September 6th, 2009 / 5:12 pm
Massive People

15 ‘Towering Literary Artists’ Who Are Still Alive

By request, a list of 15 living writers who I would consider ‘towering literary artists,’ even though that phrase itself comes with the baggage of being a little silly, but still. These men and women all spit fire line by line, and have been doing so for many years, and continue to do so, as we speak.

This list, of course, is somewhat arbitrary in its compiling, as I just jotted down the first 15 towers that occurred to me, and there are many others that could have, should have appeared on this list, a list that likely could go to at least 30, maybe 50, and especially had I included authors with smaller yet still growing bodies of work. Here I stuck to people who mostly have published at least 8 books so far (I think here only one of them has less than that) (and if I opened beyond that this list would be easily twice as long right off the bat), and with a dearth of poets as I am not quite as done up in that area as in fiction, and therefore this list also clearly reflects my taste more than would a neutral and objective list of towering authors (i.e. a lot of people would easily switch out Lish for, say, John Ashbery, etc., or perhaps Diane Williams for J.M. Coetzee or Cynthia Ozick or John Barth): this therefore is more those who I feel towering among my own mind, in my history, but who also clearly have made their mark across the world at large. Feel free to comment and let me know all of those I left out, or make your own list, etc.

David Markson
bw080925David_Markson480x172

William Gass
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Thomas Pynchon
thomas_pynchon-1

Amy Hempel
hempel

Dennis Cooper
cooper

William T. Vollmann
vollmann

Cormac McCarthy
Cormac_1_DW_Kultur__217948g

Jose Saramago
saramago

Gordon Lish
Gordon Lish

Barry Hannah
hannah1

Brian Evensonevenson

Robert Coover
coover

Nicholson Baker
Baker_Nicholson_400._V9697858_

Diane Williams
dianewilliamsmedium

Don Delillo
don_delillo

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416 Comments

  1. Ken Baumann

      Where the hell is Bolaño???

      :)

  2. Ken Baumann

      Where the hell is Bolaño???

      :)

  3. Blake Butler

      haha

  4. Blake Butler

      haha

  5. Ken Baumann
  6. Ken Baumann
  7. Dennis Cooper

      Pierre Guyotat
      James McCourt
      John Ashbery
      ….

  8. Dennis Cooper

      Pierre Guyotat
      James McCourt
      John Ashbery
      ….

  9. jeff

      Joan Didion
      Peter Handke
      Gabriel Garcia Marquez
      J.G. Ballard, if he had lasted a few months longer

      if you open things up to theater: Caryl Churchill, Richard Foreman, Wallace Shawn, etc.

      spuriously: I have a good feeling about Cesar Aira based on the three novels I’ve read – 50 more await translation and apparently New Directions is stepping up to the plate on a number of them.

  10. jeff

      Joan Didion
      Peter Handke
      Gabriel Garcia Marquez
      J.G. Ballard, if he had lasted a few months longer

      if you open things up to theater: Caryl Churchill, Richard Foreman, Wallace Shawn, etc.

      spuriously: I have a good feeling about Cesar Aira based on the three novels I’ve read – 50 more await translation and apparently New Directions is stepping up to the plate on a number of them.

  11. Ken Baumann

      Oh. Damn. I definitely agree with Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

  12. Ken Baumann

      Oh. Damn. I definitely agree with Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

  13. evelyn

      …”a neutral and objective list of towering authors”…

      I’m wondering how that could be done, especially once the word “towering” is included. Authors most people agree are really tall?

  14. evelyn

      …”a neutral and objective list of towering authors”…

      I’m wondering how that could be done, especially once the word “towering” is included. Authors most people agree are really tall?

  15. Lincoln

      Good list. Most of the people that pooped into my mind when I saw this post (Willam Gass, Diane Williams, Vollmann, Cormac McCarthy, Barry Hannah etc.) are all here.

      A few people like Evenson I think are not quite “towering” figures, though they are on that trajectory. Need a few more years/books I think.

  16. Lincoln

      Good list. Most of the people that pooped into my mind when I saw this post (Willam Gass, Diane Williams, Vollmann, Cormac McCarthy, Barry Hannah etc.) are all here.

      A few people like Evenson I think are not quite “towering” figures, though they are on that trajectory. Need a few more years/books I think.

  17. Michael Schaub

      Definitely with you on Didion and Handke.

  18. Michael Schaub

      Definitely with you on Didion and Handke.

  19. blake

      for some reason i thought he was dead. whoops.

  20. blake

      for some reason i thought he was dead. whoops.

  21. blake

      i thought about Didion, she was close for me. Handke, eh, hrm

  22. blake

      i thought about Didion, she was close for me. Handke, eh, hrm

  23. blake

      Stephen Dixon and Anne Carson both should be here too, dang

  24. Lincoln

      I might nominate Saunders. He doesn’t have that many books, but he seems destined to be a central short story figure imitated to death ala a Raymond Carver.

  25. blake

      Stephen Dixon and Anne Carson both should be here too, dang

  26. Lincoln

      I might nominate Saunders. He doesn’t have that many books, but he seems destined to be a central short story figure imitated to death ala a Raymond Carver.

  27. Blake Butler

      ;)

  28. Blake Butler

      ;)

  29. Michael Schaub

      This is great, by the way. Awesome to see Hempel and Cooper on there. If I had to supplement:

      Mary Robison
      Galway Kinnell
      Salman Rushdie (I know)
      Philip Roth (I know, I know)
      Deborah Eisenberg
      Kenzaburo Oe

      But shit, I don’t know.

  30. Michael Schaub

      This is great, by the way. Awesome to see Hempel and Cooper on there. If I had to supplement:

      Mary Robison
      Galway Kinnell
      Salman Rushdie (I know)
      Philip Roth (I know, I know)
      Deborah Eisenberg
      Kenzaburo Oe

      But shit, I don’t know.

  31. Rawbbie

      Charles Simic

  32. Rawbbie

      Charles Simic

  33. Lincoln

      good call

  34. Lincoln

      good call

  35. jh

      It seems to me, having read just about all of Roth and 1 book of Rushdie’s (for good reason), that they are pretty far apart, in terms of doing interesting things with language. So why the doubled ‘I know’? Have you read the last 30 pages of ‘Everyman’? If not, you should.

  36. jh

      It seems to me, having read just about all of Roth and 1 book of Rushdie’s (for good reason), that they are pretty far apart, in terms of doing interesting things with language. So why the doubled ‘I know’? Have you read the last 30 pages of ‘Everyman’? If not, you should.

  37. Michael Schaub

      Oh, the “I know” thing — a lot of the times I’ve mentioned loving Roth and Rushdie (in other venues, not this one), I’ve gotten eyerolls or glares, or the Internet versions of those. That was just my way of being all “de gustibus non est disputandum” because I’ve lost the will to engage in another argument about Roth being a misogynist or Rushdie being anti-Muslim or conservative or whatever other bullshit attack those dudes get on a regular basis. The double “I know” was arbitrary. That’s just how I roll: passive-aggressively and uncarefully. Whatever.

      I’ve read “Everyman,” yeah, and loved it; I actually like Roth a little better than Rushdie, but it’s really close for me. Which Rushdie did you read? Just for my own part, I can’t recall anything he’s done that’s linguistically uninteresting. All a matter of taste, of course, I’m just curious.

  38. Where Have All The Literary Towers Gone? | Fiction

      […] out of that discussion, htmlgiant editor Blake Butler posted a list of 15 ‘Towering Literary Artists’ Who Are Still Alive. His list includes many of the people I would name myself (Barrry Hannah, Cormac McCarthy, Diane […]

  39. Michael Schaub

      Oh, the “I know” thing — a lot of the times I’ve mentioned loving Roth and Rushdie (in other venues, not this one), I’ve gotten eyerolls or glares, or the Internet versions of those. That was just my way of being all “de gustibus non est disputandum” because I’ve lost the will to engage in another argument about Roth being a misogynist or Rushdie being anti-Muslim or conservative or whatever other bullshit attack those dudes get on a regular basis. The double “I know” was arbitrary. That’s just how I roll: passive-aggressively and uncarefully. Whatever.

      I’ve read “Everyman,” yeah, and loved it; I actually like Roth a little better than Rushdie, but it’s really close for me. Which Rushdie did you read? Just for my own part, I can’t recall anything he’s done that’s linguistically uninteresting. All a matter of taste, of course, I’m just curious.

  40. Kyle Minor

      I don’t think anybody should apologize for liking Roth. As a body of work, his is about as aesthetically broad as any writer we’ve ever had. And on grounds of ambition, he’s unmatched. Also, almost everything he has written is intertextually connected in a very interesting and intentional way. Also, he doesn’t even start writing his best books until he’s in his sixties. Also, his late work is in conversation with Shakespeare, Turgenev, and Joseph Conrad in ways I haven’t yet seen any critics write about, except maybe a wink or two from Hermione Lee or Frank Kermode. Also, he produced Sabbath’s Theater and American Pastoral, his two best books, back to back, and they are quite nearly opposites, even as they are (intentionally it seems) complementary. Also, his work as a whole is the synthesis of modernism, postmodernism, and the 19th century realist traditions, with not a little bit of the Greek dramatic mode and the Jewish mythic mode informing all of it. The eye-rolling, for all I can tell, is an affectation posed by readers who haven’t done the work of reading a lot of Roth and letting him teach the reader how to read it, which maybe isn’t the reader’s obligation, except that all the eye-rolling seems to come from champions of difficulty and readerly obligation toward the difficult. There are aspects of Roth that are challenging, even though the surfaces are so immensely sleek and pleasurable. I don’t see how these are problems, though.

  41. Kyle Minor

      I don’t think anybody should apologize for liking Roth. As a body of work, his is about as aesthetically broad as any writer we’ve ever had. And on grounds of ambition, he’s unmatched. Also, almost everything he has written is intertextually connected in a very interesting and intentional way. Also, he doesn’t even start writing his best books until he’s in his sixties. Also, his late work is in conversation with Shakespeare, Turgenev, and Joseph Conrad in ways I haven’t yet seen any critics write about, except maybe a wink or two from Hermione Lee or Frank Kermode. Also, he produced Sabbath’s Theater and American Pastoral, his two best books, back to back, and they are quite nearly opposites, even as they are (intentionally it seems) complementary. Also, his work as a whole is the synthesis of modernism, postmodernism, and the 19th century realist traditions, with not a little bit of the Greek dramatic mode and the Jewish mythic mode informing all of it. The eye-rolling, for all I can tell, is an affectation posed by readers who haven’t done the work of reading a lot of Roth and letting him teach the reader how to read it, which maybe isn’t the reader’s obligation, except that all the eye-rolling seems to come from champions of difficulty and readerly obligation toward the difficult. There are aspects of Roth that are challenging, even though the surfaces are so immensely sleek and pleasurable. I don’t see how these are problems, though.

  42. alan

      Harry Mathews
      Mary Gaitskill
      Eileen Myles

      …Bob Dylan

  43. alan

      Harry Mathews
      Mary Gaitskill
      Eileen Myles

      …Bob Dylan

  44. alan

      Hey, where the fuck is Salinger?

  45. alan

      Hey, where the fuck is Salinger?

  46. Rauan

      i didn’t realize those guys were all so tall

  47. Rauan

      i didn’t realize those guys were all so tall

  48. Rauan

      ah, no

  49. Rauan

      ah, no

  50. Shya

      I’m certainly glad to see that white people seem to be holding their own for you, Blake.

  51. Shya

      I’m certainly glad to see that white people seem to be holding their own for you, Blake.

  52. Blake Butler

      oh, me.

      i’m a racist, didn’t you hear?

  53. Blake Butler

      oh, me.

      i’m a racist, didn’t you hear?

  54. Shya

      Not calling you a racist. You just haven’t pushed too far out of your cultural inheritance, is all. Not blaming you, really, either. It’s hard to do, especially with a local (meaning, U.S.) literary scene that doesn’t go too far out of its way to push translations.

  55. Shya

      Not calling you a racist. You just haven’t pushed too far out of your cultural inheritance, is all. Not blaming you, really, either. It’s hard to do, especially with a local (meaning, U.S.) literary scene that doesn’t go too far out of its way to push translations.

  56. Blake Butler

      who would you suggest that fits the definition and that i missed?

  57. Blake Butler

      who would you suggest that fits the definition and that i missed?

  58. christian

      Harry Mathews, yes!

      Though definitely an interesting list already.

  59. Kyle Minor

      Some possible international towering types, still living (too bad Solzhenitsyn is not with us anymore!):

      Milan Kundera (Unbearable Lightness of Being and The Book of Laughter and Forgetting)
      Wislawa Szymborska (single poems containing ambition to rival Joyce, and dozens of them)
      Kenzaburo Oe (body of work and also Somersault)
      Gunter Grass (lies and all)
      Halldor Laxness (is he still alive?)

      Also, while we’re talking Americans, I think that the huge ambition of Chris Adrian is not often enough remarked upon, particularly in books such as The Children’s Hospital. Also, his moral project, which he pursues at great personal cost (he’s a theologian-in-training at divinity school, a practicing pediatrician, an Iowa MFA, a Civil War novelist, a latter day Stanley Elkin but with less fucking around, a first-rate story writer, and a writer of 600 page novels) is decidedly 19th century even as it is decidedly 21st century. Also, he has balls enough to choose a “recording angel” as narrator for his last sprawling novel.

