AWM’s walls reflect America back to itself through the words of its greatest writers. Every day we rediscover how these past works remain relevant to the themes and issues contemporary writers are still exploring.

Read these five writers in 2019 to understand current-day debates about identity in America:

JD Salinger October 11, 1950 Photographed by Lotte Jacobi. Copyright is held by Lotte Jacobi Collection, University of New Hampshire.

J.D. Salinger

January 1, 2019 marked J.D. Salinger’s 100th birthday, and Americans in 2019 will be reflecting on the influence he had on the way we view young adult literature. Though he led a largely private life in his later years, his early success was so monumental that his short stories and his seminal work The Catcher in the Rye continue to be cited as key influencers for many, including Bob Dylan, who’s personally inscribed copy of The Catcher in the Rye in currently on display in the AWM’s 2019 temporary exhibit Bob Dylan: Electric..

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Vladimir Nabokov

The question of what makes us American and what defines the American voice will certainly continue to be discussed in 2019. Immigrants such as Vladimir Nabokov have always formed the backbone of American society, and the AWM will host an exhibit this year exploring the immigrant experience. His best-known work, Lolita, also raises interesting questions on identity, consent, and sexuality – all very relevant topics in the 2019 American social landscape.

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Octavia Butler

Octavia Butler

As the term Afrofuturism becomes more common, its literary definition becomes less clear. Octavia Butler is often associated with the subgenre, but others have argued that this creates an unnecessary divide in science fiction. Check out Butler’s Xenogenesis series to inform your position in the ongoing debate.

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Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman

May 31 marks the 200th anniversary of Walt Whitman’s birthday. In 1855, Whitman self-published his seminal work Leaves of Grass and his unconventional free verse shocked many readers, but many writers since have been influenced and inspired by the radical nature of his words. Through his writing, Whitman sought to identify a singular, unifying American identity that would bring the vast differences of this country together into a distinct voice. In “Song of Myself” he writes, “I am large, / I contain multitudes” and at a time when America itself contains multitudes of diverse voices, it is helpful to return to Whitman and his writing to see how those multitudes can come together.

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Louisa May Alcott

2019 marks the 150th anniversary of the publishing of Little Women, a book which led the way in portraying strong female leads. As women continue the fight for equity, Louisa May Alcott’s defining work provides a look back on the past and inspiration for the future.

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