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A Congeries of Lichee Nuts for America: Chinese Religion in Edgar Lee Masters’s New York Chinatown Poetry Collection

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Abstract Active in several genres of writing and extremely productive, American poet Edgar Lee Masters (1868–1950) became famous almost overnight with his earlier collection of free verse monologues, The Spoon River Anthology (1915). But as quickly as he rose in prominence, his fame declined thereafter. In the past decades, critics usually regarded The Spoon River Anthology as Masters’s best collection. This essay takes a step toward uncovering the value of Masters’s other work by examining one aspect of Lichee Nuts, a book-length collection of short poems published in 1929. This essay reveals that Masters, a prescient poet, not only displays sophisticated understanding of the composite and complex nature of Chinese religion, but also uses that understanding to construct a positive poetic image of the Chinese. In doing so he actively promotes cultural diversity in a time of racial hysteria and adumbrates the emergence of countercultural voices that transmit spirituality to a Western culture mired in materialism.

Affiliations: 1: Northern Virginia Community College Annandale, Virginia


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