      Other young American candidates for future toweringness:

      Justin Tussing
      Brady Udall
      Ron Rash
      James Yeh

      And I wouldn’t put it past Jeffrey Eugenides or Tim O’Brien or David Benioff or Katherine Dunn to stun with their next novels.

  60. christian

      Harry Mathews, yes!

      Though definitely an interesting list already.

  61. Kyle Minor

      Some possible international towering types, still living (too bad Solzhenitsyn is not with us anymore!):

      Milan Kundera (Unbearable Lightness of Being and The Book of Laughter and Forgetting)
      Wislawa Szymborska (single poems containing ambition to rival Joyce, and dozens of them)
      Kenzaburo Oe (body of work and also Somersault)
      Gunter Grass (lies and all)
      Halldor Laxness (is he still alive?)

      Also, while we’re talking Americans, I think that the huge ambition of Chris Adrian is not often enough remarked upon, particularly in books such as The Children’s Hospital. Also, his moral project, which he pursues at great personal cost (he’s a theologian-in-training at divinity school, a practicing pediatrician, an Iowa MFA, a Civil War novelist, a latter day Stanley Elkin but with less fucking around, a first-rate story writer, and a writer of 600 page novels) is decidedly 19th century even as it is decidedly 21st century. Also, he has balls enough to choose a “recording angel” as narrator for his last sprawling novel.

      Other young American candidates for future toweringness:

      Justin Tussing
      Brady Udall
      Ron Rash
      James Yeh

      And I wouldn’t put it past Jeffrey Eugenides or Tim O’Brien or David Benioff or Katherine Dunn to stun with their next novels.

  62. Shya

      Well, I didn’t say I wasn’t in the same boat, but just off the top of my head:
      Rushdie
      Morrison
      Achebe
      Wideman

      Even Murikami I’d throw up before a few on your list, which I think is guilty of a little redundancy. Hannah and Hempel, for instance, though, sure, seem quite different now, will, I imagine, be fighting for a common slot in 100 years. Much of the Lish continuum, of which your list boasts an inordinate amount of authors, will over time be seen as variations on a theme, some of them essential, some of them less so. It’s difficult to call, however, this soon after the event of their publication/influence.

  63. Shya

      Well, I didn’t say I wasn’t in the same boat, but just off the top of my head:
      Rushdie
      Morrison
      Achebe
      Wideman

      Even Murikami I’d throw up before a few on your list, which I think is guilty of a little redundancy. Hannah and Hempel, for instance, though, sure, seem quite different now, will, I imagine, be fighting for a common slot in 100 years. Much of the Lish continuum, of which your list boasts an inordinate amount of authors, will over time be seen as variations on a theme, some of them essential, some of them less so. It’s difficult to call, however, this soon after the event of their publication/influence.

  64. Blake Butler

      I read a lot of translation, but there aren’t a ton in English who fit my definition here. It indeed is a symptom of poor translation habits, but I wouldn’t call that my ‘cultural inheritance’ anymore than any other’s.

  65. Blake Butler

      I read a lot of translation, but there aren’t a ton in English who fit my definition here. It indeed is a symptom of poor translation habits, but I wouldn’t call that my ‘cultural inheritance’ anymore than any other’s.

  66. jeff

      Surprised nobody’s mentioned Toni Morrison yet.

      Not always a fave of mine, but a good candidate for the towering category nonetheless.

  67. jeff

      Surprised nobody’s mentioned Toni Morrison yet.

      Not always a fave of mine, but a good candidate for the towering category nonetheless.

  68. Blake Butler

      calling Hannah and Hempel on the same slot seems kind of way off to me. can’t agree there at all. the list is lish heavy for sure, but i could make an argument for all of them being their own bag, and vital in completely different ways.

      wish I could say I dig Murakami enough to include him but the three books of his I’ve read were nothing more than OK.

      Marquez should have definitely been on there but I thought he was dead.

      Rushdie is on the cusp for me, he has too many mediocre books to battle off his legacy, but he’s a close call.

  69. Kyle Minor

      I think she makes the list for Beloved alone, and though she surely doesn’t lack for ambition, the late novels aren’t quite so powerful as the early ones. It’s the Faulkner “Fable” move — once the writer discovers he or she has something to say, he or she loses the ability to say it with any power anymore. That’s not always how it works out, but her career sure does have some interesting parallels with his, and it seems likely to me that he is one of her models and also a writer she pushes back at.

  70. jeff t johnson

      Good list, Blake. Nice photos, too. I’d add Stephen Wright (doesn’t have 8 books, but each of his is worth at least two of most other living writers), Denis Johnson and Samuel Delany (if only for the monumental Dhalgren). I’d also clutter my own list with poets like John Ashbery, John Koethe, Brenda Hillman, CD Wright, Michael Palmer, Albert Goldbarth…

      And I wish DFW could be on this list.

      I have no problem with your inclusion of Evenson. He’s got that bigness and inclusion (by which I mean the scope of his literary universe) to his writing that should be a prereq for folks on this list.

      I like your balance of personal preference with the big picture, though you of course skew toward your experience (men, English language writers, Caucasians, fiction writers). Bottom line is I was excited to see this post (cracked a beer before digging in) because I know you’re a serious reader, and I wasn’t disappointed.

      Read on!

  71. Blake Butler

      calling Hannah and Hempel on the same slot seems kind of way off to me. can’t agree there at all. the list is lish heavy for sure, but i could make an argument for all of them being their own bag, and vital in completely different ways.

      wish I could say I dig Murakami enough to include him but the three books of his I’ve read were nothing more than OK.

      Marquez should have definitely been on there but I thought he was dead.

      Rushdie is on the cusp for me, he has too many mediocre books to battle off his legacy, but he’s a close call.

  72. Kyle Minor

      I think she makes the list for Beloved alone, and though she surely doesn’t lack for ambition, the late novels aren’t quite so powerful as the early ones. It’s the Faulkner “Fable” move — once the writer discovers he or she has something to say, he or she loses the ability to say it with any power anymore. That’s not always how it works out, but her career sure does have some interesting parallels with his, and it seems likely to me that he is one of her models and also a writer she pushes back at.

  73. jeff t johnson

      Good list, Blake. Nice photos, too. I’d add Stephen Wright (doesn’t have 8 books, but each of his is worth at least two of most other living writers), Denis Johnson and Samuel Delany (if only for the monumental Dhalgren). I’d also clutter my own list with poets like John Ashbery, John Koethe, Brenda Hillman, CD Wright, Michael Palmer, Albert Goldbarth…

      And I wish DFW could be on this list.

      I have no problem with your inclusion of Evenson. He’s got that bigness and inclusion (by which I mean the scope of his literary universe) to his writing that should be a prereq for folks on this list.

      I like your balance of personal preference with the big picture, though you of course skew toward your experience (men, English language writers, Caucasians, fiction writers). Bottom line is I was excited to see this post (cracked a beer before digging in) because I know you’re a serious reader, and I wasn’t disappointed.

      Read on!

  74. lorian

      haha. my first thought: shit white people like.

      good move on vollmann, though. anyone read (or bench pressed) imperial? best book since 2666.

      and where is denis johnson?!

  75. Blake Butler

      yeah i was going for ‘body of work’ over ‘1 great novel’. and honestly, Beloved I don’t think holds its water.

  76. lorian

      haha. my first thought: shit white people like.

      good move on vollmann, though. anyone read (or bench pressed) imperial? best book since 2666.

      and where is denis johnson?!

  77. Blake Butler

      yeah i was going for ‘body of work’ over ‘1 great novel’. and honestly, Beloved I don’t think holds its water.

  78. Blake Butler

      it really hurt me that dfw wasn’t there. really hurt. i stared for a good 5 minutes.

  79. Blake Butler

      it really hurt me that dfw wasn’t there. really hurt. i stared for a good 5 minutes.

  80. Blake Butler

      i think you’re reaching

  81. Lincoln

      I agree that you gotta look at body of work, not one novel.

  82. Blake Butler

      i think you’re reaching

  83. Lincoln

      I agree that you gotta look at body of work, not one novel.

  84. lorian

      ron rash is a good friend of mine. think it’s “sweet” that you’ve got him on your future list, kyle minor.

  85. lorian

      ron rash is a good friend of mine. think it’s “sweet” that you’ve got him on your future list, kyle minor.

  86. Kyle Minor

      It’s interesting how these kinds of conversation are subjective not only among writers, but also within one’s own self. Since you posted this thread, I’ve felt six different ways about the same writers and books in response to the same question. I also notice that when I reread books I consider to be great, the same kinds of slippage creeps in.

      One thing I like, though, is that among the people who post here, these things seem really to matter — to matter and matter and matter. That’s one thing that a lot of cultural commentators say is going away. I don’t think the mattering ever goes entirely away, because the ways in which words on a page can manufacture sensation significant enough to matter aren’t matched or even approximated by any other form but the written word.

  87. Blake Butler

      denis johnson is overrated.

      worrying about race is also overrated.

  88. Kyle Minor

      It’s interesting how these kinds of conversation are subjective not only among writers, but also within one’s own self. Since you posted this thread, I’ve felt six different ways about the same writers and books in response to the same question. I also notice that when I reread books I consider to be great, the same kinds of slippage creeps in.

      One thing I like, though, is that among the people who post here, these things seem really to matter — to matter and matter and matter. That’s one thing that a lot of cultural commentators say is going away. I don’t think the mattering ever goes entirely away, because the ways in which words on a page can manufacture sensation significant enough to matter aren’t matched or even approximated by any other form but the written word.

  89. Blake Butler

      denis johnson is overrated.

      worrying about race is also overrated.

  90. Kyle Minor

      Lorian,

      I didn’t mean to be sweet. I just meant to acknowledge the growth book to book and the steady uptick in ambition, most recently by way of Serena. Here we see a writer growing formidable. Whatever’s next I predict will be fearsome.

  91. Shya

      I don’t know, Blake. I think that one of the foremost ways to become a “towering” figure in any medium, is to have created a body of work that remains, despite contributing “better” and “worse” additions to it over time, unique and indeed inspires a host of derivative work. So one of the ways to predict who will attain that status, is to look at the work of people influenced by these artists. Which is why Rushdie and Morrison and Achebe most certainly deserve places on the list. Hannah and Hempel produce different work, but those people who are influenced by them, I would argue, do not. So they will inevitably bleed together in the long run.

  92. Kyle Minor

      Lorian,

      I didn’t mean to be sweet. I just meant to acknowledge the growth book to book and the steady uptick in ambition, most recently by way of Serena. Here we see a writer growing formidable. Whatever’s next I predict will be fearsome.

  93. Shya

      I don’t know, Blake. I think that one of the foremost ways to become a “towering” figure in any medium, is to have created a body of work that remains, despite contributing “better” and “worse” additions to it over time, unique and indeed inspires a host of derivative work. So one of the ways to predict who will attain that status, is to look at the work of people influenced by these artists. Which is why Rushdie and Morrison and Achebe most certainly deserve places on the list. Hannah and Hempel produce different work, but those people who are influenced by them, I would argue, do not. So they will inevitably bleed together in the long run.

  94. Blake Butler

      i guess we disagree

  95. Blake Butler

      i guess we disagree

  96. Michael Schaub

      Word on Laxness. He’s dead, though, unfortunately.

  97. Ken Baumann

      Kyle: First off, lemme just thank you for commenting on threads like these. Really smart and elegant perspectives, and honest, and well stated; not affected, offensive, etc. Kudos to you, sir.

      Also: ‘I also notice that when I reread books I consider to be great, the same kinds of slippage creeps in.’ Yes! Damn. Sad but true, that that first sensual experience can’t be replicated, and maybe because of that feeling of loss we begin to see flaws in the text.(?) Am I making myself clear? The lack of the possibility for emotional journey prompts us to want to find flaw? Maybe?

      And I don’t know. I’ve seen people get really worked up about movies. :)

  98. Michael Schaub

      Word on Laxness. He’s dead, though, unfortunately.

  99. Ken Baumann

      Kyle: First off, lemme just thank you for commenting on threads like these. Really smart and elegant perspectives, and honest, and well stated; not affected, offensive, etc. Kudos to you, sir.

      Also: ‘I also notice that when I reread books I consider to be great, the same kinds of slippage creeps in.’ Yes! Damn. Sad but true, that that first sensual experience can’t be replicated, and maybe because of that feeling of loss we begin to see flaws in the text.(?) Am I making myself clear? The lack of the possibility for emotional journey prompts us to want to find flaw? Maybe?

      And I don’t know. I’ve seen people get really worked up about movies. :)

  100. Shya

      indeed. let’s revisit the issue in 100 years.

  101. Shya

      indeed. let’s revisit the issue in 100 years.

  102. reynard seifert

      i heart you, blakester

  103. reynard seifert

      i heart you, blakester

  104. Blake Butler

      “I don’t know, Blake. I think that one of the foremost ways to become a “towering” figure in any medium, is to have created a body of work that remains, despite contributing “better” and “worse” additions to it over time, unique and indeed inspires a host of derivative work.”

      hmm. i think you just elected Stephen King to this list.

      i actually feel ok about that.

      but that logic is baffling. ‘good and bad stuff, as long as there’s a bunch of it, and people look at it.’

      naw

  105. Blake Butler

      “I don’t know, Blake. I think that one of the foremost ways to become a “towering” figure in any medium, is to have created a body of work that remains, despite contributing “better” and “worse” additions to it over time, unique and indeed inspires a host of derivative work.”

      hmm. i think you just elected Stephen King to this list.

      i actually feel ok about that.

      but that logic is baffling. ‘good and bad stuff, as long as there’s a bunch of it, and people look at it.’

      naw

  106. Lincoln

      Shya

      So one of the ways to predict who will attain that status, is to look at the work of people influenced by these artists. Which is why Rushdie and Morrison and Achebe most certainly deserve places on the list. Hannah and Hempel produce different work, but those people who are influenced by them, I would argue, do not.

