The New Regionalism in American Literature

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      There is nothing new about the regional tradition in American literature from the beginning. It is as old as the Native American legends, as evocative as the works of James Fenimore Cooper and Bret Harte, as resonant as the novels of William Faulkner and the plays of Tennessee Williams. For a time, though, during the post World War II era, tradition seemed to disappear into the shadows unless one considers, perhaps correctly that urban fiction is a form of regionalism. Nonetheless, for the past decade or so, regionalism has been making a trumpet return in American literature, enabling readers to get a sense of place as well as a sense of time and humanity; and it is as prevalent in popular fiction, such as detective stories, as it is in classical literature - novels, short stories, and drama. There are several possible reasons for this occurrence. For one thing, all arts in America have been decentralized over the past generation. The theatre, music and dance are as likely to thrive in cities in US south, in the south-west and north-west as in major cities such as New York, Chicago. Movie companies shot films across the United States on myriad locations. Therefore, it is with literature. Small publishing houses that concentrate on fiction thrive outside of New York cities, “publisher’s row”. The writer’s workshops and conferences are more in vogue than ever, as literature courses are on the college campuses across the country. It is new wonder that budding talents can surface anywhere. All one needs is a pencil, paper and a vision.

      The most refreshing aspects of new regionalism are - its expanse, and its diversity. It canvasses America, from East to West. It transcontinental literary tour begins in the North-East in Albany, New York, the focus of interest of its native son, one-time journalist William Kennedy. Kennedy, whose Albany novels-among them Ironweed (1983) and Very Old Bones (1992) - capture elegiacally and often raucously the lives of the denizens of the streets and saloons of their New York state capital city. Being a prolific novelist story writer, novelist, poet and essayist, Joyce Carol Oates, hails from the north-eastern United States. In her a haunting works, obsessed characters’ attempts to achieve fulfillment within their grotesque environment lead them into destruction. Some of her finest works are such The Wheel of Love (1970). Where are You Going? and Where Have You Been (1974). Stephen King, the best selling master of horror fiction, generally sets his suspenseful page - turns in Maine-within the same region.

      Down the coast in the environs of Baltimore, Mary Land Anne Taylor presents, in spare quite language, extraordinary lives and striking characters. Novels such as Dinner at The Homesick Restaurant (1982), The Accidental Tourist (1985), Breathing Lessons (1988) and Saint May be (1991), have helped boost reputation in literary circles and among mass audiences. A short distance from Baltimore is America’s capital. Washington that has its own literary tradition, if a shrouded one; in a city, whose cheap reoccupation is politics. Among the more lucid portraits of life in and on the fringe of government and power is the novelist. Ward Just, a former International correspondent who assumed a second career writing about the old he knows best- the world of journalists, politicians, diplomats and soldiers. Just’s Nicholson at Large (1975) is a study of Washington newsmen, during and after the John F. Kennedy presidency of the early 1960s. In the City of Fear (1982) is a glimpse of Washington during the Vietnam era, and Jack Gance (1989) is sobering look at a Chicago politician and his rise to the US senate, or some of this more impressive works.

      Susanne Richards Shreve’s Children of Power (1979) assesses the private lives of a group of sons and daughters of the government, officials. While popular novelist Tom Clancy, a Maryland resident, has used Washington’s politico-military landscape as the launching pad for his series of epic suspense tales. Moving southward, Reynolds Price and Jill McCorkle also come into view. Price, Taylor’s mentor, was once described during the 1970s by a critic as being in the obsolescent post of “southern writer in residence”. He first came to attention with his novel A Long and Happy Life (1962) dealing with the people and the land of eastern North Carolina, and specifically with a young woman named Rosacoke Mustian. He continued writing tales of his heroine over the ensuing years; then shifted his focus to other themes before focusing again on a woman in his acclaimed work, Kate Vaiden (1986). It is his only novel written in the first-person. Price’s latest novel Blue Calhoun (1992) examines in fact of a passionate but bloomed love affair over the decades of family life.

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