Rough Writing

Ethnic Authorship in Theodore Roosevelt’s America

255 pages

November, 2008

ISBN: 9780814782910



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Part of the Nation of Nations series


Aviva F. Taubenfeld is Assistant Professor of Literature at Purchase College, State University of New York.

All books by Aviva F. Taubenfeld

As the United States struggled to absorb a massive influx of ethnically diverse immigrants at the turn of the twentieth century, the question of who and what an American is took on urgent intensity. It seemed more critical than ever to establish a definition by which Americanness could be established, transmitted, maintained, and judged. Americans of all stripes sought to articulate and enforce their visions of the nation’s past, present, and future; central to these attempts was President Theodore Roosevelt.

Roosevelt fully recognized the narrative component of American identity, and he called upon authors of diverse European backgrounds including Israel Zangwill, Jacob Riis, Elizabeth Stern, and Finley Peter Dunne to promote the nation in popular written form. With the swell and shift in immigration, he realized that a more encompassing national literature was needed to “express and guide the soul of the nation.” Rough Writing examines the surprising place and implications of the immigrant and of ethnic writing in Roosevelt’s America and American literature.


  • quite brilliantly reveals not only Roosevelt’s beliefs and views, but shows the different ways European immigrant writers rejected his enthusiastic insistence that they conform to his American narrative.”

    Journal of American Ethnic History

  • "Rough Writing is much more than a fascinating account of the little-known relationship between an American president and the immigrant authors whose work he promoted in the service of a new national narrative. Meticulously researched and lucidly written, Rough Writing enables us to see a vital period in American literature through new eyes."

    —Laura Browder, author of Slippery Characters: Ethnic Impersonators and American Identities

  • “Cogently written and elegantly conceived.”

    The Journal of American History

  • "Taubenfeld[‘s] literary-cultural studies add to the already compelling body of evidence that the development of literature, economics, and politics has been inextricably connected throughout U.S history.” 

    American Literary History