Readers, educators, viewers, and other scholars continue to debate about the criteria used to include a writer or literary material to the American literature canon. The latter is a body of works generally viewed as being symbolic of a particular place or time. Therefore, the mentioned canon includes the works of American writers that embody the American perspective. One of the reasons why the difficulty in giving an explicit answer to the question of who and what belongs to the American canon is the complexity of the country itself. It is only possible to add writers and their works to the literature canon by having an understanding of the nature, identity, and function of the American literature. Therefore, to justify the inclusion of Robert Kirkman in the American canon, one has to reference a number of publications or articles that provide the foundation of the argument and understanding of the canon. This paper discusses the reasons why Robert Kirkman should be added to the American literature canon.
Robert Kirkman is an American comic book writer and producer renowned for his work on Invincible and The Walking Dead for Image Comics as well as Marvel Zombies and Ultimate X-Men for Marvel Comics. He began his writing career as co-creator of the parody Battle Pope. In the latter work, the author gives an overview of the American literature canon and the problems linked to it. The term American canon refers a group of American writers whom the publishing, critical, and scholarly fraternities establish as the most momentous in the national literature. Since taste and critical writing or publishing standards are shown through the canon, the American canon establishes literary merit and supports what it considers meritorious. According to Cyganowski, the American canon has been propelled by the nationalist drive to assert a native literature unique and separate from the rest of the world. American literature combines what is distinctively American with the aspects of universal value (Cyganowski). If truth be told, the United States has not produced excellent literature, but there are American writers who have offered outstanding literature beyond victim ideology and anti-religious paranoia. In other words, a writer like Robert Kirkman has produced literature works that are worth a person’s attention and time. Therefore, Americans should recognize and appreciate such literary content by including contemporary writers like Kirkman and others in the American canon.
It is worth noting that American literature has specialized in small literature. For example, two of the greatest American poets, Emily Dickson and Robert Frost, are popular for their short works. If the work of American literature has to match the size of the nation to qualify to be included in the American canon, then, The Walking Dead meets the criteria. However, it appears not to be the case because Robert Kirkman wrote and produced a feature-length film from his books but it was not in the canon at the time of this writing. Kirkman’s stories are wonderful, and his writings are getting popular and widespread, hence, they should be recognized by the American canon. The latter can also be viewed as an institution or a collection of American literature that are largely considered by scholars and critics to successfully represent the American perspective or experience with art. These literary works include different genre and styles of writing, prose and poetry, and writers from different backgrounds. In addition, it can include various movements within the American literature such as realism, modern and post-modern writing, etc. In essence, the American canon is not a single set or list; it may entail various literary works, which are dependent on the entity that composed the list. To be consistent with this definition, Robert Kirkman should incorporated in the American canon because he represents an American genre and perspective. Moreover, his work is native and broadly accepted to the extent that it is filmed in the US and is known all over the world.
There are quite a number of American writers whose literary materials are considered as the American canon. However, as usual, only one work of certain writer is included in the canon. For example, despite the fact that Washington Irvin is known as an influential and important American writer, only one single work, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, is mentioned in the canonical lists. Even though this keeps such lists manageable, other writers with influential and superb works may be represented in such canonical lists numerous times. In fact, most catalogs of the American literature canon constitute the works by William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Emilly Dickinson, Tennessee Williams, and Langston Hughes among others (Myers). The American canon is depicted as a list of writers or the literary works that demonstrate author’s abilities and American experience. It implies that there are many lists usually assembled by scholars or literature critics. From this perspective, it is essential for any person interested in the American canon to compare various works presented in these lists. Based on the same rationale, scholars are justified to advocate the inclusion of Kirman’s works in the American canon based on the idea that they are not only modern but also native. The progressive nature of the American literature has resulted in a wide range of literary materials from such writers as Don DeLillo, Kurt Vonnegut, Toni Morrison, Ralph Ellison, and Mark Twain. Robert Kirkman’s work is not an exception and being that it has gained far-reaching acceptance from both readers and viewers, it is worth being part of the canon.
