Famous 20th Century American Writers

Find out more about the greatest 20th Century American Writers, including William Gibson, Quentin Tarantino, Sylvia Browne, Christopher Lloyd and Stephen King

This ranking is based on an algorithm that combines various factors, including the votes of our users and search trends on the internet.

Vote for Your Favourite 20th Century American Writers

 1 Stan Lee

Stan Lee
18
Famous As: Comic book writer
Birthdate: December 28, 1922
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Manhattan, New York, United States
Died: November 12, 2018

Stan Lee was one of the most popular comic book writers, thanks to his appearances in several Marvel movies. He is well-known as the co-creator of many famous superheroes, including Iron Man, Spider-Man, and the Hulk. He pioneered a naturalistic method to writing superhero comics and challenged the Comics Code Authority, which ultimately led to changes in its policies.

 2 Dr. Seuss

Dr. Seuss
21
Famous As: Author
Birthdate: March 2, 1904
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States
Died: September 24, 1991

Dr. Seuss was an American children's author, illustrator, and political cartoonist. He is credited with writing some of the most famous children's books ever, including The Cat in the Hat. His works were translated into over 20 languages and sold more than 600 million copies by the time of his death. Many of his creations were adapted into animated cartoons.

 3 Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway
28
Famous As: Novelist, Won 1954 Nobel Prize in Literature
Birthdate: July 21, 1899
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Oak Park, Illinois, United States
Died: July 2, 1961

Ernest Hemingway was an American novelist and short-story writer who had a strong impact on 20th-century fiction. He published seven novels and six short-story collections and won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954. A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea are some of his classic works. He ended his own life in July 1961.

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 4 Mark Twain

Mark Twain
17
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: November 30, 1835
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Florida, Missouri, United States
Died: April 21, 1910

Mark Twain, “the father of American literature,” was one of the world’s greatest 19-th century humorists and authors. His novels The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn were drawn from his childhood experiences in Missouri. In his later life, he sunk into bankruptcy and also recovered.

 5 Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou
23
Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: April 4, 1928
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: St. Louis, Missouri, United States
Died: May 28, 2014
Poet, author, and civil rights activist Maya Angelou was a champion for black feminism and is best remembered for her autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sing. The recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and over 50 honorary degrees was also a child sex abuse survivor.

 6 H. P. Lovecraft

H. P. Lovecraft
21
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: August 20, 1890
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Providence, Rhode Island, United States
Died: March 15, 1937

HP Lovecraft was a writer of weird and horror fiction and is known for his creation of Cthulhu Mythos, which has inspired a large body of games and music. His stories focused on his interpretation of humanity's place in the universe. He was virtually unknown during his lifetime, but is now considered a significant 20th-century author of supernatural horror fiction.

 7 Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath
25
Famous As: Poet, Novelist
Birthdate: October 27, 1932
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Boston, Massachusetts, United States
Died: February 11, 1963

Sylvia Plath was an American short-story writer, novelist, and poet. Plath is credited with popularizing confessional poetry and won a posthumous Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. Sylvia Plath achieved popularity and critical acclaim despite suffering from clinical depression for the most part of her adult life. Her story inspired the 2003 film Sylvia in which she was portrayed by Gwyneth Paltrow.

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 8 F. Scott Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald
12
Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: September 24, 1896
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Saint Paul, Minnesota, United States
Died: December 21, 1940

Novelist, essayist, screenwriter, and short-story writer F. Scott Fitzgerald is widely regarded as one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century. However, he wasn’t much popular during his lifetime. His works gained international acclaim only in the years following his untimely death at 44. Many of his works have been adapted into films.

 9 James Baldwin

James Baldwin
11
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: August 2, 1924
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Harlem, New York, United States
Died: December 1, 1987

Amongst the greatest writers of the 20th century and a leading literary voice in the civil rights movement, James Baldwin extensively explored issues like race, sexuality and humanity in his work. His best known work include his debut novel Go Tell It on the Mountain and his books of essays Notes of a Native Son and Nobody Knows My Name.

