Tomorrow’s Great American Novelists

James Tata reconsiders that particular strata known as the mid-career (b. 1960 or thereabouts) Great American Novelist. It is, of course, most regrettable that Age should matter, but with so many GANs dropping off of late (Vonnegut, Mailer, et al.), one wonders who will be taught in tomorrow’s classrooms. The current crop identified by Mr. Tata do in part fall into a certain rubric of, as he suggests, “nothing more than comic book characters and escapist fantasy,” which suggests a new concern for the next hopeful pantheon. But this “hopeful” qualifier presumes that these writers care about being listed in syllabi, much less proscribing their concerns for what is Important Literature by writing Serious Novels. So I put forth the question to the peanut gallery: Who, born between the years of 1960 and 1970, has a shot at being tomorrow’s Great American Novelist? Is the list that Tata offers the True List? Or is it too early to tell? Has literature become something too specialized to make such a judgment call? (I respond “yes” to the last rhetorical question, but I don’t necessarily think that this is a bad thing.)


  1. David Foster Wallace.
    William T. Vollman.
    Bret Easton Ellis.

    The Great American Novelist, as of right now, is Kenneth Goldsmith. His novels are what people will be reading in 100 years.

  2. It’s unfortunate that Tata uses Diaz as his jumping-off point for a discussion of “intense self-involvement and a privileged distancing from the tumult of actual contemporary American life.” And that he has such a Woodian attachment to realism. That said, I find that almost all my favorite Contemporary American Novelists were born in the Fifties or earlier, except for Jennifer Egan. Dunno if that’s a reflection of my limited reading or of the slim literary pickings of our age.

  3. Vollmann, born in 1959, He’s the only American author of that generation I can imagine winning a Nobel someday. None of his generational peers can match the breadth of his ambition and accomplishment. I’m sure the James Woods of the world have no use for him, cuz he’s not a Jamesian realist.

  4. If the criteria for canonization was “The Author tells us what life was like in those days” — i.e. not esthetic but cultural importance, the list of Authors Who Will Be Read In 100 Years might look like this:

    1. Some pornstar who published an autobiography;
    2. Some high-school shooter (his homepage will qualify as the “literature” in question);
    4. JK Rowling;
    5. Al Gore.

    But feel free to make your own list. 🙂

  5. I’m far too bashful and self-effacing to mention that I was born exactly halfway between 1960 and 1970, and have three novels in progress, all of which qualify as American. Okay, so none of them are Great, but I like them quite a bit.

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