Who is the Greatest American Writer? (POLL)

Gabe Habash -- January 24th, 2013

Cool map by Geoff Sawers and Bridget Hannigan.

The other day, my friend asked me who I thought was the best American writer to ever live, and coming up with an answer was more difficult than I thought it would be. But after a moment I settled on an answer and asked my girlfriend, who not only came up with a different writer–she came up with a writer I never even would’ve considered.

Which leads to the poll below. Who is the greatest American writer? In order to make this as incendiary as possible, we’re limiting you to ONE pick. And for the pranksters who want to put Shakespeare we’ve even added an “Other” field to let you pencil your pick in if you don’t see him/her in the field–but let us know what writer you added in the comments!

Note: the map above is available to purchase here.

43 thoughts on “Who is the Greatest American Writer? (POLL)

  1. Amanda

    I wrote in a vote for Judy Blume, because she was the first American author most teenagers read voluntarily and her books were instrumental learning tools for multiple generations of young readers. Also, her 1975 book Forever still lives in the top 10 on a number of lists of frequently banned/challenged books (often sandwiched between Huckleberry Finn and Catcher in the Rye), despite being far tamer than most of the Glee/ fanfiction written by its target audience.

    If one measures “greatness” in terms of awards, she’s won approximately 90 of those. If one measures greatness in terms of bestsellers, she wrote 5 of the top 25 bestselling children’s books of all time (for math-challenged lit majors, that’s 20% of the list). If one measures greatness in terms of impact on readers, Blume’s books provided millions of teens answers to questions they were afraid to ask their parents, and responsible guidance through difficult but almost universal experiences (divorce, menstruation, losing one’s virginity) by framing them as confessional tales from fellow teens rather than the obnoxious “advice from on high” that teens instinctively rebel against.**

    **Without (however unintentionally) inspiring or inciting violence and acts of terrorism, one might add, if one is a bit of a cynic.

  2. Laura Bennet

    I voted for Louisa May Alcott who portrayed simple family life, great values and a cutting edge in individuality, woman’s rights and going against the flow of traditional society. It’s not surprising to me to see the largest percentage in the poll is for “other.” There are so many great authors and not everyone’s taste is the same.

  3. Sarah G

    Other: John Steinbeck. But I have to agree that there should be more African American and Latino authors on the list. Zora Neale Hurston is a very, very close second for me, and Sandra Cisneros should be a choice.

  4. writingprincess

    Wow, I know it’s tough to make this list even remotely complete but seriously how could you leave off James Baldwin and Richard Wright? Seriously, did you just skip the entire Harlem Renaissance? Not to mention Lorraine Hansberry, Phillis Wheatley and Zora Neale Hurston. I know Morrison is popular but she isn’t so good to be the only African-American represented on this list., especially if you include Henry James. My Lord, that man could bore a librarian.

    1. JP

      Good argument to be made that Catch-22 is the greatest American BOOK. I might vote for that. Certainly Top 5. But Heller’s total body of work compared to Twain, Steinbeck, Bradbury, folks who had multiple monster contributions, hard to argue that.

  5. Yuval Taylor

    Why is there only ONE African American author on this list, and why is it Toni Morrison? Why are Zora Neale Hurston and Ralph Ellison not on this list? For shame! (Abraham Lincoln should also be added, by the way.)

    1. Sabrina

      Totally agree. I scrolled through the list thinking Hurston would be on it (she would have gotten my vote), but I was shocked and disappointed. No Alice Walker either.

  6. Austin Gary

    Serious consideration must be given to Thornton Wilder, who was awarded the Pulitzer three times: twice for play (“Our Town” and “Skin of Our Teeth”) and once for novel (The Bridge of San Luis Rey). In addition, Wilder also won the National Book Award for his novel “The Eighth Day.” It should be noted that the play, “Our Town,” has been performed somewhere in the world since it first premiered in 1938.

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