Document Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Prentiss Clark


In Whitman’s Wake argues that nineteenth-century American writing includes a living invitation for its future readers. The kind of invitational writing prioritized in this work has not yet been fully accounted for in literary criticism. What’s more, even when we as readers have experienced such an invitation (one we feel is for us) we have not followed the feeling far enough. As a result, scholarship has largely neglected, and perhaps has consciously rejected, the intentional action of a writer that creates an encounter with their future reader. My project contributes to the ongoing critical conversation around the relationship of readers to writing but reframes our understanding of that relationship as an intimate connection made possible by the writer and fulfilled in the reader. Walt Whitman was the first to “chant” about future readers in this way, and the living invitation he styles in Leaves of Grass is not only a model for writers but ultimately should change the way we read American literature. Invitational writing expects us to be co-creators of a dynamic and intimate encounter, and it requires we read with an unprecedented awareness of the writer at work. This project demonstrates how Walt Whitman, Edith Wharton, and Emily Dickinson engage in a deliberate compositional strategy that creates a connection between writers and future readers. Put another way, these writers deliberately compose writing that is meaningful at the time of writing, and also meaningful—differently—in a future moment of reading. I examine how these writers describe their connection with readers and the ways they announce their continued presence at the scene of reading. Whitman theorizes this connection by writing directly to his future reader—seeing us, even then, as his intimate, friend, or “comrade.” To craft her own encounter with a reader, Wharton selects the ghost story, describing this genre as one that facilitates a meeting between writers and readers. Finally, Dickinson formalizes the reader’s presence within her verse, marking our absence or arrival as part of the poems themselves. By making readers a part of her poem, she creates an astounding level of intimacy with her audience.

Subject Categories

American Literature | Rhetoric and Composition


Dickinson, invitation, readers, Wharton, Whitman, writers

Number of Pages



University of South Dakota



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.