About This Course
This is a video instructional series on American literature
for college and high school classrooms and adult learners. There are 16 half-hour video
Video for American Passages: A Literary Survey and
the individual program descriptions are provided courtesty of Annenberg/CPB.
This site is not affiliated with nor endorsed by
- 1. Native Voices
- Native Americans had established a rich and highly developed tradition of oral
literature long before the writings of the European colonists. This program explores that
richness by introducing Native American oral traditions through the work of three
contemporary authors: Leslie Marmon Silko (Laguna Pueblo), Simon Ortiz (Acoma Pueblo), and
Luci Tapahonso (Navajo).
- 2. Exploring Borderlands
- Chicana writer Gloria Anzaldúa tells us that the border is "una herida abierta
[an open wound] where
the lifeblood of two worlds is merging to form a third country
a border culture." This program explores the literature of the Chicano
borderlands and its beginnings in the literature of Spanish colonization.
- 3. Utopian Promise
- When British colonists landed in the Americas, they created communities that they hoped
would serve as a "light onto the nations." But what role would the native
inhabitants play in this new model community? This program compares the answers of two
important groups, the Puritans and Quakers, and exposes the lasting influence they had
upon American identity.
- 4. Spirit of Nationalism
- The Enlightenment brought new ideals and a new notion of selfhood to the American
colonies. This program begins with an examination of the importance of the trope of the
self-made man in Benjamin Franklins autobiography, and then turns to the development
of this concept in the writings of Romanticist Ralph Waldo Emerson.
- 5. Masculine Heroes
- In 1898, Frederick Jackson Turner declared the frontier as the defining feature of
American culture, but American authors had uncovered its significance much earlier. This
program turns to three key writers of the early national period James Fenimore
Cooper, John Rollin Ridge, and Walt Whitman and examines the influential visions of
American manhood offered by each author.
- 6. Gothic Undercurrents
- What was haunting the American nation in the 1850s? The three writers treated in this
program Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and Emily Dickinson use poetry
and prose to explore the dark side of nineteenth-century America.
- 7. Slavery and Freedom
- How has slavery shaped the American literary imagination and American identity? This
program turns to the classic slave narratives of Harriet Jacobs and Frederick Douglass and
the fiction of Harriet Beecher Stowe. What rhetorical strategies do their works use to
construct an authentic and authoritative American self?
- 8. Regional Realism
- Set in the antebellum American South, but written after Emancipation, Mark Twain's novel
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn remains a classic of American literature. This
program compares Twains depiction of Southern vernacular culture to that of Charles
Chestnutt and Kate Chopin, and in doing so, introduces the hallmarks of American Realism.
- 9. Social Realism
- This program presents the authors of the American Gilded Age, such as Edith Wharton, and
juxtaposes them with social realists like Anzia Yezierska. These writers expose the double
world that made up turnofthecentury New York: that of the elite and that
of the poorest of the poor. Which of these realities is the more truly American?
- 10. Rhythms in Poetry
- Amidst the chaos following World War I, Ezra Pound urged poets to "Make it
new!" This call was heeded by a large range of poets, ranging from T. S. Eliot to
Jean Toomer. This program explores the modernist lyrics of two of these poets: William
Carlos Williams and Langston Hughes. What is modernism? How did these poets start a
revolution that continues until this day?
- 11. Modernist Portraits
- Jazz filled the air and wailed against the night. Caught in the sway, American prose
writers sought out the forbidden the slang, the dialects, and the rhythms of the
folk and of everyday life. Writers such as Hemingway, Stein, and Fitzgerald forged a new
style: one which silhouetted the geometry of language, crisp in its own cleanness.
- 12. Migrant Struggle
- Americans have often defined themselves through their relationship to the land. This
program traces the social fiction of three key American voices: John Steinbeck, Carlos
Bulosan, and Helena María Viramontes.
- 13. Southern Renaissance
- "My subject in fiction," Flannery OConnor tells us, "is the action
of grace in the territory held largely by the devil." One might do well to ask what,
if not the devil, haunts the American South in this era between the wars. This program
uncovers the revisioning of Southern myths during the modernist era by writers William
Faulkner and Zora Neale Hurston.
- 14. Becoming Visible
- This program guides the viewer through the works and contexts of ethnic writers from
19451965. Starting with the works of Ralph Waldo Ellison, Philip Roth, and N. Scott
Momaday, we explore the way writers from the margins took over the center of American
- 15. Poetry of Liberation
- For many, the 1960s mark the true end of modern America. Whereas the modernists remained
serious about the transcendent nature of art, the artists of the 1960s wanted an art that
was relevant. They wanted an art that not only spoke about justice, but also helped create
it. This program explores the innovations made in American poetry in the 1960s by Allen
Ginsberg, Amiri Baraka, and Adrienne Rich.
- 16. Search for Identity
- Even as the poets were fostering a rebellion, contemporary prose writers began creating
a new American Tradition comprised of many strands, many voices, and many myths about the
past. This program explores the search for identity by three American writers: Maxine Hong
Kingston, Sandra Cisneros, and Leslie Feinberg.