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Counting on The Norton Anthology of American Literature

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 April 2024


We created a relational database that captures every author and work ever selected for The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Given this anthology's influence, our database reveals changes in the literary canon over the past half century. We find that the common story of increased diversity is true, albeit truer with respect to race than gender. However, the biggest structural change has been a substantial growth in the number of anthologized authors. We argue that, while that strategy has produced real gains, it also creates a canon that less effectively manages reader attention, affords women and people of color a less valuable position than many white male authors once enjoyed, and tacitly accepts the notion that the new additions do not have greater literary merit than authors on the original roster, whom we show editors too rarely cut.

Copyright © 2024 The Author(s). Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of Modern Language Association of America

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