Famous American Essayists

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Writing is one of the most ancient professions in the world. Since the early days, people chose to pen their thoughts, views, ideas and beliefs to increase awareness and knowledge in the world. While writing can be of many types, it is essay writing that we are emphasizing on in this segment. Essays are basically literary pieces wherein a writer puts to paper his reflection about an event or episode in history. Spanning across varied topics such as politics, education, social rights, activism, literary criticism and so on, essays help readers to understand the world in a better fashion. In America, essay writing has been prevalent since the early colonial days. Francis Bacon, Samuel Sewall and John Woolman are some of the earliest known American essayists. Much of their work revolved around the revolutionary theme. Post-independence, American essayists focussed on societal problems as the main issue for their works. It also marked the golden period of essay writing as works by Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Washington Irving came to foreplay. The romantic and realistic period saw the likes of R.W. Emerson, E.A. Poe and Frederick Douglas giving way to works by Mark Twain, Mary Austin and others. Know about the life and works of some of the best-known American essayists, in this section.
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 1 
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.

 2 
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.

 3 
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.  
 4 
Ralph Waldo Emerson
(Famous For his Essay 'Nature' and Speech Entitled 'The American Scholar')
Ralph Waldo Emerson
5
Birthdate: May 25, 1803
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Boston, Massachusetts, United States
Died: April 27, 1882

Ralph Waldo Emerson was an American philosopher who led the transcendentalist movement that developed in the eastern United States in the 1820s and 1830s. He is credited with popularizing individualism through his numerous lectures and essays. Emerson influenced many thinkers and writers that followed him; he mentored Henry David Thoreau, who went on to become a leading transcendentalist.

 5 
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.

 6 
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.

 7 
Walt Whitman
(One of the Most Influential Poets in the American Canon, Regarded as the 'Father of Free Verse')
Walt Whitman
4
Birthdate: May 31, 1819
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: West Hills, New York, United States
Died: March 26, 1892

Walt Whitman was an American poet, journalist, and essayist. Also a humanist, Whitman played a crucial role in the shift between transcendentalism and realism. Often referred to as the father of free verse, Whitman is one of the most influential American poets of all time. Several decades after his death, Walt Whitman's poetry remains influential.

 8 
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.

 9 
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.

 10 
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. 
 11 
Ta-Nehisi Coates
(Author and Journalist Known for His Non-Fiction Books: ‘The Beautiful Struggle’ and ‘Between the World and Me’)
Ta-Nehisi Coates
5
Birthdate: September 30, 1975
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.

Author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates gained international prominence while serving as the national correspondent at The Atlantic. His writings on socio-political issues related to African Americans and white supremacy garnered him much appreciation. He is a recipient of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center Prize for Writing to Advance Social Justice. He also writes fiction and comics.

 12 
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.

 13 
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.

 14 
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.

 15 
Joyce Carol Oates
4
Birthdate: June 16, 1938
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Lockport, New York, United States
 16 
Washington Irving
(Author, Historian, Diplomat)
Washington Irving
4
Birthdate: April 3, 1783
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: New York City, New York
Died: November 28, 1859

Widely known as the first American man of letters, Washington Irving penned the legendary tales of Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, which are also called the first short stories by an American author. He had also had a brief stint as a lawyer.

 17 
Joan Didion
(Screenwriter, Novelist, Journalist, Writer, Essayist)
Joan Didion
4
Birthdate: December 5, 1934
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Sacramento, California, United States
 18 
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.

 19 
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. 
 20 
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.
 21 
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.

 22 
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.

 23 
Flannery O'Connor
4
Birthdate: March 25, 1925
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Savannah, Georgia, United States
Died: August 3, 1964
 24 
W. Kamau Bell
(Comedian)
W. Kamau Bell
5
Birthdate: January 26, 1973
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Palo Alto, California, United States U.S.
 25 
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.

