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.

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 1 Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway.
12
Famous As: Journalist
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.

 2 Dr. Seuss

Dr. Seuss.
10
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.

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 3 Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou.
8
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.

 4 Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath.
15
Famous As: Poet, Novelist, and Writer
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.

 5 F. Scott Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald.
6
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.

 6 H. P. Lovecraft

H. P. Lovecraft.
16
Famous As: Novelist, Editor
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 James Baldwin

James Baldwin.
4
Famous As: Novelist
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.

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 8 George R. R. Martin

George R. R. Martin.
11
Famous As: Screenwriter, Novelist
Birthdate: September 20, 1948
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Bayonne
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.

 9 Isaac Asimov

Isaac Asimov.
5
Famous As: Novelist, Professor
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.

 10 Truman Capote

Truman Capote.
4
Famous As: Author
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.

 11 Harper Lee

Harper Lee.
6
Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: April 28, 1926
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Monroeville
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.

 12 Arthur Miller

Arthur Miller.
8
Famous As: Playwright, Essayist
Birthdate: October 17, 1915
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Harlem, New York City, 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 Tom Clancy

Tom Clancy.
7
Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: April 12, 1947
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Baltimore County, Maryland, United States of America
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

 14 David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace.
4
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.

 15 Robert Frost

Robert Frost.
10
Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: March 26, 1874
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: San Francisco, California
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.

 16 Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky.
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Famous As: Linguist
Birthdate: December 7, 1928
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States

Regarded by many as the father of modern linguistics, Noam Chomsky has authored over 100 books on varied topics, such as politics, linguistics, and war. A multi-talented personality, Noam Chomsky is considered a popular figure in analytic philosophy. Apart from influencing a wide array of academic fields, he has also contributed to the development of cognitivism.

 17 Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison.
4
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.

 18 Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut.
4
Famous As: American 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.  

 19 Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes.
8
Famous As: Poet, Novelist, Playwright, & Columnist
Birthdate: February 1, 1902
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.

 20 Philip K. Dick

Philip K. Dick.
4
Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: December 16, 1928
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Chicago, Illinois
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.

 21 Charles Bukowski

Charles Bukowski.
15
Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: August 16, 1920
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Andernach
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.

 22 Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell.
4
Famous As: Writer, Journalist
Birthdate: September 3, 1963
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Fareham, Hampshire, England
Malcolm Gladwell is best known for his bestselling books The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers. He has also written for The New Yorker and The Washington Post. His writings encompass subjects such as psychology, economics, and sociology. Gladwell has also co-founded a podcast company and hosts the podcast Revisionist History.

 23 John Grisham

John Grisham.
6
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.

 24 Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac.
5
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

 25 Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury.
4
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.

 26 Tennessee Williams

Tennessee Williams.
5
Famous As: American 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
 

 27 Shel Silverstein

Shel Silverstein.
6
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.

 28 Dan Brown

Dan Brown.
6
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.

 29 Gore Vidal

Gore Vidal.
8
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.

 30 Douglas Adams

Douglas Adams.
5
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: March 11, 1952
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Cambridge
Died: May 11, 2001

English author, screenwriter, and essayist, Douglas Adams, is most remembered for his comedy science fiction series The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. As a screenwriter, he wrote two stories for the TV series Doctor Who. He advocated for environmentalism and spoke about environmental issues in his non-fiction radio series Last Chance to See.

 31 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.

 32 Tracy Letts

Tracy Letts.
6
Famous As: Actor, Screenwriter
Birthdate: July 4, 1965
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Tulsa, Oklahoma

Tracy Letts is a highly acclaimed American actor, screenwriter, and playwright. Letts has received several prestigious awards, including the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and a couple of Tony Awards. Tracy Letts is credited with popularizing Edward Albee's play Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? which he revived in 2012.

 33 Philip Roth

Philip Roth.
5
Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: March 19, 1933
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Newark, New Jersey, USA

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.

 34 Shirley Jackson

Shirley Jackson.
5
Famous As: Author
Birthdate: December 14, 1916
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: San Francisco, California, U.S.
Died: August 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

 35 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.

