Why create a new Cambridge History of American Women's Literature? Why is this the time to analyze the breadth and range of scholarship that the last thirty years have inaugurated in American women's literature and to discuss what we have left to do? Because now is the time to move beyond 1980s paradigms and 1990s elaborations to include a wider vision of this literary history. Since 1980, mode after new mode of interpretation has been added to change how American women's writing might be studied, whether through new historicism or affect theory, including models of modern woundedness and “the female complaint.” Much important recovery work has already been done, giving us many authors to read and analyze, but much more remains: too few writers have been explored in their entirety (like Lydia Maria Child or Catharine Sedgwick). More important, as Susan Williams argues, thinking of women's writing as a non-oppositional strategy has helped us to begin to study women's writing, not in resistance to the male canon, but as a new field altogether. We are still discovering ways of historicizing and recombining this literature, rethinking contexts, categories, and juxtapositions. And perhaps most exciting these days is the reading of women transatlantically, hemispherically, or through “deep time,” giving us transnational, global, and comparative ideas about women's writing.
The impetus for this book is to assess the major renovation of US women's literature in the past thirty years.