amy hempel

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

William Gass


Massive People / 415 Comments
September 6th, 2009 / 5:12 pm

Books I was assigned during my MFA that I actually still like: Donald Antrim


At Bennington, one of the many excellent books that Amy Hempel put on my list for which I am now thankful was Donald Antrim’s ‘Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World.’ At the time, I’d already read Antrim’s two other novels, the amazing ‘The Hundred Brothers’ (literally about one hundred brothers at a reunion) and ‘The Verificationist’ (an amazing piece of work, all of which is narrated by a man having an out of body experience at a pancake restaurant), but for some reason I’d skipped the first one. Amy made me go back and read it: it was still her favorite.

Among other things, Antrim’s first novel is a bit more raw around the edges, more wild and fucked and no-world made than the other two (which are both also pretty fucked). For all that there is to admire about the novel, the two things that still stand out most in my mind are among two of the most unusually narratively rendered scenes in contemporary fiction of the past 10 or so years. Antrim has a pretty amazing ability to tell stories that others would write off as ‘bonkers,’ and make them seem not only plausible, but plausible in a way that makes people who hate entirely plausible stories still down and like ‘I’m in.’

More after the jump.


Author Spotlight / 62 Comments
May 5th, 2009 / 12:26 am