Writers with different visions from the mainstream have existed almost from the beginning of this nation. Phyllis Wheatley, a slave in Boston, began writing poetry in her teens. Her status as an African-American slave and as a woman put her on the fringe of early American writing in that many of the critics of the time could not accept that she had actually written the work attributed to her.
Of better-known early American writers, Henry David Thoreau, Herman Melville and even Edgar Allan Poe were at times writers on the edge. Thoreau, marching to his own drummer, often had his fringe status ignored because of his relationship with prominent Massachusetts intellectuals like Emerson. Melville had success with two early novels, Omooand Typee, but then with Moby Dick and later works like Pierre, Billy Budd and Bartleby the Scrivener, Melville separated himself from the mainstream writers of the day.
Likewise, even though Poe’s poetry and stories were popular, his personality, personal life and refusal to compromise artistically kept him from achieving the success of many contemporaries. Of course, today, Thoreau, Melville and Poe are unquestioned giants in the American canon, but their places there were not always secure.
During and after the Civil War, the fireside poets, Longfellow, Whittier, Lowell and Holmes, epitomized what America looked for in poetry. Today, the most-praised poets from that period are Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman. Dickinson published only seven poems in her lifetime, and Whitman’s personal reputation far exceeded his literary position. Many people are not aware that the first edition of Leaves of Grass was self-published with no authorial attribution or that the work was attacked for its overt sexuality.
In the early twentieth century, as important a writer as William Faulkner had to live from short story sales because his novels rarely sold well. Only when the French discovered Faulkner and the Nobel prize was awarded to him, did he move from the edge into his now eminent position in the American literary establishment.
Many twentieth century African-American writers, Jean Toomer, Dorothy West, Richard Wright and dozens of others, received little acclaim until after the 1960’s. African-American writers from the 1970’s, like Donald Goines and Iceberg Slim, have recently begun to receive serious critical attention.
Perhaps the writers most associated with the fringe are the Beats who first came to some fame, or infamy, in the 1950’s. Kerouac, Burroughs, Ginsburg, Corso, McClure, DiPrima, and others were mocked by much of the literary establishment of the time. Truman Capote famously said of On the Road, “That’s typing not writing.” Still today, many critics are not sure how to deal with these writers. But almost yearly, they become a larger and larger part of the American canon.
Mystery, science fiction and horror writers, have long been regarded as writers of little literary merit. Even Jules Verne is often seen as a children’s writer. But as time passes, H. P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Harry Stephen Keeler and others have come to be more and more a part of corpus of American Lit. Lovecraft has a volume in The Library of America.
Today, there are many writers on the fringe. From Kathy Acker and Lydia Lunch, who write openly and sometimes graphically, about feminine sexuality, to graphic novelists (that’s comic books, if you are behind the curve) like Harvey Pekar, Art Spiegelman and R. Crumb, more and more artists who were once ignored are beginning to receive serious recognition.
The Ridge Books has a growing selection of what we call American Edge writers. Some of these writers are already a part of the American canon while others may never gain admittance. But reading them opens new views on life and art, and their major works can still be purchased for reasonable prices. A number of these books are shown on our Home Page, and you may search for the authors listed below
AUTHORS REPRESENTED IN OUR COLLECTION INCLUDE:
William S, Burroughs
Vincente de Campo Bello
Clarence Cooper, Jr.
Breese D’J Pancake
David Foster Wallace