Our Lists of the Greatest American Authors

Harold Bloom, if you haven’t heard of him, is a longtime literary scholar and professor, as well as the author of dozens of books of literary criticism. His latest offering to the world is called The Daemon Knows: Literary Greatness and the American Sublime, in which he lists 12 American authors whose influence has shaped the American “creative spirit.” Now, the “American Sublime” is something that many critics have taken a whack at, each applying the term to different writers, but I’m not going to go into all that here.

Anyway, many of us Rioters were disturbed by the news of Bloom’s book, mostly because he seems to be stuck in some sort of temporal trap, in which anyone writing after the mid-20th century doesn’t exist. Oh, and he doesn’t realize that there are some pretty brilliant American writers who aren’t white. Amazing.

Now, I haven’t read this book, I just read about it, but I have two claims: 1. if Bloom is arguing that these 12 white (and almost all male) writers represent the pinnacle of American literature, then he needs to return to planet Earth and look around. 2. if Bloom is simply trying to define the “American Sublime” in terms of “canonical” writers, then excuse me but snoooooooooooooooooooze because writing a book about Whitman and Melville and Dickinson and Emerson has been done and done and done and let’s move on, shall we? I mean, Melville is one of my favorite writers ever. But this new book of criticism that stops with Faulkner seems dated, like Bloom wrote this 30 years ago and just found the manuscript in his attic and decided to publish it. WHATEVER.

The great thing that came out of the announcement of Bloom’s book, though, is the wonderful discussion that it sparked in the BR back-channels. So we decided to write our own lists of “12 Greatest American Authors,” taking into consideration influence, stylistic brilliance, and many other factors that made us love particular writers. Unlike Bloom, we didn’t restrict “American” to the United States, but included all of North, South, and Central America. We invite you to check out our lists (which are much more diverse and timely than Bloom’s) and tell us who you would include on a list of “top 12.”

(Note that many of these lists follow no particular order because that would be impossible. It was already excruciatingly difficult to pick just 12!)

best american authors

 

Rachel C.

Jorge Luis Borges
Ralph Ellison
Willa Cather
Richard Wright
Zora Neale Hurston
Toni Morrison
Herman Melville
Sherman Alexie
Mark Twain
Vladimir Nabokov
Anne Bradstreet
Donna Tartt

 

Danika Ellis

Alice Walker
Toni Morrison
Imogen Binnie
Thomas King
Malinda Lo
Octavia Butler
Sassafras Lowrey
Dorothy Allison
Audre Lorde
Tamora Pierce
Alison Bechdel
Ellis Avery

 

Liberty Hardy

Edward P. Jones
Charles Portis
Elizabeth McCracken
Kurt Vonnegut
Octavia Butler
Roberto Bolaño
Ursula K. Le Guin
Flannery O’Connor
Margaret Atwood
Russell Hoban
Shirley Jackson
John Steinbeck

 

Jeff O’Neal

Walt Whitman
Toni Morrison
Herman Melville
Emily Dickinson
Ralph Ellison
Ralph Waldo Emerson
William Faulkner
Kurt Vonnegut
Mark Twain
Zora Neale Hurston
John Steinbeck
Willa Cather

 

Amanda Nelson

Toni Morrison
Margaret Atwood
Louise Erdrich
Isabel Allende
John Steinbeck
Junot Díaz
Marilynne Robinson
Edith Wharton
Flannery O’Connor
Herman Melville
Kurt Vonnegut
Sylvia Plath

 

Derek Attig

Gloria Anzaldúa
Anne Bradstreet
Gwendolyn Brooks
Octavia Butler
Aimé Césaire
Ta-Nehisi Coates
Frederick Douglass
Leslie Feinberg
Allen Ginsberg
R. Zamora Linmark
Henry David Thoreau
Walt Whitman

 

Cassandra Neace

Gabriel García Márquez
Sherman Alexie
Zora Neale Hurston
Margaret Atwood
Junot Diaz
Octavia Butler
Pablo Neruda
Amy Tan
Flannery O’Connor
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Octavio Paz
Willa Cather

 

Nikki Steele

Ray Bradbury
Toni Morrison
Cormac McCarthy
Sandra Cisneros
Gabriel García Márquez
Margaret Atwood
Jorge Luis Borges
Marilynne Robinson
John Steinbeck
Stan Lee
Ursula K. Le Guin
Edgar Allan Poe

 

Jessica Woodbury

Margaret Atwood
Ray Bradbury
Willa Cather
Junot Díaz
William Faulkner
Shirley Jackson
Gabriel García Márquez
Toni Morrison
John Steinbeck
Mark Twain
Kurt Vonnegut
Edith Wharton

 

Aram Mrjoian

James Baldwin
Ernest Hemingway
Toni Morrison
Junot Díaz
William Gaddis
Margaret Atwood
Anais Nin
Roberto Bolano
Ken Kesey
Sylvia Plath
Cormac McCarthy
Ralph Ellison

 

Karina Glaser

Betty Smith
Lucille Clifton
Emily Dickinson
John Steinbeck
Louisa May Alcott
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Maya Angelou
Amy Tan
Beverly Cleary
Langston Hughes
Elizabeth Enright
Eleanor Estes

 

Johann Thorsson

Toni Morrison
Ernest Hemingway
John Steinbeck
William Faulkner
Betty Smith
Shirley Jackson
Herman Melville
Mark Twain
Kurt Vonnegut
Stephen King (why not?)
Alice Walker
Truman Capote

 

Rah Carter

Maya Angelou
James Baldwin
Ray Bradbury
Emily Dickinson
Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Allen Ginsberg
Harper Lee
Sylvia Plath
Edgar Allan Poe
Jean Rhys
Mark Twain
Alice Walker

 

Alison Peters

Toni Morrison
Alice Walker
James Baldwin
Madeleine L’Engle
Isabel Allende
Gabriel García Márquez
Gloria Naylor
E.B. White
Annie Dillard
Rebecca Solnit
Louise Erdrich
Angela Johnson

 

Jessi Lewis

John Steinbeck
Toni Morrison
Gabriel García Márquez
Louise Erdrich
Herman Melville
Stephen King
James Baldwin
Sherman Alexie
Kurt Vonnegut
Amy Tan
Zora Neale Hurston
Ernest Hemingway

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