While transforming, national identity and vital standards continually restructure the American canon; the norm has been a list of great writings by great men, identified and organized in chronological periods. In addition, the canon generally captures writers whom their works are linked to particular socio-philosophic global perceptions such as realism, modernism, and romanticism. It is worth mentioning that female writers rarely meet the criteria or fit such categories. It is arguable that the American canon’s selection of representative writers tends to privilege male writers in presenting the authors, works, techniques, and subject matter that are in print, taught, anthologized, and discussed. In spite of the brief growth of the number of women writers, the attention given to them is short-lived. Additionally, the ratio of women to men represented in the American canon is still below par. In fact, the consensus on classic and bestseller American female writers spins around few names: Emily Dickson, Anne Bradstreet, Phillis Wheatley, Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, Elizabeth Bishop, Marianne Moore, Elinor Wylie, and Sara Teasdale. The low proportion of women and contemporary male writers in the American literature canon needs a critical consideration. In other words, there is a need to assess whether the classical and contemporary cannons accurately represent the diversity and history of the American literature in terms of authors and audiences.
From various publications, the primary drive in the formation of the American literature canon was to define a native literature. For example, the North American Review journal was established with the aim of identifying and advancing American literature. Both male and female writers who portrayed distinct native literature were included. It is from this viewpoint that such contemporary writers like Kirkman should be included in the American literature canon.
It is worth noting that the criteria used to include writers in the American canon are controversial. Ironically, Anne Bradstreet was the first American female to be listed in the classical canon, perhaps because she received immense recognition from British reviewers. The British acknowledged her as an outstanding American poet. Phillis Wheatley enjoyed a global celebrity status in the eighteenth century despite being African-American poet. Although American critics branded her work as derivative, the British consideration and her social role elevated Wheatley’s prominence. If gender and race are part of the criteria used to include writers and their work in the canon, then the public outcry is justified. In view of the fact that Robert Kirkman is an American comic book writer with a better outreach than other authors in the canon have, he should be equally recognized. Kirkman’s work is popular in almost all the five continents. Additionally, his global input and social role elevated his celebrity. In addition, the fact that his popular series, The Walking Dead, was adapted into AMC TV series gives him a rise that meets the criteria for being added in the literary canon.
The American Library Association (ALA) recognizes that the American classics are worthy of selection (Kupfer). In the same context, their validation considers the value of public perception and input. However, the association does not intellectually discriminate writers when recommending classics instead of a contemporary and attractive work. Therefore, the appreciation of Robert Kirkman as a great contemporary writer should grow without the complaint of bias against the tastes of the American canon patrons. Kirkman should also be included in the American canon not because of his race and popularity, but because he skillfully addresses the persistent concerns of humanity. In The Walking Dead, Kirkman presents The Governor, one of the greatest villain characters in comics. The Newbery Medal is awarded to those authors who are recognized for their input to the American literature published by an American publisher within the United States (American Library Association). The recognition is also restricted to residents or citizen of the United States. These conditions are similar to canon’s and Kirkman meets the criteria. Furthermore, the canon should appreciate the fact that Kirkman’s contribution to American literature entails fiction and non-fiction types of writing. Lastly, his comic books are self-contained because they do not depend on sound or film media for its enjoyment.
In conclusion, the American literature canon is an institution or a collection of American literature, which are mostly considered by scholars and critics to successfully represent the American perspective or experience with art. These literary works include different genre and styles of writing. What is more, writers from different backgrounds are included in the list. In addition, the canon constitutes works from various American writing movements. In the view of the fact that Robert Kirkman work is native, modern, substantial, and popular, he should be a part of the canon. While proceeding with the research and thinking, one should consult various online resources through library catalogues and academic databases. The fact that canonization invites questions about metrification, unless the process is transparent, the debate about the criteria used to include a writer or literary material to the American literature canon is here to stay.