Literature includes poetry, drama, essays, fiction and other printed information. It provides a window into a culture, period or language. Reading the literature of a particular era or people can impart great insight into the social, physical, political and moral customs of the day.

While born out of English literature, American literature has now established its own unique characteristics and reputation. Many American authors, both past and present have gained international renown for their literary works.

Classic American authors
While born out of English influence, American literature began to establish its own unique characteristics and reputation beginning in the 1800s. Some of the early authors who helped develop this uniquely American style include Washington Irving, Edgar Allan Poe, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow'. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne. Harriet Beecher Stowe and Herman Melville. Poets Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson gained notoriety for their down-to-earth prose and unconventional poetry.

Other American authors who contributed to the continuing expression of American spirit, philosophy and values into the 20th century, include Mark Twain, Henry James, Edith Wharton, Stephen Crane, Upton Sinclair, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway,
William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams and John Steinbeck.

Current American literature
Current American literature deals with popular culture and how mass media and technology have influenced the average American’s perception and experience of the world. Contemporary poets and authors tackle subjects like addictions, depression, violence and dysfunction in settings familiar to us all—shopping malls, airports, subways, small towns and restaurants.

Some contemporary American authors with a wide following and critical acclaim include Maya Angelou, Stephen King, Norman Mailer, Toni Morrison, Joyce Carol Oates, Thomas Pynchon and Ann Rice.

Literature genres

A literary genre comprises literature which loosely fits into a category based on the technique, tone or content of the piece. Some of the most common literary genres categorized on U.S. bookstore shelves include Romance, Mystery, Science Fiction, Westerns, Poetry. Biography, Autobiography and Travel. At many bookstores and online sites you can look for specific genres of literature, as well as searching by author, title or subject.