In case you are in a college, it is obvious why the word ‘essay’ sends chills down your spine. As a college assignment, an essay is not always the most pleasant piece of writing because it often makes you analyze and evaluate a topic you haven’t chosen and have no particular interest in. This article aims to reveal the ways famous American writers carried out their best essays of all time to help college student similarly organize their works.
If nothing helps, the student can count on the help of professional writers and editors who have successfully accomplished hundreds of great essays during their career.
Famous American Writers: Criteria That Determine a Distinguished Artist
An essay has an established role in the history of both world literature and American literature. Many potential artists begin their way with this type of paper. In her article ‘The Rise of the Essay,' Zadie Smith posed a very interesting question: “Why do novelists write essays? Most publishers would rather have a novel… ”
Why do essayists choose (voluntarily!) to write essays, these pesky works which annoy so many modern students? In essays, the authors express ideas that bother them at the moment. Creating a great essay is an art because it requires artists to organize their thoughts in a rather short literary form and, nevertheless, do this in a unique, creative manner.
Essays reflect person’s true potential. It is understandable why an essay has such a long and interesting history. Let’s see how an American essay has developed over centuries. In this post, we are going to talk about great writers and their contribution to the establishment of the essay as an independent literary genre.
Our team has chosen the most outstanding US artists based on the following criteria:
- Impact on the US & world’s literature
- Number of popular works
- Variety of topics
- Ways they used to overcome writer’s block
Colonial Period: Till 1763
The early years of the American literature were far from being independent. The British authors highly influenced it. English literature has been established long before Columbus discovered the new continent; at this point, America had its first essayists such as Samuel Sewall and John Woolman.
- Samuel Sewall (1652 – 1730) was a businessman and a judge. In his essay The Selling of Joseph, written in 1700, Sewall criticized African slavery and slave trade in North America.
- John Woolman (1720 – 1772) was a merchant and a journalist. His three major essays were dedicated to slavery as well (On the Slave Trade, On Trading in Superfluities, and Serious Considerations on Trade).
Revolutionary Period: 1764 – 1789
Tensions between Britain and the colonies resulted in the War of Independence, or American Revolution, which caused the creation of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Finally, the Americans became independent from Britain. Certainly, the overall revolutionary moods of the country had to influence essay writers significantly. The most famous essayists of this time were Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, and Thomas Jefferson.
- Benjamin Franklin (1706 – 1790) was one of the most outstanding figures in American history; he was a politician, diplomat, scientist, and a great author, he made an enormous contribution to American literature. His works include The Whistle, The Way to Wealth, The Temple of Learning, etc.
- Thomas Paine (1737 – 1809) was a philosopher and an important political activist. His major works are The Rights of Men, The American Crisis, and Common Sense. His works reflected the ideas of the era of Enlightenment and were dedicated to human rights.
- Thomas Jefferson (1743 – 1826) is famous for being the principal author of the Declaration of Independence.
- Other famous essay writers were Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison.
Who Were Famous American Romanticism Writers?
This period is defined by increasing desire to produce truly American literature. The loudest names in the American literature became Washington Irving (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow), James Fenimore Cooper (The Last of the Mohicans), and Edgar Allan Poe. Like European colleagues, famous American romanticism writers shared some views. They paid a lot of attention to nature, a person’s self, emotions, and such elements as rebellion and heroism were an integral part of the literature of this period. Famous essayists of the Romantic era were:
- Washington Irving (1783 – 1859) was one of the first American writers who became popular in Europe. Tales of a Traveller was his collection of essays.
- Edgar Allan Poe (1809 – 1849) and his essays such as The Poetic Principle and The Philosophy of Furniture.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 – 1882) and his works. They are Nominalist and Realist, Love, New England Reformers, etc.
- Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862) wrote several great essays. Among them, find A Winter Walk, Life Without Principle, Wild Apples, etc.
- Fenimore Cooper (1789 – 1851) is another representative of the Romantic era in the US literature. He arrived from Cooperstown, New York. Until his death, the author remained best known for the five-book Leatherstocking series. Cooper was famous for his extraordinary frontier tales such as The Last of the Mohicans, in which the author covers the theme of the native Indians.
Other outstanding creators of that time were Margaret Fuller, Jones Very, and Bronson Alcott.
American Realism Writers
This period has very clear boundaries – two great wars that significantly influenced American culture – the Civil War and the World War I. Changes in social life, rapid industrialization and urbanization – all these were major factors that impacted authors’ writing style. American realism writers wanted to depict life as it was. Here are the most prominent artists of this period.
- Mark Twain (1835 – 1910) and his essays What Is Man, Advice to Youth, etc.
- Henry James (1843 – 1916) and the work The Art of Fiction
- Thomas Nelson Page (1853 – 1922) and his The Negro: The Southerner’s Problem
- Henry Adams, Mary Austin, Louisa May Alcott, etc.
What about Famous American Writers of 20th Century?
The 20th-century American literature gave the world a pleiad of talented authors who were working in a variety of new genres. Experiments in literature characterize the 20th (and the 21st) century. The composers return to older, classic genres. The most famous American writers of the 20th century are as follows:
- Ernest Hemingway (1899 – 1961) and the works Camping Out + The Old Man and the Sea. Most of the college teachers will not assign Hemingways’ works to study. They might seem complicated. In most cases, one of the greatest US authors wrote pieces about boxing, hunting, fishing, war, bullfighting, and complicated human relationships.
- Francis Scott Fitzgerald (1896 – 1940) and the essay The Crack-Up. The man was a native-born American guy from St. Paul, Minnesota, who concentrated on depicting optimistic sides of life and aspirations characterized by the ongoing Jazz Age. Other people know his more popular works such as famous novels The Great Gatsby (learn how to write a movie review for The Great Gatsby), The Beautiful and the Damned, and This Side of Paradise. Not all of these stories have an optimistic end.
