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:

“It is awfully easy to be hard-boiled about everything in the daytime, but at night it is another thing.”

What makes The Sun Also Rises a great American novel? What are some of the major themes of the book, and how does Hemingway draw them out?

This webinar features James Nagel, Eidson Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Georgia and Resident Scholar at Dartmouth College; Kirk Curnutt, Professor and Chair of English at Troy University at Montgomery; and Jerry Kennedy, Boyd Professor of English at Louisiana State University.

The discussion is moderated by David Randall, Director of Research at the National Association of Scholars.

You can find a list of the speakers' books available for purchase here.

“A high degree of refinement, however, does not seem to subdue our wicked propensities so much after all; and were civilization itself to be estimated by some of its results, it would seem perhaps better for what we call the barbarous part of the world to remain unchanged.”

What makes Typee a great American novel? How does it compare to Melville's later works? Who influenced Melville's writings, and who did his writings influence?

This webinar will feature Steven Olsen-Smith, Professor of English at Boise State University and General Editor of Melville's Marginalia Online, and Matthew Rebhorn, Professor of English at James Madison University and Executive Secretary of the Melville Society. The discussion will be moderated by David Randall, Director of Research at the National Association of Scholars.

“Chingachgook grasped the hand that, in the warmth of feeling, the scout had stretched across the fresh earth, and in that attitude of friendship these intrepid woodsmen bowed their heads together, while scalding tears fell to their feet, watering the grave of Uncas like drops of falling rain.”

What makes The Last of the Mohicans a great American novel? How has the novel influenced American depictions of frontiersmen and American Indians? Who influenced Cooper's writings, and who did his writings influence?

This webinar features Steven Harthorn, Chair of the Department of English and Literature and Professor of English at the University of Northwestern, St. Paul; Doreen Alvarez Saar, Professor of English at Drexel University and American Literature Editor for the Rocky Mountain Review of Language and Literature; and Craig White, Professor Emeritus of Literature at the University of Houston, Clear Lake.

The discussion is moderated by David Randall, Director of Research at the National Association of Scholars.

You can find a list of the speakers' books available for purchase here.

"I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff - I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I'd really like to be.”

What makes The Catcher in the Rye a great American novel? How does Holden deal with feelings of isolation and alienation? Is he a static character, or does the ending mark a maturation of his outlook? Who influenced Salinger's writings, and who did his writings influence?

This webinar features Brent Cline, Associate Professor of English at Hillsdale College; Sarah Graham, Associate Professor in American Literature at the University of Leicester; and Anne Phillips, Professor of English and Associate Head of the Graduate Faculty at Kansas State University.

The discussion is moderated by David Randall, Director of Research at the National Association of Scholars.

You can find a list of the speakers' books available for purchase here.

“And I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.”

What makes The Great Gatsby a great American novel? How does the idea of the American dream permeate the novel? Who influenced Fitzgerald's writings, and who did his writings influence?

This webinar features William Blazek, Professor of American Literature and Modern Culture at Liverpool Hope University and Vice President of the F. Scott Fitzgerald Society; Sarah Churchwell, Chair in Public Understanding of the Humanities at the School of Advanced Study at the University of London; Lee Oser, Professor of English at the College of the Holy Cross; and Nicolas Tredell, Extramural Lecturer in Literature at the University of Sussex.

The discussion is moderated by David Randall, Director of Research at the National Association of Scholars.

You can find a list of the speakers' books available for purchase here.

“In reality they all lived in a kind of hieroglyphic world, where the real thing was never said or done or even thought, but only represented by a set of arbitrary signs.”

What makes The Age of Innocence a great American novel? To what does the eponymous "age of innocence" refer? Who influenced Wharton's writings, and who did her writings influence?

This webinar features Candace Waid, Professor of English at the University of California, Santa Barbara; Carol Singley, Professor of English at Rutgers University-Camden; and Sheila Liming, Associate Professor of Writing at Champlain College. The discussion is moderated by David Randall, Director of Research at the National Association of Scholars.

You can find a list of the speakers' books available for purchase here.

“Sweet, crazy conversations full of half sentences, daydreams and misunderstandings more thrilling than understanding could ever be.”

