The stories are moving for the dominant cultural reader as well as for future generations of subjugated immigrant groups.
This is not to say that all subjugated groups are immigrants, as the experience of the indigenous Native American population must also be seen as expressive of the American literary experience. The transition from an oral tradition to a written tradition has proved a struggle which was shadowed in extreme only by the difficulty this population faced in attempting to be included in the literature of the nation and even more so in the fabric of the social order. In fact a great deal of the Native American literary body is detailing the aspect of transition from the oral tradition to the written tradition, as a marked part of the Native American experience of identity.
The oral tradition is not just speaking and listening, because what it means to me and to other people who have grown up in that tradition is that whole process, that whole process which involves a lifestyle. That whole process of that society in terms of its history, its culture, its language, its values, and subsequently, its literature. So it's not merely a simple matter of speaking and listening, but living that process. (Einhorn, 2000, p. 3)
The tradition of inclusion is still growing and this brings to mind the continued definitions of exclusion, or what cannot be considered American literature. To some degree there is no real answer to this question, as almost anything that can be recorded in words, be they electronic and oral or on paper could be considered American literature, if it is applicable to the human experience of America. That would leave a rather limited answer as to what is not considered American literature, mainly it would be anything, such as visual art or performance art that is not expressed in words or dialogue or is not expressed in literary form. Though one must also exclude travel literature, unless the subsequent author chooses to remain in America and live the American experience from his or her own point-of-view.
To be an American one does not have to have been born in America but simply to some degree accept themselves as American and be a member of American society, in all its diverse forms. One can be an expatriate living in South Africa or the UK and still consider themselves, American as they still have an American experience, even if they are no longer on American soil. What it means to be an American is to hold the cultural values of America, even if that means disagreeing with many of them, (which is of itself an American ideal). To be American literature one would assume that the work is written from this point-of-view, in all its diversity of form and function. American literature, currently reflects diversity and experience of what it means to learn in and about American values and standards, and as has been said previously often as a rejection of those assumptions. American literature must tell the story of an American or a body of Americans.
To be an American writer, before America existed would have meant expressing individual nationalistic transition in all its forms, colonial or otherwise. The importance of American literature is not its setting, exactly though this does play a part it is its expression of personal individual growth of expression and understanding. Those things that get excluded depend to a large degree on the cultural and political climate. Ugly histories have been traditionally excluded, such as those that put an unfavorable light on the founders or the settlers, though this is changing. The inclusion phase of American literature is far from over, though the delay has wreaked havoc on several subgroups and a few generations of former "outsiders."
Einhorn, L.J. (2000). Introduction. In the Native American Oral Tradition: Voices of the Spirit and Soul (pp. 1-10). Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.
Jung, Y. (2004). The New Americanist Intervention into the Canon. American Studies International, 42(2-3), 213.
Levine, L.W. (1996). The Opening of the American Mind: Canons, Culture, and History. Boston: Beacon Press.
McQuade, D. Atwan, R. Banta, M. Kaplan, J. Minter, D. Stepto, R. (1998) Harper American Literature, Single Volume Edition (3rd Edition) New York: Longman.