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Must Reads in American Literature

How do we challenge the boundaries of writing and literature?


Some of my favorite classics are works of American literature. Writers like Mark Twain, Zora Neale Hurston, Kate Chopin, Ralph Ellison, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Willa Cather, Harper Lee, Carson McCullers, and John Steinbeck helped to push the boundaries, and open hearts and minds to new awakenings. Here are just a few of my favorite must read classics in American Literature. Which American books do you most enjoy?

1. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Bedford/St. Martin Press
Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) created a modern epic in American literature when he first wrote The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in 1884. This Great American novel follows the journey of a young boy on the Mississippi River. Through his adventures, Huck comes to a better understanding of humanity--the good, the bad, and the ugly. But, he also develops important relationships, which help him to see beyond the color of one's skin. Twain's compelling style draws us into the story.

2. Their Eyes Were Watching God - Zora Neale Hurston

Their Eyes Were Watching God
Zora Neale Hurston was a folklorist and novelist, who was largely forgotten at the time of her death. Hurston was a African-American woman writing in the Harlem Renaissance of American literature. Their Eyes Were Watching God is the work for which she is most famous (and which is the most studied in American literature courses.

3. The Awakening - Kate Chopin

The Awakening Kate Chopin
Bedford/St. Martin Books
When Kate Chopin published her second novel, The Awakening, the book was controversial and banned. Edna explored her individuality and sexuality when she left her husband and children.

4. The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby
The Great Gatsby is usually the novel for which F. Scott Fitzgerald is best remembered. With this and other works, Fitzgerald forged his place in American literature as the chronicler of the Jazz Age of the 1920's. Written in 1925, the novel is a snapshot of the time period. We experience the glittery-splendorous world of the wealthy--with the accompanying emptiness of morally decayed hypocrisy. Gatsby represents so much that is seductive, but his pursuit of passion--at the expense of all else--leads him to his own ultimate destruction.

5. Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck

Of Mice and Men
John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men is a touching tale of the friendship between two men--set against the backdrop of the United States during the depression of the 1930s. Subtle in its characterization, the book addresses the real hopes and dreams of working-class America. In this slim volume, Steinbeck explores the Salinas Valley, in California.

6. The Invisible Man - Ralph Ellison

The Invisible Man
Random House - Modern Library
What does it mean to be an invisible man? Ralph Ellison explores themes of alienation and disillusionment in his great American classic, The Invisible Man.

7. My Antonia - Willa Cather

Willa Cather wrote about immigrants and settlers on the Great Plains of the Nebraska territory in her great American novel, My Antonia. Here, we find episodes of suicide, coming of age, loss of innocence, and final acceptance.
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