Syllabus: An American Literary Canon

I promised it, so here it is. This is my reading syllabus for this year when it comes to my choices for an American literary canon.

American: authored in the United States of America or by someone born or connected to the United States (roughly)

Literary: Considered literature in the eyes of the “academy”

Canon: a collection

The Reasons Behind the Syllabus

I created this syllabus for this year for two reasons. The first reason is I plan on being a professor of literature, and I realized that I haven’t read a lot of the literary “classics” that are in the “canon.”

The second reason is I need to take the Literature in English GRE subject test. This test is a really long test that asks questions on literature from the early-early years (Beowulf, Aristotle, etc.) to the present. The questions range from “What literary theory is presented in this passage?” to “Who wrote this passage?” So, one must be well-read when approaching this test. Hence, this year is for the American literary canon. Next year will be for British and World literature, along with philosophy and literary theory. The following syllabus is created with the end goal of being well prepared for that test.

I’m also creating this syllabus in connection to the Great Courses course, “Classics of American Literature,” which provides lectures that I can listen to while reading. I’ve also relied heavily on Google and the ninth edition of the Norton Anthology of American Literature.

The list is rather exhaustive, clocking in at 16 pages in Word. So, I skimmed it down a little bit for this blog post to just look at the major works I will be reading. If it says “Selected” on it, it means I’m reading the selections found in the ninth edition of the Norton Anthology of American Literature.

The other authors I will be doing various activities with, including reading the introductions that the Norton editors so expertly put together and utilizing the wonderful sources we know as Wonderful Wikipedia and the Google God to gather some basic info on them. If you want that exhaustive list, email me and I’ll send you the Word doc.

If you have any thoughts or ideas on what I should add to this list, please feel free to share 🙂

The Syllabus

Beginnings to 1820

Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography

William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation

John Winthrop, A Model of Christian Charity

Jonathan Edwards, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

Thomas Paine, Common Sense

The Federalist Papers

Phillis Wheatley, Selected Works


Washington Irving, Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

James Fenimore Cooper, The Pioneers and The Last of the Mohicans

Lydia Howard Huntley Sigourney, Selected Poems

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Selected Essays

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Selected Poems

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Edgar Allan Poe, Selected Works

Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter and Selected Works

Abraham Lincoln, Selected Speeches

Margaret Fuller, The Great Lawsuit

Herman Melville, Moby-Dick and “Bartleby, the Scrivener”

Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass and Selected Poems

Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

Rebecca Hardin Davis, Life in the Iron Mills

Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

Emily Dickinson, Final Harvest: Emily Dickinson’s Poems


Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, Pudd’nhead Wilson

Henry James, A Portrait of a Lady, The Ambassadors, The Turn of the Screw, The Golden Bowl, The Wings of the Dove, Selected Works

Kate Chopin, Selected Works

Stephen Crane, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, The Red Badge of Courage, Selected Works

Edith Wharton, Ethan Frome, Selected Works

Sui Sin Far, “Mrs. Spring Fragrance”

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Selected Works

Jack London, The Call of the Wild, White Fang, Selected Works

Upton Sinclair, The Jungle


Willa Cather, My Antonia

Gertrude Stein, Writing of choice

Robert Frost, Selected Poems

Wallace Stevens, Selected Poems

Ezra Pound, Selected Poems

T. S. Eliot, Selected Poems

Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

Edna St. Vincent Milay, Selected Poems

e. e. Cummings, Selected Poems

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, Tender Is the Night, This Side of Paradise, The Beautiful and the Damned, Selected Works

Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms, The Sun Also Rises, Green Hills of Africa, Garden of Eden, A Moveable Feast, In Our Time, Old Man and the Sea, For Whom the Bell Tolls

Thomas Wolfe, “The Lost Boy”

Langston Hughes, Selected Poems

William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, Absalom, Absalom!, Go Down, Moses, Selected Works

John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath, Tortilla Flat, Of Mice and Men, East of Eden

Richard Wright, The Man Who Was Almost a Man

J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

Literature Since 1945

Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

Theodore Roethke, Selected Works

Eudora Welty, Petrified Man

Elizabeth Bishop, Selected Works

Eugene O’Neill, The Iceman Cometh, Desire Under the Elems, Long Day’s Journey into Night, The Emperor Jones, The Hairy Ape

John Cheever, “The Swimmer”

Robert Hayden, Selected Poems

Randall Jarrell, Selected Works

Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire, The Glass Menagerie

Bernard Malamud, “The Magic Barrell”

Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman, The Crucible

Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

James Baldwin, Go Tell It on the Mountain, Selected Works

Toni Morrison, Beloved, The Song of Solomon, Sula, Selected Works

Flannery O’Connor, Selected Works

Allen Ginsberg, “Howl”

Philip Levine, Sleected Poems

Anne Sexton, Selected Works

Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Adrienne Rich, Sleected Works

Ursula K. Le Guin, “Schrödinger’s Cat,” “She Unnames Them”

Sylvia Plath, Selected Poems, The Bell Jar

John Updike, “Separating,” The Withces of Eastwick

Philip Roth, “Defender of the Faith,” Novel of choice

Amiri Baraka, Selected Works

Audre Lorde, Selected Works

Mary Oliver, Selected Works

Lucille Clifton, Selected Works

Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior

Alice Walker, The Color Purple

August Wilson, Fences

Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried

Art Spiegelman, Maus

Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings