American Literature


The Newberry’s collections in American literature are broad and deep. Holdings of printed works begin in the pre-colonial period, are strongest from the colonial period through 1930, and continue through to the present. The library holds very rich collections of printed books, pamphlets, and maps for early America, including slave narratives (for more information on slave narratives at the Newberry, please consult our African American Studies research guide). Collections of fiction are very strong to 1850. From the nineteenth century, the Newberry holds pre-eminent collections in the printed works of Herman Melville, and American Indian captivity narratives. Also very strong are the collections of periodicals, ranging from the post-Revolutionary period to the early twentieth century and the age of modernist “little magazines.”

More recent literature is available in the Newberry’s impressive collection of literary manuscripts from Chicago and Midwestern authors, critics, journalists, cultural clubs, and theaters. These include the papers of Sherwood Anderson, the Arts Club, Fanny Butcher, Jack Conroy, Malcolm Cowley, Floyd Dell, the Dill Pickle Club, Henry Blake Fuller, Harry Hansen, and Ben Hecht. The Newberry continues to add to these collections, in recent years acquiring papers and printed works by contemporary local authors such as Sara Paretsky and Harry Mark Petrakis.

To find books on American literature in our collection, you can search by Subject in our Primo VE catalog using the “Advanced Search” function to the right of the search bar. Select “Subject” in the drop-down menu of search features in place of “Any field,” then copy-and-paste one of the following subject headings:

American literature

American poetry

Authors, American

Folklore United States [or state or region name]

Poets, American

You may also search by title or author, if either of these is known.

Results can be filtered by Material Type, Language, Date, Author, Title, etc. prior to searching by using the drop-down menus in the search panel. If your search produces too many options, you can also narrow results using the faceted options on the left-hand side, under the heading “Refine your results.” Clicking on one of these filter terms or the box to their left will limit results to only those that fit this criterion, while clicking on the red box to the right of the term will exclude those results.

For those items listed as on the 3rd floor Reference shelves, you might also consider looking at the call numbers around those books, since there should be materials dealing with similar topics nearby. For more information about searching in our online catalog, please see our Guide to Primo VE.

Blanck, Jacob. Bibliography of American Literature. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1955-1991. Call number: Ref Z 1225 .B55 1955. Another set available in Special Collections 4th floor.

Chielens, Edward, ed. American Literary Magazines: The Twentieth Century. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992. Call number: Ref PN 4877 .A45 1992.

Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit, MI: Gale, 1978-. Volumes also separately cataloged; search “Dictionary of Literary Biography” as a title in the online catalog to retrieve a complete list of volumes held at the Newberry. Call number: Ref PN 451 .D5 and folio PN 451 .D5 (the latter available in General Collection 2nd floor).

Greasley, Philip, ed. Dictionary of Midwestern Literature. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001. Call number: Ref PS 273 .D53 2001.

Haralson, Eric, ed. Encyclopedia of American Poetry. The Nineteenth Century. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 1998. Call Number: Ref PS 316 .E53 1998.

Haralson, Eric, ed. Encyclopedia of American Poetry. The Twentieth Century. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, c2001. Call number: Ref PS 323.5 .E54 2001.

Nelson, Emmanuel, ed. African-American Authors, 1745-1945: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000. Call Number: Ref PS 153 .N5 A32 2000.

Parini, Jay, ed. The Oxford Encyclopedia of American Literature. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. Call number: Ref PS 21 .E537 2004.

All of these items have a “Ref” call number and can be viewed on the open shelves on the 3rd floor. Similar books can be found by searching in the online catalog by subject for the following:

American literature Bibliography

American literature Bio-bibliography

American literature Dictionaries

American literature Encyclopedias

American literature History and criticism

American literature Indexes

American poetry History and criticism

American periodicals Bibliography

Authors, American Biography

Additional sources can also be found on our Literature Reference Sources page.

American Literary Scholarship. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1963-. Location: Reference 3rd floor. “…systematic evaluative guide to current published studies of American literature” (ALA Booklist). Call number: Ref PS 3 .A47.

ESQ. [Pullman: Dept. of English, Washington State University], 1969-. Location: General Collection 2nd floor. Focused on 19th-century American literature. Call number: Y 207 .28. Earlier issues available.

Legacy. Amherst, MA: Dept. of English, University of Massachusetts, c1984-. Focused on American women writers. Location: General Collection 2nd floor. Call number: folio PS 147 .L44.

Studies in American Indian Literatures. New York: The Association, 1980-. Location: Special Collections 4th floor. Call number: Ayer folio PM 151 .A87.

Western American Literature. [Logan, Utah, etc.]: Western Literature Association. 1966-. Location: General Collection 2nd floor. Call number: Y 207 .967.

Newberry Library. American Novels with an American Setting Printed before 1880; a Check List of Books in the Library August 1941. Chicago: The Newberry Library, 1941. Location: Local & Family History Reference 2nd floor. Call number: Ref Z1231 .F4 N48 1941.

Savory, Jerold J. An Uncommon Comic Collection: Victorian Humor Periodicals in the Newberry Library. Location: Local & Family History Reference 2nd floor. Call number: Ref Z6944 .W5 N48 1983.

Willa Cather Collections

The Newberry has a rich collection of manuscripts, photographs, printed materials, periodicals, and ephemera related to Chicago and Midwestern writers. The library has collected material related to Willa Cather since the 1950s. For more items by, about, and relevant to Cather, see the Newberry’s Willa Cather Collections page.

