In 1896, when Penn State English professor Fred Lewis Pattee published the article “Is there an American Literature?” in the Chicago journal Dial, Pattee’s aim was to make the study of American literature a topic worthy of consideration as a separate field of study, not just a subset of British literature. He became the first instructor in the country to hold the title Professor of American Literature. The historical marker located near the entrance of Pattee Library commemorates Penn State as one of the earliest centers for the study of American Literature.
By his death in 1950, Pattee was a renowned American literary scholar, essayist, novelist, and poet. Today at Penn State, he is best remembered for the library bearing his name and as the man who penned the words to the Alma Mater.
Just outside the southern entrance of Burrowes Building stands the Postwar Authors marker. Three literary giants were professors at Penn State at various times between 1936 and 1965. Theodore Roethke wrote Open House while an assistant professor of English; Joseph Heller began his novel Catch-22 while an instructor of English and after his Penn State career teaching English, John Barth used the University Park campus as a setting for Giles Goat-Boy.
Philip Young came to the University in 1959 and was awarded the title of Evan Pugh Professor of English for his extensive research on Ernest Hemingway, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and other prominent American authors. Charles William Mann, long-time chief of Rare Books and Special Collections at Pattee Library, cataloged a collection of Hemingway’s papers that Hemingway’s widow donated to the Kennedy Library. In 1969, the University Press published what was then considered the premier work on the subject — The Hemingway Manuscripts: An Inventory.
The research continues
Today, Sandra Spanier, professor of English, is general editor of The Hemingway Letters Project, a comprehensive study of over 6,000 of the author’s letters, approximately 85 percent of which have never been published. The project is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities and has been designated a “We, the People” project and authorized by the Ernest Hemingway Foundation/Society and the Hemingway Foreign Rights Trust. Three volumes of a projected seventeen are now in print.
Penn State Dubois Distinguished Professor of English Emeritus Richard Kopley is a recognized expert on Melville, Hawthorne and Edgar Allan Poe. Kopley recently edited and re-released The Salem Belle: A Tale of 1692, a novel published anonymously in 1842, which Kopley’s research shows was the inspiration for Hawthorne’s classic novel The Scarlet Letter.
Barbara Cantalupo, professor of English at Penn State Lehigh Valley, focuses on Poe and Emma Wolf. She received the Quinn Award for her publication Poe and the Visual Arts and is editor of the Edgar Allan Poe Review. She and Kopley chaired the fourth annual International Edgar Allan Poe Conference held in New York City in 2015.
James West, Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of English, has written the definitive biography of novelist William Styron and edited critical editions of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night and Trimalchio: An Early Version of The Great Gatsby. West is general editor of the Cambridge Fitzgerald Edition.
Members of the news media interested in American Literature research at Penn State should contact Matt Swayne at 814-865-5774 or firstname.lastname@example.org.