The Way We Were, The Way We Are

The Contemporary American Family

A Let's Talk About It series

  • This House of Sky by Ivan Doig
  • A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
  • The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams
  • Ordinary People by Judith Guest
  • So Far From God by Ana Castillo
  • During the Reign of the Queen of Persia by Joan Chase


For every human being, family life encompasses enduring seasons that form a cycle: growing up, breaking away or breaking down, making choices, looking back, surviving. Such categories may have little to do with age, economic status, or geographical location. But their commonality in American life, as reflected in the books chosen for this series, will challenge readers to define or redefine the meaning of “family” today and, in so doing, to discover something of themselves.

These works not only reflect seasons in the family but also illustrate some of the best contemporary American writing. They provide us with a variety of literary genres: a “western” autobiography of Ivan Doig (This House of Sky), plays of Tennessee Williams and Lorraine Hansberry (The Glass Menagerie, A Raisin in the Sun); wide-ranging short stories in Points of View, and finally the novels represented by Judith Guest’s Ordinary People and Joan Chase’s During the Reign of the Queen of Persia. The families in these works are diverse in their circumstances but share much in common. They are, with one exception, post-World War II American families, and the characters in the books invite us to think about where we’ve been, in both the recent and distant past.