Top Ten 20th Century Writers

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Posted on January 13th, 2008


On this list we have a Japanese writer, a science fiction author with a strange affinity to alternate realities, a crime writer, and Ernest Hemingway. Let the games for the greatest literary honor of the 20th century begin…

10. Haruki Murakami

Haruki Murakami
The japanese writing sensation: Haruki Murakami
Haruki Murakami started writing when he was 29. Yes, 29 human years old! That should do it for all aspiring writers out there—there’s still time for you to make a literary name for yourself. According to the Japanese author, he was watching a baseball game one night when the idea hit him like a bat to the back of the head. “Hey, I can write a novel,” Murakami said to himself. And he did; he started writing his first novel that night. Now, almost three decades later, Haruki Murakami is one of Japan’s most celebrated author. His biggest works include The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Kafka on the Shore, and Hard-boiled Wonderland And The End of the World

9. Stephen King

Stephen King
The greatest horror writer, Stephen King
The world’s favorite author is a master of terror. Meet Stephen King, author of numerous blockbuster novels who, as a kid, translated his favorite comic books into narrative stories and then sold them to his classmates. “My mother was my very first customer,” King wrote in his writing memoir, On Writing. But what little Stephen never saw coming was his imminent rise to popularity as the world’s greatest horror writer. Stephen King brought the genre to new heights. His tense and gripping yet easy-to-read prose earned him the respect of million of readers everywhere. King’s notable works include The Stand, Salem’s Lot, The Shawshank Redemption and Rita Hayworth, The Dead Zone, and The Shining. All hail the King!

8. Elmore Leonard

Elmore Leonard
Elmore Leonard, author of The Hot Kid
If Stephen King is to horror genre, then Elmore Leonard is to crime and detective fiction. Leonard is noted for his stylistically offbeat prose: fast-paced narrative, uncompromising description, and effective translation of street language into prose. In fact, Elmore Leonard is so good at this that Martin Amis once said, “Your prose makes Raymond Chandler look clumsy,” during a seminar in which Leonard was an audience. Leonard is also recognized for literally disregarding all known rules of grammar for literary and stylistic effects. His best-known works include Valdez is Coming, Out of Sight, Rum Punch, The Hot Kid, and the short story Three-Ten to Yuma.

7. Philip K. Dick

Philip Dick
Minority Report from Phillip Dick
The only science fiction author on this list is also one of the greatest writers of the past century. Movies that were adapted from his novels usually precedes him—Blade Runner, A Scanner Darkly, Total Recall, Minority Report, and Next. But to his millions of fans, Philip K. Dick is Philip K. Dick, the brain and original author behind those mind-bending blockbuster films. In 2007, Philip K. Dick became the first science fiction author to be included in The Library of America series.

6. Sherwood Anderson

Sherwood Anderson
A black and white photo of Sherwood Anderson
Sherwood Anderson is arguably one of the most influential fiction writer of the 20th century. Compared to Hemingway or Steinbeck or Faulkner, the name “Sherwood Anderson” sounds almost like an ant struggling for recognition in the sea of anonymity. Plain. Undistinguished, so to speak. But what most casual readers don’t know is that Anderson’s voice and influence is all but present in the works of all three authors that were mentioned. His most famous works include Winesburg, Ohio and Dark Laughter.

5. Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy
Cormac McCarthy, simple but good
The author of the instant classic No Country for Old Men has been called one of the four major American novelists still at work, alongside Philip Roth, Don DeLillo and Thomas Pynchon. Cormac McCarthy is known for his Western novels, stream-of-consciousness writing style, and complex themes. His prose is often compared to Faulkner’s, who also wrote in stream-of-consciousness and gave particular attention to the lyrical construction of his sentences on the page. Cormac McCarthy’s most famous works include No Country for Old Men, Blood Meridian, All The Pretty Horses and The Road.

4. Raymond Carver

Raymond Carver
Raymond Carver and his Elvis-like hair
Raymond Carver is the author most credited for reviving the American short story during the 60s and the 70s. Known throughout his career as “writer of the working poor”, Carver wrote about the struggles of ordinary people living bleak and hopeless lives. His settings are often low-rent apartments, cheap gas stations, grocery stores, backyards, etc. The broken American Dream: this is the breadth of Raymond Carver’s world. Carver, upon Hemingway’s influence, also wrote in spare prose. But his later stories contradicted this and are fuller and longer in construction. His most famous short stories are Cathedral, Where I’m Calling From, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, and A Small, Good Thing.

3. John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck
John, the author of The Grapes of Wrath
John Steinbeck is a giant literary figure of the Dust Bowl and Great Depression eras. Steinbeck, like Raymond Carver, in general wrote about the lives and struggles of the working class. His three greatest works—The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, and Of Mice and Men—earned Steinbeck huge critical and popular acclaim, and later he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize for these contributions to American literature. Steinbeck wrote a total of 25 books in his lifetime: 16 novels, six non-fiction, and several collections of short stories.

2. William Faulkner

William Faulkner
William Faulkner, the rival of Ernest Hemingway
William Faulkner is an American novelist and short story writer. But he is also Hemingway’s peer and literary rival. Faulkner’s writing style and literary ideals clashed with Hemingway’s, and vice versa. For instance, Faulkner is known for his “talkative” and verbose prose. He also paid meticulous attention to cadence in his sentences. But what really defined Faulkner from the rest of his contemporaries was his effective and exemplary use of stream-of-consciousness. Sure, a great many writers had used the technique before him, but it was Faulkner’s work that had demonstrated its powerful and disemboweling effect on the human psyche when used right. His most famous works include The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, and Absalom! Absalom!

1. Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway
The best of the best, Ernest Hemingway
There’s never been a writer like Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway—or Papa, as he was often referred to in his later years—did more than change the image and lifestyle of the average writer; he changed literature itself. Hemingway used taut and spare language throughout his writing career. He wrote in simple sentences, his words tight and meaningful in order and construction, and he preferred action and dialogue over paragraphs upon paragraphs of internal narrative. But Hemingway also eschewed flowery description. Instead he crafted descriptions that are written in short spurts and goes straight to the heart of the matter. His most famous works include For Whom The Bell Tolls, A Farewell to Arms, The Sun Also Rises, and The Old Man and the Sea. Yes, there’s never been quite a writer like Ernest Hemingway.


Surprised? Not really, I’m sure. In terms of influence on writing style, Ernest Hemingway clearly has the upper hand. The man redefined what good literature should be and what literature is as an art medium. Aloha to that. If you enjoy reading this article, you’ll surely be interested in learning how to write a novel and as a bonus, read how to get rid of writer’s block.

These man have all brought prose to another level with their masterpieces. But if it’s the grace of poetry that your soul craves, then the Top Ten Poets of the 20th Century are what you need.

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  1. Top Ten Poets of the 20th Century - Crunkish said,

    on 2008-12-29 at 16:46:01

    [...] men, who are undoubtedly some of the Top Ten 20th Century Writers have truly changed the way we view the world forever. Related ArticlesTop Ten Tips for Writing Good [...]

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