Great American Literature Webinar Series

National Association of Scholars

Editor's Note: This page will be updated and republished when a new webinar is released.

This series looks at prominent works by American authors and what they have contributed to our national literature. This series will run through December of 2022. If you would like to register for future webinars in this series, you may find them here. If you'd like to view or share these from Youtube, be sure the check out our playlist!

Our past videos in the Great American Novel series:

What makes Gilead a great American novel? What theological influences permeate Gilead, and how does Robinson work to deconstruct common misconceptions of Puritanism? Who influenced Robinson's writings, and who did her writings influence?

This webinar features Abram van Engen, Professor of English at Washington University in St. Louis; Alex Engebretson, Senior Lecturer at Baylor University; and Alex Sosler, Assistant Professor of Bible and Ministry at Montreat College. You may find links to the speaker's books here.

James Baldwin's semi-autobiographical novel follows the story of Jim Grimes in 1930's Harlem as he navigates fraught relationships with his family and the church.

What makes Go Tell It on the Mountain a great American novel? How does the novel engage with or mirror biblical imagery, and what role does biblical allusion play in the work? Who influenced Baldwin's writings, and who did his writings influence?

This webinar features Douglas Field, Senior Lecturer in 20th Century American Literature at the University of Manchester; Doug Sikkema, Assistant Professor of Core Studies and English at Redeemer University; and Ralph Wood, University Professor of Theology and Literature at Baylor University.

David Herbert Lawrence once called The Scarlet Letter a "perfect work of the American imagination."

In this webinar, we ask: Is this still true today? To what does the subtitle, "A Romance," refer? Who influenced Hawthorne's writings, and who did his writings influence? What makes The Scarlet Letter a great American novel?

This webinar features Monika Elbert, Professor of English and Distinguished University Scholar at Montclair State University; Elisa New, Powell M. Cabot Professor of American Literature at Harvard University; Leland Person, Professor and Head of the English Department at the University of Cincinnati; and Ariel Silver, President-elect of the Hawthorne Society.

When it was published, Moby-Dick was a commercial flop, and it took decades for it to be recognized as a great work of literature.

What accounts for Moby-Dick's late rise to prominence? How did that compare with Melville's earlier writings? Who influenced Melville's writings, and who did his writings influence? What makes Moby-Dick a great American novel?

This webinar features Jeff Bilbro, Associate Professor of English at Grove City College and Editor of Front Porch Republic; Andrew Delbanco, Alexander Hamilton Professor of American Studies at Columbia University and President of the Teagle Foundation; and Robert K. Wallace, Regents Professor of English at Northern Kentucky University and co-founder of the Melville Society Cultural Project. The discussion is moderated by David Randall, Director of Research at the National Association of Scholars.

What makes Twice-Told Tales a work of great American literature?

Numerous writers of the day, including Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Edgar Allen Poe, and Orestes Brownson praised Hawthorne and the book as remarkable. Poe in particular lauded Hawthorne: "The style of Hawthorne is purity itself. His tone is singularly effective—wild, plaintive, thoughtful, and in full accordance with his themes.... we look upon him as one of the few men of indisputable genius to whom our country has as yet given birth." To what extent do you think Poe was correct? What is the importance of Hawthorne's use of short stories or "tales" to communicate his themes?

The webinar features Charles Baraw, Associate Professor of English at Southern Connecticut State University; Monika Elbert, Professor of English at Montclair State University; and Brenda Wineapple, author of Hawthorne: A Life. The discussion is moderated by Samuel Coale, Professor Emeritus of English at Wheaton College.

"From the listless repose of the place, and the peculiar character of its inhabitants, who are descendants from the original Dutch settlers, this sequestered glen has long been known by name of Sleepy Hollow ... A drowsy, dreamy influence seems to hang over the land, and to pervade the very atmosphere." - Washington Irving, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

In The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and its companion story, Rip Van Winkle, Washington Irving explores themes of progress and tradition, the supernatural and its influence, and the place of the outsider in insular communities.

What makes Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow great American stories? How have they informed or been informed by American folklore? Who influenced Irving's writings, and who did his writings influence?

This webinar features Mark Bauerlein, Professor of English at Emory University and Senior Editor at First Things, and Brian Jay Jones, New York Times bestselling biographer and author of Washington Irving: An American Original, the definitive biography of Irving.

Can we ever truly understand the hearts of other people? In Philip Roth's 1997 novel, American Pastoral, we learn of the tragic derailment of the life of Seymour "Swede" Levov, a once successful businessman and former high school star athlete from Newark, New Jersey. Levov's happy and conventional upper middle class life is ruined by the domestic social and political turmoil of the 1960s.

What makes American Pastoral a great American novel? What does the title American Pastoral refer to? How is American Pastoral relevant for readers today?

This webinar features Michael Wood, Professor of English Emeritus at Princeton University; Matthew Shipe, Senior Lecturer in English and Director of Advanced Writing at Washington University in St. Louis; and Steven Malanga, Senior Editor of City Journal and George M. Yeager Fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

When we look back on our lives, will we find ourselves "settled" or will we still be striving for success or subsistence? In Wallace Stegner's 1971 novel, Angle of Repose, an armchair historian attempts to write a biography of his grandparents on the American frontier and, by doing so, reflect on his own life.

What makes Angle of Repose a "great American novel"? What does Stegner's writing tell us about the nature of place and the importance of understanding one's history? In what ways is Angle of Repose relevant for readers today?

This event features Matthew Stewart, Humanities Teacher at The Ambrose School and author of The Most Beautiful Place on Earth: Wallace Stegner in CaliforniaJenn Ladino, Professor of English at the University of Idaho; and Richard Etulain, Professor Emeritus of History and former director of the Center for the American West at the University of New Mexico. The discussion is moderated by David Randall, Director of Research at the National Association of Scholars.

In 1952, Ralph Ellison published Invisible Man, a masterwork of fiction that follows its unnamed narrator through his travails first as a student at an all-black college, where he is expelled; then as a worker at a paint factory, where he causes an explosion and is sent to a mental hospital; and then through his involvement with a black nationalist faction in Harlem. Influenced by the likes of Hemingway, Faulkner, and Eliot, Ellison’s novel defies easy characterization or classification. Yet it continually makes lists of the greatest American novels.

What is it about Invisible Man that resonated so strongly with readers of its day, and now?

This webinar features Wight Martindale, member of the National Association of Scholars Board of Directors, Herbert William Rice, Professor of English at Kennesaw State University; and Mark Shiffman, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Classical Studies and Social and Political Theory at Villanova University. The discussion is moderated by David Randall, Director of Research at the National Association of Scholars.


Photo by Dakota Corbin on Unsplash

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