After World War 2

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What Is So Unique About the Contemporary Period?

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The Contemporary period is the literature period between 1945 and present day. Not only was this a time period but many writers were known to use a contemporary style of writing. Their writing came in response to events that occurred after the end of World War 2 like the civil rights movement, the 9/11 attack, immigration issues, or any other event or topic in a given subject that is relevant to the present day otherwise known as a contemporary issue. One element that defines the Contemporary Period is the diversity of experiences by people of different generations, genders, sexual orientations, races, and cultures. This wide range created a more open-minded society which attracted writers from groups such as the LGBTQ community, immigrants, minorities, women and political radicals, some in which I will talk about. Many of these writers even belonged to more than one group.

During the modern period which consisted from 1910-1945 are “less extreme in their challenge to traditional hierarchy that privileges rational form over sensory reflux.” (Schwartz,214) This means that writers like Zora Neale Hurston, W.E.B. Du Bios, and Booker T. Washington used serious yet different ways to invoke feelings out of the reader. However, one of the biggest problems with the modernist period was the inability to talk about sensitive topics without exile. In an attempt to escape their suppression a group of writers in the 1920s, whom include Gertrude Stein, Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway, fled to Paris. In Paris, they were able to abandon the archaic literary techniques that were being used in America to set the foundation for modern literature. Fortunately, at the end of World War 2, a period of more literary freedom and diversity came around known as the Contemporary period.

A black boy from Chicago-whistled on the streets of Jackson, Mississippi-testing what he’d been taught was a-manly thing to do-his teachers-ripped his eyes out his sex his tongue-and flung him to the Pearl-weighted with stone-in the name of white womanhood. -Audre Lorde

During the contemporary period, the civil rights movement took place. The start of the civil rights movement came from the vicious murder of Emmet Till. After supposedly whistling at a white woman he was mutilated and thrown into a Mississippi river attached to a cotton gin. His murder became a catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement. This horrendous event and the pictures of the boy outraged writers everywhere such as Lorraine Hansberry, James Baldwin, and Audre Lorde. This quote from poet Audre Lorde shows how African Americans everywhere were no longer willing to sit back and be discriminated against. After a series of peaceful protests and activism, African Americans were eventually successful in gaining the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 1968 as well as the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Around forty years later a new round of writers has appeared inspired by events spanning from Barack Obama’s election to the nationwide controversy surrounding police brutality towards minorities. This new group of writers includes Alice Walker, Toni Morison, and Colson Whitehead.

Another group that appeared unafraid, are specifically gays and lesbians in the LGBTQ community. The Beat Movement was a literary movement where writers would address homosexual and lesbian experiences as well as drug experiences using a sense of humor to rebel against the standard behavior of society after the war. One of the most popular homosexual novelists of the Beat Movement was William Burroughs. In his novel, Queer, the main character Lee was in South America and ended up having a homosexual encounter. “I was a homosexual. I thought of the painted, simpering female impersonators I’d seen in a Baltimore nightclub. Could it be possible I was one of those subhuman things?” Burroughs as well as other writers like Allen Ginsberg used their work to gain more sexual liberation for their counterparts in the LGBTQ community. Some literary critics would associate the occurrence of the Beat Movement with the beginning of the true Contemporary period. LGBTQ writers were slightly unsuccessful with creating a socially acceptable society due to most writers still fearing and suffering from backlash of critics about the obscenity of their work.

A third group that flourished during this time period was women. “They wanted to cut you out, but they will not. They said you were immeasurably empty, but you are not. They said you were sick unto dying, but they were wrong.”-Anne Sexton. Female poets such as the famous Audre Lorde, Fanny Fern, and Anne Sexton began writing about very sensitive female topics that some would say fueled the feminist movement at that time. Women wrote about social roles, the female body, or gender inequality. Female writers wanted the modern world to understand the hardships of being a woman. These women were not fully successful though because women had more creative freedom with their work but not as much appraisal. For their work to attract attention many women began using male pseudonyms. A popular writer who did this is J.K. Rowling, the author of the famous Harry Potter series.

Immigrants were another popular emerging group during the contemporary period. Immigrants wanted to expose the stereotypes that society associated with them. In Luis Valdez’s play, Los Vendidos, he comically addresses how Latino immigrants work for cheap in poor conditions, smoke weed, have an inferiority complex, and go to jail. “Senorita, you are looking at the Volkswagen of Mexicans. Pennies a day is all it takes. One plate of beans and tortillas will keep him going all day. —Five, six, seven, even ten in one of those shacks will give you no trouble at all.'(Valdez,1245-1246) Not only do Immigrant writers end up addressing stereotype but they end up addressing the political inequality found between race and class. Immigrant writers during the contemporary period emphasized the growing number of transcultural experiences. You can see this in pieces from Vietnamese writers Yusef Komunyakaa or Le Ly Hayslip.

Last but not least there were many political writers. Politics became a large issue towards the late 1940s and 1950s after World War 2 with the rise of nuclear competition, the space race, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and even the election of Donald Trump. Writers like Galway Kinnell and Amiri Baraka used their work to highlight hate and injustice going on at the time. In Galway’s When the Towers Fell, he talks about the many wrongdoings that America has done and how the towers being targeted is America’s karma. It is the duty of the political writer to speak up about the issues that no one else will.

“atomic blasts wiping cities off the earth, fire bombings the same, death marches, starvations, assassinations, disappearances, entire countries turned into rubble, minefields, mass graves. Seeing the towers vomit these black omens, that the last century dumped into”-Galway Kinnell

So, what makes the Contemporary Period so unique? Contemporary Period literature has the ability to unite society by allowing writers from different demographics to openly express themselves in order to create a sense of trans culturalism and transnationalism. Their work reflects the change of political and social issues over the past three to four decades. However, today I believe we are drawing closer to a new period of literature. Many of the writers, who wrote to rebel against persecution from society were somewhat successful for their cause but many of the causes are becoming more common in society. Writers today are allowed more creative freedom encouraged by a new diverse standard of behavior in society that is acceptable and fair to everyone. 

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After World War 2. (2022, Apr 25). Retrieved February 5, 2023 , from

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