America's Most Influential Authors

Across more than two centuries of the United States, thousands of writers have penned the novels, poems and stories that are the nation's literary heritage. Here are two dozen that many might say have been America's most influential writers.
In alphabetical order

author picture Maya Angelou 1928-
Maya Angelou is one of the great voices of contemporary literature and as a remarkable Renaissance woman. She travels the world sharing her words of knowledge and wisdom.
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author picture Willa Cather 1873-1947
Willa Cather worn in Virginia's Back Creek Valley. When she was 9 years old when her family moved to Red Cloud, Nebraska, where she found inspiration for some of her best-known works, O Pioneers! and My Antonia, about life on the American frontier.
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author picture James Fenimore Cooper 1789-1851
James Fenimore Cooper grew up in Cooperstown, New York and is best known for his five-book Leatherstocking seriea which includes The Last of the Mohicans published in 1826. In his frontier tales, Cooper introduces the first American hero, Natty Bumppo, a white child raised by Delaware Indians who matures into an adventurous, honorable and fearless woodsman.
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author picture Emily Dickinson 1830-1886
Emily Dickinson is known as one of America's most prolific poets. She wrote 1,800 poems while living as a recluse at her family's home in Amherst, Massachusetts. The poems about art, gardens, joy, love, death and grief. Most of her works were discovered in her bedroom after her death.
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author picture Ralph Waldo Emerson 1803-1882
Ralph Waldo Emerson was an ordained minister from Boston. He was a philosopher, essayist and poet who explored the mind and man's relationship with nature. Emerson's vision and style can be seen in the essays Nature and Self-Reliance.
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author picture William Faulkner 1897-1962
William Faulkner was a Nobel Prize-winning novelist and short story writer who wrote about the people, history and settings of his native Mississippi including the The Sound and the Fury, Absalom, Absalom!, Go Down, Moses and The Reivers.
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author picture F. Scott Fitzgerald 1896-1940
F. Scott Fitzgerald was a native of St. Paul, Minnesota. he wrote novels and short stories about the optimism, aspirations and excesses of the Jazz Age, including This Side of Paradise, The Beautiful and the Damned and The Great Gatsby, which has been said to be among the greatest novels of the 20th century.
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author picture Robert Frost 1874-1963
Robert Frost, a four-time Pulitzer Prize winner born in San Francisco, wrote much of his poetry about rural New England. Some of his best-known poems were After Apple-Picking, Mending Wall, Birches, The Road Not Taken and Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. They were inspired by his observations in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont.
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author picture Nathaniel Hawthorne 1804-1864
Nathaniel Hawthorne was known for his stories about sin, guilt and witchcraft in Puritan New England. he was born at Salem, Massachusetts. Among his popular works are the short story collection Twice-Told Tales, The Scarlet Letter and The House of Seven Gables.
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author picture Ernest Hemingway 1899-1961
Ernest Hemingway was a novelist and journalist known for his war and romance stories, and his understated writing style. He won a Pulitzer Prize for his book The Old Man and the Sea and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954. His writing style was among those in a new era of fiction. He was a well known adventurer who loved to hunt, fish and act as a rugged outdoorsman. He was part of the so-called "Lost Generation" because he was in World War 2. Some say he was the most popular American novelist of the 20th century.
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author picture Washington Irving 1783-1859
Washington Irving was open of the earliest American fiction writers. He was born in New York City. he wrote the timeless tales Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
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author picture Jack Kerouac 1922-1969
Jack Kerouac was a popular Canadian-American novelist, poet and literary iconoclast. It is said that William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac originated the Beat Generation of the 1950s. Kerouac has been said to have inspired later authors including Tom Robbins, Lester Bangs, Richard Brautigan, Ken Kesey and writers of the New Journalism. Kerouac also influenced The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel and Jim Morrison. Kerouac's best-known book was On the Road about his travels. He also wrote The Dharma Bums, Big Sur and Visions of Cody.
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author picture Ken Kesey 1935-2001
Ken Kesey was best known for his first novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and as a counter-cultural figure who was a link between the Beat Generation of the 1950s and the hippies of the 1960s.
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author picture Stephen King 1947-
Stephen King is an author, screenwriter, musician, columnist, actor, film producer and director who has sold more than 350 million copies of his books. He has written science fiction, fantasy, short-fiction, non-fiction, screenplays, teleplays and stage plays and is best known for horror fiction. He received The National Book Foundation's Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Among his works are Carrie, The Shining, The Stand and The Dead Zone.
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author picture Harper Lee 1926-
Harper Lee's only published novel is To Kill a Mockingbird about 1930s race relations in the South. For it she won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. She is from Monroeville, Alabama.
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author picture Jack London 1876-1916
Jack London, born in San Francisco, drew on his experiences as a sailor, gold prospector and adventurer to write stirring tales about canines in the frozen North and voyages on the high seas in his best-selling novels The Call of the Wild, The Sea-Wolf and White Fang.
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author picture Herman Melville 1819-1891
Herman Melville, born in New York City, is best known for Moby-Dick, an epic about an aggressive whale that destroys a whaling ship and its crew.
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author picture Margaret Mitchell 1900-1949
Margaret Mitchell was born in Atlanta. She wrote Gone with the Wind, a romantic novel about the South during the Civil War. It won a Pulitzer Prize and has sold more than 30 million copies.
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author picture Edgar Allan Poe 1809-1849
Edgar Allan Poe may have been America's first horror, mystery and science fiction writer. He wrote cryptic tales like The Fall of the House of Usher, The Tell-Tale Heart and The Raven.
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author picture J.D. Salinger 1919-2010
J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye is one of the best-selling American novels of all time, with more than 65 million copies sold. It was the only full-length novel by the New York City-born author.
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author picture John Steinbeck 1902-1968
John Steinbeck was born at Salinas, California, and became a Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize winning author. He piqued America's conscience with his stories about California's ethnic and immigrant groups, migrant workers and displaced sharecroppers. Among his best-known works are Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden.
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author picture Harriet Beecher Stowe 1811-1896
Harriet Beecher Stowe was born in Connecticut and went on to become a major influence in the abolitionist movement. Her book Uncle Tom's Cabin revealed the horrors of slavery. Her writings were controversial and angered the South to the point she is credited with having some impact in starting the Civil War. She helped runaway and fugitive slaves and helped school them after the war.
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author picture Hunter Thompson 1937-2005
Hunter Thompson was a journalist and author most famous for his novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. He was influenced in his early years by the Beat Generation. He is credited as the creator of Gonzo journalism in which reporters involve themselves in their stories. Other acclaimed works were Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs and Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72 He wrote for Rolling Stone magazine.
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author picture Henry David Thoreau 1817-1862
Henry David Thoreau was an author, philosopher and naturalist at Concord, Massachusetts, best known for his writings about independence, spiritual discovery and self-reliance such as his essay Civil Disobedience and his book Walden about a two-year retreat to the woods near Walden Pond.
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author picture Mark Twain 1835-1910
Mark Twain was born Samuel Clemens in Florida, Missouri. He was inspired to write his classic novels The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by his childhood experiences in Hannibal, Missouri, and his job as a Mississippi River steamboat pilot. Known for his witty and satirical prose, and the colloquial dialogue of his characters, Twain has been called the Father of American Literature. The book about Huckleberry Finn has been controversial in recent years due to its use of racial epithets.
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author picture Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. 1922-2007
Kurt Vonnegut was a prolific novelist blending satire, black comedy and science fiction. His best-known works were Slaughterhouse-Five, Cat's Cradle and Breakfast of Champions.
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author picture Walt Whitman 1819-1892
Walt Whitman is ssid to be one of America's greatest poets. He was born ay West Hills, New York, and is best known for his poetry collection Leaves of Grass and his poem O Captain! My Captain! about the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.
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author picture Tom Wolfe 1931-
Tom Wolfe is a best-selling author and journalist who was one of the founders of the New Journalism movement of the 1960s and 1970s. His works include The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, The Bonfire of the Vanities and The Right Stuff.
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For more information . . .

