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Power of Prose

The Northeast

American literature is unique in the number of voices and cultures it conveys, giving it the power to transform opinions and challenge stereotypes in both obvious and subtle ways. Christa Smith Anderson  explains that true Yankee voices have emerged in the literature of the Northeast, from Massachusetts to Maine – where submarine sandwiches are grinders, and milkshakes are frappes.

Novelist Carolyn Chute has gained fame for creating distinctively voiced characters who paint word portraits of poverty in rural Maine. The Beans of Egypt, Maine opens with Earlene Pomerleau talking about her family’s “ranch” house:

Daddy says it’s called RANCH ‘cause it’s like houses out West which cowboys sleep in. There’s a picture window in all ranch houses and if you're in one of ‘em out West, you can look out and see the cattle eatin’ grass on the plains and the cowboys ridin' around with lassos and tall hats. But we ain’t got nuthin’ like that here in Egypt, Maine.[1]

Somethin’ else catches my eye. It’s the sun on the fender of Daddy’s little khaki-color car... On the bumper is Daddy's bumper sticker. It says JESUS SAVES. The sun shifts on the fender, almost blinds me, like it’s God sayin’ in his secret way that he approves.[2]

In Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News, a Brooklyn native returns to the Newfoundland home of his ancestors. There he’s exposed to dialect of an older cousin who spoke of Lindbergh coming to Newfoundland: “’E took off from ‘ere. They was all ‘ere, St. Brendan, Leif Eriksson, John Cabot, Marconi, Lucky Lindy.Great things ‘as ‘appened ‘ere. I always knowed of it. Knowed I was destined to do fine things. But ‘ow to begin?"[3]

The particulars of  Massachusetts speech appear in John Dufresne’s  “Johnny Too Bad.” In the story, a Florida man sees a story on television that takes him back to his Worcester, Mass. upbringing:

I worked at this very stadium selling soda at Holy Cross games (only we called soda tonic, so I sold tonic, and we called a water fountain a bubbler, and pronounced it bubba-la; we called lunch dinner; dinner supper; sprinkles jimmies; a submarine sandwich a grinder; a hard roll a bulkie; a porch a piazza; a cellar a basement; a rubber band an elastic; and a milkshake a frappe. We called a luncheonette a spa.)[4]

Suggested Reading/Additional Resources

  • Chute, Carolyn. The Beans of Egypt, Maine. New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1985.
  • DuFresne, John. "Johnny Too Bad." New Stories from the South 2003. Ed. Shannon Ravenel. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2003.
  • Annie Proulx, Although she didn't start her career as a writer until she was in her 50s, in 1993 Annie Proulx became the first woman to win the prestigious PEN/Faulkner book award, for her debut novel, Postcards.
  • Gillan, Maria Mazziotti, and Jennifer Gillan, eds. Unsettling America: An Anthology of Contemporary Multicultural Poetry. New York: Penguin Books, 1994.
  • Poey, Delia, and Virgil Suarez, eds. Iguana Dreams: New Latino Fiction. New York: Harper Perennial, 1992.
  • Zakrzewski, Paul, ed. Lost Tribe: Jewish Fiction from the Edge. New York: Perennial HarperCollins, 2003.

Back to Essay

Christa Smith Anderson holds an MFA in Creative Writing from George Mason University and received her Bachelor of Arts from the University of Virginia. After several years producing and writing television news, she is now a federal government employee by day and a fiction writer the rest of the time. She received the 2002 Cynthia Wynn Herman Scholarship from George Mason University and has published non-fiction in So to Speak, a Feminist Journal of Language and Arts.

Back to Top

  1. Chute, Carolyn. The Beans of Egypt, Maine. New York: Ticknor & Fields,1985. 3.
  2. Chute, p.5
  3. Proulx, Annie. The Shipping News. New York: Scribner Paperback Fiction, 2001. 321.
  4. DuFresne, John. "Johnny Too Bad." New Stories from the South 2003. Ed. Shannon Ravenel. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2003.102.

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for the Humanities

William and Flora Hewlett
Foundation

Ford
Foundation

Rosalind P.
Walter

Arthur Vining
Davis Foundations

Carnegie
Corporation of New York