Famous 20th Century Essayists

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 1 
George Orwell
(Known for His Novels “Animal Farm” and “Nineteen Eighty-Four”)
George Orwell
7
Birthdate: June 25, 1903
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Motihari, Bihar, India
Died: January 21, 1950

The king of dystopia and satire, George Orwell, the pen name adopted by Eric Arthur Blair, was a well-known novelist and critic of the 20th century. A man with a strong mind of his own, Orwell never backed down from stating his views on the socio-political climate he lived in, which he expressed profusely through his influential essays and novels.

 2 
James Baldwin
(Author Best Known for His Novel 'Go Tell It on the Mountain')
James Baldwin
5
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.

 3 
Margaret Atwood
(Poet, Novelist, Literary Critic & Environmental Activist)
Margaret Atwood
5
Birthdate: November 18, 1939
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Ottawa, Canada

Margaret Atwood is a Canadian poet and novelist. Her works encompass themes, such as religion and myth, climate change, and gender and identity. An award-winning writer, many of Atwood's works have been made into films and television series; her work, The Handmaid's Tale, has had several adaptations. Perhaps, Margaret Atwood's most important contribution is her invention of the LongPen device.

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 4 
Arthur Miller
(Playwright Best Known for His Plays “All My Sons,” “Death of a Salesman” and “The Crucible”)
Arthur Miller
5
Birthdate: October 17, 1915
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Manhattan, 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.

 5 
T. S. Eliot
(Best Known as a Leader of the Modernist Movement in Poetry)
T. S. Eliot
4
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.  
 6 
Gore Vidal
(American Writer Known for His Novels: ‘The City and the Pillar’, ‘Julian’, ‘Myra Breckinridge’ and ‘Burr’)
Gore Vidal
5
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.

 7 
Jorge Luis Borges
(Short Story Writer & Essayist Best Known for His Books 'Ficciones' & 'El Aleph')
Jorge Luis Borges
4
Birthdate: August 24, 1899
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Buenos Aires, Argentina
Died: June 14, 1986

Jorge Luis Borges was an Argentine essayist, poet, short-story writer, and translator. An important figure in Spanish-language literature, Jorge Luis Borges' works have contributed immensely to fantasy and the philosophical literature genre. It is also said that his works, which incorporated themes like labyrinths, dreams, and mythology, marked the beginning of 20th-century Latin American literature's magic realist movement.

 8 
Umberto Eco
(Medievalist, Philosopher and Author of 'The Name of the Rose' and 'Foucault's Pendulum')
Umberto Eco
4
Birthdate: January 5, 1932
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Alessandria, Italy
Died: February 19, 2016

Italian novelist Umberto Eco is best remembered for his novels The Name of the Rose and Foucault's Pendulum. He also taught at the University of Bologna and had released quite a few children’s books and translations. He was also known for his work on semiotics and medieval studies.

 9 
W. H. Auden
(One of the Greatest Authors of 20th Century)
W. H. Auden
5
Birthdate: February 21, 1907
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: York, England, United Kingdom
Died: September 29, 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.

 10 
Norman Mailer
(Author of 'The Naked and the Dead', 'Armies of the Night' and 'The Executioner's Song')
Norman Mailer
4
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.

 11 
Susan Sontag
(Writer and Filmmaker, Best Known for her Essay 'Notes on 'Camp')
Susan Sontag
4
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. 
 12 
Joyce Carol Oates
4
Birthdate: June 16, 1938
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Lockport, New York, United States
 13 
F. Scott Fitzgerald
(Best Known for His Novel 'The Great Gatsby')
F. Scott Fitzgerald
4
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.

 14 
Walter Benjamin
(German Jewish Philosopher, Cultural Critic and Essayist)
Walter Benjamin
4
Birthdate: July 15, 1892
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Berlin, Germany
Died: September 26, 1940

Walter Benjamin was a German Jewish essayist, philosopher, and cultural critic. An eclectic thinker, Benjamin made significant contributions to literary criticism, aesthetic theory, and historical materialism. Although Benjamin's work did not earn much recognition during his lifetime, it continues to be revered by academics several years after his death.