      Could you elaborate on this? Not arguing for or against the inclusion of those authors, but I do not see how Morrison or Rushdie have spawned diverse followers while Hempel and Hannah have not. Who are the influenced writers you are thinking of?

  107. Lincoln

      Shya

      So one of the ways to predict who will attain that status, is to look at the work of people influenced by these artists. Which is why Rushdie and Morrison and Achebe most certainly deserve places on the list. Hannah and Hempel produce different work, but those people who are influenced by them, I would argue, do not.

      Could you elaborate on this? Not arguing for or against the inclusion of those authors, but I do not see how Morrison or Rushdie have spawned diverse followers while Hempel and Hannah have not. Who are the influenced writers you are thinking of?

  108. Ken Baumann

      Shya:

      I don’t want to start a fight here, but would you say you’ve ‘pushed … far out of your cultural inheritance’?

  109. Shya

      denis johnson may be overrated, but jesus’ son is better than any book lish, cooper, hempel, or evenson has written. he may not do it again, but that one time he did was superlative.

  110. Ken Baumann

      Shya:

      I don’t want to start a fight here, but would you say you’ve ‘pushed … far out of your cultural inheritance’?

  111. Shya

      denis johnson may be overrated, but jesus’ son is better than any book lish, cooper, hempel, or evenson has written. he may not do it again, but that one time he did was superlative.

  112. Blake Butler

      jesus’ son might be the most overrated book of all time

  113. Blake Butler

      jesus’ son might be the most overrated book of all time

  114. Shya

      Ken: absolutely not. I said as much above. But the first part of gaining a global perspective is admitting where your own perspective is myopic.

  115. Lincoln

      The race issue is always a hard one, but I feel here the international scope is maybe more of a problem. Blake should probably have swapped out Saramago for someone and just made it a list of American towering figures.

      THen again, I don’t think Blake was pretending to be definitive.

  116. Shya

      Ken: absolutely not. I said as much above. But the first part of gaining a global perspective is admitting where your own perspective is myopic.

  117. Lincoln

      The race issue is always a hard one, but I feel here the international scope is maybe more of a problem. Blake should probably have swapped out Saramago for someone and just made it a list of American towering figures.

      THen again, I don’t think Blake was pretending to be definitive.

  118. Blake Butler

      i dunno, dude. 75% of what i read this year was work in translation. that doesn’t mean i am going to force people onto a list just to ‘balance it out’. it was just a list. and it is indeed sad that more work is not put into translation, but again, i don’t think that is symptomatic of me, as much as it is symptomatic of american publishing.

      dalkey is god in this consideration.

  119. Blake Butler

      i dunno, dude. 75% of what i read this year was work in translation. that doesn’t mean i am going to force people onto a list just to ‘balance it out’. it was just a list. and it is indeed sad that more work is not put into translation, but again, i don’t think that is symptomatic of me, as much as it is symptomatic of american publishing.

      dalkey is god in this consideration.

  120. Blake Butler

      sigh

  121. Blake Butler

      sigh

  122. jeff t johnson

      jesus’ son (which i like) might be overrated, but other dj books (resuscitation of a hanged man, tree of smoke) are probably underrated (i say that even tho tree of smoke won the ntional book award; i think it’s one of the most remarkable books i’ve read in the past ten years).

  123. jeff t johnson

      jesus’ son (which i like) might be overrated, but other dj books (resuscitation of a hanged man, tree of smoke) are probably underrated (i say that even tho tree of smoke won the ntional book award; i think it’s one of the most remarkable books i’ve read in the past ten years).

  124. Ken Baumann

      For you is there an ethical imperative to try to gain a ‘global perspective’? Do you really think one can gain a global perspective in one’s lifetime, especially through reading words, in English, on paper? Aren’t great stories all markedly similar in that they all contain what is sort of monomythical and older than written language/destroy the cultural barriers by way of emotional transference, that is to say: isn’t the recognition of great story a recognition of the uselessness of even acknowledging cultural difference? Do you claim to know that your view is myopic, but claim that Blake does not know that his view is myopic?

      ‘But the first part of gaining a global perspective is admitting where your own perspective is myopic.’ That sounds like AA.

  125. Ken Baumann

      For you is there an ethical imperative to try to gain a ‘global perspective’? Do you really think one can gain a global perspective in one’s lifetime, especially through reading words, in English, on paper? Aren’t great stories all markedly similar in that they all contain what is sort of monomythical and older than written language/destroy the cultural barriers by way of emotional transference, that is to say: isn’t the recognition of great story a recognition of the uselessness of even acknowledging cultural difference? Do you claim to know that your view is myopic, but claim that Blake does not know that his view is myopic?

      ‘But the first part of gaining a global perspective is admitting where your own perspective is myopic.’ That sounds like AA.

  126. Shya

      you might be right, blake (though i’m slowly learning that you’re interested, often, simply in being argumentative). i only know what work has a profound impact on me, and that book hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks. those other authors i cited above have written great stories, passages, books, and have certainly contributed greatly to my own literary sensibility, but no one thing they’ve written has had such an impact.

      which leads to a slightly different conversation: i expect the feeling i describe above is not uncommon. one must, i expect, when attempting to arrive at the definition of “towering”, eventually contend with the relationship between common sensibility and personal perspective. one could very easily love an author while admitting that they’re never become a towering literary figure.

  127. Shya

      you might be right, blake (though i’m slowly learning that you’re interested, often, simply in being argumentative). i only know what work has a profound impact on me, and that book hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks. those other authors i cited above have written great stories, passages, books, and have certainly contributed greatly to my own literary sensibility, but no one thing they’ve written has had such an impact.

      which leads to a slightly different conversation: i expect the feeling i describe above is not uncommon. one must, i expect, when attempting to arrive at the definition of “towering”, eventually contend with the relationship between common sensibility and personal perspective. one could very easily love an author while admitting that they’re never become a towering literary figure.

  128. Ken Baumann

      ‘Blake should probably have swapped out Saramago for someone and just made it a list of American towering figures.’

  129. Ken Baumann

      ‘Blake should probably have swapped out Saramago for someone and just made it a list of American towering figures.’

  130. Blake Butler

      shya just called me argumentative

  131. Blake Butler

      shya just called me argumentative

  132. Shya

      Blake: I do think it’s symptomatic of american publishing, which is why I said I didn’t blame you.

      Ken: if you don’t think there’s a point to recognizing cultural difference when accounting for aesthetic taste, you’re definitely a product of exactly the kind of myopia I’m referring to, my friend.

  133. Shya

      Blake: I do think it’s symptomatic of american publishing, which is why I said I didn’t blame you.

      Ken: if you don’t think there’s a point to recognizing cultural difference when accounting for aesthetic taste, you’re definitely a product of exactly the kind of myopia I’m referring to, my friend.

  134. Molly Gaudry

      The Ground Beneath Her Feet is linguistic lovemaking. I’ve always appreciated that this was the first Rushdie novel I read. From there to Midnight’s Children and then Haroun and the Sea of Stories. I will be grateful forever that this was the order of my introduction to his work.

  135. Molly Gaudry

      The Ground Beneath Her Feet is linguistic lovemaking. I’ve always appreciated that this was the first Rushdie novel I read. From there to Midnight’s Children and then Haroun and the Sea of Stories. I will be grateful forever that this was the order of my introduction to his work.

  136. Molly Gaudry

      I’m with Kyle on Szymborska and Oe. Yes yes yes!

  137. Molly Gaudry

      I’m with Kyle on Szymborska and Oe. Yes yes yes!

  138. Ken Baumann

      You didn’t answer any of my questions.

      As mutual sufferers from that myopia, what have you done lately to try and push out of your cultural inheritance? Other than reading books.

  139. Ken Baumann

      You didn’t answer any of my questions.

      As mutual sufferers from that myopia, what have you done lately to try and push out of your cultural inheritance? Other than reading books.

  140. Ken Baumann

      Also, Shya: ‘Ken: if you don’t think there’s a point to recognizing cultural difference when accounting for aesthetic taste, you’re definitely a product of exactly the kind of myopia I’m referring to, my friend.’

      Does anyone else read this and feel a tone of snootiness? Intellectual superiority? Do you feel superior when you type that, Shya?

      These are questions.

  141. Ken Baumann

      Also, Shya: ‘Ken: if you don’t think there’s a point to recognizing cultural difference when accounting for aesthetic taste, you’re definitely a product of exactly the kind of myopia I’m referring to, my friend.’

      Does anyone else read this and feel a tone of snootiness? Intellectual superiority? Do you feel superior when you type that, Shya?

      These are questions.

  142. jh

      In the treehouse with Stevenson and Carroll, where he belongs.

  143. jh

      In the treehouse with Stevenson and Carroll, where he belongs.

  144. Ken Baumann

      Also, all questions I have asked are Yes or No questions, at minimum of course.

  145. Ken Baumann

      Also, all questions I have asked are Yes or No questions, at minimum of course.

  146. Dan Wickett

      Not saying this because it adds to the color factor, he’s truly one of my by far favorite authors – I don’t see Percival Everett’s name anywhere among the 70 (current number) comments and think he needs to be added.

      And I was wondering what Lincoln just asked, Shya – what writers were you thinking of that Rushdie and Morrison have inspired – and not really to be argumentative, but because I really don’t know who they might have inspired and am always looking for more books to add to that piles around here that may never get read.

      Another name I’ve not seen (though I read these comments pretty quickly) is J.C. Oates. Just wondering what the thoughts of this group of readers are? For a time in the late 80’s I was keeping up with her output and enjoying most of it, not really sure when that fell by the wayside for me, but she certainly tackles different styles, different themes, different forms, etc.

      And agree with Kyle that Ron Rash continues to improve, and he started off pretty well to begin with, and I greatly look forward to seeing what’s after Serena and his last story collection.

  147. Dan Wickett

      Not saying this because it adds to the color factor, he’s truly one of my by far favorite authors – I don’t see Percival Everett’s name anywhere among the 70 (current number) comments and think he needs to be added.

      And I was wondering what Lincoln just asked, Shya – what writers were you thinking of that Rushdie and Morrison have inspired – and not really to be argumentative, but because I really don’t know who they might have inspired and am always looking for more books to add to that piles around here that may never get read.

      Another name I’ve not seen (though I read these comments pretty quickly) is J.C. Oates. Just wondering what the thoughts of this group of readers are? For a time in the late 80’s I was keeping up with her output and enjoying most of it, not really sure when that fell by the wayside for me, but she certainly tackles different styles, different themes, different forms, etc.

      And agree with Kyle that Ron Rash continues to improve, and he started off pretty well to begin with, and I greatly look forward to seeing what’s after Serena and his last story collection.

  148. lorian

      meant “sweet” as in “awesome”

      sorry.

  149. lorian

      meant “sweet” as in “awesome”

      sorry.

  150. Kyle Minor

      Oh don’t be sorry. I wasn’t being snarky.

  151. Kyle Minor

      Oh don’t be sorry. I wasn’t being snarky.

  152. chloe

      Nice list & nice additions in the comments. Let me throw some possible devil’s advocacy behind two more candidates: Alice Monroe and Joy Williams.

  153. chloe

      Nice list & nice additions in the comments. Let me throw some possible devil’s advocacy behind two more candidates: Alice Monroe and Joy Williams.

  154. christian

      percival everett definitely belongs in the company of those listed. i’ve loved everything i’ve read by him and you can tell from his books that he’s probably one of the smartest writers alive. but — and i don’t think this is a negative at all — don’t you get the sense while reading him that he consciously resists being a “towering literary artist” (keeping in mind that i think there’s a tongue-in-cheek element to the term as used here anyway)? it’s like every time he starts to break through and get attention for being “important,” he takes a hard left and writes a cowboy novel, or an esoteric satire, or any one of a dozen wild experiments. he actually might be why i was so dubious about the terms we’ve been using in this discussion and the two threads that led to it. i think it’s important that everett is a writer who does whatever he wants without seeming to care whether he impresses me. (not that he knows i exist.)

  155. christian

      percival everett definitely belongs in the company of those listed. i’ve loved everything i’ve read by him and you can tell from his books that he’s probably one of the smartest writers alive. but — and i don’t think this is a negative at all — don’t you get the sense while reading him that he consciously resists being a “towering literary artist” (keeping in mind that i think there’s a tongue-in-cheek element to the term as used here anyway)? it’s like every time he starts to break through and get attention for being “important,” he takes a hard left and writes a cowboy novel, or an esoteric satire, or any one of a dozen wild experiments. he actually might be why i was so dubious about the terms we’ve been using in this discussion and the two threads that led to it. i think it’s important that everett is a writer who does whatever he wants without seeming to care whether he impresses me. (not that he knows i exist.)

  156. Ryan Call

      stephen king, author of the dark tower
      wells tower, haver of last name tower
      jrr tolkien, author of the two towers
      art speglemen, author of in the shadow of no towers

      ok, it was funnier in my head before i typed it out.

