This set treats the whole of American literature, from the European discovery of America to the present, with entries in alphabetical order. Each of the 350 substantive essays is a major interpretive contribution. Well-known critics and scholars provide clear and vividly written essays that reflect the latest scholarship on a given topic, as well as original thinking on the part of the critic. The Encyclopedia is available in print and as an e-reference text from Oxford's Digital Reference Shelf. At the core of the encyclopedia lie 250 essays on poets, playwrights, essayists, and novelists. The most prominent figures (such as Whitman, Melville, Faulkner, Frost, Morrison, and so forth) are treated at considerable length (10,000 words) by top-flight critics. Less well known figures are discussed in essays ranging from 2,000 to 5,000 words. Each essay examines the life of the author in the context of his or her times, looking in detail at key works and describing the arc of the writer's career.
These essays include an assessment of the writer's current reputation with a bibliography of major works by the writer as well as a list of major critical and biographical works about the writer under discussion. A second key element of the project is the critical assessments of major American masterworks, such as Moby-Dick, Song of Myself, Walden, The Great Gatsby, The Waste Land, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Death of a Salesmanr, or Beloved. Each of these essays offers a close reading of the given work, placing that work in its historical context and offering a range of possibilities with regard to critical approach. These fifty essays (ranging from 2,000 to 5,000 words) are simply and clearly enough written that an intelligent high school student should easily understand them, but sophisticated enough that a college student or general reader in a public library will find the essays both informative and stimulating. The final major element of this encyclopedia consists of fifty-odd essays on literary movements, periods, or themes, pulling together a broad range of information and making interesting connections.
These essays treat many of the same authors already discussed, but in a different context; they also gather into the fold authors who do not have an entire essay on their work (so that Zane Grey, for example, is discussed in an essay on Western literature but does not have an essay to himself). In this way, the project is truly "encyclopedic," in the conventional sense. These essays aim for comprehensiveness without losing anything of the narrative force that makes them good reading in their own right. In a very real fashion, the literature of the American people reflects their deepest desires, aspirations, fears, and fantasies. The Oxford Encyclopedia of American Literature gathers a wide range of information that illumines the field itself and clarifies many of its particulars.show more