How has multiculturalism influenced today's American literature?

Expert Answers
vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Multiculturalism -- the idea that any broad culture, such as America's, is made up of many different contributing (and sometimes conflicting) cultures -- has had an enormous impact on recent American literature. At one time, canonical American literature was mainly written by white males. Eventually white women writers became accepted into the canon (that is, the accepted list of "major" writers and writings). African Americans were the next major group whose writings began to be considered canonical. In recent decades, however, the number of different groups whose writers and writings are seriously studied has expanded enormously. Such groups now include homosexual and lesbian writers; Native American writers; Asian American Writers; Hispanic writers; and many more.

A quick glance at the table of contents of a major collection of recent American writing -- the Heath Anthology of American Literature (volume 2) -- reveals the following list of names:

  • Hisaye Yamamoto
  • Pedro Pietri
  • Rudolfo A. Anaya
  • Amiri Baraka
  • Sonia Sanchez
  • Lucille Clifton
  • Ernest J. Gaines
  • Etheridge Knight
  • Alice Walker
  • Toni Cade Bambara
  • Victor Hernandes Cruz
  • Garrett Kaoru Hongo
  • David Henry Hwang
  • Rolando Hinojosa-Smith
  • Maxine Hong Kingston
  • Amy Tan
  • Gish Jen
  • Janice Mirikitani

This list could very easily be extended, but by now the point is clear: people of a wide range of cultural backgrounds are now having a major influence on American literature.

Often multiculturalism is an explicit topic of recent writings. For example, the Heath Anthology includes a poem by Lorna Dee Cervantes with the following title:

"Poem for the Young White Man Who Asked Me How I, an Intelligent, Well-Read Person Could Believe in the War Between Races" [sic]

Similarly, a poem by Aurora Levins Morales, included in the same anthology, is titled "Child of the Americas" (not America but "the Americas," referring to islands in the Carribean). Another work by the same author is titled "Puertoricaness." In both theme and often in style, then, much recent American literature reflects the influence of a multiplicity of cultures.


Read the study guide:
Multiculturalism and Literature

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question