  157. Ryan Call

      stephen king, author of the dark tower
      wells tower, haver of last name tower
      jrr tolkien, author of the two towers
      art speglemen, author of in the shadow of no towers

      ok, it was funnier in my head before i typed it out.

  158. jh

      I guess that means you’ll never be on the list of towering authors, Mr Peepers.

  159. jh

      I guess that means you’ll never be on the list of towering authors, Mr Peepers.

  160. Ryan Call

      had to get in the time machine for that one, eh?

  161. reynard seifert

      i second saunders. also, amazingly sweet guy. and he’s rich now!

  162. Ryan Call

      had to get in the time machine for that one, eh?

  163. reynard seifert

      i second saunders. also, amazingly sweet guy. and he’s rich now!

  164. jh

      Yes. Luckily I am over 56″ and am allowed on the ride.

  165. MG

      Oh, yes: Joy Williams. Yes, yes, yes.

      Alice Munroe, not so much for me. I mean, if you stacked her books one atop the other, I guess they would create a tower. Unless there’s an author called ‘Alice Monroe’ who I’ve never heard of.

      But Joy Williams, yes, couldn’t agree with you more on that one. I was actually surprised to not see her on Blake’s list. I thought he liked her quite a bit.

  166. MG

      Oh shit, Munro?

  167. jh

      Yes. Luckily I am over 56″ and am allowed on the ride.

  168. MG

      Oh, yes: Joy Williams. Yes, yes, yes.

      Alice Munroe, not so much for me. I mean, if you stacked her books one atop the other, I guess they would create a tower. Unless there’s an author called ‘Alice Monroe’ who I’ve never heard of.

      But Joy Williams, yes, couldn’t agree with you more on that one. I was actually surprised to not see her on Blake’s list. I thought he liked her quite a bit.

  169. MG

      Oh shit, Munro?

  170. reynard seifert

      yeah!!!!

  171. reynard seifert

      yeah!!!!

  172. Michael Schaub

      Oh, yeah, I’m totally with you. I just wrote a piece about “The Ground Beneath Her Feet” for another blog, and I was surprised at how badly people seem to regard it. It’s my second-favorite of his, after “Midnight’s Children.” Though I haven’t read the newest one yet.

  173. Michael Schaub

      Oh, yeah, I’m totally with you. I just wrote a piece about “The Ground Beneath Her Feet” for another blog, and I was surprised at how badly people seem to regard it. It’s my second-favorite of his, after “Midnight’s Children.” Though I haven’t read the newest one yet.

  174. barry

      delillo is the most overrated “towering” author alive… if not in all of history

      what about gg marquez? or jayne anne phillips. for god’s sake, where is jayne anne?

  175. barry

      delillo is the most overrated “towering” author alive… if not in all of history

      what about gg marquez? or jayne anne phillips. for god’s sake, where is jayne anne?

  176. reynard seifert

      kill yr idols

  177. reynard seifert

      kill yr idols

  178. davidpeak

      nicholson baker’s beard: not bad. it’s a little santa claus-y, though.

      does ANYONE here read Ligotti?

      is ann petry still alive? do people still read ann petry? her book “the narrows” is on my all-time top ten.

  179. Matt Cozart

      big no, in fact. ay caramba.

  180. davidpeak

      nicholson baker’s beard: not bad. it’s a little santa claus-y, though.

      does ANYONE here read Ligotti?

      is ann petry still alive? do people still read ann petry? her book “the narrows” is on my all-time top ten.

  181. Matt Cozart

      big no, in fact. ay caramba.

  182. sasha fletcher

      simic no, the world doesn’t end yes.

  183. sasha fletcher

      simic no, the world doesn’t end yes.

  184. sasha fletcher

      i loved jesus’ son but there is no way i would call it as being more than hempel.

      so after ben marcus puts out a new book, can we put him on the list?
      i feel that the anchor book is probably one of the most solid anthologies of contemporary fiction i’ve read. and whatever, i was glad about what he said to franzen in harper’s.
      maybe this doesn’t qualify him, but i am saying, think about it.

      and yeah on the carson and dixon.

  185. sasha fletcher

      i loved jesus’ son but there is no way i would call it as being more than hempel.

      so after ben marcus puts out a new book, can we put him on the list?
      i feel that the anchor book is probably one of the most solid anthologies of contemporary fiction i’ve read. and whatever, i was glad about what he said to franzen in harper’s.
      maybe this doesn’t qualify him, but i am saying, think about it.

      and yeah on the carson and dixon.

  186. Blake Butler

      only reason marcus wasn’t on the list already was because of the only 2 books thing. but that guy is real.

  187. sasha fletcher

      cute ken.
      yr real cute.

  188. Blake Butler

      only reason marcus wasn’t on the list already was because of the only 2 books thing. but that guy is real.

  189. sasha fletcher

      cute ken.
      yr real cute.

  190. gene

      oh god. god oh. i’m fucking zooted. but still. man, fuck the whole fucking “stuff white people like” bullshit. fuckk fuc k fuck. fucking stupid.

      the only name that i would add is juan goytisolo cuz dude is legit. but how can you talk about lackign in translations and then mention names like rushdie and morrison and wideman who all write in english.

      pur dfw on that list man. fuck it. pale king is still on the frontier.

      i’m korean. i don’t gives a f cuk about korean american writers. does this mean i haven’t pushed far enogh into my cultural inheritance?

      my favorite writers are donald barthelme and dfw and gary lutz. does this mean i have white male fever?

      fuck fuck ufukc

      words is words motherfuckerssss. white people get so mad at other white people for not being culturally sensitive enough.

  191. gene

      oh god. god oh. i’m fucking zooted. but still. man, fuck the whole fucking “stuff white people like” bullshit. fuckk fuc k fuck. fucking stupid.

      the only name that i would add is juan goytisolo cuz dude is legit. but how can you talk about lackign in translations and then mention names like rushdie and morrison and wideman who all write in english.

      pur dfw on that list man. fuck it. pale king is still on the frontier.

      i’m korean. i don’t gives a f cuk about korean american writers. does this mean i haven’t pushed far enogh into my cultural inheritance?

      my favorite writers are donald barthelme and dfw and gary lutz. does this mean i have white male fever?

      fuck fuck ufukc

      words is words motherfuckerssss. white people get so mad at other white people for not being culturally sensitive enough.

  192. ryan

      yes. bigtime hurt.

  193. ryan

      yes. bigtime hurt.

  194. ryan

      Rick Moody? Not sure if he’s accepted as ‘towering,’ but he makes my list. Ashbery is almost the definition of ‘towering.’

      JCO? Alan Moore?

      Wonder if Evan Dara would be on here, given 10-15 more years?

  195. ryan

      Rick Moody? Not sure if he’s accepted as ‘towering,’ but he makes my list. Ashbery is almost the definition of ‘towering.’

      JCO? Alan Moore?

      Wonder if Evan Dara would be on here, given 10-15 more years?

  196. sasha fletcher

      i know. and i figured. which is why i said after he comes out with some more can we do that. can we say he is on deck for the list. because he is.

      and i don’t know that i’d disagree with shya. but i mean it as, yknow, i don’t know, a compliment. or i mean, i would take it as that is what i am saying.

  197. sasha fletcher

      i know. and i figured. which is why i said after he comes out with some more can we do that. can we say he is on deck for the list. because he is.

      and i don’t know that i’d disagree with shya. but i mean it as, yknow, i don’t know, a compliment. or i mean, i would take it as that is what i am saying.

  198. sasha fletcher

      am i the only person who doesn’t care about john ashberry?
      i probably just don’t get it.
      or i mean, i do not get it.

  199. sasha fletcher

      am i the only person who doesn’t care about john ashberry?
      i probably just don’t get it.
      or i mean, i do not get it.

  200. Stephen

      John Ashbery should definitely be on the list. But obviously Blake is going to be biased towards writers of prose :) As far as towering poets go, though, Calvin Bedient is the one and only for me at present. Dude is fuckin dangerous. And to think literary criticism is his main gig… Gustaf Sobin would also have easily made my list had he not died. I’m confident that his work will continue to gain followers as the years pass.

  201. Stephen

      John Ashbery should definitely be on the list. But obviously Blake is going to be biased towards writers of prose :) As far as towering poets go, though, Calvin Bedient is the one and only for me at present. Dude is fuckin dangerous. And to think literary criticism is his main gig… Gustaf Sobin would also have easily made my list had he not died. I’m confident that his work will continue to gain followers as the years pass.

  202. Ross Brighton

      Guyotat. Word.

  203. Ross Brighton

      Na. No no no

  204. sasha fletcher

      i mean i consider anne carson a poet.
      prose is simply a way of writing, not what is being written.
      i’ll take ondaatje over ashberry any day of the week
      for the collected works of billy the kid if nothing else.
      that book is beyond massive.
      it is probably one of the most massive books of poetry ever written
      other than the battlefield where the moon says i love you.
      and several other books.

  205. Ross Brighton

      I’m gon’ have to back Shya on this one.

  206. sasha fletcher

      i mean i consider anne carson a poet.
      prose is simply a way of writing, not what is being written.
      i’ll take ondaatje over ashberry any day of the week
      for the collected works of billy the kid if nothing else.
      that book is beyond massive.
      it is probably one of the most massive books of poetry ever written
      other than the battlefield where the moon says i love you.
      and several other books.

  207. sasha fletcher

      it’s called white guilt.

  208. sasha fletcher

      it’s called white guilt.

  209. reynard seifert

      ashbery does write prose, and it’s awesome – he just calls it poetry.

      i almost don’t even believe poetry exists sometimes. i believe that more all the time.

      have you read three poems, sasha? it’s like, the shit and stuff.

  210. reynard seifert

      ashbery does write prose, and it’s awesome – he just calls it poetry.

      i almost don’t even believe poetry exists sometimes. i believe that more all the time.

      have you read three poems, sasha? it’s like, the shit and stuff.

  211. Ross Brighton

      Yeah – where are the poets? They write to. unless the list is fiction writers.
      Susan Howe
      Lyn Hejinian
      Christian Bok (maybe)
      Aase Berg?

      Heiner Muller is dead – sigh

      Obviously I have a bias toward the experimental…

  212. Stephen

      Three Poems is some ill shit.

  213. sasha fletcher

      just self portrait. which wasn’t bad, it just didn’t do anything for me.

      i believe poetry exists.

      i also believe that more than anything else there is writing.

  214. Stephen

      Three Poems is some ill shit.

  215. sasha fletcher

      just self portrait. which wasn’t bad, it just didn’t do anything for me.

      i believe poetry exists.

      i also believe that more than anything else there is writing.

  216. sasha fletcher

      james tate isn’t dead yet and that’s all i really need.

  217. sasha fletcher

      james tate isn’t dead yet and that’s all i really need.

  218. Stephen

      Ashbery and Schuyler wrote a novel, too–A Nest of Ninnies. Fun stuff, almost entirely dialogue though. Dalkey recently got it back it print.

  219. Stephen

      Ashbery and Schuyler wrote a novel, too–A Nest of Ninnies. Fun stuff, almost entirely dialogue though. Dalkey recently got it back it print.

  220. reynard seifert

      true dat. i was mostly kidding about poetry not existing. it’s just, you know.

  221. reynard seifert

      true dat. i was mostly kidding about poetry not existing. it’s just, you know.

  222. Landon

      second that

  223. Landon

      second that

  224. Blake Butler

      i had ashbery on the list first draft but removed him because he is less towering over me than others. but yes, definitely ‘towering’ oink

      oink

      oink
      oink

      rick moody was another close call

  225. Blake Butler

      i had ashbery on the list first draft but removed him because he is less towering over me than others. but yes, definitely ‘towering’ oink

      oink

      oink
      oink

      rick moody was another close call

  226. Blake Butler

      its called people who bitch about racism by exclusion are racists, in that they see race as such a defining factor, whereas i just see people.

  227. Blake Butler

      its called people who bitch about racism by exclusion are racists, in that they see race as such a defining factor, whereas i just see people.

  228. Blake Butler

      all of those 15 people are fucking poets to the teeth

  229. Blake Butler

      that is, if you have to use the word poet

  230. Blake Butler

      all of those 15 people are fucking poets to the teeth

  231. Blake Butler

      that is, if you have to use the word poet

  232. Carolyn

      I don’t think anyone has mentioned Steve Erickson, who definitely belongs on this list (particularly this list). Or Paul Auster, either.

  233. Carolyn

      I don’t think anyone has mentioned Steve Erickson, who definitely belongs on this list (particularly this list). Or Paul Auster, either.

  234. mark

      writers not yet mentioned who’d be on or near my list:

      houellebecq
      ishiguro
      thom jones

  235. mark

      writers not yet mentioned who’d be on or near my list:

      houellebecq
      ishiguro
      thom jones

  236. Ken Baumann

      Ross: I hope it doesn’t come down to backing. :) But seriously, ultimately we’re just two more dudes talking. I’m sure Shya is a nice person — and he has been in our communication elsewhere — but I am actually curious to know what he thinks. I want him to answer these questions.

      Shya, Ross, etc.: I think it’s naive as hell to call someone racially myopic after a few comments stemming from literary/aesthetic preference, and in defense of a friend whom I KNOW to not ‘see color’ AT ALL in his daily being, and be the ‘best’ or most ‘global’ reader I’ve met, but, well shit I’m young and culturally imprisoned. What do I know.