 10 Isaac Asimov

Isaac Asimov
8
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: January 2, 1920
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Petrovichi, Russia
Died: April 6, 1992

Isaac Asimov was an American writer. Best known for his science fiction works, Asimov was regarded as one of the Big Three writers along with Arthur C. Clarke and Robert A. Heinlein. Asimov is credited with influencing most sci-fi writers since the 1950s. Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman stated that one of Asimov's works inspired him to take up Economics.

 11 Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut
8
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: November 11, 1922
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Indianapolis, Indiana, United States
Died: April 11, 2007

Science-fiction author Kurt Vonnegut is best remembered for the novel Slaughterhouse-Five, which became a New York Times bestseller. The Hugo Award-winner had also fought against the Germans in World War II and expressed his anti-war and atheist views through his works, which also include short stories, plays, and autobiographical works.  

 12 Arthur Miller

Arthur Miller
12
Famous As: Playwright, Essayist
Birthdate: October 17, 1915
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Harlem, New York, United States
Died: February 10, 2005

Arthur Miller was an American essayist and playwright. Miller is credited with creating popular plays, such as Death of a Salesman, which is widely regarded as one of the best American plays of the 20th century. Thanks to his illustrious career, which spanned more than 70 years, Arthur Miller is regarded as one of the 20th century's greatest dramatists.

 13 Harper Lee

Harper Lee
10
Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: April 28, 1926
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Monroeville, Alabama, United States
Died: February 19, 2016

Harper Lee was an American novelist who wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning classic To Kill a Mockingbird. Despite publishing only two books, Lee was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her contribution to literature, such was her impact in the world of literature. A friend of Truman Capote, Lee has been portrayed by popular actresses in Capote's biographical films.

 14 Robert Frost

Robert Frost
13
Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: March 26, 1874
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: San Francisco, California, United States
Died: January 29, 1963

Robert Frost was an American poet. An influential poet, Frost was honored with four Pulitzer Prizes for Poetry, the only poet to receive four such awards. One of America's public literary figures, Robert Frost received the Congressional Gold Medal in 1960. His works influenced other poets like Robert Francis, James Wright, Edward Thomas, Richard Wilbur, and Seamus Heaney.

 15 Tom Clancy

Tom Clancy
13
Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: April 12, 1947
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Baltimore, Maryland, United States
Died: October 1, 2013
Tom Clancy is best remembered for his espionage- and war-themed novels, many of which, such as The Hunt for Red October, The Sum of All Fears, and Clear and Present Danger, have been made into hit films. He was also a co-owner of the MLB team Baltimore Orioles

 16 Truman Capote

Truman Capote
8
Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: September 30, 1924
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: New Orleans, Louisiana, United States
Died: August 25, 1984
Truman Capote is best known for his novella Breakfast at Tiffany's, which was made into a movie that starred Audrey Hepburn, and the non-fiction novel In Cold Blood. His short story Shut a Final Door won the O. Henry Award. He was a lifelong friend of author Harper Lee.

 17 David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace
8
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: February 21, 1962
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Ithaca, New York, United States
Died: September 12, 2008

David Foster Wallace was an American author who is regarded as one of the most innovative and influential writers of the past 20 years. His best-known work, Infinite Jest, was named one of the best English-language novels between 1923 and 2005 by Time magazine. Wallace continues to serve as an inspiration to writers like Darin Strauss and George Saunders.

 18 Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison
9
Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: February 18, 1931
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Lorain, Ohio
Died: August 5, 2019
Author, editor, and Princeton professor Toni Morrison is best remembered for her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Beloved, part of a trilogy. Some of her other notable works include The Bluest Eye and Song of Solomon. She received the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature. She also wrote several children’s books and plays.

 19 Philip K. Dick

Philip K. Dick
8
Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: December 16, 1928
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Chicago, Illinois, United States
Died: March 2, 1982

Philip K. Dick was an American writer who was known for his work that explores varied social and philosophical themes. Dick's novels have inspired films like Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, and The Adjustment Bureau. In 2005, his novel Ubik was included in Time magazine's list of 100 greatest novels published in English since 1923.

