The literature in English of the British colonies of North America and, after 1776, of the United States. The earliest colonial literature consisted mainly of religious and political tracts. The first notable poets were Anne Bradstreet (1612-72) and Edward Taylor (1642-1729), both of Massachusetts. The intellectual dominance of New England was continued into the early 18th century by the theologian and metaphysician Jonathan Edwards (1703-58).
The period of the American Revolution was dominated by political writers, such as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine. Influential writers of the early 19th century included Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper, and Edgar Allan Poe and American literature came to its full maturity in the works of the New England writers Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Herman Melville, the poets Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, and the humorist Mark Twain.
The influence of English literature on the early development of American literature was now reciprocated, notably in the works of the novelist Henry James and the poets T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, all of whom went to live in Europe. They were followed in the 1920s by Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Other writers who achieved a transatlantic reputation include the dramatists Eugene O'Neill, Tennessee Williams, and Arthur Miller and the poets Robert Frost, Robert Lowell, and John Berryman. The vitality of 20th-century American literature is most evident in the novel, practitioners of which include William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, Vladimir Nabokov, Thomas Wolfe, Norman Mailer, Saul Bellow, Gore Vidal, Kurt Vonnegut, John Updike, and Thomas Pynchon.
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