A splendidly researched and admirably written study of a largely unknown segment of American literary history. Stuckey-French makes a compelling case for the ways the evolution of the personal essay both shaped American’s middle class and was in turn shaped by it.
—Robert Atwan, editor of the Best American Essays series
The American Essay in the American Century uncovers the buried history of the modern American essay. Throughout the first half of the twentieth century writers and critics waged a debate over the “death of the essay.” Some argued that in an age of commercialism, mass culture, and shrill polemics, the essay was the last bastion of tradition, standards, and independent meditative thought. Others countered that the essay was inherently genteel, hopelessly obsolete, and foolishly enamored of English upper class conventions. The American Essay in the American Century shows how a third group chose to write essays that responded to the concerns of America’s expanding, increasingly cosmopolitan, and largely middle-class readership. By telling this story and engaging in this act of retrieval, and The American Essay in the American Century offers a spirited defense of the personal essay and reveals the important role it has played in modern American culture.
I came to Ned Stuckey-French’s The American Essay in the American Century expecting a lucid rendering of the essay as an essential twentieth-century form. I got that and much more. In a splendidly elegant style that E. B. White himself would admire, Stuckey-French opened my mind and even my heart to the rich literary rewards of the essay and to its enduring importance in human discourse. This is an inspiring book, an important book.
—Robert Olen Butler, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain
Eloquently written and perfectly argued, The American Essay in the American Century provides, through careful analysis and through example, a cogent reminder about the value and the pleasure of non-fiction prose. Always insightfully attuned to the cultural politics negotiated by the American essayist as he or she constructs ideal readers and idealizes the authorial position from which to address them, Ned Stuckey-French deftly examines the history of the essay in American culture. This is a smart, artful discussion of an important American art form.
—Alan Nadel, author of Containment Culture and, most recently, Television in Black-and-White America: Race and National Identity
I gobbled The American Essay in the American Century down and thought it was brilliant – the freshest, most insightful and creative contribution I’ve seen in a long time to the field. …Ned Stuckey-French has pulled off a tremendous feat.
—Philip Lopate, author of Bachelorhood, Against Joie de Vivre, and Portrait of My Body, and editor of The Art of the Personal Essay