Barbarians in the Ivory Tower: American Literature Lives

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Joseph Epstein’s recent essay “What Killed American Lit.” in the Wall Street Journal purports to be a review of The Cambridge History of American Literature, but Epstein turns it into his soapbox and begins with a false premise – that American literature is dead and no one wants to read it anymore. I am a former English major and current professor of literature (among other subjects). My students have shown deep interest in reading novels – and even poetry. They love exploring works that speak to them, their experiences, their lives. Of course, literature can be taught badly. It is the responsibility of professors (and English teachers outside of college) to instill a love of reading in students. I was very fortunate – I had some wonderful English teachers and professors. I also had some very bad ones who made reading a chore and who did not help me to understand why I was reading certain books.