      Also, I do believe that if one can actually craft a ‘global perspective’, that one must do so by doing & living, rather than reading, esp. in the wheelhouse of TOWERING LITERARY ARTISTS, and the like. And if anyone would like to challenge me in the doing & living section, please do so.

  237. Ken Baumann

      Ross: I hope it doesn’t come down to backing. :) But seriously, ultimately we’re just two more dudes talking. I’m sure Shya is a nice person — and he has been in our communication elsewhere — but I am actually curious to know what he thinks. I want him to answer these questions.

      Shya, Ross, etc.: I think it’s naive as hell to call someone racially myopic after a few comments stemming from literary/aesthetic preference, and in defense of a friend whom I KNOW to not ‘see color’ AT ALL in his daily being, and be the ‘best’ or most ‘global’ reader I’ve met, but, well shit I’m young and culturally imprisoned. What do I know.

      Also, I do believe that if one can actually craft a ‘global perspective’, that one must do so by doing & living, rather than reading, esp. in the wheelhouse of TOWERING LITERARY ARTISTS, and the like. And if anyone would like to challenge me in the doing & living section, please do so.

  238. Ken Baumann

      Unless one reads thousands upon thousands of texts, e.g. Joseph Campbell, who, funnily enough, was accused of being a bigot by another rich ‘white’ person.

  239. Ken Baumann

      Unless one reads thousands upon thousands of texts, e.g. Joseph Campbell, who, funnily enough, was accused of being a bigot by another rich ‘white’ person.

  240. christian

      sasha: even though self portrait is the book that made ashbery’s name, it’s the only one i’ve heard him say he doesn’t get what all the fuss is about. check out 3 poems (as recommended), also hotel lautreamont.

  241. christian

      sasha: even though self portrait is the book that made ashbery’s name, it’s the only one i’ve heard him say he doesn’t get what all the fuss is about. check out 3 poems (as recommended), also hotel lautreamont.

  242. Michael James

      Paavo Haavikko.

      Among a few other Finnish poets…

  243. Michael James

      Paavo Haavikko.

      Among a few other Finnish poets…

  244. Michael James

      i liked ashbery. then i hated ashbery. then i liked him again. then i wanted to blow my brains out because he seemed so… i dunno, i just couldnt live with myself anymore. then i really liked him. like, i wanted to do that thing he said another man did to him in that one poem from ‘a reflection in a convex mirror’ (if I got the title right. i probably didnt).

      These days… I am still bouncing.

      Towering?

      Depends on the shoes he’s wearing….

  245. Michael James

      i liked ashbery. then i hated ashbery. then i liked him again. then i wanted to blow my brains out because he seemed so… i dunno, i just couldnt live with myself anymore. then i really liked him. like, i wanted to do that thing he said another man did to him in that one poem from ‘a reflection in a convex mirror’ (if I got the title right. i probably didnt).

      These days… I am still bouncing.

      Towering?

      Depends on the shoes he’s wearing….

  246. Michael Schaub

      I second those emotions.

  247. Michael Schaub

      I second those emotions.

  248. Matthew Simmons

      Now, now.

      I think if review the tape, you’ll see that Shya did not “bitch about racism by exclusion.” He pointed out something that is demonstrably true. Blake, your list has a lot of white people. Look at it.

      Heck, so does mine. This may not be a good thing. This may not be a bad thing.

      But it’s a thing. Let’s not forget that it IS a thing.

  249. Matthew Simmons

      Now, now.

      I think if review the tape, you’ll see that Shya did not “bitch about racism by exclusion.” He pointed out something that is demonstrably true. Blake, your list has a lot of white people. Look at it.

      Heck, so does mine. This may not be a good thing. This may not be a bad thing.

      But it’s a thing. Let’s not forget that it IS a thing.

  250. Chris

      Just throwing these out there. Some More American Males For Your Consideration. Not saying they are necessarily on my list, if it was indeed a restrictive list:

      Richard Powers
      Eliot Weinberger (not fiction, but An Elemental Thing has become like a blanket I must carry with my nearly everywhere)
      Richard Ford
      EL Doctorow

      I too would tip my hat to many of those mentioned above – Didion, Achebe, Aria

      Oh yeah and:
      Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o
      Javier Marias

  251. Chris

      Just throwing these out there. Some More American Males For Your Consideration. Not saying they are necessarily on my list, if it was indeed a restrictive list:

      Richard Powers
      Eliot Weinberger (not fiction, but An Elemental Thing has become like a blanket I must carry with my nearly everywhere)
      Richard Ford
      EL Doctorow

      I too would tip my hat to many of those mentioned above – Didion, Achebe, Aria

      Oh yeah and:
      Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o
      Javier Marias

  252. chloe

      typo city: yep, i meant Alice Munro

  253. chloe

      typo city: yep, i meant Alice Munro

  254. Christine Archibald

      “Make it new,” Pound said, and these writers (not on your list) did. They’ve pushed the boundaries of story and language:

      1. Michael Ondaatje
      2. A.S. Byatt
      3. Anne Carson
      4. Denis Johnson
      5. Sarah Waters

  255. Christine Archibald

      “Make it new,” Pound said, and these writers (not on your list) did. They’ve pushed the boundaries of story and language:

      1. Michael Ondaatje
      2. A.S. Byatt
      3. Anne Carson
      4. Denis Johnson
      5. Sarah Waters

  256. mark

      also, this one is stretching (compressing) the whole “towering” thing, since he’s only written one slim book so far, but I’d add hilton als. “the women” is easily one of the best and most ambitious american books of the last 20 or so years.

      also: no big antrim fans here? i’ve haven’t read his first two books, but on the basis of “the verificationist” and “the afterlife” he might be a candidate for the list.

      oh yeah, also maybe paula fox?

  257. mark

      also, this one is stretching (compressing) the whole “towering” thing, since he’s only written one slim book so far, but I’d add hilton als. “the women” is easily one of the best and most ambitious american books of the last 20 or so years.

      also: no big antrim fans here? i’ve haven’t read his first two books, but on the basis of “the verificationist” and “the afterlife” he might be a candidate for the list.

      oh yeah, also maybe paula fox?

  258. Tim Horvath

      This defense of Roth is about as eloquent and comprehensive as I can imagine, except that I’d say Human Stain is a better book than American Pastoral. For me, it had all of the strengths of Pastoral but also takes on issues of race, powerfully and perspicaciously. But you’re right that Roth’s work is so interconnected that in some ways it almost seems like they are the same novel, each a version of it for its time.

  259. Tim Horvath

      This defense of Roth is about as eloquent and comprehensive as I can imagine, except that I’d say Human Stain is a better book than American Pastoral. For me, it had all of the strengths of Pastoral but also takes on issues of race, powerfully and perspicaciously. But you’re right that Roth’s work is so interconnected that in some ways it almost seems like they are the same novel, each a version of it for its time.

  260. Tim Horvath

      Uh, that was meant to be a response to the comment below. Kyle Minor and His Precursors.

  261. Tim Horvath

      Uh, that was meant to be a response to the comment below. Kyle Minor and His Precursors.

  262. Tim Horvath

      To the list I might add Norman Rush and Paul West. Rush has only published two novels, although rumor has it that a third is on the way, and only 1 1/2 of them are stupendous, although there is a short story collection that is singular and reads like the slightly-less-ambitious child of the novels. Mating, I think, defines for me what “towering” ought to be–and it has little to do with influence and how many imitators get spawned. It has to do with how an author’s work demands to be reckoned with, aesthetically, thematically, linguistically, how utterly transformative that work is to receptive readers. With towering figures, there’s got to be the word and page count so that we can assess the scope of their work, but you can sample, too–on any given page the potential impact is visible. Rushdie counts because even in his failures the attempt is there. I’ve had moments where I couldn’t stand the Rushdie I was reading (eg. Shalimar), but you can look at his shitty stuff and say, “Okay, but from this same cloth you could get something like Midnight’s Children.” Of course, you’ve got to have the goods too in order to verify that.

  263. Tim Horvath

      To the list I might add Norman Rush and Paul West. Rush has only published two novels, although rumor has it that a third is on the way, and only 1 1/2 of them are stupendous, although there is a short story collection that is singular and reads like the slightly-less-ambitious child of the novels. Mating, I think, defines for me what “towering” ought to be–and it has little to do with influence and how many imitators get spawned. It has to do with how an author’s work demands to be reckoned with, aesthetically, thematically, linguistically, how utterly transformative that work is to receptive readers. With towering figures, there’s got to be the word and page count so that we can assess the scope of their work, but you can sample, too–on any given page the potential impact is visible. Rushdie counts because even in his failures the attempt is there. I’ve had moments where I couldn’t stand the Rushdie I was reading (eg. Shalimar), but you can look at his shitty stuff and say, “Okay, but from this same cloth you could get something like Midnight’s Children.” Of course, you’ve got to have the goods too in order to verify that.

  264. DA

      I agree on Roth: no apologies necessary. I’ve read almost everything he’s written. To me Sabbath’s Theater is his best novel.

      I also always recommend Patrimony – his nonfiction work about the death of his father. Who, if you’ve read Roth’s novels, is a “character” you know very well.

  265. DA

      I agree on Roth: no apologies necessary. I’ve read almost everything he’s written. To me Sabbath’s Theater is his best novel.

      I also always recommend Patrimony – his nonfiction work about the death of his father. Who, if you’ve read Roth’s novels, is a “character” you know very well.

  266. Blake Butler

      both of those i almost added too

  267. Blake Butler

      both of those i almost added too

  268. mike young

      you really need to read more ashbery than just self portrait

  269. mike young

      you really need to read more ashbery than just self portrait

  270. marco

      From a Non-American point of view, the list seems indeed very American. Roughly half of it feels justified – in the sense that the authors are “big” enough that their inclusion, regardless of personal preferences or divergence of critical evaluation, is not controversial. But taken as a whole, it feels strongly personal, and just one among many possible sets of 15 names.
      A longlist of names not yet mentioned. Some I feel more strongly than others:

      James Ellroy, Steven Millhauser,Colson Whitehead, Vikram Seth,V.S.Naipaul,Wilson Harris, Derek Walcott,Edwige Danticat, Mario Vargas Llosa,Murray Bail,David Malouf, Margaret Atwood, Harry Mulisch,Cees Noteboom, Neal Stephenson, Gene Wolfe, John Crowley, Russell Hoban, Jeff Noon, M John Harrison, Wole Soyinka,Nuruddin Farah,Antonio Lobo Antunes,Jose Eduardo Agualusa, Antonio Tabucchi,Umberto Eco, Ciarán Carson, Alasdair Gray, David Mitchell, Tom Stoppard, A.S. Byatt, Peter Ackroyd, David Peace, Michel Tournier, Amelie Nothomb, Ismail Kadare,Peter Pistanek,Abraham Yehoshua.

      A couple have probably less than 8 books. I’m sure there are many more I can’t think of at the moment. I kind of went through associative blocks.

      If you really aim to write a new Ulysses, a good idea would be trying to read some authors in their original languages. After all Joyce was fluent in French,German and Italian, Beckett wrote in French, Pound was inspired by Chinese and Japanese poetry. Plus, the kind of experimental authors you seem to favor aren’t exactly easy to translate. I don’t see the point of basing your judgement on the recreation of their work in English, however skilled the translator may be. Bachmann, Canetti, Bernhard, Jean Paul felt much different in German with respect to Italian, for example.

  271. marco

      From a Non-American point of view, the list seems indeed very American. Roughly half of it feels justified – in the sense that the authors are “big” enough that their inclusion, regardless of personal preferences or divergence of critical evaluation, is not controversial. But taken as a whole, it feels strongly personal, and just one among many possible sets of 15 names.
      A longlist of names not yet mentioned. Some I feel more strongly than others:

      James Ellroy, Steven Millhauser,Colson Whitehead, Vikram Seth,V.S.Naipaul,Wilson Harris, Derek Walcott,Edwige Danticat, Mario Vargas Llosa,Murray Bail,David Malouf, Margaret Atwood, Harry Mulisch,Cees Noteboom, Neal Stephenson, Gene Wolfe, John Crowley, Russell Hoban, Jeff Noon, M John Harrison, Wole Soyinka,Nuruddin Farah,Antonio Lobo Antunes,Jose Eduardo Agualusa, Antonio Tabucchi,Umberto Eco, Ciarán Carson, Alasdair Gray, David Mitchell, Tom Stoppard, A.S. Byatt, Peter Ackroyd, David Peace, Michel Tournier, Amelie Nothomb, Ismail Kadare,Peter Pistanek,Abraham Yehoshua.

      A couple have probably less than 8 books. I’m sure there are many more I can’t think of at the moment. I kind of went through associative blocks.

      If you really aim to write a new Ulysses, a good idea would be trying to read some authors in their original languages. After all Joyce was fluent in French,German and Italian, Beckett wrote in French, Pound was inspired by Chinese and Japanese poetry. Plus, the kind of experimental authors you seem to favor aren’t exactly easy to translate. I don’t see the point of basing your judgement on the recreation of their work in English, however skilled the translator may be. Bachmann, Canetti, Bernhard, Jean Paul felt much different in German with respect to Italian, for example.