What makes Beloved a great American novel? Who, or to what, does Beloved refer to? Who influenced Morrison's writings, and who did her writings influence?

This webinar features Patricia Brown, Professor of English at Azusa Pacific University; Carolyn Denard, Founder and Board Chair of the Toni Morrison Society; and Julia Yost, Senior Editor at First Things. The discussion is moderated by David Randall, Director of Research at the National Association of Scholars.

You can find a list of the speakers' books available for purchase here.

“Right is right, and wrong is wrong, and a body ain’t got no business doing wrong when he ain’t ignorant and knows better.”

What makes The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn a great American novel? When published, it was widely criticized for its "coarse language," a charge that continues to this day. Does the book's language undercut its attempts to challenge the entrenched attitudes of its day?

This webinar features Alan Gribben, Emeritus Professor of English at Auburn University; Caroline Breashears, Professor of English at St. Lawrence University; and Robert Lamb, Professor of English in the College of Liberal Arts at Purdue University. The discussion is moderated by David Randall, Director of Research at the National Association of Scholars.

You can find a list of the speakers' books available for purchase here.

“Living without expectations is hard but, when you can do it, good. Living without hope is harder, and that is bad. You have got to have hope, and you mustn’t shirk it. Love, after all, 'hopeth all things.' But maybe you must learn, and it is hard learning, not to hope out loud, especially for other people. You must not let your hope turn into expectation.”

What makes Hannah Coulter a great American novel? How does Berry draw out the ideas of fidelity and rootedness? Who influenced Berry's writings, and who did his writings influence?

This event features Cliff Barbarick, Associate Professor in the Department of Bible, Mission, and Ministry at Abilene Christian University; Jack Baker, Professor of English at Spring Arbor University; and Jeff Bilbro, Associate Professor of English at Grove City College. The discussion is moderated by John Sailer, a research fellow at the National Association of Scholars.

You can find a list of the speakers' books available for purchase here.

“There are in this world blessed souls, whose sorrows all spring up into joys for others; whose earthly hopes, laid in the grave with many tears, are the seed from which spring healing flowers and balm for the desolate and the distressed.”

What makes Uncle Tom's Cabin a great American novel? What effect did it have on attitudes toward slavery in America? Did the novel play a role in laying the groundwork for the Civil War?

This webinar features David Reynolds, Distinguished Professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, and Hollis Robbins, Dean of Humanities at the University of Utah. You can find links to the speakers' books by clicking here.

The discussion is moderated by David Randall, Director of Research at the National Association of Scholars. 

“There ain't no sin and there ain't no virtue. There's just stuff people do.”

Author and Steinbeck scholar Peter Lisca once noted that when it was published, Steinbeck's novel, "was a phenomenon on the scale of a national event. It was publicly banned and burned by citizens, it was debated on national radio; but above all, it was read." Why was the book so controversial? Who influenced Steinbeck's writings, and who did his writings influence? What makes The Grapes of Wrath a great American novel? 

This webinar features Robert DeMott, Edwin and Ruth Kennedy Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English at Ohio University; Gary Scharnhorst, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English at the University of New Mexico; and Susan Shillinglaw, Professor of English at San Jose State University.

The discussion is moderated by Richard Etulain, Professor Emeritus of History at the University of New Mexico.

“There was nothing but land; not a country at all, but the material out of which countries are made.”

What makes My Ántonia a great American novel? How did Cather's portrayal of the West, and of lower class people, depart from other popular novels of the day? Who influenced Cather's writings, and who did her writings influence?

This webinar features Jon Schaff, Professor of Government and Director of the Center for Public History and Civic Engagement at Northern State University, and Robert Thacker, Charles A. Dana Professor of Canadian Studies and English at St. Lawrence University. You can find links to the speakers' books by clicking here.

The discussion is moderated by David Randall, Director of Research at the National Association of Scholars.

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what."

What makes To Kill a Mockingbird a great American novel? How does it deal with themes of racial injustice and the loss of innocence? Who influenced Lee's writings, and who did her writings influence?

This webinar features Allen Mendenhall, Associate Dean and Grady Rosier Professor in the Sorrell College of Business at Troy University, and Editor of the Southern Literary ReviewChris Metress, University Professor and Associate Provost at Samford University; and Don Noble, Professor of English, Emeritus, at the University of Alabama. You can find links to the speakers' books by clicking here.

