Abstract: Exploring the Styles and Techniques of 20th Century American Writers

AKA: something not to forget to post until August. I made the mistake of only making my account on this site late in the summer. I hope the order of these posts doesn’t throw anyone off, and I apologise for my constant scatterbrainedness.

Throughout high school English classes and my limited experience at William and Mary, I’ve always studied authors in the same way: What rhetorical devices does this person use? How do the sound devices employed in their poetry enhance their work? While all of these questions have brought me to familiarity with many authors and their styles, my knowledge of these people and their works feels stiff and shallow. I plan on investigating the nuances of the styles of various American authors and their works, particularly short stories and poetry. Throughout my study, I intend to familiarise myself with American writers of the 19th century by reading their works, doing select studies of literary criticism on their works, and writing works imitated by their style. I intend to focus most of my efforts on the creative writing portion of this study, because I’ve touched upon something similar very briefly in high school and found that it intensified both my enthusiasm for the works and their content. Once I’ve completed the study, I hope to have learned more about contemporary American writers and to have improved my skills and knowledge within the field of creative writing.

During my fall semester, I was lucky enough to sign up for a section of Introduction to Creative Writing. While we focused on mainly short stories, I grew familiar with writers such as the likes of Percival Everett, Raymond Carver, and Joyce Carol Oates. While I really enjoyed being able to go through a process of peer review with virtual strangers–sounds like sarcasm, but I’m aware that it’s important for a writer to be able to give and receive criticism–I was only able to produce one work, which wasn’t exactly what I had been hoping for. Since I plan on majoring in Linguistics, I’m not sure how further Creative Writing classes will factor into my studies, but I do want to continue working on writing regardless of that. I think that my work over the summer will provide for me an extension of the original course, particularly in the addition of poetry.

First off, I have to get my research done. I’ve selected several writers in order to draw from a variety of styles and traditions within Americans at the time and what I plan on looking at. I plan on studying the short stories and prose of F Scott Fitzgerald (“The Diamond as Big as the Ritz”), Gertrude Stein (“Miss Furr and Miss Skeene”), Dashiell Hammett, and Sherwood Anderson (“Winesburg, Ohio”). As for poetry, I want to look at the writings of ee cummings, Jean Toomer, Wallace Stevens (“Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”), and Hart Crane (“Voyages”). Research will be performed as follows: out of the authors that I’ve selected, I plan to read literary criticism related to the pieces and begin experimenting with their style in order to familiarise myself with their work. I’ve decided to specify my work to focus primarily on the general disillusionment with society prevalent in the 20th century, particularly because it parallels with a lot of popular culture of the 21st century. My work itself will be based on my own creative writing. While I plan on writing in the tradition of the writers listed above, there’s a latent fear that lies within writing something inspired by another author for me in that I don’t want to be too derivative or predictable, so I don’t think the pieces that I produce will be directly connected to those that I study. I plan on drawing from the subject matter (Fitzgerald’s and Toomer’s social criticism, Stein’s personal approach to LGBT issues), style (cummings’ manipulation of syntax and shapes), and form (Crane’s lyric poetry, Anderson’s short story cycle, Stein’s word portraits) of these authors. This is, to be honest, the part of the research that I’m looking forward to the most, since I haven’t had what I think is enough time to work on my creative writing in all my eighteen years.

As an undecided major, I’m still trying to choose whether I want my secondary major to be History or English–or maybe I’ll have a minor in Creative Writing! My interest in these fields lies primarily in the history of the 20th century, so the opportunity to research literature and its corresponding trends during said period may help me decide which subject I choose to major in. I know I won’t lose all interest in the subject I decline to major in, but I will end up learning less about it over the next few years, and this summer’s research will certainly help me make the right decision. After I finish the project, I intend to have the pool of resources required that will allow me to further study creative writing in my spare time. Even though it may have nothing to do with my major, creative writing has always been important to me, and I think that the resources available to me at the College will help me develop my skills.