English is our de facto national language, a legacy of colonization. Yet today’s Americans speak more than 350 languages, a reflection of the nation’s immigrant history and the enduring presence of our indigenous people. Given such diversity, is it possible to say there is a single American literature, a body of work with a distinctive character? In a word, yes.
The authors featured on this site represent the evolution and flourishing of American writing. Writers of the 1600s and 1700s borrowed forms and themes from Europe, applying them to New World settings and issues. Then, over the course of the 1800s, a new, democratic style emerged, rooted in the way Americans talked and thought. Previously underrepresented voices began to be heard, culminated with an explosion of perspectives in the modern era. Taken together, this rich literary heritage reflects America in all of its complexity: its energy, hope, conflict, disillusionment, and creativity.
This online exhibit itself is only a sampling of the expansive American Voices exhibit in the Nation of Writers hall at the American Writers Museum. Along with the timeline of authors exploring the development of an American Voice, there are videos from experts who explore some of the core themes linking these authors together. You can explore some of that content here as well.
To start your literary journey through American history, choose an era spanning from colonial times to the late 20th century or click on one of the themes below.