- William Faulkner (1897 – 1962) and such essays as On Criticism and Note on a Fable
- Joan Didion (1934 - present) and the following works: Goodbye to All That, Slouching Toward Bethlehem, On Self Respect, etc.
- Stephen King (1947 - present) is the master of horror. The popular essays include The Best Book You Can’t Read, Just a Little Talent, etc.
- Marilynne Robinson (1943 - present) and the collection of essays The Givenness of Things.
Can You Name Famous American Women Writers?
Some of the best essays of all time belong to the hands of well-known, respected American women writers who fought for their rights & freedoms. Until the late XX century, the society did not take female professionals seriously. These women became nation’s true heroes after releasing their top distinguished works that defended the rights of minorities.
- Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886) is considered a top prolific female poet. She managed to present more than 1,800 poems of various lengths to the world. Unlike many other female writers of her time, Dickinson focused on the descriptions of nature, contemporary art, excitement, positive life episodes, love, and death. A small part of her great poems was presented during her life in Amherst. The majority of pieces of art were found after Emily Dickinson’s death in 1886. Take a look at her Faith, Success Is Counted Sweetest, Wild Nights – Wild Nights, and other poems to understand the depth of her genius.
- Willa Cather (1873 – 1947) comes from Virginia’s Back Creek Valley. The episode in girl’s life changed everything. Her family switched to Red Cloud, Nebraska, has a great impact on the development of literature talent by defining the biggest inspirations of Cather’s life. Cather’s two most popular essays/stories are O Pioneers! and My Antonia, depicting the life of the US frontier and war in details.
Famous American Short Story Writers
Some famous American short story writers arrive from other parts of the world, which makes their stories full of cultural elements different from the US typical way of life.
- Chuck Palahniuk (1962 – present) is not a short story author alone. Movie fans know Palahniuk. Hollywood knows him as a perfect scenario & plot developer in one face with his excellent Fight Club. The thing is both Chuck Palahniuk and his colleague Ray Bradbury believe in the power of everyday essay writing. The man has written a dozen of short tales. One of them is Guts that were later included in the different novels of the author.
- Ray Bradbury (1920 – 2012) is a man, who is impossible to ignore when recalling short stories. His stories are impressive, unusual, breathtaking, frightening, exciting, and innovative at the same time. Bradbury worked in the field of science fiction. He is famous for inventing a new writing ritual called ‘a short story every day.’ It resulted in more than 40 short story collections released by the author during his life and after the death in 2012. Take some time to read Bradbury’s A Sound of Thunder to explore a popular “butterfly effect” and methods distinguished authors use to attract reader’s attention.
- J.D. Salinger (1919 – 2010) is a long-living man with a special love to life. Despite his age (91), the man managed to compose a single novel titled Catcher in the Rye. Choosing a proper title is a separate art. This eccentric author has done many short stories during his career but decided to hide most of his literary pieces from everyone around. 3 well-known story collections, Nine Stories, Frannie and Zoey, and Raise High the Roof Beams, Carpenters and Seymour an Introduction reveal the nature of Salinger.
- O. Henry (1862 – 1910) has contributed a meaningful piece to the US literature despite his short life. Named William Sydney Porter, the author dedicated most of his literary career to composing flash fiction with wit and a weird twist culmination. That is what made his stories memorable. Read The Gift of the Magi to get what we mean. The plot tells about a young couple of spouses who live in poverty and decide to give away the most precious stuff in their life to purchase a Christmas gift for each other. In the end, it appears that their gifts have no value. The couple is happy for living in peace & love.
- John Updike (1931 – 2009) used to be a talented short story/essay author who has released more than 150 pieces during his life. One of the best essays of all time is his recent story. It is part of the collection titled Tears of My Father, published after his death. The man has received more than thirty prestigious awards such as the Pulitzer, the PEN/Falkner award, and the aforementioned O. Henry Award.
Contemporary Native American Writers
Contemporary Native American writers are not necessarily people who are alive now. Modern US literature lacks the call to arms and fight for freedom, but contributes a big share to the development of world’s literature & art.
- Sherman Alexie (1966 – present) is a widely recognized Native American author. The man has earned several elite awards. They include a National Book Award. It is thanks to his most distinguished story & poetry collections. He stresses the importance of Native American culture by depicting the Spokane Indian reservation. Alexie talks about different life values. Such factors as poverty, hunger, despair, and alcohol abuse make his essays dramatic. Alexie has some stories full of humor, jokes, irony, and compassion.
- Leslie Marmon Silko (1948 – present) is the key figure in the literature by Native Americans. It begins a separate epoch in the US literature. To specify, the name of this person is associated with the so-called “Native American Renaissance.” The writer has received MacArthur Foundation Grants along with the appreciation from the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas. This female author can boast her most outstanding novel, Ceremony. The novel shares several episodes from the life of World War II veteran who comes back home. The stories of Silko have a mighty Indian spirit.
- N. Scott Momaday (1934 – present) is an educator, author, and creative artist with his most famous novel House Made of Dawn created when the Native American literature has become mainstream. Momaday is one of the famous American writers. The author tried to cover the aspects of the life of both white and Native Indian population of the United States. He managed to obtain the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. After that, Momaday obtained a National Medal of Arts and a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Best Essays of All Time: Prologue
Every student has found minimum a couple of familiar names and titles of books, novels, and essays while reading this list of famous American writers. Obviously, this is not an extensive list of famous American writers. It lacks many contemporary US authors who managed to offer short stories and novels that became a ground for the numerous Hollywood films. If you do research, you will definitely find YOUR favorite author, but it is an excellent idea to start with the writers mentioned above and see how the essay has been evolving over centuries. Enjoy!
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