America's "Greatest" Writer: A Comprehensive List

Who is America's greatest writer?

  • Jonathan Edwards

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  • William Cullen Bryant

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  • Ralph Waldo Emerson

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  • Henry David Thoreau

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  • Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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  • James Russell Lowell

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  • Walt Whitman

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  • Emily Dickinson

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  • Stephen Crane

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  • Eugene O'Neill

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  • Robert Frost

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  • Sherwood Anderson

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  • Total voters
May 2008
Read a lot of Gore Vidal when I was younger - "Creation" and "Messiah" I remember enjoying, Saul Bellow's Rabbit series was clever and funny, Norman Mailer's sports articles, particularly on boxing - his descriptions of Ali at the height of his powers were quite brilliant. In poetry, William Carlos Williams;

Between Walls

the back wings
of the

hospital where

will grow lie

In which shine
the broken

pieces of a green
Oct 2009
San Diego
I would have to say Melville.

Largely because, of the listed writers, he is the one most recognized around the world as literarily important.

Moby Dick and Billy Bud, two of the most important fictional works ever produced anywhere in the world.
Jan 2008
Chile, Santiago
In your opinion, of these writers, who is the greatest? What I mean is,

1. Who had a lasting impact?
2. Whose literature is most talked about?
3. Who had the greatest influence?

My vote is Edgar Allan Poe. Hands down, he's my favorite author. All of his work is talked about, he invented the short story, and has a very large corps of followers.
I voted James Fenimore Cooper.

I believe Dostoevsky or one of the other great Russian writers was inspired by Cooper, I read it in the introduction to one of the great novels.


Forum Staff
Mar 2008
On a mountain top in Costa Rica. yeah...I win!!
I can't call one of them best or most important or most influential because by next month (or next week) I'd change my mind.
I also subscribe to that. Big Time! It is sort of like asking a zoo keeper which is his favorite animal. If each writer wasn't a different animal then reading would be boring. My reasons for liking a writer are as varied as Naturalism is from Romanticism. Over the years various authors have gone in and out of favor with me. On a personal note the most dramatic change in my affections was with Jack Kerouac. When On the Road was published, I was 17, I thought it the greatest thing since sliced bread. (That was the current phrase then). I have since come to think of him as the biggest phony to come down the pike since polyester suits and disco. As that Great American Writer Kurt Vonnegut always said, "And so it goes".
In your opinion, of these writers, who is the greatest? What I mean is,

1. Who had a lasting impact?
2. Whose literature is most talked about?
3. Who had the greatest influence?
I voted for Henry James.
James contributed to American literature, but he also influenced how literary critics, writers and readers look at literature.
What makes a story effective.
His works are still talked about.

Now my favorite author is Nathaniel Hawthorne, and though his impact and influence are undeniable, I haven't heard very much in the way of talk about him.
He deserves more attention, particularly because his moral and psychological perceptions are still valid today.
Sep 2015
Voted for Melville. Other posters have cited some absence post-WWII names - Heller, Pynchon, Gaddis, Updike, Roth, Ellison, Cheever, Morrison, DeLillo, Wallace, Wright, Barth, Oates, Salinger and Vonnegut. There's also the poet William Carlos Williams and TS Eliot was an American as well, although I don't think most people view him that way. Thomas Wolfe would be another good addition.

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