This collection captures the sense—at times the ordeal—of the 1930s literary experience in America. Fourteen essayists deal with the experience of being a writer in a time of overwhelming economic depression and political ferment, and thereby illuminate the social, political, intellectual, and aesthetic problems and pressures that characterized the experience of American writers and influenced their works.
The essays, as a group, constitute a reevaluation of the American literature of the 1930s. At the same time they support and reinforce certain assumptions about the decade of the Great Depression—that it was grim, desperate, a time when dreams died and poverty became something other than genteel—they challenge other assumptions, chief among them in the notion that 1930s literature was uniform in content, drab in style, anti-formalist, and always political or sociological in nature. They leave us with an impression that there was variety in American writing of the 1930s and a convincing argument that the decade was not a retreat from the modernism of the 1920s. Rather it was a transitional period in which literary modernism was very much an issue and a force that bore imaginative fruit.