The dictionaries and encyclopedias listed below can serve as a great starting point for research. They often provide straight forward overviews of a topic or about a person or author, in much the same way that Wikipedia does. However, unlike Wikipedia you can cite the below sources in your papers.
The Dictionary of Literaty Biography (DBL) is a great place to look for informaiton about an author's literary output as well as biographical information. Sometimes less established or newer authors will not be in the DLB, but you can often use a google search to identify a personal website which you can use to gather information about their writing.
Dictionary, Encyclopedia, Etc.
Cambridge Companions to Literature and Classics (Cambridge University Press)
Written by experts and designed for the general reader, the Cambridge Companions to Literature and Classics collection offers over 2000 comprehensive and accessible essays on major authors, periods and genres. For the author Companions, each writer is placed in literary and historical context; their major works are analyzed, either in separate chapters or grouped according to theme, and their influence on later writers assessed. The generic and topical Companions cover periods of English literature such as Old English or the Victorian Novel, and literary genres such as Modernism or Greek Tragedy, giving the reader vital contextual information about political, social, religious and artistic relationships. The Companions to Classical Civilisation examine key periods and aspects of the civilizations of ancient Greece and Rome. Cambridge History of English and American Literature
Considered the most important work of literary history and criticism ever published, the Cambridge History contains over 303 chapters and 11,000 pages, with essay topics ranging from poetry, fiction, drama and essays to history, theology and political writing. Cambridge History of Literary Criticism
The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism provides a comprehensive historical account of Western literary criticism from classical antiquity to the present day. The history will comprise nine volumes and deal with literary theory and critical practice. It is intended as an authoritative work of reference and exposition, much more than a mere chronicle of facts. While remaining broadly non-partisan, it addresses, where appropriate, controversial issues of current critical debate without evasion or pretence of neutrality. Nevertheless, it will maintain throughout a scrupulous concern for factual accuracy and a due representation of differing points of view. Dictionary of Literary Biography Complete Online (Gale)
Provides full text access to biographical and critical essays on important literary figures from all eras, genres, and geographic areas. Many essays include manuscript pages, portraits, excerpts of criticism, bibliographies, and more. Electronic access extends back to 1978. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press)
Presents authoritative biographies of influential people who lived in Britain. Covers only deceased subjects. Includes portraits, if available, and bibliographies with citations to works by and about featured individuals. Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford University Press)
Contains the complete text of the second edition of the 20-volume Dictionary. Presents authoritative information on words in the English language, including their form, definition, history, pronunciation, and etymology. Approximately 1,000 new and revised entries are added on a quarterly basis.