Carnegie Mellon University

Washington Irving: Sketches of an Emerging Author and Nation

Exhibit by Posner Center intern, Matthew Lambert
Summer/ Fall 2015

Matthew Lambert, a PhD candidate in the Department of English describes his initial concept for the exhibit:

We often think of writers like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Walt Whitman as the fathers of American literature, but we largely ignore Washington Irving. In the early days of our nation, at a time when European writers dominated the literary scene, Irving offered critically and financially successful counterpoints in works like The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent (1819-1820), which included his most popular and long-lasting stories: “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Indeed, Irving’s influence on American literary culture was immense. Besides creating a prototype of American literature that others would build upon, including writers he actively encouraged like Edgar Allen Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville, he lobbied hard for more stringent international copyright laws to protect American writers. His influence on American folk and popular culture became perhaps his most enduring legacy. The folk tales and histories he created in works like The Sketchbook and A History of New-York shaped the national narratives, symbols, and myths Americans have accepted and adopted to their own times.

Washington Irving portraitCover of Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent

Images: Posner Memorial Collection