What Is American Literature?

English literary works produced in the United States are known as American Literature. Early American literature was primarily written in the New England colonies during the late 18th century. This literary canon includes novels, poems, songs, essays and other writings.

American literature is closely tied to American political discussions and culture. Before the American Revolutionary War, the written works of Samuel Adams, Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin served as rallying points among the populace to generate discussion and demand political change. Before the American Civil War, many works dealt with the moral implications of the practice of slavery and were heavily influenced by abolitionist beliefs.

A partial list of authors whose work is considered American literature includes Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, Gertrude Stein, Henry David Thoreau and Harriet Jacobs. These authors experimented with innovative approaches in style, tone and subject matter that pushed their writing away from its European roots and collectively formed the basis for an American cultural identity.

Many American writers were influenced by the transcendentalism movement, formed around Ralph Waldo Emerson after 1836, and focused their message on the strength and inherent purity present within the individual. Individualism remains a prominent topic in later works of American literature.