Writing Backwards: Historical Fiction and the Reshaping of the American Canon (Literature Now) (Paperback)
Contemporary fiction has never been less contemporary. Midcentury writers tended to set their works in their own moment, but for the last several decades critical acclaim and attention have fixated on historical fiction. This shift is particularly dramatic for writers of color. Even as the literary canon has become more diverse, cultural institutions have celebrated Black, Asian American, Latinx, and Indigenous novelists almost exclusively for their historical fiction.Writing Backwards explores what the dominance of historical fiction in the contemporary canon reveals about American literary culture. Alexander Manshel investigates the most celebrated historical genres--contemporary narratives of slavery, the World War II novel, the multigenerational family saga, immigrant fiction, and the novel of recent history--alongside the literary and academic institutions that have elevated them. He examines novels by writers including Toni Morrison, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Colson Whitehead, Julia Alvarez, Leslie Marmon Silko, Michael Chabon, Julie Otsuka, Yaa Gyasi, Ben Lerner, and Tommy Orange in the context of MFA programs, literary prizes, university syllabi, book clubs, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Manshel studies how historical fiction has evolved over the last half century, documenting the formation of the newly inclusive literary canon as well as who and what it still excludes. Offering new insight into how institutions shape literature and the limits of historical memory, Writing Backwards also considers recent challenges to the historical turn in American fiction.
About the Author
Alexander Manshel is an assistant professor of English at McGill University.