 20 Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes
12
Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: February 1, 1901
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Joplin, Missouri, United States
Died: May 22, 1967

Langston Hughes is best remembered as a prominent leader of the Harlem Renaissance. He was one of the first to write jazz poetry. He also wrote plays and short stories. He was a columnist for The Chicago Defender and wrote the iconic poem The Negro Speaks of Rivers.

 21 J. D. Salinger

J. D. Salinger
4
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: January 1, 1919
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Manhattan, New York, United States
Died: January 27, 2010
J. D. Salinger is best remembered for his controversial novel The Catcher in the Rye, which was banned in many school libraries due to its sexual content. His other notable works include the anthology Nine Stories and the novella Hapworth. He spent much of his life in seclusion. 

 22 John Grisham

John Grisham
9
Famous As: American writer
Birthdate: February 8, 1955
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Jonesboro, Arkansas
Criminal lawyer-turned-author John Grisham is known for his bestselling legal thrillers The Firm, The Pelican Brief, The Client, The Rainmaker, and A Time to Kill. Nine of his novels have been made into films. He is one of three authors to have sold 2 million copies in his first printing.

 23 Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac
8
Famous As: Novelist, Poet
Birthdate: March 12, 1922
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Lowell, Massachusetts, United States
Died: October 21, 1969
Jack Kerouac is remembered as a prominent figure of the Beat Generation. His works, consisting of several novels and poems, with their focus on spirituality, drugs, travel, sex, and jazz, paved the way for the hippie movement. He is best known for his pathbreaking novel On the Road

 24 Tennessee Williams

Tennessee Williams
6
Famous As: Playwright
Birthdate: March 26, 1911
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Columbus, Mississippi, United States
Died: February 25, 1983
Pulitzer Prize-winning Tennessee Williams is regarded as one of the most significant playwrights of the 20th century, and had also written short stories, essays, and poetry. He is best remembered for his plays A Streetcar Named Desire, The Glass Menagerie, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
 

 25 Charles Bukowski

Charles Bukowski
22
Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: August 16, 1920
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Andernach, Germany
Died: March 9, 1994

German-American poet and short story writer ,Charles Bukowski, addressed the ordinary lives of poor Americans in most of his works. Since his death, he has been the subject of many critical books and articles. His stories have inspired several films like Tales of Ordinary Madness, Crazy Love, and Factotum.

 26 William Faulkner

William Faulkner
5
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: September 25, 1897
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: New Albany, Mississippi, United States
Died: July 6, 1962
Nobel Prize-winning Southern author William Faulkner is remembered for works The Sound and the Fury, A Rose for Emily, and As I Lay Dying. He immortalized Mississippi as the fictional "Yoknapatawpha County" in his works. He also won two Pulitzers, one each for A Fable and The Reivers.

 27 Dan Brown

Dan Brown
8
Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: June 22, 1964
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Exeter, New Hampshire, United States

Dan Brown is an American author best known for writing a series of Robert Langdon novels; three such novels, namely The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons, and Inferno, have been made into films, with Tom Hanks portraying Robert Langdon in all three movies. Also known for his charity work, Dan Brown donates money to several charitable causes.

 28 Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury
5
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: August 22, 1920
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Waukegan, Illinois, United States
Died: June 5, 2012
Ray Bradbury is best remembered for his writings in the science-fiction, mystery, and horror genres, the most notable being the short story anthology Martian Chronicles and the novel Fahrenheit 451. He also contributed to the screenplays of various series and films, and won an Emmy for writing The Halloween Tree.

 29 T. S. Eliot

T. S. Eliot
12
Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: September 26, 1888
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: St. Louis, Missouri, United States
Died: January 4, 1965
American-born British poet T. S. Eliot is best remembered for his poems The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, The Waste Land, and Ash Wednesday, and his plays such as Murder in the Cathedral. He won the Nobel Prize for literature and became a prominent figure of Modernist poetry.  

 30 Shel Silverstein

Shel Silverstein
10
Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: September 25, 1930
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Chicago, Illinois, United States
Died: May 10, 1999

Shel Silverstein was an American writer, playwright, songwriter, and cartoonist. Renowned for his children's books, songs, and cartoons, Silverstein's works have been translated into over 30 languages. The recipient of many prestigious awards, such as Grammy Awards, Shel Silverstein was posthumously inducted into the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame.

