Any collection of national literature rests finally on that country’s founding myths. This is to say, literary history is the practice of legend making, and the choices behind its creation won’t be innocent, objective, or even wholly scholarly. Indeed, literary anthologies are freighted with all kinds of assumptions, from the geopolitical (in the tensions between history, land, and identity) to the generic (i.e. what counts as “literature”? Who counts as an “author” when?). Once we situate literature as belonging to the history of a particular space,—the point of departure for both the anthology and the literature survey course it supports—any single conceptualization of, let’s say, an “Early American Literature” collection issues a statement on “American” history itself. This is[…]

O blessed poet of freedom and God, How few have ascended the heights thou hast trod! Marietta Walker printed these lines in Autumn Leaves— the young adult literary journal she founded and edited—two years before donating a 20 acre plot of land in southern Iowa for the construction of Graceland College. Walker, who became one of the college’s first instructors, was already a prolific author in the blossoming literary scene of fin de siècle Lamoni. In the verse above, a tribute to J.G. Whittier, Walker stressed the core values she shared with the abolitionist bard—social justice and spirituality—and on which Graceland College and her poetry were established. As a resident of nineteenth century letters, Walker believed deeply in the ethical significance[…]