Taking its cue from Perry Miller’s 1956 classic of American literary criticism, The Raven and the Whale: The War of Words and Wits in the Era of Poe and Melville, Caroline Chamberlin Hellman’s new book examines ways in which contemporary multi-ethnic writers of the United States have responded to nineteenth- and early twentieth century texts historically central to the American literary canon.

Each chapter of Children of the Raven and the Whale looks down the roads American literature ultimately traveled, examining pairs and constellations of texts in conversation. In their rewritings and layerings of new stories over older ones, contemporary writers forge ahead in their interrogations of a spectrum of American experience, whether they or their characters are native to the United States, first- or second-generation immigrants, or transnational. Revealing the traces of texts by writers such as Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Richard Wright, and James Baldwin lying beneath contemporary American literature by Chang-rae Lee, Jonathan Lethem, Jhumpa Lahiri, Junot Díaz, Joseph O’Neill, Colum McCann, and Ta-Nehisi Coates, Hellman posits the existence of a twenty-first-century American renaissance.