 26 
James Ellroy
(Writer)
James Ellroy
4
Birthdate: March 4, 1948
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Los Angeles, California, USA
 27 
Neal Stephenson
(Novelist)
Neal Stephenson
4
Birthdate: October 31, 1959
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Fort Meade, Maryland, United States
 28 
Jonathan Franzen
4
Birthdate: August 17, 1959
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Chicago, Illinois, USA
 29 
Sandra Cisneros
3
Birthdate: December 20, 1954
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Chicago
 30 
Droz
(Essayist)
Droz
4
Birthdate: April 7, 1969
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Hamilton, New Jersey, United States
 31 
Jim Harrison
4
Birthdate: December 11, 1937
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Grayling, Michigan, USA
Died: March 26, 2016
 32 
Amiri Baraka
(Writer)
Amiri Baraka
3
Birthdate: October 7, 1934
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Newark
Died: January 9, 2014
 33 
André Aciman
(Italian-American Writer and Professor)
André Aciman
4
Birthdate: January 2, 1951
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Alexandria, Egypt

Andre Aciman is an Italian-American writer who is currently working at the CUNY Graduate Center as a professor of history of literary theory. He is best known for his literary work, which includes his Lambda Literary Award-winning novel Call Me by Your Name and his Whiting Award-winning 1995 memoir Out of Egypt.

 34 
Adrienne Rich
(American poet)
Adrienne Rich
3
Birthdate: May 16, 1929
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Baltimore, Maryland, United States
Died: March 27, 2012
 35 
David Sedaris
(Humorist)
David Sedaris
4
Birthdate: December 26, 1956
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Johnson City, New York, United States
 36 
Edward Abbey
(Essayist)
Edward Abbey
3
Birthdate: January 29, 1927
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Indiana, Pennsylvania, United States
Died: March 14, 1989
 37 
Don DeLillo
(Writer, Playwright, Screenwriter, Novelist, Essayist, Journalist)
Don DeLillo
4
Birthdate: November 20, 1936
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: New York City
 38 
Katherine Anne Porter
(Journalist, Essayist, Writer, Novelist)
Katherine Anne Porter
4
Birthdate: May 15, 1890
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Indian Creek, Texas, U.S.
Died: September 18, 1980
 39 
Robert Christgau
(Journalist, Reporter, Essayist, Writer, Music critic)
Robert Christgau
5
Birthdate: April 18, 1942
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Greenwich Village
 40 
Mary Karr
(Poet)
Mary Karr
3
Birthdate: January 16, 1955
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: East Texas
 41 
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.

 42 
Cheryl Strayed
4
Birthdate: September 17, 1968
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Spangler, Pennsylvania, U.S.
 43 
John Gregory Dunne
3
Birthdate: May 25, 1932
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Hartford, Connecticut
Died: December 30, 2003
 44 
Paul Krugman
(Columnist, Economist, Essayist, Blogger, University teacher, Actor, Pundit, Journalist, Writer)
Paul Krugman
4
Birthdate: February 28, 1953
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Albany

Economist Paul Krugman, who has taught at Yale, MIT, and Princeton, later won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, primarily for his work on the new trade theory and economic geography. He has also gained popularity for his op-ed column in The New York Times.

 45 
Sylvia Browne
(Essayist, Psychic)
Sylvia Browne
4
Birthdate: October 19, 1936
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Kansas City
Died: November 20, 2013
 46 
Barbara Kingsolver
(Novelist, Poet, Essayist)
Barbara Kingsolver
3
Birthdate: April 8, 1955
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Annapolis, Maryland, United States
 47 
Robert Anton Wilson
(Writer, Novelist, Philosopher, Essayist, Playwright, Psychologist, Science fiction writer)
Robert Anton Wilson
3
Birthdate: January 18, 1932
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Brooklyn
Died: January 11, 2007
 48 
E. B. White
(Children's Novelist Best Known for Her Books: ‘Stuart Little’, ‘Charlotte's Web’ and ‘The Trumpet of the Swan’)
E. B. White
5
Birthdate: July 11, 1899
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Mount Vernon, New York, United States
Died: October 1, 1985
 49 
Tom Robbins
(Writer)
Tom Robbins
3
Birthdate: July 22, 1932
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Blowing Rock, North Carolina Blowing Rock, North Carolina, U.S.
 50 
Rebecca Solnit
3
Birthdate: June 24, 1961
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Bridgeport, Connecticut Bridgeport, Connecticut, U.S.