The Millions

We Need to Talk About the Canon: Demographics in ‘The Norton Anthology’

In the last 20 years or so, the discussion of diversity in the American literary canon has exploded, garnering space in mainstream media outlets. A wide array of magazines, journals, and websites have tackled the issue. A 2013 article titled “Canon Fodder: Denouncing the Classics” details the prickly and vague assumptions with which experts attempt to define canonical works. Other articles aim to deconstruct or expound upon the problem, often with similarly severe titles: “What is Literature?: In Defense of the Canon” (, 2014); “The Literary Canon Is Still One Big 2012); “Reconstructing the Canon” (, 2018), “The Canon Is Sexist, Racist, Colonialist, and Totally Gross. Yes, You Have to Read It Anyway” (, 2018).

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