Take a literary tour of the United States with this 5 part series of 50 States, 50 Novels

50 States, 50 Novels- Part 4

The United States is known for the breadth of diversity in its literature – take a literary tour round the states with these fifty novels. See part 1, part 2, and part 3 to explore Alabama through New Jersey. Read on for novels set in New Mexico through South Carolina.

New Mexico – Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya (1972)

One of the cornerstones of Chicano literature, Rudolfo Anaya’s debut novel is an astonishing first person narrative following the life of Antonio, who recounts memories of his childhood in small town New Mexico.

New York – The Assistant by Bernard Malamud (1957)

New York City is arguably the most popular American setting for literature, and, in his second novel, Bernard Malamud explores the lives of working class immigrants in Brooklyn. The story, which revolves around a small grocery store, is one of sorrow and persistence, which perfectly embodies Malamud’s famous quotation “Life is a tragedy full of joy.”

North Carolina – Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe (1929)

One of the most influential American novelists of the early 20th century, Thomas Wolfe began his writing career with this autobiographical novel set in the fictional Altamont, Catawba, which is based on his hometown of Asheville, North Carolina.

North Dakota – Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich (1984)

National Book Award- winner Louise Erdrich’s debut novel comprises a series of interconnected stories, following the lives of a group of Native Americans living on a reservation in North Dakota.

Ohio – The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (1970)

Set in her hometown of Lorain, Ohio, Toni Morrison’s debut novel tells the story of a young African American girl who wishes for blue eyes. The novel’s protagonist is also aged ten during the time of the novel (early 1940’s) which would have been Morrison’s age at the same time, leading many to speculate that the novel contains autobiographical elements.

Oklahoma – The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939)

Although Steinbeck’s novel traverses several states, it gave human faces to a group that, at the time, were disparagingly referred to simply as “Okies.” Steinbeck’s novel also serves as a lament for the Oklahoma landscape, torn up by monstrous machines, and the changing face of the American agricultural industry.

Oregon – Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey (1964)

Both this novel and Kesey’s more famous debut, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, are set in Oregon, the state where Kesey spent his high school years and much of his later life. Although it is overshadowed by its predecessor in terms of popularity, Sometimes a Great Notion is considered by most critics to be the better work.

Pennsylvania – Edgar Huntly by Charles Brockden Brown (1799)

One of the first Gothic novels in American literature, Charles Brockden Brown’s Edgar Huntly; or, Memoirs of a Sleepwalker would go on to influence generations of writers. The story follows the title character’s search for his friend’s murderer, and uses the untamed Philadelphian woods of 18th century America for its ghastly backdrop.

Rhode Island – The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike (1984)

Upon release, this novel took everyone by surprise as a significant departure from Updike’s previous work, with a plot revolving around a group of witches in a fictional town in 1960’s Rhode Island.

South Carolina – Porgy by DuBose Heyward (1925)

Overshadowed by its more famous opera adaptation, DuBose Heyward’s Porgy is nonetheless an important novel, later inspiring Harlem Renaissance writers such as Langston Hughes. Set mostly in the tenements of Charleston, South Carolina, the novel is known for its accurate recreation of regional dialects and languages.

-Christian Kriticos

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