The Pluralist Imagination from East to West in American Literature

The Pluralist Imagination from East to West in American Literature

The Pluralist Imagination from East to West in American Literature

The Pluralist Imagination from East to West in American Literature


The first three decades of the twentieth century saw the largest period of immigration in U.S. history. This immigration, however, was accompanied by legal segregation, racial exclusionism, and questions of residents' national loyalty and commitment to a shared set of "American" beliefs and identity. The faulty premise that homogeneity--as the symbol of the "melting pot"--was the mark of a strong nation underlined nativist beliefs while undercutting the rich diversity of cultures and lifeways of the population. Though many authors of the time have been viewed through this nativist lens, several texts do indeed contain an array of pluralist themes of society and culture that contradict nativist orientations.
In The Pluralist Imagination from East to West in American Literature, Julianne Newmark brings urban northeastern, western, southwestern, and Native American literature into debates about pluralism and national belonging and thereby uncovers new concepts of American identity based on sociohistorical environments. Newmark explores themes of plurality and place as a reaction to nativism in the writings of Louis Adamic, Konrad Bercovici, Abraham Cahan, Willa Cather, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Charles Alexander Eastman, James Weldon Johnson, D. H. Lawrence, Mabel Dodge Luhan, and Zitkala-Sa, among others.

This exploration of the connection between concepts of place and pluralist communities reveals how mutual experiences of place can offer more constructive forms of community than just discussions of nationalism, belonging, and borders.


The Blackout of 2003 in the city of Detroit, sparked by a power plant failure outside of Cleveland, soon spanned the Midwest and East Coast and extended into Ontario, Canada. My experience of this multiday blackout sets into relief many ideas concerning nativism, pluralism, and belonging—the subjects of this book—with which I had grappled as a person living in a large midwestern city to which I had moved from a smaller city in the Southwest (Albuquerque, New Mexico). Detroit, a city that had long been known nationally for race-driven strife, experienced a stretch of days where “blackout” and “power” became identifiers only of the sweeping collapse of the electricity grid. Of course, parts of Detroit itself were among the last in the power-outage region to come back online, conjuring up hostilities concerning both race and power, but during the first day of the event itself at least, an electric conversion of powerlessness into control and community spread through the city.

Detroit has been beset by national stories and local realities of its own “collapse,” yet the collapse of the electrical grid that caused the lights to go out for days was not about race or the school system or “white

1. Detroit, Michigan, 1914 (detail), showing steam and electric railways. Map by Wm. Sauer. Courtesy of the Stephen S. Clark Library, University of Michigan.

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