Writers are often concerned with posterity. Would their work outlive them? I personally don’t give a damn about my work post my death– I don’t think any of it’ll be any good, and even if it is, I believe nothing lasts– so a few stories or books lost is neither here nor there.
But as a reader, I wonder what books from our century would folks be reading in the next?
This article in the Smithsonian gave me pause.
In 1936, a quarterly magazine for book collectors called The Colophon polled its readers to pick the ten authors whose works would be considered classics in the year 2000. Sinclair Lewis, author of the 1935 hit It Can’t Happen Here, was a natural choice for the top spot.
Just five years earlier Sinclair had been the first American to win the Nobel Prize for literature. But some of the authors are likely forgotten names to even the most ardent reader here in the year 2012:
- Sinclair Lewis
- Willa Cather
- Eugene O’Neill
- Edna St. Vincent Millay
- Robert Frost
- Theodore Dreiser
- James Truslow Adams
- George Santayana
- Stephen Vincent Benet
- James Branch Cabell
The editors at the magazine supplemented the published list with their own ideas of who might still be read in the year 2000. Their list included authors like Thomas Wolfe, H.L. Mencken, Ernest Hemingway and Hervey Allen.
If I had to bet on some authors who would be respected and known in the next century, I would list, in no particular order: Alice Munro, J K Rowling, Ernest Hemingway, Haruki Murakami, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, John Green, Maragaret Atwood, Hilary Mantel, Cormac McCarthy, Ian McEwan.
This is a biased list, as any list is bound to be. I’ve picked (some of the) authors whose work I’ve enjoyed the most– and who I believe have enough human resonance in some of their work to outlast the huge technological changes that would take place in the coming decades.
How many of the authors from the 1936 list do you recognise? Given that ebooks last ‘forever’, do you think this improves the chances of some of the current batch of authors? If you had to vote, which are the five (or ten) authors from the last century and this one who you would put your money on? Why? Do you agree with any of the authors in my list?