In a piece on the canon wars which quotes CT member Michael Berube, the NYT asserts that college English curricula have seen “a decided shift toward works of the present and the recent past. In 1965, the authors most frequently assigned in English classes were Shakespeare, Milton, Chaucer, Dryden, Pope and T. S. Eliot, according to a survey by the National Association of Scholars, an organization committed to preserving â€œthe Western intellectual heritage.â€? In 1998, they were Shakespeare, Chaucer, Jane Austen, Milton, Virginia Woolf and Toni Morrison.”
TS Eliot died in 1965, but given the lags in assigning textbooks, I think it would be reasonable to regard him has having been a living author when his work was set. So, the number of living authors in the top six has moved from one to … one. The only other evidence of the recent past is the inclusion of Virginia Woolf, whose major works were written only 70 years before they made it into the curriculum. Indeed, we are in the throes of radical change here, it seems.
Since the NYT doesn’t mention the obvious difference between the two lists, I won’t either, but I will say that I think the 1998 list is an improvement.