The discussion is moderated by David Randall, Director of Research at the National Association of Scholars.

“Violence is a personal necessity for the oppressed...It is not a strategy consciously devised. It is the deep, instinctive expression of a human being denied individuality.”

James Baldwin once wrote, "No American Negro exists who does not have his private Bigger Thomas living in his skull." What did he mean by that? How is the idea of violence treated in the novel? What makes Native Son a great American novel?

This webinar features James Campbell, the former Times Literary Supplement NB columnist and author of Exiled in Paris: Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Samuel Beckett and Others on the Left BankJim Hartley, Professor and Chair of Economics at Mount Holyoke College; and Damon Root, senior editor at Reason, where he writes about law, politics, and history. You can find links to the speakers' books by clicking here.

This discussion is moderated by David Randall, Director of Research at the National Association of Scholars.

“Don't laugh at the spinsters, dear girls, for often very tender, tragic romances are hidden away in the hearts that beat so quietly under the sober gowns, and many silent sacrifices of youth, health, ambition, love itself, make the faded faces beautiful in God's sight. Even the sad, sour sisters should be kindly dealt with, because they have missed the sweetest part of life, if for no other reason.”

Little Women reinforces the ideas of "individuality" and "female vocation" frequently throughout—what role do these ideas play in the book? Who influenced Alcott's writings, and who did her writings influence? What makes Little Women a great American novel?

This webinar features Christine Doyle, Professor Emeritus of English at Central Connecticut State University; Marlowe Daly-Galeano, Associate Professor of English and Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at Lewis and Clark State College; and Gregory Eiselein, Donnelly Professor of English and University Distinguished Teaching Scholar at Kansas State University. You can find links to their books and publications by clicking here.

“He had learned well the law of club and fang, and he never forewent an advantage or drew back from a foe he had started on the way to Death... He must master or be mastered; while to show mercy was a weakness... Kill or be killed, eat or be eaten, was the law; and this mandate, down out of the depths of Time, he obeyed.”

What makes The Call of the Wild a great American novel? How does the novel exemplify American pastoralism—the return of the mythic hero to nature? Who influenced London's writings, and who did his writings influence?

This webinar features Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn, Professor of History at Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs; Geoffrey D. Smith, Head of the Rare Books and Manuscripts Library at The Ohio State University and author of American Fiction, 1901-1925: A Bibliography; and Kenneth Brandt, Professor of English at the Savannah College of Art and Design and editor of The Call, the magazine of the Jack London Society. You may find links to their books by clicking here.

“No, no—there are depths, depths! The more I go over it, the more I see in it, and the more I see in it, the more I fear. I don’t know what I don’t see—what I don’t fear!”

The Turn of the Screw is one of the foundational works of modern horror. What makes The Turn of the Screw a great American novel? How has the novella informed or been informed by the horror genre? In what ways is it distinctive from traditional gothic horror? Who influenced James's writings, and who did his writings influence?

This webinar features Michael Anesko, Professor of English and American Studies at Penn State University, a member of the editorial board of the Henry James Review, and a past President of the Henry James Society; Daniel Mark Fogel, Professor of English, former President of the University of Vermont and State Agricultural College, founding editor of the Henry James Review, and former executive director of the Henry James Society; and John Carlos Rowe, University of Southern California Associates Chair in Humanities and Professor English, American Studies, and Ethnicity and Comparative Literature, and Vice President of the Henry James Society. You can find links to their books by clicking here.

Despite his youth and lack of personal experience with warfare at the time of his writing, Crane wrote remarkably realistic depictions of battles. His writings throughout his short life would be always held up against his seminal work. How does Crane depict the themes of cowardice and heroism? What makes The Red Badge of Courage a great American novel?

This webinar features Patrick Dooley, Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at St. Bonaventure University; Lee Clark Mitchell, Holmes Professor of Belles-Lettres at Princeton University; and James Nagel, Edison Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Georgia, Resident Scholar at Dartmouth College, and President of the International Society for the Study of the American Short Story. You can find links to the speaker's books here.

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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