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The American 1930s


  • 12 b/w illus.
  • Page extent: 280 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.45 kg
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 (ISBN-13: 9780521734318)

  • Also available in Hardback
  • Published March 2009

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$46.99 (C)
The American 1930s
Cambridge University Press
9780521516402 - The American 1930s - A Literary History - Edited by Peter Conn

The American 1930s

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.

Peter Conn is Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of The Divided Mind: Ideology and Imagination in America, 1898–1917 (Cambridge, 1983), Literature in America: An Illustrated History (Cambridge, 1989), and Pearl S. Buck: A Cultural Biography (Cambridge, 1996).

The American 1930s

A Literary History

Edited by

Peter Conn

Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, São Paulo, Delhi

Cambridge University Press
The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 8RU, UK

Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York
Information on this title:

© Peter Conn 2009

This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place without the written permission of Cambridge University Press.

First published 2009

Printed in the United Kingdom at the University Press, Cambridge

A catalogue record for this publication is available from the British Library

Library of Congress Cataloguing in Publication data

Conn, Peter J.
The American 1930s : a literary history / Peter Conn.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-0-521-51640-2 – ISBN 978-0-521-73431-8 (pbk.)
 1. American literature–20th century–History and criticism. 2. Nineteen thirties.3. Literature and history–United States–History–20th century. 4. America–In literature. 5. United States–Civilization–1918–1945. I. Title.
 PS221.C656 2009
 810.9′35873917–dc22   2008039998

ISBN 978-0-521-51640-2 hardback
ISBN 978-0-521-73431-8 paperback

Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of URLs for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this publication, and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.

For Terry


For our children

Steven, David, Alison, and Jennifer

And for our grandchildren

Nolan, Olivia, Mary, Zachary, and Alex


List of illustrations
A cultural and political timeline
Introduction: History and literary history
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


1.            John Steuart Curry, “The Return of Private Davis from the Argonne” Westervelt Warner Museum
2.            John Steuart Curry, “Parade to War” Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens
3.            Dorothea Lange, “Migrant Mother”
4.            Thomas Hart Benton, “Social History of Missouri” Missouri State Archives/Estate of Thomas Hart Benton/Licensed by Visual Artists and Galleries Association, Inc.
5.            Grant Wood, “Daughters of Revolution” Cincinnati Art Museum/Estate of Grant Wood/Licensed by Visual Artists and Galleries Association, Inc.
6.            Grant Wood, “Parson Weems’ Fable” Amon Carter Museum/Estate of Grant Wood/Licensed by Visual Artists and Galleries Association, Inc.
7.            Isabel Bishop, “Dante and Virgil in Union Square” Delaware Art Museum
8.            From the Index of American Design
9.            Horace Pippin, “John Brown on the Way to His Hanging” Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
10.           John Steuart Curry, “Tragic Prelude” Kansas State Historical Society
11.           Charity Anderson
12.           Aaron Douglas, “Slavery through Reconstruction” New York Public Library
13.           Jacob Lawrence, “Another Cause was Lynching” The Phillips Collection/Artists Rights Society
14.           Ben Shahn, “The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti” Whitney Museum of American Art/Estate of Ben Shahn/Licensed by Visual Artists and Galleries Association, Inc.


In the course of writing this book, I have accumulated a substantial list of obligations. Some of my colleagues, family members, and friends have read portions and drafts of the book. Others have offered companionship and needful distractions that have made the several years of work far more pleasant than they would otherwise have been.

I owe thanks to Roger Abrahams, Bob Barchi, Francis Barchi, Nina Baym, Omar Blaik, Angela Brintlinger, Ann Brownlee, David Brownlee, Art Casciato, Joel Conarroe, Steven Conn, Alison Conn, David Conn, Jennifer Conn, Patrice Razler Conn, Audrey Cotterell, Marta Dabezies, Michael delli Carpini, Joseph Farrell, Rich Gelles, Bonnie Gibson, Eduardo Glandt, Glen Gaulton, Gary Hack, Judy Ivy, Randy Ivy, Brian Kirk, Bill Koons, Linda Koons, Valarie Swain-Cade McCoullum, Afaf Meleis, James O’Donnell, Juan Parada, Susan Phillips, Jordan Pollinger, David Pope, Dina Portnoy, John Richetti, George Ritchie, Pat Rose, Arthur Rubenstein, Ray Ryan, Maartje Scheltens, Cathy Turner, Gerald Weales, Lawrence White, and Wendy White. Mike Fitts provided abundant hospitality. Wendy Steiner’s suggestions made this book better than it would have been. Finally, I owe a particular debt of gratitude to Carton Rogers and the entire staff of the University of Pennsylvania libraries. I have worked in a great many libraries and archives over several decades; Penn’s professional staff is by a long measure the finest I have ever encountered.

© Cambridge University Press
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