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Literature Resources

Literary Criticism: Definition

The word "Criticism" in the phrase Literary Criticism does not mean "to find fault with." Literary Criticism means to investigate, analyze, interpret, and evaluate works of literature (novels, short stories, poems, and plays).


Top, L to R: Toni Morrison, Virginia Woolf, Shakespeare
Bottom, L to R: Franz Kafka, James Baldwin, Sandra Cisneros. From Accunet/ AP Multimedia Archive

"Literary Criticism" is found in books, journals, and magazines. It is even found on websites: it is what English professors and other scholars have to say about novels, short stories, plays, and poetry.

"Literary Criticism" is sometimes used to refer to scholarly writing about the historical background of a literary work or the personal history of the author, as well. For example, much has been published about the poet Emily Dickinson and how she lived most of her life as a recluse.

Use the Library Catalog to Find Print Books

Go to the Library Catalog

  1. Keyword Subject Search

    In the KEYWORD SUBJECT search box, type in "author's name criticism"

    For example:
    Alice Walker criticism
    Gabriel Garcia Marquez criticism
    Raymond Carver criticism

    Choose a book, click on the title, then click on Call Number "Borough of Manhattan Community College."

    Write down:
    • Location of the book (typically Stacks or Reference)
    • Call Number
    You'll need both to find the book(s) in the library.

    When you find a good book, look at other books on the shelf where you found it. This is a great way to find similar material. Books in the Stacks location may be checked out of the library.

    Tip: Subjects: What are they??
    Click on the title of any book and look at the "Subjects" that describe what the book is about. Subjects are a lot like "tags" that you might see and use on Internet websites:
    CUNY+ Screenshot

    A librarian somewhere decided the book is about these subjects, (which, by the way, are terms that might sound formal or odd.) The Subjects are links that point you to other, similar books. Click on a link-one of the subjects-- to find other books on that subject, for example, "African American men in literature."

  2. General Keyword Search

    If the writer is identified as a member of a group, (ethnic, political, etc.) try a GENERAL KEYWORD search. Type terms that describe the group, and the word "literature", for example :

    Feminist Literature
    Caribbean Literature
    Harlem Renaissance Literature
    Diaspora Literature
    Gay Literature

    These are just examples. Don't be afraid to try other terms and phrases.

  3. Search all CUNY Libraries

    If you're not in a hurry and can wait a week or so for a book, Select all CUNY Libraries at the top of the search screen:

    • Do your search and decide which book looks best.
    • Look under HOLDINGS. (If you see BMCC, you are in luck! Simply click on BMCC and write down the call number and location. Then go find the book.)
    • If you do NOT see BMCC, under HOLDINGS, click on any of the libraries listed, and click REQUEST THIS BOOK on left side in orange box:
    • Fill out the form that pops up on the screen. (Make sure the book is a regular loan and says “look on shelf”. If the book has a due date, you may still request the book, but it will not be sent until it is returned.)

    The book will be sent to BMCC Library, and you will receive an email when the book has arrived. To use this service, you must have a valid, active BMCC ID card. Go to the circulation desk to activate your card if you have never checked out a book before.

Find Scholarly Articles and Online Books

Are you off campus? Logon for Off Campus Access with the same username/password you use for your BMCC email. If you need help, try the Remote Access Guide.

On the Library Databases page, try browse databases by subject (near middle of page). Choose "Literature & Languages," click GO, and view resulting databases:

  1. Academic Search Complete (highly recommended for articles)

    Not a literature-only database, but ASP is usually sufficient for finding scholarly articles about writers taught at BMCC. Limit your search to academic journal articles to filter out book reviews. Also, limit to full-text articles if you are searching off campus.

    In this database, combine search terms with AND. You don't need to use AND between first and last name, however. For example:

    Results look like this:

    Click on the PDF Full Text link for a copy of the article by Neil.

    Click on the title of the article, "Bambara's The Lesson" to learn more details about the article. ASP provides Subjects just like the book catalog does. "The Lesson," by Bambara is about the subjects Capitalism and Social Values, for example.

  2. Literature Resource Center (If you can't find enough articles in Academic Search Complete)

    Literature Resource Center is a mega resource for literary information from all time periods and genres such as fiction, nonfiction, poetry, drama, history, journalism, and more.

    Select either "Name of Work" search (to find literary criticism on a novel, short story, poem, or play) or "Person-by or about" to find article about the author of the work. You can also try an "Advanced Search" and combine search terms.

    LRC uses tabs, and your results page will usually display the LITERATURE CRITICISM results first. Those are the articles you will want.

    Click on the titles of the article, and then the entire article will appear. At the very botton of the page, you will find the MLA style citation. You can copy and paste it into your Works Cited page (for example):

  3. Use Find It!

    Some of your results may be citation only. Citations are simply descriptions of journal articles. If you see Find it! click on it to find your article in another library database:

    A pop-up window will tell you if another database has the article, along with a link to the article or the journal.

    If Find it! gives you trouble, go to Complete List of BMCC Journal Subscriptions and search for the journal title. You will find out whether or not the article is available in one of BMCC's full-text databases. You will also find out if the library has that article available in print (paper) or on microfilm.

  4. Gale Virtual Reference Library (electronic reference books)

    This database is a digitized, full-text, reference book collection. It is best for finding general information about an author, but you will also find criticism of his or her works.

    Click on the ADVANCED SEARCH and narrow the subject to LITERATURE. Then select "Document Title" as your search type. Type in the name of the author you are researching. For example, I found entries about the writer Sandra Cisneros in 22 different reference works-and all my results were full text!

Reference Books: Dictionaries, Encyclopedias, and Handbooks

This list is just a sample of what the library owns. Notable books available in the Literature Resource Center and Gale Virtual Reference databases are excluded. Don't hesitate to search for reference books yourself in the Library Catalog or browse the P Section of the Reference Collection. ( PS=American Literature, PN=Literary History & Collections, PL=Asian and African Languages & Literature)

American Writers
Location: Reference - PS129.A55

African American Writers (2 volumes)
Location: Reference - PS153.N5 A344 2001

Latino and Latina Writers (2 volumes)
Location: Reference - PS153 H56 L39 2004

Literature & Its Times (5 volumes)
Location: Reference - PN50.L574 1997

Novels for Students (5 volumes)
Location: Reference - PN 3365 .N68 1997

Oxford Encyclopedia of American Literature (4 volumes)
Location: Reference - PS21 E537 2004

Short Stories for Students (5 volumes)
Location: Reference - PN 3373 .S56 1997

Web Resources

Internet Public Library: Literary Criticism
This website provides links to over 4,000 critical and biographical resources dealing with American and British literature, from pre-1500 to the Twentieth Century. The site is searchable by author, work or literary period.

Google Scholar
GS may lead you to journal articles that are NOT available in the library databases, so give Google Scholar a try. (Some journals are ONLY available for free, on the Internet!) To be safe, make sure your professor says it is okay to use articles found on the Internet.

Compiled by Susan Thomas, Evening and Weekend Librarian (