 15 
Joan Didion
(Screenwriter, Novelist, Journalist, Writer, Essayist)
Joan Didion
4
Birthdate: December 5, 1934
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Sacramento, California, United States
 16 
E. M. Forster
(English Author Known for His Novels: ‘A Room with a View’, ‘Howards End’ and ‘A Passage to India’)
E. M. Forster
8
Birthdate: January 1, 1879
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Marylebone, London, United Kingdom
Died: June 7, 1970

Best known for his iconic novels Howard’s End and A Passage to India, British author E. M. Forster dealt with themes such as class division and gender. Born in England and educated at Cambridge, he had also spent some time as a secretary to Maharaja Tukojirao III of India.

 17 
Haruki Murakami
5
Birthdate: January 12, 1949
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Kyoto, Kyoto, Japan
Japanese writer Haruki Murakami has authored bestselling works such as Norwegian Wood and Kafka on the Shore, which explore the genres of surrealism and magic realism. He has also translated works by J. D. Salinger and Raymond Carver. He has been named to Time 100 and has won numerous awards.
 18 
Nassim Nicholas Taleb
(Essayist and Mathematical Statistician Best Known for His Books: ‘The Black Swan’ and ‘Antifragile’)
Nassim Nicholas Taleb
9
Birthdate: 1960 AD
Birthplace: Amioun, Lebanon
Lebanese-American scholar and statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb is known for his work on risk management through uncertainty and probability. His five-volume essay Incerto included his bestselling book The Black Swan. Named to Forbes’s Most Influential Management Gurus list, he is the co-editor-in-chief of the academic journal Risk and Decision Analysis.
 19 
Anthony Burgess
4
Birthdate: February 25, 1917
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Harpurhey, Lancashire, England
Died: November 22, 1993
 20 
Douglas Adams
(Author of the BBC Radio Comedy Series "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy")
Douglas Adams
5
Birthdate: March 11, 1952
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Cambridge, England
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.

 21 
Zadie Smith
(Writer, Novelist, Essayist)
Zadie Smith
6
Birthdate: October 25, 1975
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: London

Author Zadie Smith was born in London to a British father and a Jamaican mother. Her bestselling debut novel, White Teeth, won numerous awards and catapulted her to fame, while her third novel, On Beauty, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. She has also taught fiction at New York University.

 22 
Fran Lebowitz
(Writer Known for Her Sardonic Social Commentary on American Life and Her Defiant Grouchiness and Wit)
Fran Lebowitz
4
Birthdate: October 27, 1950
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Morristown, New Jersey, United States

Author and public speaker Fran Lebowitz is best known for her book The Fran Lebowitz Reader, which combined the two books Metropolitan Life and Social Studies. She also gained fame with her 2021 Netflix docuseries Pretend It's a City. Openly lesbian, she has often spoken about feminism, politics, and AIDS.

 23 
Chuck Palahniuk
(Journalist and Novelist Best Known for His Books: ‘Fight Club’, ‘Choke’, ‘Rant’ and ‘Invisible Monsters’)
Chuck Palahniuk
5
Birthdate: February 21, 1962
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Pasco, Washington, United States

Freelance journalist and author Chuck Palahniuk specializes in what he calls transgressional fiction. His popular novel Fight Club was adapted into a film starring Brad Pitt and also won awards such as the Oregon Book Award for Best Novel. Though critics call his books nihilistic, he himself calls them romantic.

 24 
Anais Nin
(French-Born American Novelist, Diarist and Short Story Writer)
Anais Nin
6
Birthdate: February 21, 1903
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Neuilly-sur-Seine, Paris, France
Died: January 14, 1977

French-Cuban-American diarist, essayist, and novelist Anais Nin wrote several volumes of journals, erotica, novels, critical studies, essays, and short stories. Her journals and diaries are among her most studied works. She had a deep interest in psychoanalysis and studied it extensively with René Allendy and Otto Rank. Critics consider her one of the finest writers of female erotica.

 25 
Thomas Pynchon
(Writer, Novelist, Essayist, Science fiction writer)
Thomas Pynchon
4
Birthdate: May 8, 1937
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Glen Cove

Thomas Pynchon initially joined Cornell to study engineering physics, but changed his major to English after a brief stint with the U.S. Army. A master of black humor, he soared to fame with novels such as The Crying of Lot 49 and Inherent Vice. He is media-shy and is rarely photographed.

