Washington Irving: The Father of American Literature?

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September 4, 2019

BY TRACY HOFFMAN
President of the Washington Irving Society

I began the Fall 2019 semester with “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”—in both an undergraduate survey of Early American Literature and an entry-level American Literary Cultures class.

In truth, I’ve never taken this approach, though I’m aware other professors blaze the trail. I typically move chronologically, from the beginning.

As we celebrate the 200th anniversary of The Sketch Book and the Sleepy Hollow area of New York has focused on “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” especially, I decided to start with 1819.

As we were finishing up “Sleepy” and “Rip,” and as I was feeding students more biographical information, an intriguing notion emerged in the upper-level survey class: concerns about the title historically given to Washington Irving: “The Father of American Literature.”

One of my students eloquently explained how labeling someone as “the father” of anything lends itself to putting everyone else who follows in boxes. The children must resemble the father in some way.

This student said someone more diverse should be the Father of American Literature.

Do most Americans have trouble with a white man being the father of things? Does anyone still call George Washington “the Father of the Country”?

I would be curious to know what other Washington Irving scholars think, and also what other literary societies think about the title. Should we “rewrite history” and name a more worthy individual? Should we abandon such titles altogether?

I will be checking back with my students on this question as we move through more Irving texts and other early texts. In the mean time, let me know what you think.

Recently, the WIS found a treasurer (which was almost like finding treasure!), so we will be making much-needed changes revamping our website and taking dues on the website. As we proceed, please help me consider branding (or re-branding) the organization. Would we want this mission statement:

The Washington Irving Society: A Community of Scholars Preserving the Legacy of the Father of American Literature?

Published in: on September 4, 2019 at 5:02 pm  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. thank you for writing this article, i like it

    Like

  2. I am Danish and interested in American history and literature. I would love to have your recommendations on writing for me to read. I am reading different books on George Washington and the Revolutionary War and visited historic places in Boston and Philadelphia and Washington D.C. By that I mean it’s easier for me to find info on history than on the literature.

    Like

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    Like


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