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The Best American Essays of the Century

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This singular collection is nothing less than a political, spiritual, and intensely personal record of America's tumultuous modern age by our foremost critics, commentators, activists, and artists. In her introduction to this volume, Joyce Carol Oates describes her project as "a search for the expression of personal experience within the historical, the individual talent within the tradition." Along with Robert Atwan, who has overseen the acclaimed BEST AMERICAN ESSAYS series since its inception in 1986, Oates has chosen a list of works that are both intimate and important, essays that take on subjects of profound and universal significance while retaining the power and spirit of a personal address.
This collection honors some of the twentieth century's best-known and best-loved writers on a breathtaking variety of topics. In a journalistic mode, Ernest Hemingway covers the bullfights in Pamplona, H. L. Mencken reacts to the Scopes trial, and Michael Herr dodges bullets in a helicopter over Vietnam. Nowhere is the intersection of our personal and political histories more meaningful than when the subject is America’s enduring legacy of racial strife, as shown by Richard Wright’s "The Ethics of Living Jim Crow," James Baldwin’s "Notes of a Native Son," Zora Neale Hurston’s "How It Feels to Be Colored Me," and others. The wonders and horrors of science, nature, and the cosmos are explored with eloquence, bravery, and beauty when Lewis Thomas writes about "The Lives of a Cell," Rachel Carson mulls "The Marginal World," and Stephen Jay Gould preaches evolution and baseball in "The Creation Myths of Cooperstown." Taken together, these essays fit, in the words of Joyce Carol Oates, "into a kind of mobile mosaic suggest[ing] where we've come from, and who we are, and where we are going."

Mark Twain W.E.B. Du Bois Henry Adams John Muir William James Randolph Bourne John Jay Chapman Jane Addams T. S. Eliot Ernest Hemingway H. L. Mencken Zora Neale Hurston Edmund Wilson Gertrude Stein F. Scott Fitzgerald James Thurber Richard Wright James Agee Robert Frost E. B. White S. J. Perelman Langston Hughes Katherine Anne Porter Mary McCarthy Rachel Carson James Baldwin Loren Eiseley Eudora Welty Donald Hall Martin Luther King, Jr. Tom Wolfe Susan Sontag Vladimir Nabokov N. Scott Momaday Elizabeth Hardwick Michael Herr Maya Angelou Lewis Thomas John McPhee William H. Gass Maxine Hong Kingston Alice Walker Adrienne Rich Joan Didion Richard Rodriguez Gretel Ehrlich Annie Dillard Cynthia Ozick William Manchester Edward Hoagland Stephen Jay Gould Gerald Early John Updike Joyce Carol Oates Saul Bellow

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The title The Best American Essays of the Century seems transparent enough, but don't be deceived. What Joyce Carol Oates has assembled is not so much a diverse collection as a sonorous march through what keeps getting called the American century. Read this not as a collection to dip into but as a history--a history of race in America. Oates says it best herself in her introduction: "It can't be an accident that essays in this volume by men and women of ethnic minority backgrounds are outstanding; to paraphrase Melville, to write a 'mighty' work of prose you must have a 'mighty' theme." The mighty pens at work here belong to, among others, Zora Neale Hurston ("How It Feels to Be Colored Me"), Langston Hughes ("Bop"), and James Baldwin ("Notes of a Native Son"). Oates has opted not for the most unexpected but for the most important and stirring essays of our time.

Other chords sound repeatedly as well: the problem of our relationship with nature (Annie Dillard, John Muir, and Gretel Ehrlich); the difficulty of identity in disrupted times (F. Scott Fitzgerald, Joan Didion, and Michael Herr). In her essay "The White Album," Didion famously declares: "We tell ourselves stories in order to live." The stories Oates has collected are not easy. Here is the hard-won truth, from writers unwilling to forgive even themselves. Even Martin Luther King Jr. doesn't let himself off the hook, as he writes in his "Letter from Birmingham Jail": "If I have said anything in this letter that is an overstatement of the truth and is indicative of an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything in this letter that is an understatement of the truth and is indicative of my having a patience that makes me patient with anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me." --Claire Dederer

About the Author:

JOYCE CAROL OATES is the recipient of the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction and the winner of the National Book Award. Among her major works are We Were the Mulvaneys, Blonde, and The Falls.



