The Oxford companion to American literature /

Main Author: Hart, James David, 1911-
Other Authors: Leininger, Phillip, 1928-
Format: Book
Language: English
Published: New York : Oxford University Press, 1995.
Edition: 6th ed.
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Review by Choice Review

It has been 12 years since publication of the fifth edition (CH, Apr'84) of this classic reference source. Hart died in 1990, and Leininger has updated and improved the work, adding 181 new entries (of which he wrote 104) and significantly revising several hundred more, "seeking the dynamic balance between past and contemporary literature that James Hart always sought to maintain." The sixth edition is smaller (779 p.) than the fifth (896 p.) due to a smaller but less legible typeface and the omission of entries for US presidents, US colleges, some plot summaries, and entries for individuals such as Alexander Campbell and Hiram Martin Crittenden. Judicious addition of entries reflects contemporary concern for broadening the American literary canon to include more women, minority, and lesbian and gay authors. For example, the fifth edition's entry "Blacks in the U.S." has been deleted, but entries have been added for many African American authors, e.g., Rita Mae Brown, Ed Bullins, Adrienne Kennedy, and Audre Lorde. Asian and Native American authors added include Amy Tan, John Okada, Louise Erdrich, Simon Ort'iz, and Leslie Silko. Other new entries for women include Sylvia Beach, Cynthia Ozick, Camille Paglia, and Grace Paley. Henry Roth, author of Call It Sleep, overlooked in previous editions, has finally been included, as has prominent gay writer Larry Kramer, author of Faggots (1978). Errors in the fifth edition have been corrected (e.g., the spelling of Diane Wakoski), but T. Coraghessan Boyle's novel Without a Hero is incorrectly cited as "Without a Here." This mistake aside, the sixth edition belongs in every academic and public library. E. J. Carpenter; Oberlin College

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Booklist Review

Last revised in 1983, this compilation has been a reference mainstay since its inception in 1941. Hart, who authored all the previous editions, died during the preparation of this revision, and it was completed by Philip Leininger, an editor of Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia of American Literature. Although this edition includes only 181 new entries, several hundred other articles have been revised or updated. A number of entries have been shortened. For instance, some articles on individual works no longer contain synopses. In addition, entries have been dropped, among them many U.S. presidents and some lesser-known figures and works. Almost all of the new entries are for contemporary authors. A concerted effort to represent more women and minorities is reflected in the addition of such individuals as Bobbie Ann Mason, Rita Dove, Louise Erdrich, Sonia Sanchez, Oscar Hijuelos, James Welch, and August Wilson. In addition, several major best-selling novelists now appear, most notably Stephen King, Patricia Highsmith, and Anne Rice. Still, there are a number of surprising omissions, such as Gail Godwin, Neil Simon, Ellen Gilchrist, and Robert Olen Butler. Few new title entries were noted, and only one of these, Ironweed, was published after 1980. For the most part, entries for modern authors are remarkably up-to-date. Those on Amy Clampitt, Ralph Ellison, and Peter Taylor note their deaths in 1994; the Pulitzer Prize lists include 1994 winners; and entries for contemporary writers frequently refer to 1994 publications. However, the article on Reynolds Price does not mention his autobiographical A Whole New Life (1994), and the chronological chart that concludes the volume only goes through 1993. Some information is incorrect: Kay Boyle died in 1992, not 1994, and the Saturday Review ceased publication in 1986, not 1982. Although the expanded coverage of modern authors offered by this edition significantly enhances its reference value, the OCAL needs a major overhaul in order to achieve greater balance in the coverage of the writers and writings of each century. More entries for minor authors and works should be shortened or eliminated, and the inclusion criteria for individual titles should be examined and articulated. Currently, numerous works published prior to the 1970s are accorded separate entries, but relatively few titles published since then receive such treatment, and those appear to be determined by whim rather than by significance. For instance, there are separate entries for three works by Joan Didion, but none for works by Eudora Welty or Toni Morrison. Ironically, this work's closest competitor is the aforementioned Benet's [RBB D 15 91], which provides broader coverage since it also encompasses Canadian and Latin American literature. Moreover, its essays on general topics, such as children's literature, feminism, and science fiction, are considerably more extensive, as are its entries on major authors. On the other hand, despite its flaws, the OCAL continues to be a significant reference source, and it now has the advantage of greater currency. Most libraries will need both works, but those that must make a choice would be better served by Benet's. (Reviewed Oct. 1, 1995)

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.