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American Authors and the Literary Marketplace Since 1900


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Biographer, book historian, and scholarly editor, James L. W. West III is Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of English at Pennsylvania State University.


To understand literature qua ``literature'' we must be knowledgeable about the commercialism that directs publishing, lectures the author, who teaches at Pennsylvania State University, and in this overview, which proves to be insufficiently specific for students and too academic for general readers, he attempts to address and ultimately fails both audiences. West views authorship as a cottage industry that produces literary piecework for publishers to turn into saleable goods and writers themselves as economically classless and thus unprotected by professionalization or unionization in the free-enterprise economy. Noting a paucity of post-1950 archival materialthe information covering our own day, however, proves to be the most interesting in the studyhe concentrates on late 19th and early 20th century authors and publishers, tracking the evolving book industry as transportation systems and book clubs expanded distribution, bookstore chains made their impact, literary agents emerged as a force. West is savvy about ancillary rightstranslation, reprints, etc. ``recycling'' that reaps continuing income from even less-than-blockbuster books. ( November )

"West admirably and lucidly stalks an important theoretical point-the relationship between aesthetic and commercial factors in the production of serious American literature."-American Literature

"An absorbing account of the mechanics and economics of American writing."-Encounter

"[West] bulids a convincing case for the way market forces shape a writer's career, subject matter, and narrative form."-Review in American Studies

"The first systematic, scholarly examination of authorship in our own time. . . . A valuable and stimulating book."-Library Quarterly

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