Famous American Essayists

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.

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 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.

 2 James Baldwin

James Baldwin.
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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.

 3 Arthur Miller

Arthur Miller.
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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.

 4 T. S. Eliot

T. S. Eliot.
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Famous As: Poet, Essayist, Playwright
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.  

 5 Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emersion.
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Famous As: American Lecturer, Philosopher, Essayist & Poet
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.

 6 Gore Vidal

Gore Vidal.
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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.

 7 David Sedaris

David Sedaris
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Famous As: Humorist
Birthdate: December 26, 1956
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Johnson City, New York, United States
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 8 Joan Didion

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

 9 John Hughes

John Hughes
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Famous As: Filmmaker
Birthdate: February 18, 1950
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Lansing, Michigan, United States
Died: August 6, 2009

Largely known for popularizing the teen movie genre in the 1980s, John Hughes had dropped out of university to work as an ad copywriter and then a comedy writer. He soared to fame with his stories in National Lampoon magazine and then directed many films of the National Lampoon franchise.

 10 Philip K. Dick

Philip K. Dick.
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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.

 11 Norman Mailer

Norman Mailer.
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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.

 12 Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury.
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Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: August 22, 1920
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Waukegan, Illinois, U.S.
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.

 13 Susan Sontag

Susan Sontag.
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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. 

 14 Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card
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Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: August 24, 1951
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Richland, Washington, United States

 15 Sylvia Browne

Sylvia Browne
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Famous As: Essayist, Psychic
Birthdate: October 19, 1936
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Kansas City
Died: November 20, 2013

 16 Robert A. Heinlein

Robert A. Heinlein.
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Famous As: Science Fiction Writer
Birthdate: July 7, 1907
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Butler, Missouri, USA
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.

 17 Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates.
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Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: June 16, 1938
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Lockport, New York, United States

 18 Paul Krugman

Paul Krugman
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Famous As: Columnist, Economist, Essayist, Blogger, University teacher, Actor, Pundit, Journalist, Writer
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.

 19 Thomas Pynchon

Thomas Pynchon
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Famous As: Writer, Novelist, Essayist, Science fiction writer
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.

 20 E. B. White

E. B. White.
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Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: July 11, 1899
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Mount Vernon, New York, United States
Died: October 1, 1985

 21 Cheryl Strayed

Cheryl Strayed
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Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: September 17, 1968
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Spangler, Pennsylvania, U.S.

 22 Flannery O'Connor

Flannery O'Connor
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Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: March 25, 1925
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Savannah, Georgia, United States
Died: August 3, 1964

 23 Anais Nin

Anais Nin.
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Famous As: Essayist
Birthdate: February 21, 1903
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Neuilly-sur-Seine, Paris
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.

 24 Washington Irving

Washington Irwing.
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Famous As: Author, Historian, Diplomat
Birthdate: April 3, 1783
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: New York City, New York
Died: November 28, 1859

 25 Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Henry Louis Gates Jr.
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Famous As: Author
Birthdate: September 16, 1950
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Keyser, West Virginia

 26 Mark Twain

Mark Twain Image.
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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.

 27 Sarah Vowell

Sarah Vowell
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Famous As: Historian
Birthdate: December 27, 1969
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Muskogee, Oklahoma, USA

 28 Neal Stephenson

Neal Stephenson
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Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: October 31, 1959
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Fort Meade, Maryland Fort Meade, Maryland, United States

 29 Jonathan Franzen

Jonathan Franzen
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Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: August 17, 1959
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Chicago, Illinois, USA

 30 Jaron Lanier

Jaron Lanier
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Famous As: Computer scientist, Composer, Programmer, Writer, Essayist, University teacher
Birthdate: May 3, 1960
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: New York City

 31 W. Kamau Bell

W. Kamau Bell
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Famous As: Comedian
Birthdate: January 26, 1973
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Palo Alto, California, United States U.S.

 32 Michael Chabon

Michael Chabon
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Famous As: Writer, Essayist, Screenwriter, Novelist, Columnist, Science fiction writer
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.

 33 Larry Kramer

Larry Kramer
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Famous As: Playwright
Birthdate: June 25, 1935
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Bridgeport, Connecticut, USA

 34 Robert Christgau

Robert Christgau
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Famous As: Journalist, Reporter, Essayist, Writer, Music critic
Birthdate: April 18, 1942
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Greenwich Village

 35 Don DeLillo

Don DeLillo
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Famous As: Writer, Playwright, Screenwriter, Novelist, Essayist, Journalist
Birthdate: November 20, 1936
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: New York City

 36 Madeleine L'Engle

Madeleine L'Engle
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Famous As: Author
Birthdate: November 29, 1918
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: New York City, New York,United States
Died: September 6, 2007

Madeleine L'Engle soared to fame with her Newbery Medal-winning bestselling young adult novel A Wrinkle in Time, which was made into a Disney film later. Born to a writer father and a pianist mother, L’Engle had penned her first story at age 5 and had also tried her luck in theater.

 37 James Ellroy

James Ellroy
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Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: March 4, 1948
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Los Angeles, California, USA

 38 George Saunders

George Saunders.
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Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: December 2, 1958
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Amarillo, Texas

 39 Droz

Droz
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Famous As: Essayist
Birthdate: April 7, 1969
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Hamilton, New Jersey, United States

 40 Jim Harrison

Jim Harrison
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Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: December 11, 1937
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Grayling, Michigan, USA
Died: March 26, 2016

 41 Harry Turtledove

Harry Turtledove
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Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: June 14, 1949
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Los Angeles, California, USA

An expert in Byzantine history, author Harry Turtledove is known for his historical fiction and science-fiction books, such as How Few Remain and the Opening of the World series. Regarded as the “Master of Alternate History,” he has also won awards such as the Hugo Award for the Best Novella.

 42 John Perry Barlow

John Perry Barlow
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Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: October 3, 1947
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Pinedale, Wyoming, USA
Died: February 7, 2018

 43 Katherine Anne Porter

Katherine Anne Porter.
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Famous As: Journalist, Essayist, Writer, Novelist
Birthdate: May 15, 1890
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Indian Creek, Texas, U.S.
Died: September 18, 1980

 44 Sandra Cisneros

Sandra Cisneros.
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Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: December 20, 1954
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Chicago

 45 Mary Karr

Mary Karr
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Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: January 16, 1955
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: East Texas

 46 Robert Anton Wilson

Robert Anton Wilson
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Famous As: Writer, Novelist, Philosopher, Essayist, Playwright, Psychologist, Science fiction writer
Birthdate: January 18, 1932
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Brooklyn
Died: January 11, 2007

 47 Amiri Baraka

Amiri Baraka.
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Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: October 7, 1934
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Newark
Died: January 9, 2014

 48 Tom Robbins

Tom Robbins
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Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: July 22, 1932
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Blowing Rock, North Carolina Blowing Rock, North Carolina, U.S.

 49 Marilynne Robinson

Marilynne Robinson
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Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: November 26, 1943
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Sandpoint, Idaho, US

 50 Edward Abbey

Edward Abbey
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Famous As: Essayist
Birthdate: January 29, 1927
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Indiana, Pennsylvania, United States
Died: March 14, 1989