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Washington, D.C., has long been a magnet for writers and an object of interest and fascination to essayists, novelists, and poets. Literary Capital offers a compelling portrait of the city through the work of seventy authors ranging from early Americans such as Abigail Adams and Washington Irving to contemporaries such as Edward P. Jones and Joan Didion.

Arranged by both period and theme, this anthology begins with the founding of Washington in 1800 and extends through the early twenty-first century. In the introduction Christopher Sten explores two broad categories of prose—historical writing focused on politics and writing about the lives and times of the people of D.C. with official Washington as the setting. Sten also defines a core group of “Washington writers,” native and naturalized authors who focus much of their work on the city: Frederick Douglass, Henry Adams, Jean Toomer, John Dos Passos, Gore Vidal, Ward Just, and Susan Richards Shreve, among others.

Included are letters, essays, short stories, poems, and excerpts from novels and historical writings by a broad selection of such renowned American and international authors as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charles Dickens, Alexis de Tocqueville, Louisa May Alcott, Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, Sinclair Lewis, Norman Mailer, Mary McCarthy, and Joseph Heller. The reader also incorporates many writings by well-known African American authors, including Booker T. Washington, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Jean Toomer, Sterling A. Brown, Langston Hughes, May Miller, Ralph Ellison, and Marita Golden.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780820338361
Publisher: University of Georgia Press
Publication date: 07/01/2011
Pages: 484
Product dimensions: 6.50(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

CHRISTOPHER STEN is a professor of English at George Washington University. He is the coeditor of “Whole Oceans Away”: Melville and the Pacific and author or editor of three other books. He lives in Washington, D.C.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1. "This Wilderness City": Early Impressions (1800-1860)
Abigail Adams, from Letters of Mrs. Adams, the Wife of John Adams
Christian Hines, "My Early Days," from Recollections of Washington City
Washington Irving, from Letters of Washington Irving to Henry Brevoort
George Watterston, from The L---- Family at Washington; or, A Winter in the Metropolis
Margaret Bayard Smith, from A Winter in Washington; or, Memoirs of the Seymour Family
James Fenimore Cooper, from Notions of the Americans: Picked Up by a Travelling Bachelor; and "Letter to His Wife," from The Letters and Journals of James Fenimore Cooper
Frances Trollope, from Domestic Manners of the Americans
Alexis de Tocqueville, "Of Parliamentary Eloquence in the United States," from Democracy in America
Charles Dickens, from American Notes for General Circulation
Herman Melville, "They Visit the Great Central Temple of Vivenza," from Mardi, and a Voyage Thither

Chapter 2. Eye of the Storm: Race, Slavery, Civil War (1830-1905)
Black Hawk, from Autobiography
John Greenleaf Whittier, "Letter to the Essex Transcript," from The Letters of John Greenleaf Whittier
Ralph Waldo Emerson, from The Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1820-1872
William Wells Brown, "Death Is Freedom," from Clotel; or, The President's Daughter: A Narrative of Slave Life in the United States
Solomon Northup, from Twelve Years a Slave
Nathaniel Hawthorne, from "Chiefly About War-Matters. By a Peaceable Man"
Louisa May Alcott, from Hospital Sketches
Walt Whitman, from Memoranda During the War
Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley, "My Introduction to Mrs. Lincoln," from Behind the Scenes: Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House
Upton Sinclair, from Manassas: A Novel of the War

Chapter 3. Vanity Fair: Reconstruction and National Expansion (1865-1910)
Mark Twain, "The Facts Concerning the Recent Resignation"; and Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner, from The Gilded Age, a Tale of Today
John William DeForest, from Honest John Vane, a Story
Frederick Douglass, from "Our National Capital: An Address Delivered in Baltimore, Maryland, on 8 May 1877"
Bret Harte, "The Office-Seeker"
Henry Adams, from Democracy, an American Novel; and from "Washington (1850-1854)," in The Education of Henry Adams
Frances Hodgson Burnett, from Through One Administration
Gertrude Atherton, from Senator North
Booker T. Washington, from "The Reconstruction Period," in Up from Slavery, an Autobiography; and from "Colonel Roosevelt and What I Have Learned from Him," in My Larger Education
Henry James, from "Washington," in The American Scene
David Graham Phillips, from "A Memorable Meeting," in The Fashionable Adventures of Joshua Craig, a Novel

