Penn State’s English department is the historic home of American literary studies. In the early twentieth century, Fred Lewis Pattee became the first English professor in the country to teach classes exclusively devoted to American works. The Penn State Center for American Literary Studies aims to be similarly ground-breaking. Founded in 2006, CALS seeks to advance the study, teaching, and reading of American literature, making Penn State an internationally-recognized source of pioneering work in American literary and cultural studies.
CALS provides a vital forum for new ways of reading and thinking about American literature. We realize this mission in two primary ways: 1 through academic programs and 2 through public reading programs.
In its dual scholarly and public mission, the Center generates promising new forms of community and intellectual exchange.
There is much to celebrate in the study of American literature and culture at Penn State. English professors are engaged in momentous works of scholarship with wide-ranging consequences, such as Sandra Spanier’s Hemingway Letters Project, supported by the National Endowment of the Humanities and published by Cambridge University Press; James West’s Cambridge Edition of the Works of F. Scott Fitzgerald; and Christopher Castiglia’s edition of Walt Whitman’s only published novel, to name just a few. Penn State has major library holdings in American literature, including the Kenneth Burke Collection, the Fred Lewis Pattee Collection, and the Arthur O. Lewis Utopia Collection.
These resources are just the start. In recent years, scholars have begun to revisit the long-standing notion that early American authors generated a national literature in splendid isolation. The question of how transnational and circum-Atlantic exchanges have shaped American literature and culture over the centuries has led to an evolving body of scholarly work that considers American literature in a variety of exciting new contexts. In this spirit, the Center for American Literary Studies is dedicated to producing innovative approaches to questions of imagination, textual production, aesthetics, community formation, and ethical democracy.
At the same time, CALS encourages and supports the study of works by American authors beyond the Penn State campuses and reaches out, as Fred Lewis Pattee did, beyond the ivory tower to make the case for the vital importance of American literature to American life. Shared texts constitute a key form of community building. The Center for American Literary Studies offers events designed to engage readers, draw them together, and position American literature as an important public space.