 26 
Ken Kesey
(Novelist & Essayist Known for His Novels: ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest’ & ‘Sometimes a Great Notion’)
Ken Kesey
4
Birthdate: September 17, 1935
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: La Junta, Colorado, United States
Died: November 10, 2001
Ken Kesey was a prolific American essayist, novelist, and counterculture figure who defined the Psychedelic Era. Renonwed as the hero of the hippie movement in the 1960s, he garnered critical and commercial success for his novels One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest and Sometimes a Great Notion. He was imprisoned for five months for marijuana possession. 
 27 
Thomas Mann
(German Novelist Who Won the 1929 Nobel Prize in Literature)
Thomas Mann
4
Birthdate: June 6, 1875
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Lübeck, Germany
Died: August 12, 1955
German author Thomas Mann, known for his epic novels, was part of the Hanseatic Mann family of authors. He depicted his own family in his novel Buddenbrooks. He won the 1929 Nobel Prize in Literature. During Hitler’s reign, he fled to Switzerland and then to the U.S.
 28 
V. S. Naipaul
(Trinidadian-Born British Writer Who Won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2001)
V. S. Naipaul
4
Birthdate: August 17, 1932
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Trinidad and Tobago
Died: August 11, 2018

Born to Indian descendants in Trinidad, V. S. Naipaul grew up to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. The author of iconic novels such as Half a Life and A House for Mr. Biswas, Naipaul was also knighted. His realistic depiction of developing countries and their miseries won hearts worldwide.

 29 
Mario Vargas Llosa
(Latin America's Most Significant Novelist and Essayist and Winner of 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature)
Mario Vargas Llosa
4
Birthdate: March 28, 1936
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Arequipa, Peru
In March 2020, Chinese e-book platforms virtually banned Nobel Prize-winning Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa after he suggested that China was largely responsible for the origin of the COVID-19 virus. One of Latin American’s most respected authors, he has penned bestsellers such as The Feast of the Goat.
 30 
H. L. Mencken
(One of the Greatest and Most Influential American Literary Critic in the 1920s)
H. L. Mencken
4
Birthdate: September 12, 1880
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Baltimore, Maryland, United States
Died: January 29, 1956

H. L. Mencken was an American journalist, cultural critic, essayist, satirist, and scholar of American English. His reporting on the Scopes Trial earned him national recognition. The trial came to be known as the Scopes Monkey Trial as Mencken had nicknamed it Monkey Trial in accordance with his satirical reporting of the trial.

 31 
Maxim Gorky
(Russian Writer Best Known for His Works 'The Lower Depths', 'Mother', 'Chelkash' and 'Children of the Sun')
Maxim Gorky
4
Birthdate: March 28, 1868
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Nizhny Novgorod, Russia
Died: June 18, 1936

Maxim Gorky was a writer and political activist. He is best remembered for founding the socialist realism literary method. Gorky, who was nominated for the prestigious Nobel Prize in Literature on five occasions, published several novels that were later adapted into plays, films, and operas. In 1938, Valery Zhelobinsky adapted Gorky's novel Mother into an opera.

 32 
Roland Barthes
(French Literary Theorist Best Known for His Essay Collection 'Mythologies' and His Essay 'The Death of the Author')
Roland Barthes
4
Birthdate: November 12, 1915
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Cherbourg-en-Cotentin, France
Died: March 25, 1980
Born to middle-class parents in France, literary theorist and critic Roland Barthes explored Ferdinand de Saussure’s semiology and influenced fields such as structuralism. His iconic works, such as Mythologies and The Death of the Author, influenced later thinkers. He died of injuries sustained in a road accident at 64.
 33 
Sarah Vowell
(Author of Seven Nonfiction Books on American History and Culture)
Sarah Vowell
4
Birthdate: December 27, 1969
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Muskogee, Oklahoma, United States

Bestselling author and essayist Sarah Vowell is known for her expertise in American history and her books such as Assassination Vacation and Unfamiliar Fishes. She is also a regular on the radio program This American Life and has voiced Violet in the animated film The Incredibles.

 34 
David Sedaris
(Humorist)
David Sedaris
4
Birthdate: December 26, 1956
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Johnson City, New York, United States
 35 
Flannery O'Connor
4
Birthdate: March 25, 1925
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Savannah, Georgia, United States
Died: August 3, 1964
 36 
W. Kamau Bell
(Comedian)
W. Kamau Bell
5
Birthdate: January 26, 1973
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Palo Alto, California, United States U.S.
 37 
George Santayana
(Regarded as One of the Most Important Thinkers of the First Half of the 20th Century)
George Santayana
4
Birthdate: December 16, 1863
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Madrid, Spain
Died: September 26, 1952

One of George Santayana’s initial works, The Sense of Beauty, spoke about aesthetics, an oft-repeated topic in his later works. The Spanish-born American philosopher and Harvard professor is remembered for his quote “Only the dead have seen the end of war,” which has often been misattributed to Plato.