  272. Jonny Ross

      Richard Ford, maybe
      Harry Crews, I guess
      Martin Amis, probably
      Paul Auster, I don’t know
      Denis Johnson, personally
      Zadie Smith, one day
      Rudolph Wurlitzer, honorable mention (still going, still going)

  273. Jonny Ross

      Richard Ford, maybe
      Harry Crews, I guess
      Martin Amis, probably
      Paul Auster, I don’t know
      Denis Johnson, personally
      Zadie Smith, one day
      Rudolph Wurlitzer, honorable mention (still going, still going)

  274. Tom Beshear

      I read IMPERIAL over 20 days in a white heat. Read it amid my participation in Infinite Summer. IMPERIAL is much more compelling to me than INFINITE JEST, which, though it’s a monumental work in its way, lacks the urgency of Vollmann’s best. As I told someone, if you want to know what America really is, and how it got that way, read IMPERIAL.

  275. Tom Beshear

      I read IMPERIAL over 20 days in a white heat. Read it amid my participation in Infinite Summer. IMPERIAL is much more compelling to me than INFINITE JEST, which, though it’s a monumental work in its way, lacks the urgency of Vollmann’s best. As I told someone, if you want to know what America really is, and how it got that way, read IMPERIAL.

  276. sasha fletcher

      I KNOW
      I WILL
      I PROMISE

  277. sasha fletcher

      I KNOW
      I WILL
      I PROMISE

  278. Matt Cozart

      they’re both good. (and friends in real life to boot. (i always like it when i have the opportunity to say “to boot”.))

  279. Matt Cozart

      they’re both good. (and friends in real life to boot. (i always like it when i have the opportunity to say “to boot”.))

  280. Matt Cozart

      ***ALICE NOTLEY***

  281. Matt Cozart

      ***ALICE NOTLEY***

  282. Matt Cozart

      oh, and clark coolidge. i should stop now or this thread will never end.

  283. Matt Cozart

      oh, and clark coolidge. i should stop now or this thread will never end.

  284. Blake Butler

      interesting. i really really want to make time for Imperial. maybe christmas time.

  285. Blake Butler

      interesting. i really really want to make time for Imperial. maybe christmas time.

  286. Blake Butler

      definitely a personal list, as stated. i wish i had the brain to learn other languages so i could digest more major foreign authors without waiting for them to get translated. but unfortunately, i am horrible at memorizing, and thus pretty horrible at new languages. oink

      great comment and great list

  287. Blake Butler

      definitely a personal list, as stated. i wish i had the brain to learn other languages so i could digest more major foreign authors without waiting for them to get translated. but unfortunately, i am horrible at memorizing, and thus pretty horrible at new languages. oink

      great comment and great list

  288. Janey Smith

      Faulty towers. Otherwise, what Copper said. Plus Delany and Sotos, of course.

  289. Janey Smith

      Faulty towers. Otherwise, what Copper said. Plus Delany and Sotos, of course.

  290. Vaughan Simons

      I would have included John Menzies.
      And possibly Richard Littlejohn.

  291. Vaughan Simons

      I would have included John Menzies.
      And possibly Richard Littlejohn.

  292. niina

      Agreed on Aira. I love Ghosts. Definitely Didion.

  293. niina

      Agreed on Aira. I love Ghosts. Definitely Didion.

  294. Rauan

      the world does end…. Simic’s good… but after you’ve read Follain, Jacob, Michaux, etc,… then he doesn’t seem that much…. (or Edson)

  295. Rauan

      the world does end…. Simic’s good… but after you’ve read Follain, Jacob, Michaux, etc,… then he doesn’t seem that much…. (or Edson)

  296. Rauan

      blake butler— augmentative?

  297. Rauan

      blake butler— augmentative?

  298. Rauan

      or the alcohol he’s drinking

  299. Rauan

      or the alcohol he’s drinking

  300. Rauan

      who are they fucking? who are they skull fucking? name them, Blake, name them

  301. Rauan

      violin time

  302. Rauan

      who are they fucking? who are they skull fucking? name them, Blake, name them

  303. Rauan

      violin time

  304. Rauan

      damn it: we could start a 5-star marching band with all these towering giants…. or a basketball league….

  305. Rauan

      damn it: we could start a 5-star marching band with all these towering giants…. or a basketball league….

  306. Michael James

      I find it fascinating that it is overrated to be worried about race. I understand the dualities of that statement, though. It *is* overrated to worry about race, but one must worry about it until the troubles of racism (both purposeful and cultural aftershock) are dealt with. This list is heavily caucasian. Deal with it. Its true. I think I read somewhere how a book nominated for a Pulitzer was difficult to find in the fiction section of a Borders or Barnes and Noble because it was in the African-American literature section. Such things speak volumes. When these lists are usually compiled, unless it is compiled by an ethnicity under-represented, remains heavily one sided.

      I think those who are not from those ethnic groups historically discriminated against have a greater chance of not realizing the deepness and psychological effects going on, not only in literature, but other facets of the art world.

  307. Michael James

      I find it fascinating that it is overrated to be worried about race. I understand the dualities of that statement, though. It *is* overrated to worry about race, but one must worry about it until the troubles of racism (both purposeful and cultural aftershock) are dealt with. This list is heavily caucasian. Deal with it. Its true. I think I read somewhere how a book nominated for a Pulitzer was difficult to find in the fiction section of a Borders or Barnes and Noble because it was in the African-American literature section. Such things speak volumes. When these lists are usually compiled, unless it is compiled by an ethnicity under-represented, remains heavily one sided.

      I think those who are not from those ethnic groups historically discriminated against have a greater chance of not realizing the deepness and psychological effects going on, not only in literature, but other facets of the art world.

  308. +!O0o(o)o0O!+

      Dellilo is god

  309. +!O0o(o)o0O!+

      Dellilo is god

  310. ryan

      Haroun is one of my favorite books of all time.

  311. ryan

      Haroun is one of my favorite books of all time.

  312. +!O0o(o)o0O!+

      Sorry I’m late to this, Blake, since I was the one who prompted you to list these.

      These are all more or less GREAT WRITERS, of course.

      But I’d say that only maybe three or four might one day be considered TOWERING LITERARY ARTISTS, like Joyce, Beckett, Kafka, Faulkner.

      For definition’s sake, TOWERING LITERARY ARTIST suggests a sort of SAINTHOOD to me, not just greatness.

      Delillo’s a definite maybe. Saramago, too. Morrison? Oe? Garcia Marquez already. Though I think Pynchon’s star may fade over time.

      Nicholson Baker (although Mezzanine is an all-time fave) isn’t really in the same league, right?

      Regardless, I’m not sure if arguing about 22nd century canonization is what it’s all about . . .

      Long live DFW.

  313. +!O0o(o)o0O!+

      Sorry I’m late to this, Blake, since I was the one who prompted you to list these.

      These are all more or less GREAT WRITERS, of course.

      But I’d say that only maybe three or four might one day be considered TOWERING LITERARY ARTISTS, like Joyce, Beckett, Kafka, Faulkner.

      For definition’s sake, TOWERING LITERARY ARTIST suggests a sort of SAINTHOOD to me, not just greatness.

      Delillo’s a definite maybe. Saramago, too. Morrison? Oe? Garcia Marquez already. Though I think Pynchon’s star may fade over time.

      Nicholson Baker (although Mezzanine is an all-time fave) isn’t really in the same league, right?

      Regardless, I’m not sure if arguing about 22nd century canonization is what it’s all about . . .

      Long live DFW.

  314. Ken Baumann

      Long live DFW.

  315. Ken Baumann

      i think he means they (the 15) are poets

  316. Ken Baumann

      Long live DFW.

  317. Ken Baumann

      i think he means they (the 15) are poets

  318. ryan

      Kyle, re: Brady Udall, his new book is going to blow people away

  319. ryan

      Kyle, re: Brady Udall, his new book is going to blow people away

  320. Kyle Minor

      The polygamy book, right? I can’t wait. I loved his first two, which seemed to me to be his Barry Hannah and his John Irving, respectively. This one, I think, will be the breakthrough, although I wouldn’t trade the other two for almost anything else, they’re so pleasurable.

  321. Kyle Minor

      The polygamy book, right? I can’t wait. I loved his first two, which seemed to me to be his Barry Hannah and his John Irving, respectively. This one, I think, will be the breakthrough, although I wouldn’t trade the other two for almost anything else, they’re so pleasurable.

  322. ryan

      yes! The Lonely Polygamist. I was lucky enough to work with him during my MFA, and then heard him read from it before my graduation in June. I’m eagerly awaiting, though it won’t be ’til spring or summer, I guess.

  323. ryan

      yes! The Lonely Polygamist. I was lucky enough to work with him during my MFA, and then heard him read from it before my graduation in June. I’m eagerly awaiting, though it won’t be ’til spring or summer, I guess.

  324. Kyle Minor

      Ryan, Where does he teach now? He taught my friends Chad Simpson and Ben Percy at SIU-Carbondale. They reported all good things.

  325. Kyle Minor

      Ryan, Where does he teach now? He taught my friends Chad Simpson and Ben Percy at SIU-Carbondale. They reported all good things.

  326. ryan

      Pacific University’s low-res MFA (where I had him) and I think he teaches at Boise State as well. He was a good person to work with, though I had him during a semester where most of the focus was on a critical essay, would have liked some more time with him on stories.

  327. ryan

      Pacific University’s low-res MFA (where I had him) and I think he teaches at Boise State as well. He was a good person to work with, though I had him during a semester where most of the focus was on a critical essay, would have liked some more time with him on stories.

  328. elsa

      this is a response to “who would you suggest that fits the definition and that i missed?”:

      amiri baraka!

      he’s a total intellectual & creative giant. its not just his poetry but also the crucial role he’s played in modern race relations, and his massive contributions to jazz (esp free jazz) scholarship. he wrote about ayler, sun ra, archie shepp, etc before most anyone else. he really “got it” yknow? baraka was also an early supporter (& crucial promoter) of olson. he let olson publish whatever olson wanted (quite literally, whatever) in several baraka’s land-mark magazines: yugen (late fifties), kulchur (1960), and floating bear (1961).

      who else? toni morrison? percival everett is maybe too young? renee gladman has always stood out; her leroi press is admirable.

      brazil has a long-standing history of brilliant (& ugh, “avant-garde”) lit. helena parente cunha is still alive & as astounding as ever. woman between the mirrors is her most famous, i think. i wish clarice lispector & joao guimaraes rosa were still alive if only so i could gush a little longer.

      gush: i don’t really ever think of authors in terms of towering figures. more like “awww, shit, man.” taste is, well, taste. baraka doesn’t fit in with the other authors listed so i don’t actually rec’ an “include”; i just dig him. its difficult to imagine the 20th cen. landscape (avant-garde or not) without him.

      hope this all isn’t too douchy; i mean, i don’t know anyone here. just lurkin’. & late. xoxo.

  329. elsa

      this is a response to “who would you suggest that fits the definition and that i missed?”:

      amiri baraka!

      he’s a total intellectual & creative giant. its not just his poetry but also the crucial role he’s played in modern race relations, and his massive contributions to jazz (esp free jazz) scholarship. he wrote about ayler, sun ra, archie shepp, etc before most anyone else. he really “got it” yknow? baraka was also an early supporter (& crucial promoter) of olson. he let olson publish whatever olson wanted (quite literally, whatever) in several baraka’s land-mark magazines: yugen (late fifties), kulchur (1960), and floating bear (1961).

      who else? toni morrison? percival everett is maybe too young? renee gladman has always stood out; her leroi press is admirable.

      brazil has a long-standing history of brilliant (& ugh, “avant-garde”) lit. helena parente cunha is still alive & as astounding as ever. woman between the mirrors is her most famous, i think. i wish clarice lispector & joao guimaraes rosa were still alive if only so i could gush a little longer.

      gush: i don’t really ever think of authors in terms of towering figures. more like “awww, shit, man.” taste is, well, taste. baraka doesn’t fit in with the other authors listed so i don’t actually rec’ an “include”; i just dig him. its difficult to imagine the 20th cen. landscape (avant-garde or not) without him.

      hope this all isn’t too douchy; i mean, i don’t know anyone here. just lurkin’. & late. xoxo.

  330. matthew salesses

      ondaatje

  331. matthew salesses

      ondaatje

  332. Rauan

      i see.. god damn, i’m anal…. but i still want to know!

  333. Rauan

      i see.. god damn, i’m anal…. but i still want to know!

  334. Rauan

      what does Sainthood mean to you? that they performed a verifiable miracle?

  335. Rauan

      what does Sainthood mean to you? that they performed a verifiable miracle?

  336. Lincoln

      If we defining towering literary artists as only people as huge as Kafka or Beckett how many can you even expect to have in one era?

  337. Lincoln

      If we defining towering literary artists as only people as huge as Kafka or Beckett how many can you even expect to have in one era?

  338. MG

      How many do you need?

  339. MG

      How many do you need?

  340. Lincoln

      Not saying you need more than that. Just saying if what prompted this discussion was a question of innovation and towering genius in the present era versus other eras…

  341. Lincoln

      Not saying you need more than that. Just saying if what prompted this discussion was a question of innovation and towering genius in the present era versus other eras…

  342. Matt

      Here’re a few more – Ishmael Reed, Nathaniel Mackey, Samuel Delany, Jeanette Winterson,

      What was Saramago’s second ‘towering’ book?

  343. Matt

      Here’re a few more – Ishmael Reed, Nathaniel Mackey, Samuel Delany, Jeanette Winterson,

      What was Saramago’s second ‘towering’ book?

