Ranging from poetry, novels, and stories to journalism and narrative history, from memoirs and speeches to noir, science fiction, and other genres, the more than 300 definitive volumes published by Library of America present a unique portrait of the American experience—one that is continually refined as each new entry enhances our sense of the whole.
Many readers ask what criteria Library of America uses when selecting a writer or work for publication. The answer to this question is complex.
LOA writers—whether playwrights or presidents, novelists or war reporters, essayists or art critics—are selected for their gifts of language and narrative, their unique contribution to our literature, and their enduring reflection of a significant moment in American history.
“Perusing the Library of America is like crashing a time-traveler’s party where Thomas Jefferson is pouring wine for Ring Lardner and Susan Sontag is whispering in Frederick Douglass’ ear.”—NUVO, Indianapolis’s Alternative Newspaper
From this expansive set of criteria, the Library of America series features essential writers such as Mark Twain, Herman Melville, Willa Cather, and Richard Wright along with folklorist Zora Neale Hurston; crime novelists Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Patricia Highsmith; and nature writers John Muir, John James Audubon, and William Bartram. Writers of the past stand with writers of today, acknowledged masters alongside those less well known.
As a champion of all of the nation’s great writers and of timeless works both expected and surprising, Library of America celebrates the living tradition of classic writing and reflects the richness and range of the American literary canon.
A commitment to publish each work as the author intended it sets Library of America apart.
To determine which version of a work is authoritative—that is, closest to the author’s original intention—the printing and publishing history of each work is traced in an attempt to learn when it was written, what differences there were in pre-publication versions, who prepared the copy sent to the publisher, who proofread the galleys, and other details of the publishing process. LOA editors may examine the writer's letters commenting on the publishing process, any records of changes made in subsequent printings, publishers' archives, and so on.
Through this process Library of America has made important contributions to scholarship and has, in fact, occasionally made literary history. For example:
- Textual investigation of Richard Wright’s Native Son recovered many passages that had been cut or altered because of their sexual, racial, or political candor.
- The Library of America edition of William Faulkner’s works was prepared directly from his manuscripts and typescripts. For the first time they can be read precisely as he intended.
“Amazing and quite tactful, almost invisible, erudition.”—Threepenny Review
Authoritative new editions of Zora Neale Hurston, Thomas Paine, and Robert Frost have made all previous editions of these writers' works obsolete.
Educators and researchers rely on the accuracy and authority of Library of America editions, which are unabridged and unencumbered by critical analysis. Each volume includes a chronology of the author's life and work, helpful notes prepared by a distinguished scholar, and a brief essay on the text selected for each work. Historical documents are prefaced by short, informative headnotes that provide context.Close
Design and Production
The format of volumes in the Library of America series is neat, handsome, and unpretentious. Though each volume contains from 700 to as many as 1,600 pages, all are compact and trim, measuring less than two inches thick. The books will last for generations and withstand the wear of frequent use. The rigorous design and manufacturing standards established for the series have been recognized by the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA).
- The paper is acid-free and meets the requirements for permanence set by the American National Standards Institute; it will not turn yellow or brittle. The books are bound with the grain of the paper to ensure that they open easily and lie flat without crinkling or buckling.
- The binding boards are flexible yet strong and make the book light, easy to carry, trim in appearance, and a pleasure to hold.
- The page layout has been designed by Bruce Campbell for clarity as well as elegance. The typeface, Galliard, is exceptionally readable and easy on the eyes.
- The binding cloth is woven rayon, dyed in the thread for richness of color. Handsome endsheets match the binding cloth and add to the visual unity of the series. The books are Smyth-sewn for permanence and flexibility, and each includes a ribbon marker.
- Each volume is attractively jacketed or slipcased.
- The trim size of 4 7/8” x 7 7/8” is based on the “golden section,” which the ancient Greeks considered to be the ideal proportion.
“The books are masterpieces of design and manufacturing. They’re beautiful without being fancy.”—Dallas Times Herald
Library of America occasionally publishes, in addition to the regular series volumes, special thematic anthologies, each in its own unique format and binding. Some non-series titles include The 50 Funniest American Writers, American Food Writing, Americans in Paris, Baseball, Becoming Americans, American Movie Critics, Writing New York, and True Crime.
- Differing trim sizes from LOA series volumes
- Notch binding (much stronger than standard adhesive binding)
- Uniquely designed
In addition to the significance of the writing in Library of America collections, the volumes are sold for less than it costs to produce them, offering superb value to readers. The price per page of LOA volumes remains lower than that of virtually any other hardcover book, and an LOA hardcover collection frequently costs less than the group of included titles would cost in paperback editions (if these are even available).Close