Children's Books

The Newberry has an extraordinary and wide-ranging children’s book collection. The collection includes fiction, folklore, classical literature, poetry, children’s textbooks, and primers, as well as secondary literature such as literary criticism, bibliographies, and biographical resources.

The Newberry’s Online Catalog is the best place to check for works related to children’s literature. If you are looking for a particular author or title, search under these headings first. Checklists, bibliographies, and other reference works (see below) may help you identify likely authors, titles, publishers, and series.

Please note: The Newberry does not present the John Newbery Medal. This award is given by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association.

The following are a sampling of reference/secondary sources related specifically to American children’s literature:

Avery, Gillian. Behold the Child: American Children and Their Books, 1621-1922. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994. Location: General Collection 2nd floor. Call Number: Wing PS 490 .A99 1994.

Crain, Patricia. The Story of A: The Alphabetization of America from The New England Primer to The Scarlet Letter. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000. Call Number: Wing PE 2818 .C73 2000 (General Collection 2nd floor) or Wing ZP 983 .S793 (Special Collections 4th floor).

Fenn, Patricia. Rewards of Merit: Tokens of a Child’s Progress and a Teacher’s Esteem as an Enduring Aspect of American Religious and Secular Education. [Schoharie, N.Y.]: Ephemera Society of America; Charlottesville [Va.]: Distributed by Howell Press, Inc., 1994. Location: General Collection 2nd floor. Call Number: folio LA 230 .F46 1994.

Newton, Sarah E. Learning to Behave: A Guide to American Conduct Books before 1900. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1994. Location: Reference 3rd floor. Call Number: Ref BJ 1547 .N48 1994.

Fictionalized Slave Narratives

The antislavery movement in the nineteenth century generated a number of narratives about slavery, some widely read, which were subsequently revealed to be fictitious or heavily fictionalized though sometimes based on an actual case or person.

If you know the author or title (check the North American Slave Narratives online bibliography), search using those commands from the main catalog search page. You may also search using the following subject headings:

Women Slaves—Fiction
Fugitive Slaves—Fiction
Slavery—United States—Fiction
Slaves—United States—Fiction

Harriet Beecher Stowe and Uncle Tom's Cabin

The Newberry owns several interesting items related to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, including sheet music, plays, ballets, and translations. To find these items in the online catalog, you can search in the Author field for “Stowe, Harriet Beecher, 1811-1896,” or in the Title field for “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

Herman Melville Collection

Perhaps the largest collection of Melville material in existence, the Newberry’s Herman Melville Collection was originally assembled to support the work of the editorial staff of The Writings of Herman Melville, a project established by Professor Harrison Hayford of Northwestern University. Professor Hayford's personal library formed the core of the collection, and it has been greatly augmented by purchases and gifts. Among the large gifts are translations donated by Leland Phelps; the Melville collection of Dr. James A. FitzSimmons, a Chicago dentist and bibliophile; and the Moby Dick collection of Professor H. Howard Hughes.

The Melville Collection is nearly complete in its holdings of editions issued during Melville's lifetime and extensive in editions and printings from his death to the present; collected works and selections; periodicals to which he contributed; anthologies published during his lifetime that include Melville's writings; translations; books entirely or partially about Melville; dissertations; a representative collection of anthologies and textbooks containing Melville; anthologies that one would expect to include Melville but do not; books on whaling; books Melville used as source material; books drawing on Melville for their titles or epigrams; books of which Melville owned a copy; and Melville titles in other formats, e.g. comic books, Braille, audio tapes, etc.

The Newberry’s Online Catalog is the best place to check for items by and about Herman Melville. However, some items remain uncatalogued; contact a librarian if you are interested in using this collection.

By 1920, Chicago had become “the literary capital of the United States,” according to one of the nation’s influential cultural arbiters, H. L. Mencken. Indeed, American literature of the period bore an aesthetic shaped by a palpable confrontation with the city’s railroads, skyscrapers, and stockyards. Chicago helped produce many of the most important writers of the era, from Theodore Dreiser and Carl Sandburg to Willa Cather and Sherwood Anderson. Many started as journalists for Chicago newspapers, which were famous for breeding sharp, recognizable voices.

The Newberry has compiled a rich collection of manuscripts, photographs, printed materials, periodicals, and ephemera related to Chicago and Midwestern writers. The collection includes materials from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition through the Chicago Black Renaissance of the 1930s and 1940s and the present.

Finding aids for these can be found in the Literature section of Modern Manuscripts webpages. For those particularly interested in little magazines (literary magazines, which are usually avant-garde and non-commercial), the Jack Conroy Papers are a great resource.


Most of the databases at the Newberry are subscription databases; therefore access is available to registered readers only within the library building. Those listed below are subscription databases.

JSTOR: Provides full-text access to an archive of major scholarly journals. Contains complete runs from their first volumes up through approximately five years ago.

ProjectMuse: Provides full-text access to recent volumes of scholarly journals in the arts and humanities published by Johns Hopkins University Press and journals of other university presses.

MLA International Bibliography: Indexes materials on literature, languages, linguistics, and folklore, excluding book reviews. Citations from over 4,000 journals and series published worldwide, as well as books, essays, working papers, proceedings, dissertations, and bibliographies. Also includes citations to books and journal articles having to do with linguistic and language topics.

For a comprehensive list of all our databases, visit our Databases webpage.

Digital Exhibitions

Making Modernism: Literature and Culture in 20th Century Chicago: Featuring archival documents and contextual essays on the literature of Chicago in connection with the unique urban, economic, and cultural history of the city, this collection includes items from Arthur Conan Doyle, Kate Chopin, Ben Hecht and many others.

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