American Literature » Wikipedia
American Poetry » Wikipedia
Books That Shaped America » The Library of Congress
America's Top 20 Iconic Writers » American Profile
Most Popular Historical and Contemporary Poets » Academy of American Poets
Resources About Books and Their History »
Outline of American Literature

The Outline of American Literature, produced on the website by the U.S. State Department's Bureau of International Information Programs, traces American narrative, fiction, poetry and drama from pre-colonial times to the present, through such literary movements as romanticism, realism and experimentation.

Chapter 1 – Early American and Colonial Period to 1776 »
Chapter 2 – Democratic Origins and Revolutionary Writers, 1776-1820 »
Chapter 3 – The Romantic Period, 1820-1860, Essayists and Poets »
Chapter 4 – The Romantic Period, 1820-1860, Fiction »
Chapter 5 – The Rise of Realism: 1860-1914 »
Chapter 6 – Modernism and Experimentation: 1914-1945 »
Chapter 7 – American Poetry, 1945-1990: The Anti-Tradition »
Chapter 8 – American Prose, 1945-1990: Realism and Experimentation »
Chapter 9 – Contemporary American Poetry »
Chapter 10 – Contemporary American Literature »

Resources for Courses page »

© 2013 Dr. Anthony Curtis, Mass Communication Dept., University of North Carolina at Pembroke    910.521.6616    e-mail    home page
The images linked from this page are courtesy of the websites of the authors and others.