Thursday, 13 June 2013

Outlaw Bible of American Literature

I have quite an extensive collection of reference books dealing with all types of books and literature. I tend to collect them whenever I see them especially in Op and Second hand bookshops.

Yesterday I brought home a flat pack book shelf to put in the bedroom so the reference books would have their own home away from the main library in the front room.  After a couple of hours of working the construction with the supervision of two very nosy cats and one dog the shelves were up.

I will keep such titles on it as 1001 Books You Must Read, 501 Books You Must Read, Good Books, Book Lust and More Book Lust, The Novel 100, Literary Trivia, Legends of Literature,  The Penguin Companion to American Literature, Good Fiction Guide, The New York Public Library Literature Companion plus several books of smaller size.

Now I have them grouped together in their own bookcase I can actually see what I have.  One of the books that has always interested me is this one. It is called The Outlaw Bible of American Literature and is edited by Alan Kaufman, Neil Ortenberg, & Barey Rosset.  

Most of the reference books I look at are mainly American, English and  European. My favourites are always the American Lit books.  I love American Literature and the authors. It speaks to my whole being and brings back happy memories of hearing about authors such as Steinbeck, Hemingway, Morrison, Faulkner, Richard Wright.  To me authors don't get much better than these people.

There are evidently two other Outlaw books I know of. They are called Outlaw Bible of American Poetry and Outlaw Bible of American Essays.

This book has the most interesting Table of Contents. Authors and references of the " less desirables of American society who also wrote". People who were jailed, were scoundrels, hobos, transients, cheats and frauds to name a few.

The categories of the contents are divided into such headings as American Renegades, Voices from Outlaw Heaven, Holy Goofs, Road Dogs and Queens of Heart, Bad Ass, Riding the Rods, Nuclear Family Nightmares and Hardboiled.   You have to love those titles.

Listed within each category are authors such as Sylvia Plath, Dave Eggers, Waylon Jennings (I know he also sings), Tom Wolfe and Ray Bradbury.  There are really too many to list.

The Introduction has a wonderful paragraph about the scope of this book. It describes it as:

It is in the Orwellian nature of our contemporary society that not only is the Outlaw past disclaimed but actually effaced from meory, as though it had never been.  Like some ancient extinct civilization the Outlaw tradition in literature is just a legend, a rumor, a buried Atlantis. A new culture coming of age in the grip of Google and Wal-Mart might never know that Dick Gregory or Malcolm Braly, Boxcar Bertha, Nelson Algren, Lee Stringer, or Emma Goldman had ever existed. Know that some of our nation's great writing, a representative cross section of which is contained in this book, is a New India of underground prose, a spice route encompassed by mysteries and monsters, and comprises a fresh new canon sprung not from reality shows, Botox, or IPOs, but the streets, prisons, highways, trailer parks and back alleys of the American Dream. The authors in this collection are not greeted with book club appearances and White House invitations, but often lead lives of state pen incarceration, suicide, drug addiction, street hustling, exile, martyrdom, and even murder at the hands of strangers. These rich stories, candid oral histories, letters, graphic testimonies and autobiographical accounts of human burden come together as an unbroken circle of alternative/outsider literature.

I am definitely going to have to delve more into this book and see what I can find in the local library or in my own collection.  It just looks like so much fun, adventure and excitement and I think perhaps starting with a 10 book challenge during the coming year might be in order.  I look forward to learning more about the back streets America that I have been so sheltered from during my lifetime.


An example of the Table of Contents is:


  1. I've never come across this before - how fascinating! I'll definitely be looking for your challenge books.

  2. I picked 10 books randomly from it and the local library has 6 of them so might have a closer look at those 6. Might be fun. Just have to get through a couple of other books first!! Isn't that always the way.

  3. Check out the Nelson Algren documentary FB page--a reminder of that outlaw perspective.

    1. I wasn't familiar with Nelson Algren so had a look. Interesting, thanks for sharing it. I put a Like down on the page so I can follow it.


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