"Why are publishers so conservative?" we are constantly asked. Gamely,
we respond that we are only as conservative, as guarded, as slow to act
as our customers. When D. C. Heath publishes The Heath Anthology
of American Literature, edited by Paul Lauter, et al., in
December 1989, we will be taking a huge financial risk in order to provide
the profession with a new and significantly different text. While we believe
we have done everything we can do as publishers to insure this book's success,
we must still rely on you, the classroom instructors, to support what we
have done. True, our thorough market research, our innumerable conversations
at conventions and on campuses, and our in-depth reading in the journals
indicate that the American literature survey course needs to include more
writing by women and people of color. Still, until the profession makes
uniform decisions on curriculum, approach, and canon, we will not be sure
that our manufacturing, marketing, and permissions costs will be absorbed
in the sale of new copies. This is where you come in.
Fact: this is the day of the corporate merger in the publishing field, and thus corporate rather than individualistic business practices dominate. Publishers must be profitable to be stable, and houses generally must reject projects that are not sure to attract enough customers. Some might argue that this is a crassly materialistic philosophy for a publishing house to hold, but those people speak primarily as booklovers. Devout members of the literati, they believe that having the broadest array of books available to them is an inherent right of the intellectual life. Also in favor of "wide-scope publishing" are those instructors conditioned by the academic system's requirement to publish--not to sell copies or, sometimes, not even to convey a private but important vision, but, as the saying goes, to avoid perishing. However, publishers, editors, and managers at commercial houses are not awarded tenure and, thus, must rely on their customers--first, to tell them exactly what they and their colleagues want in print and, then, to support that effort financially when it is published.
In order to serve the scholarly community as well as we can from our commercial vantage point, we bring you in this issue of The Heath Anthology of American Literature Newsletter some news of conferences and of recently published books (see Bibliography and Conference News). Also, we include a good deal of specific information about our soon-to-be-published text to give you an idea of how we think you will be able to construct your course in a different and more interesting way using this book. The text will include, in fresh contexts, a broader range of materials than all other anthologies (see the representative sections from the Table of Contents). We believe that our text will be more authoritative than any other because we have consulted hundreds of your colleagues in the profession (see the list of Contributing Editors). They have helped us make cogent, informed selections, drafted the biographical/critical headnotes, written the footnotes for the authors they have sponsored, and, perhaps most importantly, offered their syllabi (see Alternative Syllabi), their writing assignments, and their experienced views of how to teach these new writers most effectively both as works in their own right and in the company of the traditionally taught writers (see the samples from the Teaching Guide).
What we hope to achieve from sharing this information with you is to (1) whet your appetites for our new publication's selections, (2) give you some lead time to think about your course and its mission, your students, and your philosophy of teaching literature, (3) encourage you to take the time to work up some of these new writers, revise your syllabus (regularly), and depart from the same-old-thing, year-in, year-out lists of authors and works. Familiar assignments may keep the students rather comfortably if numbly enrolled, but they do not necessarily challenge them, do not quite excite or engage them, do not give them the best opportunity to examine American literature, history, and culture in a critical way. We are striving to provide you with the textbook and some of the pedagogical resources necessary to achieve this end.
Gratified and encouraged by the response to our first American Literature Newsletter, we pass along some instructors' thoughts and responses to questions concerning how The Heath Anthology is being put together and how we think it may be implemented in the classroom.
Many professors wrote to us to suggest how much further we might go in our attempt to include literature that focuses on even more minority constituencies (teenagers, the elderly, "rednecks," evangelicals, Canadians, etc.). We recognize the claims of these groups, and yet feel our primary mission in this edition of the text is to focus on including writers until now excluded primarily because of gender or race. Placing these writers in the company and context of traditionally canonized writers is, we feel, an important first step to opening up the purview of the survey course, and instructors may then move in whichever topical or thematic directions they think fruitful.
Another subject of considerable interest was how our new anthology--or any anthology--could be constructed to reflect a consensus. How arbitrary are such decisions? Are there quotas? How does an editorial board draw the line between works of "significant" aesthetic quality and those that may have more socio-historical relevance than literary polish? Where does tokenism or reverse discrimination begin? Perhaps the question looming largest, how does one manage to teach all of this? As "literature in conflict with itself," as Gerald Graff suggests? As a great books course, as Harold Bloom might argue? As a course in minority literatures that need to be taught instead of the classics because it is time to redress past slights? In some integrated, fair-minded, and eclectic way that allows for balanced, sympathetic, and critical engagement with the entire range of American writers, voices, and concerns?