ROBERT ATWAN has been the series editor of The Best American Essays since its inception in 1986. He has edited numerous literary anthologies and written essays and reviews for periodicals nationwide.

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Atwan, Robert [Consultant Editor]; Oates, Joyce Carol [Editor]; Author
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Book Description Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2000. Book Condition: New. Brand New, Unread Copy in Perfect Condition. A+ Customer Service! Summary: Contents Foreword by Robert Atwan : x Introduction by Joyce Carol Oates : xvii 1901 : Mark Twain Corn-pone Opinions : 1 1903 : W.E.B. Du Bois Of the Coming of John : 6 1906 : Henry Adams A Law of Acceleration : 20 1909 : John Muir Stickeen : 28 1910 : William James The Moral Equivalent of War : 45 1911 : Randolph Bourne The Handicapped : 57 1912 : John Jay Chapman Coatesville : 71 1916 : Jane Addams The Devil Baby at Hull-House : 75 1919 : T. S. Eliot Tradition and the Individual Talent : 90 1923 : Ernest Hemingway Pamplona in July : 98 1925 : H. L. mencken The Hills of Zion : 107 1928 : Zora Neale Hurston How It Feels to Be Colored Me : 114 1933 : Edmund Wilson The Old Stone House : 118 1935 : Gertrude Stein What Are Master-pieces and Why Are There So Few of Them : 131 1936 : F. Scott Fitzgerald The Crack-Up : 139 1937 : James Thurber Sex Ex Machina : 153 1937 : Richard Wright The Ethics of Living Jim Crow: An Autobiographical Sketch : 159 1938 : James Agee Knoxville: Summer of 1915 : 171 1939 : Robert Frost The Figure a Poem Makes : 176 1941 : E. B. White Once More to the Lake : 179 1944 : S. J. Perelman Insert Flap "A" and Throw Away : 186 1949 : Langston Hughes Bop : 190 1950 : Katherine Anne Porter The Future Is Now : 193 1953 : Mary Mccarthy Artists in Uniform : 199 1955 : Rachel Carson The Marginal World : 214 1955 : James Baldwin Notes of a Native Son : 220 1956 : Loren Eiseley The Brown Wasps : 239 1957 : Eudora Welty A Sweet Devouring : 246 1961 : Donald Hall A Hundred Thousand Straightened Nails : 252 1963 : Martin Luther King, Jr. Letter from Birmingham Jail : 263 1964 : Tom Wolfe Putting Daddy On : 280 1964 : Susan Sontag Notes on "Camp" : 288 1966 : Vladimir Nabokov Perfect Past : 303 1967 : N. Scott Momaday The Way to Rainy Mountain : 313 1968 : Elizabeth Hardwick The Apotheosis of Martin Luther King : 319 1969 : Michael Herr Illumination Rounds : 327 1970 : Maya Angelou I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings : 342 1971 : Lewis Thomas The Lives of a Cell : 358 1972 : John Mcphee The Search for Marvin Gardens : 361 1972 : William H. Gass The Doomed in Their Sinking : 373 1975 : Maxine Hong Kingston No Name Woman : 383 1975 : Alice Walker Looking for Zora : 395 1977 : Adrienne Rich Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying : 412 1979 : Joan Didion The White Album : 421 1980 : Richard Rodriguez Aria: A Memoir of a Bilingual Childhood : 447 1981 : Gretel Ehrlich The Solace of Open Spaces : 467 1982 : Annie Dillard Total Eclipse : 477 1982 : Cynthia Ozick A Drugstore in Winter : 490 1987 : William Manchester Okinawa: The Bloodiest Battle of All : 497 1988 : Edward Hoagland Heaven and Nature : 507 1989 : Stephen Jay Gould The Creation Myths of Cooperstown : 520 1990 : Gerald Early Life with Daughters: Watching the Miss America Pageant : 532 1993 : John Updike The Disposable Rocket : 549 1995 : Joyce Carol Oates They All Just Went Away : 553 1997 : Saul Bellow Graven Images : 564 Biographical Notes : 569 Appendix: Notable Twentieth-Century American Literary Nonfiction : 591. Bookseller Inventory # ABE_book_new_0618043705

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