Are These America's 25 Most Important Writers?

There are a million ways to rank authors, as anyone who has spent any time on this website can surely attest. But here’s one that has us reflecting on the state of the American literary canon in a new way. Over at Commentary Magazine, D.G. Myers has ranked American writers based on the MLA International Bibliography’s account of the amount of scholarship on them. And, perhaps more interestingly, he’s tracked the changes since the last listing.

In the last 25 years, Henry James overcame William Faulkner as the headliner in our collective academic heraldry, Vladimir Nabokov and Toni Morrison have both shot up the charts, and Hawthorne, Thoreau, Frost and Twain seem to be fading fast. Of course, as Myers points out, this isn’t a popularity contest, per se. The list reflects “the professional commitments, the devotion of time and energy, on the part of literary scholars. These are the writers who are principally taught in university English departments around the country, the writers who are being handed down to the next generation.” Click through to see Myers’ list, with the bracketed numbers reflecting changes since 1947, and let us know if you think this reflects the American canon in the comments.

1. Henry James (3,188 items) [+1]
2. William Faulkner (2,955) [-1]
3. T. S. Eliot (2,659) [+1]
4. Herman Melville (2,579) [-1]
5. Vladimir Nabokov (2,290) [+5]
6. Ernest Hemingway (2,220) [-0-]
7. Edgar Allan Poe (1,958) [-2]
8. Toni Morrison (1,950) [+9]
9. Nathaniel Hawthorne (1,751) [-4]
10. Walt Whitman (1,647) [-2]
11. Emily Dickinson (1,623) [+2]
12. Ezra Pound (1,620) [-3]
13. Willa Cather (1,482) [+5]
14. Ralph Waldo Emerson (1,326) [-3]
15. Wallace Stevens (1,122) [-1]
16. Edith Wharton (1,087) [+5]
17. Henry David Thoreau (1,076) [-5]
18. F. Scott Fitzgerald (1,002) [-3]
19. Flannery O’Connor (935) [+3]
20. Mark Twain (882) [-4]
21. John Steinbeck (823) [+2]
22. William Carlos Williams (772) [-0-]
23. Saul Bellow (706) [+2]
24. Richard Wright (670) [+2]
25. Robert Frost (661) [-5]

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