The nineteenth century is often viewed as a golden age of American literature, a historical moment when national identity was emergent and ideals such as freedom, democracy, and individual agency were promising, even if belied in reality by violence and hypocrisy. The writers of this “American Renaissance”—Thoreau, Fuller, Whitman, Emerson, and Dickinson, among many others—produced a body of work that has been both celebrated and contested by following generations.
As the twenty-first century unfolds in a United States characterized by deep divisions, diminished democracy, and dramatic transformation of identities, the co-editors of this singular book approached a dozen North American poets, asking them to engage with texts by their predecessors in a manner that avoids both aloofness from the past and too-easy elegy. The resulting essays dwell provocatively on the border between the lyrical and the scholarly, casting fresh critical light on the golden age of American literature and exploring a handful of texts not commonly included in its canon.
A polyvocal collection that reflects the complexity of the cross-temporal encounter it enacts, 21 | 19 offers a re-reading of the “American Renaissance” and new possibilities for imaginative critical practice today.