A unique undertaking:To celebrate the words that have shaped America.
Library of America, a nonprofit organization, publishes, preserves, and celebrates America’s greatest writing and offers resources for readers to explore this rich and diverse cultural heritage.
Founded in 1979, the nonprofit organization was created with a unique and unprecedented goal: to curate and publish authoritative new editions of America’s best writing, including acknowledged classics, neglected masterpieces, and historically significant documents and texts.
Now widely recognized as the definitive collection of American writing, Library of America volumes encompass all periods and genres and showcase the vitality and variety of America’s literary legacy.
“There’s nothing like Library of America, it’s a national treasure—true to the protean, multi-vocal, democratic spirit of America itself.”—Tony Kushner (Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright)
More than a publisher, Library of America is an essential part of the cultural landscape. It is an invaluable portal through which the words and ideas that formed and continue to shape our nation can enrich readers’ lives for years to come.
Why Library of America?
“America is hard to see,” poet laureate Robert Frost famously wrote. Although in this poem Frost alluded to Columbus’s difficulty in navigating toward these shores, his words resonate with the continued challenge of clearly understanding a nation so diverse and so complex.
How, then, do we gain a true view of America? Taken together, the writings of the Founders, the poems of Frost and Walt Whitman, the novels and stories of Mark Twain and Edith Wharton, the slave narratives of Frederick Douglass and William Wells Brown, the essays of Henry David Thoreau, James Baldwin, and Susan Sontag, the speeches and letters of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, the lyrics of Cole Porter and Ira Gershwin, and many other exceptional works of American writing begin to reveal the country’s multi-faceted identity.
These writings are our shared birthright. Everyone should have access to the enjoyment and enlightenment they provide. Yet the closing of brick-and-mortar bookstores and the loss of many book review pages have greatly eroded the potential for people to browse and discover important books. Through the mainstream media, readers learn of only a handful of the most popular and bestselling books. While millions of titles are now available in libraries and through online retailers, there are few places to turn for guidance in finding and appreciating the exceptional writing that best reflects this country's history and culture.
To address this need, Library of America publishes carefully curated editions of works by the greatest and most significant American writers and develops nationwide and international initiatives to help readers discover these timeless works. In New York City, we also engage readers in a deeper appreciation of American writing with local programs on literary and historical topics and their continued relevance.
Readers value the timeless works published in Library of America collections and can encounter this writing in a variety of ways. We serve thousands of subscribers to the LOA series and to LOA’s free digital Story of the Week. LOA volumes are available in bookstores and online retailers and in public libraries and universities worldwide. To date, more than 8 million copies of Library of America volumes have been sold.Close
Library of America was long a dream of the literary critic Edmund Wilson (1895–1972), who was concerned that many works by America’s best writers were either out of print or nearly impossible to find. Without a deliberate publishing effort to preserve American writing and make it widely available, many important works would disappear from the cultural conversation. As a consequence, deprived of an important part of their cultural inheritance, Americans would lose a collective sense of the country’s literary accomplishments and the vital role writing has played in our history.
“The most important book-publishing project in our nation's history.”—Newsweek
The Pléiade series—published in France since the 1930s—provided a model. Discussion of a similar American series began in the 1950s and continued until the late 1970s, when the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Ford Foundation provided seed funding to create Library of America. LOA’s first volumes were published in 1982.LOA's Founders Included
- Daniel Aaron (Professor of American studies at Harvard University and Edmund Wilson’s literary executor)
- Jason Epstein (Editorial Director at Random House)
- Nathan Huggins (Professor of History and Afro-American Studies at Harvard University)
- Richard Poirier (Professor of English at Rutgers University)
- G. Thomas Tanselle (Vice President of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation)
Among the writers and scholars who served on the initial board of advisors were: Robert Coles, Irving Howe, R.W.B. Lewis, Robert Penn Warren, Eudora Welty, and C. Vann Woodward.
The LOA series has earned the Carey-Thomas Award for Creative Publishing and the National Book Critics Circle special award for “distinguished contributions to the enhancement of American literary and critical standards.” It has also received the “Ambassador of Honor” title multiple times from the English-Speaking Union.Close