Identities and Issues in Literature (3 Volume Set)

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9780893569204: Identities and Issues in Literature (3 Volume Set)
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This reference work examines modern society's diverse range of cultures and their affect on, and how they are affected by, modern literature. It covers cultures such as African American, Asian, Caribbean, Latino, Native American, and gay and bisexual amongst others.

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This set has the rather formidable task of collecting "in one resource, the full depth and breadth of American literatures," taking into account the fact that within the past 25 years (according to the introduction), "the cultural map of the United States was redrawn" with "the discovery of dozens of new literary identities created through a deeper understanding of the importance of gender, race, and ethnicity in American culture."

According to the publisher's note, there are 809 entries in the set; articles on authors or titles are 500 words in length, and those on subjects range from 500 to 4,000 words in length. Of the entries, 264 are on authors, 424 on specific works, and the rest on subjects. The set is arranged A to Z, in a word-by-word arrangement. There are 313 contributors, most from academic backgrounds. The editor, David Peck, is at the Department of English at California State University, Long Beach, and previously wrote Salem's American Ethnic Literatures [RBB Ap 15 93].

After the entries, the set concludes with a "mediagraphy" arranged by "identity category" (such as aging, gays, and Native Americans) featuring primarily a list of videos related to the headings dealt with in the set; a bibliography, also arranged by category, that expands on the bibliographies concluding the entries; a category list that lists all the identity categories and the articles corresponding to each category; and an index.

The essays in the set are well written and should be readable for those in senior high school on up. All essays begin with a listing of identities (the entry Bailey's Cafe, for example, lists the identities as African American and women) and conclude with suggested readings and appropriate see also references. Author entries include a list of principal works, while entries on specific works indicate author and date of publication.

One becomes aware of the enormous breadth of this set by looking at the listing of identity categories. Apart from topics such as adolescence and coming-of-age, or African American, there are even broader categories, such as European American, religion, and women. As the publisher's note points out, "North America has never had a homogeneous culture," and one gets the sense that almost any topic can, therefore, be an "issue" that could be covered in this set. There are entries on works, for example, ranging from Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter to the recent "I Am Who I Am": Speaking Out about Multiracial Identity (1995). Authors covered range from Theodore Dreiser and William Faulkner to Ntozake Shange and Hisaye Yamamoto. Topical articles include Jewish American Identity, Prostitution, and both world wars.

There are places where the Board believes some coalescing could have been done. Several articles on authors are followed by articles on a specific genre of the author written by the same contributor. There are, for example, entries for Brooks, Gwendolyn and Brooks, Gwendolyn, poetry of, and for Salinger, J. D. followed by Salinger, J. D., short stories of. Since most readers interested in either the author or their works will likely want to read both, why not simply combine them into one entry? This is not limited to author entries, either. There are subject articles such as Multiculturalism followed by Multiculturalism, statistics of.

The result is a set that almost anyone can use, but whether they will be happy with the results depends on the topic. The subject articles, to be sure, are excellent overviews and are often accompanied by tables, graphs, or charts. Many, such as alcoholism, include a sidebar listing key literary works dealing with the subject. Other subject articles, however, such as popular culture and violence, are incredibly broad. The average reader may be puzzled about the main thrust of some articles, such as economics of identity, until they actually read them. Coverage of many of the more mainstream authors will be found in other reference titles, but some entries on authors or titles will be welcomed by many researchers since they are new or not sufficiently covered elsewhere.

Despite its flaws, this set will be welcomed in high-school, public, and smaller academic libraries, where the subject articles alone may provide necessary starting points for those students in search of an elusive term-paper topic. If the articles prove too short for some titles or authors, then the suggested readings lists will certainly help point students in the right direction. The broad scope of the set makes it recommended.

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Peck, David R, Howard, Eric
Published by Salem Press (1997)
ISBN 10: 0893569208 ISBN 13: 9780893569204
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Editor-David R. Peck; Editor-Eric Howard
Published by Salem Press (1997)
ISBN 10: 0893569208 ISBN 13: 9780893569204
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