The sermon is the first and most enduring genre of American literature. The essential medium of the Puritan settlements, it continued in succeeding centuries to play a vital role - as public ritual, occasion for passion and reflection, and, not least, popular entertainment. The 58 sermons collected in this volume display the form's eloquence, intellectual rigor, and spiritual fervor. Ranging from the first New England settlements to mass-media evangelism and the civil rights movement in the 1960s, these texts reclaim a neglected aspect of American literature.
Whether it take the form of the formal prose of the Puritans, the clear, plain-spoken wisdom of the Quakers, or the improvisational style of African American folk preaching, the sermon is one of America's most unique types of literature. While this collection should never be considered easy reading, its high quality and profundity more than compensate for its challenges. In fact, this collection (spanning the 17th through the 20th centuries) is packed with literary and historical gems. Absalom Jones, an African Episcopal minister, preaches a heart-wrenching sermon that sings the praises of the end of the slave trade in 1808. Ralph Waldo Emerson delivers "The Lord's Supper Sermon," and, of course, there's Martin Luther King's most famous sermon, "I've Been to the Mountaintop."
Newsweek magazine called this "the most important book-publishing project in the nation's history." This may be an exaggeration; nonetheless the book is certainly a worthy project, if only for its recognition of the sermon as a legitimate and stirring genre of American literature. --Gail Hudson