The Best American Essays of the Century

Front Cover
Joyce Carol Oates, Robert Atwan
Houghton Mifflin, 2000 - Literary Collections - 596 pages
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

From inside the book

What people are saying - Write a review

THE BEST AMERICAN ESSAYS OF THE CENTURY

User Review  - Kirkus

An eclectic anthology of 55 essays chosen by Oates (Blonde, p. 11, etc.) comprising a generous selection of less known but deserving work from mostly big-name writers. The collection is intended to be ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - SeriousGrace - LibraryThing

Best American Essays of the Century wraps up the creme de la creme of essay writing from 1901 - 1997. Beginning with Mark Twain ("Corn-pone Opinions") and ending with Saul Bellow ("Graven Images.") Read full review

Contents

W E B DU BOIS
6
HENRY ADAMS
20
JOHN MUIR
28
Copyright

42 other sections not shown

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2000)

Joyce Carol Oates was born in 1938 in Upstate, New York. She attended Syracuse University and graduated as Valedictorian. She then attended University of Wisconsin where she earned an M. A. By the time she was 47 years old, she had published at least that many separate books, including 16 full-length novels and more than a dozen collections of short stories. Some of her works were done under the pseudonym Rosamund Smith. She has also written numerous poems collected in several volumes, at least three plays, many critical essays, and articles and reviews on various subjects while fulfilling her obligations as a professor of English at the University of Windsor, where with her husband Raymond Smith she edited the Ontario Review, which the couple has continued since moving to Princeton in 1978. She has earned a reputation as indubitably one of our most prolific writers and very likely one of our best. Her fiction alone demonstrates considerable variety, ranging from direct naturalism to complex experiments in form. However, what chiefly makes her work her own is a quality of psychological realism, an uncanny ability to bring to the surface an underlying sense of foreboding or a threat of violence that seems to lurk just around the corner from the everyday domestic lives she depicts so realistically. Her first six novels, including Them (1969), which won the National Book Award, express these qualities in varying ways. she is also the recipient of an NEA grant, a Guggenheim fellowship, the PEN/Malamud Lifetime Achievement Award, and the F. Scott Fitzgerald Award for Lifetime Achievement in American Literature. Her title Give Me Your Heart made the New York Times Best seller list for 2011.

Robert Atwan is the series editor of The Best American Essays. He recently edited Divine Inspiration, a volume of world poetry on the Gospels.

Bibliographic information