 31 Gore Vidal

Gore Vidal
10
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: October 3, 1925
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: West Point, New York, United States
Died: July 31, 2012

Gore Vidal was an American intellectual and writer. He served as a major inspiration to gays, lesbians, and bisexuals as he was openly bisexual and often incorporated LGBT characters in his novels, which was very unusual at the time. He was also known for his debates with William F. Buckley Jr., which inspired the 2015 documentary film Best of Enemies.

 32 Vladimir Nabokov

Vladimir Nabokov
6
Famous As: Novelist, Poet
Birthdate: April 23, 1899
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Saint Petersburg, Russia
Died: July 2, 1977
Russian author Vladimir Nabokov, also known by his pen name, Vladimir Sirin, is best remembered for his controversial novel Lolita. His other works include the novel Pale Fire and his memoir, Speak, Memory. He was also an entomologist, specializing in lepidoptery. He also liked composing chess problems.

 33 Ezra Pound

Ezra Pound
9
Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: October 30, 1885
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Idaho, United States
Died: November 1, 1972
American poet Ezra Pound was a significant figure in the modernist poetry movement who developed imagism and gained fame with works such as Ripostes and The Cantos. He later promoted social credit theory. During World War II, he supported fascism, participating in radio broadcasts against the U.S. and Jews. 

 34 Philip Roth

Philip Roth
7
Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: March 19, 1933
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Newark, New Jersey, United States
Died: May 22, 2018

Philip Roth was a novelist and short-story writer best remembered for creating the fictional character Nathan Zuckerman, who featured in many of his novels. The recipient of the 1997 Pulitzer Prize, he also received the inaugural Franz Kafka Prize. Roth was one of the most awarded American writers of his generation. Born a Jew, he became an atheist later on.

 35 Shirley Jackson

Shirley Jackson
6
Famous As: Author
Birthdate: December 14, 1916
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: San Francisco, California, United States
Died: September 8, 1965
Shirley Jackson redefined the genres of horror and mystery through her works, which include over 200 short stories and six novels. Her iconic novel The Haunting of Hill House was made into a popular Netflix series and several movies, including the 1963 and 1999 versions of The Haunting

 36 Robert A. Heinlein

Robert A. Heinlein
5
Famous As: Science Fiction Writer
Birthdate: July 7, 1907
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Butler, Missouri, United States
Died: May 8, 1988

Robert A. Heinlein was an American author, naval officer, and aeronautical engineer. Heinlein is credited with pioneering a literary subgenre called hard science fiction as he was among the first to stress the importance of scientific accuracy in fiction. Robert A. Heinlein is one of the most influential science-fiction writers of all time.

 37 Bob Woodward

Bob Woodward
7
Famous As: Journalist
Birthdate: March 26, 1943
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Geneva, Illinois, United States

 38 Henry James

Henry James
4
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: April 15, 1843
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: New York, New York, United States
Died: February 28, 1916

Henry James was an author, regarded as one of the greatest novelists ever to write in the English language. One of his novellas titled The Turn of the Screw has been the most analyzed ghost story in the history of English language literature. While his works have been adapted into films, he has been the subject of several other stories.

 39 James Watson

James Watson
4
Famous As: Molecular Biologist
Birthdate: April 6, 1928
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Chicago, Illinois, United States

James Watson is a geneticist, molecular biologist, and zoologist. He is credited with co-authoring the academic paper that propounded the double helix structure of nucleic acids such as DNA for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1962. In 1977, he was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 1997, he was awarded the National Medal of Science.

 40 W. H. Auden

W. H. Auden
9
Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: February 21, 1907
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: York, England
Died: September 28, 1973

W. H. Auden was an Anglo-American poet. His poetry was noted for its technical achievement and versatility. He wrote poems on love, political and social themes, and cultural and psychological themes. Throughout his career, Auden was both influential and controversial. His personal life also attracted attention as he had sexual relationships with men, which was unusual at the time.

