What is Postmodern Literature?
Postmodern literature is becoming more prevalent in today’s world as new books are published each year and set on shelves in book stores, libraries, and classrooms. These books are a reflection of society, history, and culture and the multiliteracies of today’s 21st century. Authors of postmodern literature step away from traditional forms of literature and begin to experiment with format and style. Readers may no longer take a passive role with these books. They must actively work to comprehend the written and illustrated pages.
Postmodern books possess many stylistic qualities that most refer to as metafictive characteristics. It is important to understand these stylistic devices that writers use in order to understand the literature they have written. Stories may not follow a linear path, and readers must decide to whether to read here or there. They can be self-referential in nature, drawing the reader’s attention to the actual creation of the book. Readers are forced to fill in the gaps that authors have left out as they read and continually draw connections with the text, themselves, and the world in which they live. Stories are told from multiple points of view and readers must interpret how characters and narrators are related to each other.
There are seven defining characteristics of postmodern literature. Let's take a look at them:
- Multiple stories can coexist within one text.
may not be a left-to-right orientation.
must decide what to read and when to read it.
- Characters or narrators may use the actual pages as props.
- Readers must distinguish between fiction and reality as they read.
- Draws the reader's attention to the creation of the story.
- The reader must make connections and fill in the gaps that the writer has left out.
- Readers are required to make many more inferences than with traditional literature.
- There is room for multiple interpretations of plot and characters' intentions.
- There are references to traditional tales.
- The antagonist of a traditional tale may become the unexpected hero or have more complex motives or personalities.
- Characters from multiple texts can be incorporated into one story.
Nontraditional Format or Structure (NF)
- Writers may use characteristics of more than one genre.
- This is the most recognized trait of postmodern literature.
- May have an unconventional layout.
- Several different type faces may be used.
Sarcastic or Mocking Tone (S)
- There is a level of irony or contradiction throughout the story line.
- There is playfulness to the narration or character perspectives.
- The author may seek to make fun of the original tale.
Multiple Perspectives (M)
- Several voices are used creating multiple narrations.
- These voices may show the perspectives of different characters within the text.
- Readers must determine the relationships between narrators and characters and the authenticity of each voice.
Examples of Postmodern Literature
These examples might not list all of their postmodern characteristics, but they list the most prevalent.
- Beware of the Story Book Wolves by Lauren Child (I, SR, NF, S)
- The Secret Knowledge or Grown Ups by David Wisniewski ( NF, SR, S, I, NL, C)
- A Story with Pictures by Barbara Kanninen (SR, S, NF, C)
- Black and White by David Macauley (All)
- The Three Pigs by David Weisner (SR, C, I, NF, S)
Intermediate Books (Chapter Books)
- A House Called Awful End by Philip Ardagh (NL, S, M, SR)
- Cinderella (As If You Didn't Already Know the Story) by Barbara Ensor (I, N, NF, M, S)
- Please Write In This Book by Mary Amato (SR, M, C, S, NF)
- The Secret Order of the Gumm Street Girls by Elise Primavera (I, M, SR, NF, C)
- The World According to Kaley by Dian Curtis Regan (NF, SR, M, S)
- Diamond Willow by Helen Frost (NF, M, C, NL)
- Old Magic by Marianne Curley (M, S)
- The Prophecy of the Stones by Flavia Bujor (NL, SR, C)
- Blue Bloods by Melissa De la Cruz (I, NL, M, C, NF)
- Deadly Little Secrets by Laurie Faria Stolarz (M, NF, C)
- Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles (M, I)
- Wake by Lisa McMann (NF, C)
References for Further Reading
Anstey, M. (2002). “It’s not all black and white”: Postmodern picture books and new literacies. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 45(6), 444-457.
Goldstone, B. (2004, January). The postmodern picture book: A new subgenre. Language Arts, 81(3), 196-204.
Knickerbocker, J.L. & Brueggeman, M.A. (2008). Making room on the shelf: The place of postmodern young adult novels in the curriculum. American Secondary Education, 37(1), 65-79.