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8 Quintessentially American Authors

By Ashly Moore Sheldon • July 03, 2020

To celebrate the 4th of July, we decided to feature some authors who represent America. But as we formed our list, we discovered that it was all over the place! Our portrait of this country is a study in contrasts. It is a mix of regions and cultures and eras. It represents immigration tales and stories that are firmly rooted in one place. Here are eight great authors who represent today's America in all its glorious diversity.

Louise Erdrich

When we are young, the words are scattered all around us. As they are assembled by experience, so also are we, sentence by sentence, until the story takes shape.

Born in Little Falls, Minnesota, Louise Erdrich is an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, a tribe of the Anishinaabe (also known as Ojibwe and Chippewa). While much of her work is centered around Native American culture, the award-winning author has produced a wide variety of reading experiences, including historic novels, like Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse, children's books, such as The Birchbark House, and even dystopian literature, Future Home of the Living God.

Wallace Stegner

His clock was set on pioneer time. He met trains that had not yet arrived, he waited on platforms that hadn't yet been built, beside tracks that might never be laid.

Known as "The Dean of Western Writers," Wallace Stegner grew up in Montana, Utah, and Saskatchewan, developing a deep love for wildlands and the stories of those who braved them. His award winning novels include the Pulitzer Prize-winning Angle of Repose and The National Book Award-winning The Spectator Bird. In addition to writing fiction, he produced many works of nonfiction including Beyond the Hundreth Meridian, a biography about Western explorer John Wesley Powell.

Toni Morrison

If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.

Born in Ohio, Toni Morrison was the second of four children in a working class, Black family. Both of her parents were born in the South, where they witnessed devastating violence against African Americans. Morrison's brilliant evocative novels, like Beloved and Song of Solomon, often drew upon this painful history and the lasting impacts on Black Americans. Morrison, who passed away in 2019, won many awards including Pulitzer and Nobel Prizes, as well as the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Philip Roth

You tasted it. Isn't that enough? Of what do you ever get more than a taste? That's all we're given in life, that's all we're given of life. A taste. There is no more.

Philip Roth's fiction is regularly set in his birthplace of Newark, New Jersey. The celebrated author's fiction was known for being intensely autobiographical and characterized by an acute ear for dialogue, an authentic portrayal of Jewish middle-class life, and the painful entanglements of sexual and familial love. A protagonist named Nathan Zuckerman is a recurring character in many of his novels, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning American Pastoral and The Human Stain.

Anne Tyler

But what I hope for from a book—either one that I write or one that I read—is transparency. I want the story to shine through. I don't want to think of the writer.

Anne Tyler credits her unconventional upbringing for the rich imagination that fuels her craft. Until age eleven, the author lived in an isolated Quaker commune with no formal schooling. She has said that this background prepared her to view the normal world with a sense of "distance and surprise." She has been compared to such luminaries as Eudora Welty and John Updike. Her quiet novels, usually set in her hometown of Baltimore, draw readers into the brilliantly imagined inner worlds of her characters like Macon Leary in The Accidental Tourist, Maggie and Ira Moran in Breathing Lessons, and Willa Drake in Clock Dance.

James Baldwin

Freedom is not something that anybody can be given. Freedom is something people take, and people are as free as they want to be.

James Baldwin was one of ten children, and the only nonbiological child of his Baptist preacher stepfather, in a poor family in Harlem. He distinguished himself academically from an early age, but faced persecution, both at home and in his community. His autobiographical novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, explores the spiritual, sexual, and moral struggles he experienced growing up. Baldwin also published many essays on social injustice. He argued that in order to understand our culture, we must first examine our own internal lives. The Fire Next Time, a bestseller when it was published in 1963, demonstrates the author's keen ability to walk a fine line between hope and despair.

Jhumpa Lahiri

What drew me to my craft was the desire to force the two worlds I occupied to mingle on the page as I was not brave enough, or mature enough, to allow in life.

The daughter of Indian immigrants, Jhumpa Lahiri has employed her fiction to explore the immigrant experience. Of her own experiences assimilating the traditional world of her parents with that of her school and social life, she has said that she "felt intense pressure to be two things, loyal to the old world and fluent in the new." These are the same kinds of challenges her characters are navigating in short story collections, such as Unaccustomed Earth and novels like The Namesake.

Stephen King

Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.

As one of the most popular authors of all time, it is easy for critics to disount the literary prowess of Stephen King. Indeed, his merit as a writer has been a subject of some debate. On that front, we are firmly in the King camp. For more than four decades, he has dominated his field and captured the imaginations of millions of readers. Because of the massive success of novels (and movies) like The Shining, many may think of him as just a horror author. But he has excelled in several other genres such as historic fiction, like 11/22/63, and thrillers like the four terrific novellas in Different Seasons, two of which have been made into hit movies.

Okay, so we've made an effort, but representing the diversity of America would be challenging even with a list of 100 authors (and that would be a really long post). Obviously there are many, many more who should be included. Who are we missing? Please let us know your favorite American authors in the comments!

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