 41 Eugene O'Neill

Eugene O'Neill
5
Famous As: Playwright
Birthdate: October 16, 1888
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Longacre Square, New York, United States
Died: November 27, 1953

Eugene O'Neill was an American playwright whose works earned him several prestigious awards, including four Pulitzer Prizes for Drama and the 1936 Nobel Prize in Literature. His play Long Day's Journey into Night is frequently named among the 20th century's finest American plays. In the 1981 film Reds, Eugene O'Neill is played by actor Jack Nicholson.

 42 George R. R. Martin

George R. R. Martin
22
Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: September 20, 1948
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Bayonne, New Jersey, United States
George R. R. Martin wrote the epic fantasy series of novels, A Song of Ice and Fire, which inspired the iconic Emmy-winning HBO series Game of Thrones. Also known as the "American Tolkien," he was featured on TIME 100. He has earned the Hugo, Nebula, and Bram Stoker awards, too.

 43 Frank Herbert

Frank Herbert
4
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: October 8, 1920
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Tacoma, Washington, USA
Died: February 11, 1986

American author, newspaper-journalist, book-reviewer, lecturer, photographer, and ecological consultant Franklin Herbert is most noted for his 1965 sci-fi novel Dune and its five sequels. Dune won the Nebula Award and the Hugo Award and spearheaded the Dune franchise. The novel is cited as the best-selling sci-fi novel in history while the series is counted among the classics of the genre.

 44 David Mamet

David Mamet
6
Famous As: Playwright
Birthdate: November 30, 1947
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Chicago, Illinois, United States

Author, screenwriter, and playwright David Mamet is best known for his Pulitzer-winning and Tony-nominated play Glengarry Glen Ross. He has written for many Broadway and off-Broadway plays and also for films such as House of Games. He has produced and written for the show The Unit and authored several books.

 45 Isabel Allende

Isabel Allende
7
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: August 2, 1942
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Lima, Peru
Chilean author Isabel Allende is known for her bestselling Spanish-language novels The House of the Spirits and City of the Beasts. The Chilean National Literature Prize-winner explores women’s perspectives and includes magic realism and autobiographical aspects in her works. She has also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

 46 Neil Simon

Neil Simon
7
Famous As: Playwright & Screenwriter
Birthdate: July 4, 1927
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: The Bronx, New York
Died: August 26, 2018

 47 Dale Carnegie

Dale Carnegie
4
Famous As: Self-Help Writer, Motivational Guru, Public Speaker
Birthdate: November 24, 1888
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Maryville, Missouri, United States
Died: November 1, 1955
Writer and academic Dale Carnegie is best remembered for his work on courses in areas such as corporate training, self-improvement, and salesmanship. He started his career as a salesperson. He wrote many books, including the international bestseller How to Win Friends and Influence People, and was a successful lecturer, too.

 48 Stephen King

Stephen King
19
Famous As: A Prolific & Immensely Popular Author of Horror Fiction
Birthdate: September 21, 1947
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Portland, Maine, United States

One of the most popular American authors, Stephen King has sold over 350 million copies of his works. Many of his books have been adapted into television series, miniseries, and films. One of the most decorated authors, King believes in giving back to society as he and his wife are noted philanthropists.

 49 Susan Sontag

Susan Sontag
5
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: January 16, 1933
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: New York, New York, United States
Died: December 28, 2004
Susan Sontag is best known for her essay anthologies such as Against Interpretation and her novels such as In America. She wrote about diverse issues such as human rights, photography, AIDS, and leftist beliefs, and also visited war-torn areas. The National Book Award-winning author was also openly bisexual. 

 50 Rachel Carson

Rachel Carson
4
Famous As: Marine biologist
Birthdate: May 27, 1907
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Springdale
Died: April 14, 1964

Rachel Carson was a conservationist, marine biologist, and author. She is credited with authoring an influential book titled Silent Spring, which played a significant role in advancing the global environmental movement. Carson is also remembered for her book, The Sea Around Us, which earned her a U.S. National Book Award. She was posthumously honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.