Chapter 4. City of Hope and Heartbreak: Minority Reports (1880-2000)
Anna Cooper, from "The Early Years in Washington: Reminiscences of Life with the Grimkés"
Paul Laurence Dunbar, "Mr. Cornelius Johnson, Office-Seeker"
Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins, "General Washington: A Christmas Story"
Mary Church Terrell, "What It Means to Be Colored in the Capital of the United States"
W. E. B. Du Bois, from "Miss Caroline Wynn," in The Quest of the Silver Fleece
Edward Christopher Williams, from When Washington Was in Vogue: A Love Story
Alain Locke, "Beauty and the Provinces"
Langston Hughes, "Washington Society," from The Big Sea
Ralph Ellison, from Juneteenth
Mario Bencastro, from Odyssey to the North

Chapter 5. A Capital Town: Private Lives and Public Views (1920-2010)
Sinclair Lewis, from Main Street: The Story of Carol Kennicott; and from It Can't Happen Here: A Novel
Jean Toomer, "Seventh Street" and "Avey," from Cane
Willa Cather, from The Professor's House
Samuel Hopkins Adams, "A Lesson in Politics," from Revelry
John Dos Passos, from "The State Park Bottoms," in Number One (Volume 2 in District of Columbia Trilogy);and from "Washington Is the Loneliest City," in State of the Nation
Louis J. Halle, from Spring in Washington
Marita Golden, from "Naomi," in Long Distance Life
Edward P. Jones, "Marie," from Lost in the City
Thomas Mallon, from Two Moons
Andrew Holleran, from Grief

Chapter 6. Nation's Crossroads: Poetry and Politics (1920-2010)
Langston Hughes, "Lincoln Monument: Washington," "Lincoln Theatre," "Un-American Investigators," from The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes
Sterling A. Brown, "Sporting Beasley," "Glory, Glory," and "No More Worlds to Conquer," from The Collected Poems of Sterling A. Brown
Allen Tate, "Aeneas at Washington," from Collected Poems, 1919-1976
Archibald MacLeish, "At the Lincoln Memorial," from Collected Poems, 1917-1982
Elizabeth Bishop, "View of the Capitol from the Library of Congress" and "From Trollope's Journal," from The Complete Poems,1927-1979
Allen Ginsberg, "Anti-Vietnam War Peace Mobilization" and "Capitol Air," from Collected Poems, 1947-1980
Denise Levertov, "At the Justice Department, November 15, 1969," from Poems 1968-1972; and "Psalm: People Power at the Die-in," from Candles in Babylon
May Miller, "The Washingtonian," from Dust of Uncertain Journey
Reed Whittemore, "The Destruction of Washington," from The Feel of Rock: Poems of Three Decades
E. Ethelbert Miller, "Intersections: Crossing the District Line," from Season of Hunger/Cry of Rain: Poems, 1975-1980

Chapter 7. Imperial Washington: Power, Corruption, Crisis (1950-2010)
Allen Drury, from Advise and Consent
Gore Vidal, from Washington, D.C.: A Novel; and "At Home in Washington, D.C."
Norman Mailer, "The Armies of the Dead," from Armies of the Night
Ward Just, "The Congressman Who Loved Flaubert"
Mary McCarthy, from "Notes of a Watergate Resident," in The Mask of State: Watergate Portraits
Robert Coover, from "Idle Banter: The Fighting Quaker among Saints and Sinners," in The Public Burning
Joseph Heller, from Good as Gold
Susan Richards Shreve, from Children of Power
George P. Pelecanos, from Nick's Trip
Joan Didion, From "Vichy Washington, June 24, 1999," in Political Fictions

Appendix: Residences of Washington Authors Featured in Literary Capital
Index of Authors and Titles

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