Emigration and Immigration in Literature

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Special Commissioned Essay on the Literature of the U.S. Immigrant Experience Dr. Richard J. Lane

The following special entry, written by noted scholar Dr. Richard J. Lane of the South Bank University, London, and the University of Debrecen, Hungary, presents an overview and analysis of the literature of the U.S. immigrant experience.

This essay examines the profound impact made upon American literature by the Great Migration of 1870-1913, when approximately twenty-five million immigrants made their way to the United States. The emerging literatures of, Italian-, Jewish- (with brief reference to Eastern European-), and Asian- (Chinese and Japanese) American writers will be the focus, contextualized through, or with reference to, key or representative writers of each immigrant group. Shared experiences and cultural differences will be shown to feed in to the immigrant literatures that took some time in fully developing to maturity, often arriving at a point where they became a part of mainstream American literature. The time-lag between the first arrivals of immigrants to American shores, and the writing of literary texts, varies and is generically complicated, in the sense that an immigrant group may start out with journalistic or autobiographical writing, moving on to poetry and then the novel form; this sequence is just one example of many variations. Later generations of ethnic groups often continue to meditate upon and write about the experiences of their grandparents, parents and their own peers. Therefore, writing produced some time after the period of the Great Migration will also be briefly considered.

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Essay: Introduction