  344. Landon

      Lydia Davis

  345. Landon

      Lydia Davis

  346. zoran rosko

      David Ohle
      Ben Marcus
      Shelley Jackson
      Ander Monson
      Steve Aylett

  347. zoran rosko

      David Ohle
      Ben Marcus
      Shelley Jackson
      Ander Monson
      Steve Aylett

  348. david erlewine

      one should always revel in tossing out “to boot”

  349. david erlewine

      one should always revel in tossing out “to boot”

  350. david erlewine

      Can’t wait for that one. Been a huge fan ever since “The Wig”.

  351. david erlewine

      Can’t wait for that one. Been a huge fan ever since “The Wig”.

  352. “If you love Beckett, Joyce, Stein, Faulkner, why in the name of god are you publishing Jonathan Franzen???? « Pop Serial

      […] read or imitated like the others. Htmlgiant then built on his first post with this post on 15 Towering Artists Who Are Still Alive. Posted by desario71 Filed in James Joyce, Literature Leave a Comment […]

  353. Drew Johnson

      May have missed it, but don’t see any mention of Joseph McElroy, most lyrical and least-known of the great doorstop makers of yesteryear.

      Lydia Davis, certainly and good to see Harry Mathews on the list. Glad to see Hannah on there as well, though I think that’s really in spite of Lish rather than because of.

      Mavis Gallant is the greatest living short story writer–for a little while longer at least. She also puts Alice Munro in the odd position of being only the second-best Canadian short story writer.

      Interesting stuff, interesting stuff.

  354. Drew Johnson

      May have missed it, but don’t see any mention of Joseph McElroy, most lyrical and least-known of the great doorstop makers of yesteryear.

      Lydia Davis, certainly and good to see Harry Mathews on the list. Glad to see Hannah on there as well, though I think that’s really in spite of Lish rather than because of.

      Mavis Gallant is the greatest living short story writer–for a little while longer at least. She also puts Alice Munro in the odd position of being only the second-best Canadian short story writer.

      Interesting stuff, interesting stuff.

  355. +!O0o(o)o0O!+

      Ascension to the Oylmpic Pantheon of canonical literary gods: Shakespeare (Thor), Cervantes (Apollo), Tolstoy (Ares), etc.

  356. +!O0o(o)o0O!+

      Ascension to the Oylmpic Pantheon of canonical literary gods: Shakespeare (Thor), Cervantes (Apollo), Tolstoy (Ares), etc.

  357. mike

      While I like the idea of Sotos being considered a “towering literary author,” I think he’d need to start selling more than 200 copies of each of his books for that to happen. And then there’s always the problem of getting more than 200 people to understand them. And then there’s the problem of getting more than a quarter of those 200 people to move beyond the “dude check out this fucked up shit” quotient that haunts his fan pages. Etc.

  358. mike

      While I like the idea of Sotos being considered a “towering literary author,” I think he’d need to start selling more than 200 copies of each of his books for that to happen. And then there’s always the problem of getting more than 200 people to understand them. And then there’s the problem of getting more than a quarter of those 200 people to move beyond the “dude check out this fucked up shit” quotient that haunts his fan pages. Etc.

  359. mike

      agreed. i think it’s also really demonstrative of the hegemonic nature of the publishing industry. while it may not be an intentional “i like white male writers best” kind of thing, it certainly is (seemingly) easiest to get published if you’re a straight white male. even dennis occasionally ends up marginalized to the “GLBT Fiction” section of bookstores. Of course identifying a “gay writer” or a “black writer” over just a “writer” is a bad thing that feeds marginalization & the hegemonic normalcy of the publishing industry, but how do we know that there aren’t many more “great towering literary giants” that are black-american, that are european, that are asian, that are african, that are transgendered, that are gay; but the fact stands that in the same way experimental lit often gets overlooked (which is what started this whole argument to begin with, no?), writers that write about/to the marginalized “other” (in reference to the dominant SWM “ideology” that is running publishing), that will be dismissed, or thrown into (as mentioned) this ghettoized section that keeps it separated from the rest of the literary fiction. So while it may not “seem like a big deal” that all of your authors are straight & white (except for dennis– I think?), and the fact that you didn’t want to make a checklist, if the point of this is to prove the publishing industry wrong, then maybe there should be a checklist to follow.

  360. mike

      agreed. i think it’s also really demonstrative of the hegemonic nature of the publishing industry. while it may not be an intentional “i like white male writers best” kind of thing, it certainly is (seemingly) easiest to get published if you’re a straight white male. even dennis occasionally ends up marginalized to the “GLBT Fiction” section of bookstores. Of course identifying a “gay writer” or a “black writer” over just a “writer” is a bad thing that feeds marginalization & the hegemonic normalcy of the publishing industry, but how do we know that there aren’t many more “great towering literary giants” that are black-american, that are european, that are asian, that are african, that are transgendered, that are gay; but the fact stands that in the same way experimental lit often gets overlooked (which is what started this whole argument to begin with, no?), writers that write about/to the marginalized “other” (in reference to the dominant SWM “ideology” that is running publishing), that will be dismissed, or thrown into (as mentioned) this ghettoized section that keeps it separated from the rest of the literary fiction. So while it may not “seem like a big deal” that all of your authors are straight & white (except for dennis– I think?), and the fact that you didn’t want to make a checklist, if the point of this is to prove the publishing industry wrong, then maybe there should be a checklist to follow.

  361. mike

      what was his first one

  362. mike

      what was his first one

  363. mike

      let’s try a list here (following blake’s rules):

      -Dennis Cooper (obviously)
      -Pierre Guyotat (though only 2.5 are available in English, plus a handful of shorter works in Semiotext(e) “anthologies”, I think ignoring him is a prime sin)
      -Thomas Ligotti (his early work pales in comparison to his later work, but that’s the sign of a good author, right?)
      -Peter Sotos (similar to Guyotat, the sheer visceral nature of his writing is the future in the present)
      -Los Bros Hernandez (I have zero problems including comix with novels)
      -John Ashbery
      -Peter Handke
      -Joan Didion
      -Ngugi (a case where the “checklist” approach is, I think, important)
      -Samuel Delany (Phallos is pretty excellent too)
      -Alice Notley (though I’m under-read regarding her, what I have read is certainly mind-blowing)
      -Camille Roy (only 2 “real” books published, but I feel confident in assuming she has at least 8 books including chapbooks/small press/self-published stuff that I’m unaware of, evidence of the point i made above)
      -Shintaro Kago or Suehiro Maruo (Maruo is basically the second half of the 20th century’s approximation of Bataille w/r/t beautifully destructive prose, and his art complements it beautifully. Kago’s language itself is nothing particularly special, but his narratives and his formal experimentation combined with his art makes him fit the bill)

      I guess I can’t hit 15. Most of my favorite-favorite authors are dead other than Dennis.

  364. mike

      let’s try a list here (following blake’s rules):

      -Dennis Cooper (obviously)
      -Pierre Guyotat (though only 2.5 are available in English, plus a handful of shorter works in Semiotext(e) “anthologies”, I think ignoring him is a prime sin)
      -Thomas Ligotti (his early work pales in comparison to his later work, but that’s the sign of a good author, right?)
      -Peter Sotos (similar to Guyotat, the sheer visceral nature of his writing is the future in the present)
      -Los Bros Hernandez (I have zero problems including comix with novels)
      -John Ashbery
      -Peter Handke
      -Joan Didion
      -Ngugi (a case where the “checklist” approach is, I think, important)
      -Samuel Delany (Phallos is pretty excellent too)
      -Alice Notley (though I’m under-read regarding her, what I have read is certainly mind-blowing)
      -Camille Roy (only 2 “real” books published, but I feel confident in assuming she has at least 8 books including chapbooks/small press/self-published stuff that I’m unaware of, evidence of the point i made above)
      -Shintaro Kago or Suehiro Maruo (Maruo is basically the second half of the 20th century’s approximation of Bataille w/r/t beautifully destructive prose, and his art complements it beautifully. Kago’s language itself is nothing particularly special, but his narratives and his formal experimentation combined with his art makes him fit the bill)

      I guess I can’t hit 15. Most of my favorite-favorite authors are dead other than Dennis.

  365. Matt

      ha! ok, good point. I dug Blindness, but yeah.

  366. Matt

      ha! ok, good point. I dug Blindness, but yeah.

  367. mike

      i mean, not to be a dick. that’s the only one that i liked (that i’ve read) but I would in absolutely no way consider that “towering”

  368. mike

      i mean, not to be a dick. that’s the only one that i liked (that i’ve read) but I would in absolutely no way consider that “towering”

  369. Blake Butler

      Saramago has not written a book that for me fell short of amazing. Its his body of work that is towering, across the board, more so than any one novel. WHich is why it’s really towering.

  370. Blake Butler

      Saramago has not written a book that for me fell short of amazing. Its his body of work that is towering, across the board, more so than any one novel. WHich is why it’s really towering.

  371. HTMLGIANT / 15 Significant Contemporary Women Writers

      […] recent post on Towering Literary Figures inspired me to consider a list of significant contemporary (living) women writers. By significant I […]

  372. Matt

      I’ve read three – I thought Blindness was great, but wasn’t that into the others (The Cave and All the Names) – not for lack of anything in particular, but whatev – not to say he doesn’t belong on your list of those that tower, but I can see how somebody might not be into him.

  373. Matt

      I’ve read three – I thought Blindness was great, but wasn’t that into the others (The Cave and All the Names) – not for lack of anything in particular, but whatev – not to say he doesn’t belong on your list of those that tower, but I can see how somebody might not be into him.

  374. mimi

      Are you the one that graffitti’ed ‘de gustibus…..’ in the tunnel between upper Solano and Shattuck in Berkeley?

  375. mimi

      Are you the one that graffitti’ed ‘de gustibus…..’ in the tunnel between upper Solano and Shattuck in Berkeley?

  376. Jason

      I think a writer to keep an eye on in the future is Stephen Graham Jones. He’s written some mindblowing books and he’s just in his mid-30’s.

  377. Jason

      I think a writer to keep an eye on in the future is Stephen Graham Jones. He’s written some mindblowing books and he’s just in his mid-30’s.

  378. DJ Young

      Hmmm…think I sense a link missing:

      Haruki Murakami
      Kazuo Ishiguro
      Jeannette Winterson
      Margaret Atwood
      AM Holmes
      Tom Robbins
      Iain Banks
      China Mieville
      Neal Stephenson
      Ursula K. Leguin
      Alice Walker
      Toni Morrison

      Tentatively, I think David Mitchell and Ali Smith might be there one day.

      Oh, not forgetting –
      Ray Bradbury

  379. DJ Young

      Hmmm…think I sense a link missing:

      Haruki Murakami
      Kazuo Ishiguro
      Jeannette Winterson
      Margaret Atwood
      AM Holmes
      Tom Robbins
      Iain Banks
      China Mieville
      Neal Stephenson
      Ursula K. Leguin
      Alice Walker
      Toni Morrison

      Tentatively, I think David Mitchell and Ali Smith might be there one day.

      Oh, not forgetting –
      Ray Bradbury

  380. Roberta

      I love Murakami on lots of levels, and I think the Wind-Up Bird Chronicles were completely brilliant. The shorter works never feel as realised to me.

      Walker, Morrison and Atwood have all written things that I’d really expect to stand the test of time – and that deserve to. I don’t think I’ve ever read a child and bully narrative that comes close to the perceptiveness of Cat’s Eye.

      Also, and though it’s got nothing to do with ‘towering,’ one thing I also like about Toni Morrison is that she seems … humble. Or a less cringey word for the same thing. Writers can get so caught up in their own egos – but with her, even with a Nobel under her belt, she seemed to make a conscious decision not to. I don’t know: it just seems like something to respect.It’s always nice when great writers give the impression of being decent human beings.

      I’d agree with all the ones you named that I have read. Except for Ali Smith, who doesn’t blow me away or feel as original as some of the others, somehow. But I’ve only read Girl Meets Boy and The Accidental so perhaps I either haven’t read the right ones of hers, or she just doesn’t especially work for me.

      (And, now I’m just repeating what I said on the other thread. I think some older Winterson was incredible, but I think she’s been off-form the last few years.)

  381. Roberta

      I love Murakami on lots of levels, and I think the Wind-Up Bird Chronicles were completely brilliant. The shorter works never feel as realised to me.

      Walker, Morrison and Atwood have all written things that I’d really expect to stand the test of time – and that deserve to. I don’t think I’ve ever read a child and bully narrative that comes close to the perceptiveness of Cat’s Eye.

      Also, and though it’s got nothing to do with ‘towering,’ one thing I also like about Toni Morrison is that she seems … humble. Or a less cringey word for the same thing. Writers can get so caught up in their own egos – but with her, even with a Nobel under her belt, she seemed to make a conscious decision not to. I don’t know: it just seems like something to respect.It’s always nice when great writers give the impression of being decent human beings.

      I’d agree with all the ones you named that I have read. Except for Ali Smith, who doesn’t blow me away or feel as original as some of the others, somehow. But I’ve only read Girl Meets Boy and The Accidental so perhaps I either haven’t read the right ones of hers, or she just doesn’t especially work for me.

      (And, now I’m just repeating what I said on the other thread. I think some older Winterson was incredible, but I think she’s been off-form the last few years.)

  382. HTMLGIANT / 15 Rich-Ass Authors I’ve Suddenly Decided To Like

      […] really enjoyed reading Blake Butler’s list of “15 Towering Literary Figures,” and Christopher Higgs’ list of “15 Significant Contemporary Women Writers.” Both were […]

  383. Brandon

      I second the mentions on Garcia Marquez and Roth (though I really dislike Roth’s work). But I think the list is short a few women. Someone already mentioned Morrison and Atwood–they tower over Evenson. I’d add Oates to the list, too.

