Greatest American Authors

During the 19th and 20th centuries, the United States produced several literary geniuses whose works defined and shaped Americana. You will likely find your favorites and perhaps discover new ones among this list of famous American authors

Who Are the Most Famous American Authors?

1. Mark Twain

Birthdate: November 30, 1835
Birthplace: Florida, Missouri, United States
Died: April 21, 1910

Born Samuel Langhorne Clemens in the now-abandoned village of Florida, Mark Twain was the sixth child of Jane Lampton and John Marshall Clemens.

Samuel left school after the fifth grade to start a printer apprenticeship. He later received an honorary Doctorate of Letters from the University of Oxford in 1907. Twain achieved acclaim and money after writing humorous tall tales, like the Jumping Frog story published in New York’s “The Saturday Press.”

Famous Works

  • The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County (1867)
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876)
  • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884)

2. Ernest Hemingway

Birthdate: July 21, 1899
Birthplace: Oak Park, Illinois, United States
Died: July 2, 1961

Ernest Miller Hemingway’s mother (Grace Hall) was an opera singer, and his father (Clarence Hemingway) was a physician. He was one of six children they had.

Ernest attended Oak Park and River Forest High School before joining the Red Cross during World War I. Hemingway became injured on the Italian front, and his time during the war inspired A Farewell to Arms.

Hemingway received the 1954 Nobel Prize in Literature. He had been nominated three times previously. It celebrated his influence on contemporary writing, with The Old Man and the Sea cited as the most recent example at the time.

Famous Works

  • The Sun Also Rises (1926)
  • A Farewell to Arms (1929)
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940)

3. John Steinbeck

Born: 27 February 1902, Salinas, California, United States

Died: 20 December 1968, New York, New York, United States

Hall of fame induction: 5 December 2007

Show: East of Eden

Influenced: John GrishamRay BradburyDan BrownMORE

John Ernst Steinbeck Jr. spent his younger years working on ranches and in migrant fields, which inspired later literary works. His mother (Olive Hamilton) was a school teacher, and his father (John Ernst Steinbeck) was known as a county treasurer.

After graduating from Salinas High School, John attended Stanford University near Palo Alto but did not graduate. Besides writing short stories and novels, Steinbeck was also a war correspondent.

The Grapes of Wrath became a Pultizer Prize winner, and he is the 1962 Nobel Prize in Literature recipient.

Famous Works

  • Of Mice and Men (1937)
  • The Grapes of Wrath (1939)
  • East of Eden (1952)

4. J.D. Salinger

Born: 1 January 1919, Manhattan, New York, United States

Died: 27 January 2010, Cornish, New Hampshire, United States

Grandchildren: Avery SalingerGannon Salinger

Influenced by: Ernest HemingwayF. Scott FitzgeraldFranz KafkaMORE

Nominations: National Book Award for Fiction

Jerome David Salinger was one of two children for Marie Jillich and Sol Salinger.

He attended public schools for several years before enrolling in the preparatory McBurney School. Jerom later attended Pennsylvania’s Valley Forge Military Academy, graduating in 1936.

The Catcher in the Rye has built a reputation as one of the greatest novels of the last century. It is #15 on the BBC’s “The Big Read,” while making both Time Magazine’s and Modern Library’s list of top 100 English novels of the 20th century.

Famous Works

  • A Perfect Day for Bananafish (1948)
  • The Catcher in the Rye (1951)
  • Nine Stories (1953)

5. Toni Morrison

Born: 18 February 1931, Lorain, Ohio, United States

Died: 5 August 2019, Montefiore Hospital, New York, United States

Influenced: bell hooksCornel WestPatricia Hill CollinsJunot DíazColum McCannHomi K. BhabhaAberjhaniMaurice Berger

Influenced by: James BaldwinZora Neale HurstonWilliam FaulknerVirginia WoolfDoris LessingHenry Dumas

Awards: Nobel Prize in LiteraturePulitzer Prize for FictionMORE

Nominations: Pulitzer Prize for FictionMORE

Chloe Ardelia Morrison was one of four children of Ramah Willis and George Wofford. She attended Lorain High School, where she participated in the debate team, drama club, and the yearbook staff.

Toni got her B.A. in English from Howard University and Master of Arts from Cornell University. In 1967, Toni Morrison became the first black woman editor for Random House’s fiction department.

She is one of the famous American authors to receive accolades in her lifetime, including the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1977, the Pulitzer Prize in 1987, the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.

Famous Works

  • Sula (1973)
  • Song of Solomon (1977)
  • Beloved (1987)

6. Edgar Allan Poe

Born: 19 January 1809, Boston, Massachusetts, United States

Died: 7 October 1849, Church Home & Hospital, Baltimore, Maryland, United States

Short stories: The Black CatThe Tell-Tale HeartMORE

Aunt: Maria Poe

Cousin: Virginia Eliza Clemm Poe

Edgar’s parents were the actors Elizabeth Hopkins and David Poe. He became orphaned when he was two and subsequently raised by Frances and John Allan.

Poe attended the University of Virginia for one year, leaving because of money issues. He later became a cadet at West Point but left to pursue writing.

Poe is considered the first American writer that earned a living from his written works. History looks back to him as one of the famous American authors for his poetry, pioneering work in science fiction and the invention of the detective fiction genre.

Famous Works

  • The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841)
  • Lenore (1843)
  • The Raven (1845)

7. Nathaniel Hawthorne

Born: 4 July 1804, Salem, Massachusetts, United States

Died: 19 May 1864, Plymouth, New Hampshire, United States

Short stories: Young Goodman BrownThe Birth-MarkMORE

Grandchildren: Hildegarde HawthorneGladys HawthorneMORE

Grandparent: Daniel Hathorne

Born to Elizabeth Clarke Manning and Nathaniel Hawthorne Sr., he was one of three children.

After some primary education, Nathaniel’s uncle Robert supported him financially to enter Bowdoin College. He graduated in 1825. After school, Nathaniel Hawthorne became an editor to earn wages while writing.

Hawthorne was elected Phi Beta Kappa in 1824, and he became a well-received author during his lifetime. Accolades from critics and other authors through the years have cemented his place as one of America’s best authors, especially in dark romanticism.

Famous Works

  • Twice Told Tales (1837)
  • The Scarlet Letter, A Romance (1850)
  • The House of the Seven Gables, A Romance (1851)

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