 38 
Ruskin Bond
(Writer)
Ruskin Bond
9
Birthdate: May 19, 1934
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Kasauli
Sahitya Akademi Award-winning children’s author Ruskin Bond is best known for creating the protagonist Rusty, modeled on his childhood in Dehradun and found in his books such as The Room on the Roof. Many of his books, such as The Blue Umbrella have been made into films. 
 39 
Arundhati Roy
(Novelist, Writer, Screenwriter, Essayist)
Arundhati Roy
4
Birthdate: November 24, 1961
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Assam

Apart from her bestselling books such as The God of Small Things, Man Booker Prize-winning Indian author Arundhati Roy is also known for her left-wing political activism. Born to a Syrian Christian mother and an Indian Hindu father, Roy had initially studied architecture and worked as a script writer.

 40 
Michael Chabon
(Writer, Essayist, Screenwriter, Novelist, Columnist, Science fiction writer)
Michael Chabon
4
Birthdate: May 24, 1963
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Washington, D.C.

Best known for his Pulitzer-winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon is known for dealing with themes such as nostalgia, divorce, and Jewish identity. He has also contributed to TV and film projects, such as the Star Trek series. He is married to novelist Ayelet Waldman.

 41 
Masaru Emoto
(Essayist, Writer)
Masaru Emoto
4
Birthdate: July 22, 1943
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Yokohama
Died: October 17, 2014

Masaru Emoto was a Japanese author, businessman, and pseudo-scientist. He is best remembered for his New York Times bestseller book The Hidden Messages in Water in which he claimed that thought can influence the molecular structure of water. He also served as the president emeritus of a non-profit organization called International Water For Life Foundation.

 42 
Stanisław Lem
(Polish Novelist Best Known for His Novel 'Solaris')
Stanisław Lem
4
Birthdate: September 12, 1921
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Lviv, Ukraine
Died: March 27, 2006

Stanisław Lem was a Polish writer who specialized in the science fiction genre. He was also a noted essayist who wrote on varied subjects, including philosophy, futurology, and literary criticism. His books, which have been translated into over 50 languages, have sold more than 45 million copies worldwide. He was the recipient of numerous awards and honors. 

 43 
James Ellroy
(Writer)
James Ellroy
4
Birthdate: March 4, 1948
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Los Angeles, California, USA
 44 
Emil Cioran
(One of the Finest Philosophers and Critical Writers from Romania)
Emil Cioran
4
Birthdate: April 8, 1911
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Rasinari, Romania
Died: July 20, 1995
Born to a priest father, Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran grew up to include religious and melancholic themes in his works. His award-winning bestseller A Short History of Decay was followed by books such as The Trouble with Being Born, all of which spoke of illness and suicide.
 45 
Neal Stephenson
(Novelist)
Neal Stephenson
4
Birthdate: October 31, 1959
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Fort Meade, Maryland, United States
 46 
China Miéville
(Speculative Fiction & Fantasy Author Known for Her Work 'Perdido Street Station')
China Miéville
4
Birthdate: September 6, 1972
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Norwich, England
 47 
Orson Scott Card
(American Writer Best Known for His Science Fiction Novel 'Ender’s Game')
Orson Scott Card
4
Birthdate: August 24, 1951
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Richland, Washington, United States

American author, playwright and script-writer Orson Scott Card is best-known for writing the series’ Ender's Game and The Tales of Alvin Maker. First two novels of the Ender's Game series are counted among the most influential novels of the 1980s and won both the Hugo and Nebula awards, while The Tales of Alvin Maker series won the Locus Fantasy Award.

 48 
Hilary Mantel
(Writer, Novelist, Essayist, Film critic, Poet lawyer, Literary critic)
Hilary Mantel
4
Birthdate: July 6, 1952
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Glossop

British author Hilary Mantel initially studied law at LSU and then concentrated on her writing career after moving to Botswana with her geologist husband. Her Booker Prize-winning novels, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, later catapulted her to fame. She divorced and remarried her husband later.

 49 
Jonathan Franzen
4
Birthdate: August 17, 1959
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Chicago, Illinois, USA
 50 
Sandra Cisneros
3
Birthdate: December 20, 1954
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Chicago