Harold Bloom, Sterling Professor of the Humanities and English at Yale, is famous as a champion of the Literary Canon, that compendium of the greatest literature of all time. More and more, the Canon has been challenged by educators who feel that it fails to reflect the diversity of the American classroom. Can William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, and F. Scott Fitzgerald really engage students today?
Our answer is of course they can. Romeo and Juliet, A Christmas Carol, and The Great Gatsby continue to be among the most popular works in the high school classroom, not just because of their brilliance but because students—especially with the guidance of great teachers—continually find them captivating. At the same time, it is important to remember that the Canon is not just the province of dead white males. In fact, a closer look reveals the very opposite.
One of the most popular features in our Bloom’s Literature database is “Bloom’s Literary Canon,” an interactive feature that lists all the thousands of writers and works that Professor Bloom himself considers essential. In exploring this feature, you can begin to see the remarkable diversity of the Canon. Bloom includes women novelists such as Jane Austen, George Eliot, the Brontës, Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, Virginia Woolf, Ursula LeGuin, and Cynthia Ozick; women poets such as Emily Dickinson, Anna Akhmatova, Marianne Moore, Elizabeth Bishop, and May Swenson; African-American novelists such as Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph Ellison, and Toni Morrison; African-American poets such as Robert Hayden, Derek Walcott, and Jay Wright; African writers such as Chinua Achebe, Amos Tutola, and Léopold Sédar Senghor; Latin American writers such as Pablo Neruda, Jorge Luis Borges, and Julio Cortazár; and countless more from many other countries and backgrounds. Many of these writers are among the very greatest in the Canon. In his introduction to the volume American and Canadian Women Poets, 1930–Present, Harold Bloom writes that Emily Dickinson “sets a standard that no twentieth-century American poet, man or woman, not even Stevens or Frost or Hart Crane, can endure as measurement.”
A high school Language Arts curriculum that omits these diverse writers is missing some of the greatest works in world literature. Far from confining students to writers of a similar, privileged background, a focus on the Literary Canon reveals the variety of world genius.
To further explore Bloom’s Literary Canon, check out the homepage of Bloom’s Literature or request a free trial.
Harold Bloom has taught literature at Yale since 1955. He is the author of more than 30 major books of literary criticism, including the landmark The Anxiety of Influence and the best-sellers The Western Canon and Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. Since 1985, he has worked with Chelsea House Publishers and Infobase to produce hundreds of volumes in several renowned literary reference series, including Bloom’s Modern Critical Views, Bloom’s Modern Critical Interpretations, Bloom’s How to Write About Literature, and more. Professor Bloom currently oversees the Bloom’s Literature database.