  384. Brandon

      I second the mentions on Garcia Marquez and Roth (though I really dislike Roth’s work). But I think the list is short a few women. Someone already mentioned Morrison and Atwood–they tower over Evenson. I’d add Oates to the list, too.

  385. Brandon

      I’d also be interested in playing a sort of guessing game. This list features, naturally, older people who have a serious body of work. But which younger authors today might we one day consider heavyweights? I’d be curious to see a list like this.

  386. Brandon

      I’d also be interested in playing a sort of guessing game. This list features, naturally, older people who have a serious body of work. But which younger authors today might we one day consider heavyweights? I’d be curious to see a list like this.

  387. Roberta

      Has anyone mentioned Jonathan Franzen?

  388. Roberta

      Has anyone mentioned Jonathan Franzen?

  389. My Favorite Lit-Blog Things: September 10, 2009 « Hungry Like the Woolf

      […] week’s list: 15 Towering Literary Artists who are still alive. Leave weapons at the door. (Via The Elegant […]

  390. Molly Gaudry

      What blog? Did you see it made the LA Times blog recently (within the last month, I think)? And yes, I agree with you: Midnight’s Children is #1.

  391. Molly Gaudry

      What blog? Did you see it made the LA Times blog recently (within the last month, I think)? And yes, I agree with you: Midnight’s Children is #1.

  392. Molly Gaudry

      I think of that book and think, He must have had a ton of fun writing this. And then I think, Or maybe he was really sad.

  393. Molly Gaudry

      I think of that book and think, He must have had a ton of fun writing this. And then I think, Or maybe he was really sad.

  394. Michael Schaub

      Molly, yeah, that was the one I wrote, at the LA Times blog, Jacket Copy. I wasn’t responsible for the sexy picture of Salman looking all sexy, though.

  395. Michael Schaub

      Molly, yeah, that was the one I wrote, at the LA Times blog, Jacket Copy. I wasn’t responsible for the sexy picture of Salman looking all sexy, though.

  396. sasha graybosch

      I think David Ohle needs to write another trilogy to mount the ‘towering’ list, but man I was glad to see his name

  397. sasha graybosch

      I think David Ohle needs to write another trilogy to mount the ‘towering’ list, but man I was glad to see his name

  398. Midweek Pick-Me-Up | Lit Drift: Storytelling in the 21st Century

      […] response to HTMLGIANT’s Blake Butler’s list of “15 Towering Literary Figures” and Christopher Higgs’ list of “15 Significant Contemporary Women Writers,” […]

  399. Tom

      Michel Houellebecq
      Javier Marias

      Both hugely towering in Europe, whether you love or loathe them.

  400. Tom

      Michel Houellebecq
      Javier Marias

      Both hugely towering in Europe, whether you love or loathe them.

  401. HTMLGIANT / 15 x 15

      […] too long ago I posted a list of 15 literary artists who personally and historically seem important. Most of them have published 8 books or more, most […]

  402. Richard

      wow, this is quite a thread – great job blake, takes massive cojones to go first :-)

      @ jason – so cool to see you mention SGJ, i’m a huge fan and a friend of his, all the beautiful sinners is a deep book, the opening haunts me to this day – and he’s really prolific – or is it simply prolific?

      @ DJ – i’m liking that list too, very nice

      i’ve just recently gotten into ron rash and george saunders and they’ve blown me away

      wind-up bird blew me away, but a couple others after weren’t as intense

      i’m really enjoying AM Homes work lately

      evenson, man i’ve heard him speak and read several times, awesome – and just for what he is pushing, kudos – he’s really standing up for the surreal, the magical, the genre that is as weighty as the lit

      if nothing else this has certainly inspired one HELL of a reading list

      i need to read more – i should just give away my tv, seriously

  403. Richard

      wow, this is quite a thread – great job blake, takes massive cojones to go first :-)

      @ jason – so cool to see you mention SGJ, i’m a huge fan and a friend of his, all the beautiful sinners is a deep book, the opening haunts me to this day – and he’s really prolific – or is it simply prolific?

      @ DJ – i’m liking that list too, very nice

      i’ve just recently gotten into ron rash and george saunders and they’ve blown me away

      wind-up bird blew me away, but a couple others after weren’t as intense

      i’m really enjoying AM Homes work lately

      evenson, man i’ve heard him speak and read several times, awesome – and just for what he is pushing, kudos – he’s really standing up for the surreal, the magical, the genre that is as weighty as the lit

      if nothing else this has certainly inspired one HELL of a reading list

      i need to read more – i should just give away my tv, seriously

  404. Jacob S. Knabb

      It’s my first time posting here, so be gentle (unless of course it turns out that I like it RAWWWW…), but I have a few thoughts after reading all of this great stuff:

      Excluding Denis Johnson seems foolhardy. He has indeed written some crappy novels, (*Fiskadoro* anyone?) but that is counterbalanced wonderfully by the amazing poetry and shockingly good plays. *Jesus’ Son*, to my mind at least, really is everything it’s cracked up to be. Coming from a small, drug addled town in WV, I haven’t seen the kind of desperation I know to be true in that many books. That Johnson can do quite a bit more than that in such compact prose is impressive. He should be on the list.

      If only Laxness was alive. He was, however, the oldest ever Nobel Laureate at the time of his death, and still is to this day – fucker knew how to *live*. And dammit if Naguib Mahfouz didn’t have to go and die too…

      I’d like to second the suggestion of Amiri Baraka – his plays are powerful stuff and he is also so important wrt politics and history and music: I mean isn’t he the very definition of a giant? He’ll likely be remembered long past folks like Hannah (who I do indeed love quite a lot) due to this.

      Harry Crews should also probably make the grade here, as there honestly aren’t that many folks doing what he has been doing. And he does it well. Plus, he is able to be a literary writer and maintain a level of humor (which is not always easy to do).

      I wish Stanley Elkin were still alive and writing books… :-(

      Alice Munro is a must. Whoever it was that made the snarky comment upthread about stacking her books and, ‘well, them’s pretty tall, derrrr’… You’re an ass. Munro is indeed every bit the giant she is made out to be, and there’s a reason that she is such an obvious modern analogue for Chekhov.

      I saw Tony Morrison give a reading while I was at Purdue doing my MFA a few years back and I have never been in the presence of a writer with a more resonant voice and a contained power. When she talked it was electric. Hairs on necks standing at attention. She has to go on here, even if her later work is fast-fading. The first 2/3s of her books are just the bee’s knees.

      I would say that E. L. Doctorow is also a true giant: if only for *Book of Daniel* and *Ragtime* alone (but then you start to dig into the short stories and books like *Billy Bathgate* and it’s just hard to deny how good he is).

      I’d add John Barth, only for *Giles Goatboy*. I know that outs me as a total weirdo, but that is a funny fucking book and rather brilliantly conceived as well. And kudos to Barth for making his villain in that tome a man in a raincoat, balding, who smells vaguely of feces and then including an author photo that basically is only missing the odor of arse… Besides, *Floating Opera* is so spectacular.

      Eugenides anyone? I suppose he needs to write another book or two, but damn if he hasn’t already written two that can stand alongside any of his peers.

      Moody is overrated to me. He can’t end things well, and his books are, for me at least, more fun to talk about than to read. I did enjoy *Demonology*, though.

      I’d be remiss if I didn’t throw Edward Albee into this discussion. He is a playwright and only a playwright, and this seems to be more geared towards prose writers, but he’s such an awesome playwright and had been able to keep writing amazing work despite his early success. He could’ve flamed out (that was a hoary pun, apologies please) after *Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?* but he didn’t.

      Anyway, I know your first time is supposed to be quick and awkward and a thing to be gotten through above all else, so I will shut the hell up at this point, as I am fearful of running on too long here. Excellent thread, though. Much more enjoyable than the grading I should be doing at this moment.

  405. Jacob S. Knabb

      It’s my first time posting here, so be gentle (unless of course it turns out that I like it RAWWWW…), but I have a few thoughts after reading all of this great stuff:

      Excluding Denis Johnson seems foolhardy. He has indeed written some crappy novels, (*Fiskadoro* anyone?) but that is counterbalanced wonderfully by the amazing poetry and shockingly good plays. *Jesus’ Son*, to my mind at least, really is everything it’s cracked up to be. Coming from a small, drug addled town in WV, I haven’t seen the kind of desperation I know to be true in that many books. That Johnson can do quite a bit more than that in such compact prose is impressive. He should be on the list.

      If only Laxness was alive. He was, however, the oldest ever Nobel Laureate at the time of his death, and still is to this day – fucker knew how to *live*. And dammit if Naguib Mahfouz didn’t have to go and die too…

      I’d like to second the suggestion of Amiri Baraka – his plays are powerful stuff and he is also so important wrt politics and history and music: I mean isn’t he the very definition of a giant? He’ll likely be remembered long past folks like Hannah (who I do indeed love quite a lot) due to this.

      Harry Crews should also probably make the grade here, as there honestly aren’t that many folks doing what he has been doing. And he does it well. Plus, he is able to be a literary writer and maintain a level of humor (which is not always easy to do).

      I wish Stanley Elkin were still alive and writing books… :-(

      Alice Munro is a must. Whoever it was that made the snarky comment upthread about stacking her books and, ‘well, them’s pretty tall, derrrr’… You’re an ass. Munro is indeed every bit the giant she is made out to be, and there’s a reason that she is such an obvious modern analogue for Chekhov.

      I saw Tony Morrison give a reading while I was at Purdue doing my MFA a few years back and I have never been in the presence of a writer with a more resonant voice and a contained power. When she talked it was electric. Hairs on necks standing at attention. She has to go on here, even if her later work is fast-fading. The first 2/3s of her books are just the bee’s knees.

      I would say that E. L. Doctorow is also a true giant: if only for *Book of Daniel* and *Ragtime* alone (but then you start to dig into the short stories and books like *Billy Bathgate* and it’s just hard to deny how good he is).

      I’d add John Barth, only for *Giles Goatboy*. I know that outs me as a total weirdo, but that is a funny fucking book and rather brilliantly conceived as well. And kudos to Barth for making his villain in that tome a man in a raincoat, balding, who smells vaguely of feces and then including an author photo that basically is only missing the odor of arse… Besides, *Floating Opera* is so spectacular.

      Eugenides anyone? I suppose he needs to write another book or two, but damn if he hasn’t already written two that can stand alongside any of his peers.

      Moody is overrated to me. He can’t end things well, and his books are, for me at least, more fun to talk about than to read. I did enjoy *Demonology*, though.

      I’d be remiss if I didn’t throw Edward Albee into this discussion. He is a playwright and only a playwright, and this seems to be more geared towards prose writers, but he’s such an awesome playwright and had been able to keep writing amazing work despite his early success. He could’ve flamed out (that was a hoary pun, apologies please) after *Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?* but he didn’t.

      Anyway, I know your first time is supposed to be quick and awkward and a thing to be gotten through above all else, so I will shut the hell up at this point, as I am fearful of running on too long here. Excellent thread, though. Much more enjoyable than the grading I should be doing at this moment.

  406. Charles Dodd White

      Has anyone mentioned Richard Powers? I may have missed it, but he’s been producing excellent work for two solid decades, and all of it vastly different from one another.

      I also would include Toni Morrison for her early work.

      While he has only three books, it’s pretty hard to deny Edward P. Jones as a force that must be reckoned with.

      Denis Johnson is spotty for me. I thing ANGELS is actually his best work. TREE OF SMOKE was unreadable, in my opinion, and strangely clumsy.

      Harry Mulisch is still alive, right?

      V.S. Naipaul

      Some up and Comers to Watch:

      Laird Hunt
      Pinckney Benedict
      Mark Powell

  407. Charles Dodd White

      Has anyone mentioned Richard Powers? I may have missed it, but he’s been producing excellent work for two solid decades, and all of it vastly different from one another.

      I also would include Toni Morrison for her early work.

      While he has only three books, it’s pretty hard to deny Edward P. Jones as a force that must be reckoned with.

      Denis Johnson is spotty for me. I thing ANGELS is actually his best work. TREE OF SMOKE was unreadable, in my opinion, and strangely clumsy.

      Harry Mulisch is still alive, right?

      V.S. Naipaul

      Some up and Comers to Watch:

      Laird Hunt
      Pinckney Benedict
      Mark Powell

  408. Dan Wickett

      Madison Smartt Bell falls somewhere between the up and comers and the older authors on this list.

  409. Dan Wickett

      Madison Smartt Bell falls somewhere between the up and comers and the older authors on this list.

  410. Charles Dodd White

      Also,

      If I could add more to the list:

      Gore Vidal
      Colm Toibin

  411. Charles Dodd White

      Also,

      If I could add more to the list:

      Gore Vidal
      Colm Toibin

  412. M.C.

      John Le Carre should be on the list.

  413. M.C.

      John Le Carre should be on the list.

  414. Jim Blake

      Thomas McGuane, Richard Ford

  415. Kwasp

      TONI MORRISON YOU RACIST ASSHOLES

  416. Dandenong

      The racial and national bias of this list is pretty astounding. Only one non-American on the entirely white list. Pretty astounding considering that Achebe was alive when this was compiled. Never mind Garcia Marquez, Kundera, Coetzee etc etc

      I won’t even mention the 2:13 gender weighting.

      Long live white male America, I guess.