and Wits in the Era of Poe and Melville, in order to examine how contemporary multi-ethnic writers of the United States have responded to nineteenth- and early twentieth century texts historically central to the American literary canon.
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Each chapter of Children of the Raven and the Whale looks down the roads American literature ultimately traveled, examining pairs and constellations of texts in conversation. In their rewritings and layerings of new stories over older ones, contemporary writers forge ahead in their interrogations of a spectrum of American experience, whether they or their characters are native to the United States, first- or second-generation immigrants, or transnational. Revealing the traces of texts by writers such as Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Richard Wright, and James Baldwin lying beneath contemporary American literature by Chang-rae Lee, Jonathan Lethem, Jhumpa Lahiri, Junot Díaz, Joseph O’Neill, Colum McCann, and Ta-Nehisi Coates, I argue for the existence of a twenty-first-century American renaissance.
“In Children of the Raven and the Whale, Caroline Chamberlin Hellman makes an effective case for conceiving recent achievements in U.S. fiction and memoir as part of a ‘Third American Renaissance’ inspired by the legacies of the mid-nineteenth century and the modernist period. Drawing judiciously on theories of intertextuality and literary influence, Hellman offers a set of useful case studies in the dynamics of U.S. literary history, while illuminating the connections of recent writing to an American past and a global present.”
—Cyrus R. K. Patell, New York University, author of Cosmopolitanism and the Literary Imagination

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