In short, we have done the best we can, by surveying the entire field, by weighing and sifting all expressed concerns and recommendations, by testing our choices again with numerous specialists, and by involving many, many members of the profession at every stage of development. You'll recall that the word anthology comes from the Greek meaning "a collection of flowers." We believe we have a more various, a richer, a certainly more colorful and more broadly considered collection than any heretofore assembled. However, the instructor will still arrange a particular class's "bouquet" in a way that will suit his or her most prominent concerns. Each flower may have its own intrinsic value (or so New Critics--New Horticulturists?-- would have us believe), but the arrangement will always reflect an instructor's considered theory. The possibilities with our anthology will simply be significantly wider than before. The writers and works have been, of course, organized, but all anthologies offer more than any one course can use. In The Heath Anthology, one may skip around more variously and, we hope, more constructively than ever before.
Many professors worry about the limitations of time and students. Will the administration make the course a three (or even four)-term survey, rather than the current two (or even one in some schools) to allow for fuller coverage? Will students continue to enroll in the class if the assigned reading list takes on a multi-cultural cast? Will they continue to enroll if the amount of assigned reading is increased by l0% or 25% or more, which might be necessary in order to do justice to the material? These, again, are curricular and administrative questions that will be decided in departmental and even college-level meetings. It appears clear to us that more and different literary works are desired by a great percentage of the members of the profession. Our Teaching Guide will suggest ways to make the course manageable, interesting, and coherent, but each instructor will have further ideas about how to achieve these goals.
Larry Reynolds of Texas A & M raises the questions: do aesthetic values ever exist independent of political values, and thus, how does one "revise" a canon? What are the standards? Is expansion preferable, because it is less judgmental? Harold Kolb of the University of Virginia notes that the anthologies of the mid-50s have doubled in size over the last 30 years. The new contents of anthologies, he says, generally "stem not from reconsideration or selectivity or choice, but from addition." Often, the task of constructing or revising an anthology becomes like taking an old colonial-style house, full of character and tradition, and adding on rooms, baths, and decks of similar or sometimes quite different architectural style. The expansion may provide the desired additional space, but may rob the building of its overarching stylistic or cohering principles. People want more room, but frequently are not in agreement about what area they will give up in return. Anthologies, thus, are often forced to try to reflect evolving values, preferences, and movements in the same way that politicians used to carve out voting districts. Books and old districts have typically been gerrymandered into asymmetrical creatures that try to serve many different purposes without losing their existing constituents.
We recognize that not every instructor will be willing to change from a time-proven syllabus or approach. As Michael Orth of California Polytechnic State University writes, "Be all things to all men and you are nothing to anyone." We have made a careful, informed, yet admittedly still risky decision to publish for that segment of the market that has declared itself ready for significant change. We have included many "canonical works" not primarily to attract the so-called traditionalists or to "play it safe," but to offer these familiar works in new contexts, alongside fresh voices.
Last, we want to emphasize the degree of our commitment with this project by addressing the issue of publishing costs. Literary permission fees are quite expensive. If the professoriate wants more full-length works of contemporary or at least 20th-century vintage, or more standard, authorized texts that are under some university press copyright, an anthology will have to absorb these costs by selling more copies. The amount of composition for a 5000-page, 2-volume anthology and the concomitant proofreading that a scholarly and accuracy-valuing readership requires make plant costs terrifying indeed for those not so nervy. Paper for such a set of volumes, and the necessary binding to keep such a large book from falling apart also cost more than the price of books in a competitive market may allow. Thus, such a publication becomes a considerable risk, and, to quote Professor Kolb again, "Unlike surfers, anthology-makers prefer to ride behind the crest of the wave." We will have invested over a million dollars by the time this text begins to show a profit. This is an unusually large investment for a publisher to make, but we have decided that that this book and this issue of canon reconstruction are not "typical" either. In short, deal us in.
The canon is and must be a fluid thing, we think, just as literary standards, aesthetic values, and political philosophies are continually evolving. As publishers, we are trying, of course, to produce a profitable book--a product, we sometimes call it, as if books were no different from cottage cheese, dandruff shampoo, or automobile parts. However, as educational publishers, we have chosen to "produce" works that we believe will be of value to those who pursue the challenge of teaching, and that does put a different spin on things. We want you to anticipate our book eagerly, we want you to adopt it, and we want you to take some chances with your students, your course, your notes, your own reading. We have tried, as the sample materials in this Newsletter show, both to help you to make your course more varied and to make your task of preparing it as easy as possible. All of the professors and the journals and the administrators we have consulted indicate to us that it is time for this book. If it doesn't succeed, some other publisher will come along some other day and try again to give the profession the kind of book it seems to say it wants. It just might take a lot longer the next time.
Paul A. Smith
D. C. Heath and Company