 36 Neil Simon

Neil Simon.
5
Famous As: Playwright & Screenwriter
Birthdate: July 4, 1927
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: The Bronx, New York
Died: August 26, 2018

 37 Joan Didion

Joan Didion
4
Famous As: Screenwriter, Novelist, Journalist, Writer, Essayist
Birthdate: December 5, 1934
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Sacramento, California, United States

 38 Jon Krakauer

Jon Krakauer
4
Famous As: Journalist, Explorer, Writer
Birthdate: April 12, 1954
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Brookline, Massachusetts, United States

 39 Isabel Allende

Isabel Allende.
4
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: August 2, 1942
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Lima
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.

 40 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.

 41 Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand.
11
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: February 2, 1905
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Saint Petersburg, Russia
Died: March 6, 1982

Ayn Rand was a Russian-American philosopher and writer. Apart from publishing two best-selling novels, Ayn Rand is credited with developing a philosophical system called Objectivism. Over the years, Ayn Rand has been a major influence among American conservatives and libertarians. Some of the famous personalities influenced by her include Amber Heard, Vince Vaughn, Jimmy Wales, Ayelet Shaked, and Mary Ruwart.

 42 August Wilson

August Wilson.
6
Famous As: American playwright
Birthdate: April 27, 1945
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States
Died: October 2, 2005
August Wilson, also known as "theater's poet of black America,” was a renowned playwright. He is best remembered for The Pittsburgh Cycle, his series of 10 plays that focused on the 20th-century African-American community. Two of his plays, Fences and Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, were turned into movies.

 43 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.

 44 Helen Keller

Helen Keller.
6
Famous As: Author
Birthdate: June 27, 1880
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Tuscumbia, Alabama, United States
Died: June 1, 1968

A prolific author, having written 12 published books and several articles, Helen Keller was the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. Her autobiography, The Story of My Life, made Keller famous and was adapted for film and stage. She was also an activist and campaigned for women's suffrage, labour rights, socialism and other such causes.

 45 Stan Lee

Stan Lee.
9
Famous As: Creator of Daredevil, Fantastic Four, Hulk, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Thor, X-Men
Birthdate: December 28, 1922
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: New York City, 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.

 46 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.

 47 Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy.
4
Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: July 20, 1933
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Providence, Rhode Island, United States
Renonwed as one of the most gifted contemporary writers, Cormac McCarthy is distinguished for his unique writing style and graphic depictions of violence. His novels depict wayward characters in the rural American South and Southwest. He shot to fame with his novel All The Pretty Horses and bagged in Pulitzer Prize for his post-apocalyptic novel The Road.

 48 Steve Martin

Steve Martin.
4
Famous As: Comedian
Birthdate: August 14, 1945
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Waco, Texas, United States

A man of many talents, Steve Martin is a successful comedian, actor, and musician. In 2004, he was ranked sixth in Comedy Central's 100 greatest stand-up comics list. Despite achieving great fame and success as a comedian and actor, Steve decided to pursue a career in music and began appearing seldom in films to record and tour with bluegrass acts.

 49 Norman Mailer

Norman Mailer.
4
Famous As: Novelist, Journalist and Screen Writer
Birthdate: January 31, 1923
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Long Branch, New Jersey, United States
Died: November 10, 2007

Norman Mailer was an American journalist, novelist, essayist, filmmaker, actor, and playwright. A prolific writer, Mailer had at least one best-selling book in each of the seven decades post Second World War. Overall, he had 11 best-selling books in a career spanning over 60 years. A recipient of the Pulitzer Prize, Mailer is regarded as an innovator of New Journalism.

 50 Allen Ginsberg

Allen Ginsberg.
9
Famous As: Poet, Writer
Birthdate: June 3, 1926
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Newark, New Jersey, United States
Died: April 5, 1997
Allen Ginsberg, a Beat Generation poet, is best remembered for his 1956 poem Howl, which criticized U.S. capitalism and described homosexual acts, and was thus banned. He earned the National Book Award for The Fall of America and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for Cosmopolitan Greetings: Poems 1986–1992.