Beginning with the stock market crash of 1929 and ending with America's entry into the Second World War, the long Depression decade was a period of immense social, economic and political turmoil. In response, writers as various as John Dos Passos, William Faulkner, Eugene O’Neill, Langston Hughes, Pearl S. Buck and others looked to the past to make sense of the present. In this important new study of the 1930s, the distinguished cultural historian Peter Conn traces the extensive and complex engagement with the past that characterized the imaginative writing of the decade. Moving expertly between historical events and literature, Conn includes discussions of historical novels, plays and poems, biographies and autobiographies, as well as factual and imaginary works of history. Mapping the decade’s extraordinary intellectual range with authority and flair, The American 1930s is a widely anticipated contribution to American literary studies.
Introduction: history and literary history; a cultural and political timeline; 1. Farewell to the twenties; 2. Looking for America: the presence of the past; 3. Lost and found: historical fictions; 4. Backward glances: biography and autobiography; 5. The Southern past; 6. Black memory; 7. History and the party line; Epilogue: the world of tomorrow and the world of yesterday; Appendix: literary prizes and bestsellers.
Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2010
"In this literary history, Conn offers a corrective to the assumption that the Depression decade was dominated culturally by leftist aesthetics and politics. Organized as a series of case studies, the book reveals fascinating vicissitudes of art and history."
The New Yorker