Among the 728 entries contained in the 4th edition, nearly 80 are new. The Reference Guide to American Literature focuses on the rich diversity of individuals that comprise an important group of American novelists, poets, dramatists and essayists. The introduction, written by Lewis Leary and Warren French, has been updated and expanded by John Istel, Amy Ling, Charles E. May, Marco Portales, A. LaVonne Brown Ruoff, and Linda Wagner-Martin and features sections discussing the multi-ethnic history and literature of the United States.
Entries include expanded multi-ethnic representation and profile more African Americans, Asian, Hispanic and Native American writers and works, as well as writers who concentrate on women's and gay and lesbian issues.
The first section, "Writers," provides milestones in the author's life and career, primary bibliographies categorized by genre, secondary bibliographies and critical essays written by an established scholar, editor or reviewer. The "Works" section presents 138 essays on notable works of American literature, including:
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