Are you looking to discover a new, modern author? Check out this list of the best 21st century authors to discover.
Reading is far from dead in the 21st century. Though ebooks are on the rise and an increasing number of authors are turning to this platform, books, whether in print or in digital format, continue to make their impact. From works written for young people to impressive pieces that delve into deep political topics, the best authors of the 21st century are not afraid to take on hard topics in their writing.
If you are looking to enjoy a new, up-and-coming writer, there are several on this list that fit the bill nicely. Find one that has the type of book you want to read, and dig in. Soon you may discover a new favorite writer. They might even inspire you to become an author!
- 1. J. K. Rowling
- 2. Zadie Smith
- 3. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
- 4. Cormac McCarthy
- 5. Elena Ferrante
- 6. George Saunders
- 7. Hilary Mantel
- 8. Ian McEwan
- 9. Margaret Atwood
- 10. Marilynne Robinson
- 11. Veronica Roth
- 12. Colson Whitehead
- 13. David Mitchell
- 14. Jennifer Egan
- 15. Jonathan Franzen
- 16. Winfried Georg Sebald
- 17. Michael Chabon
- 18. Neil Gaiman
- 19. Stephen King
- 20. Alan Hollinghurst
- 21. Kazuo Ishiguro
- 22. Suzanne Collins
- 23. James Patterson
- 24. Philip Roth
- 25. Sally Rooney
- 26. Anne Enright
1. J. K. Rowling
J. K. Rowling is the penname for Joanne Rowling, the British author who is responsible for the Harry Potter series of books. She was born in 1965 and grew up with a love for books, deciding at an early age that she wanted to be a writer.
Starting in 1997 with Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, she wrote seven total novels about the boy wizard, ending with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows in 2007. With the success of the Harry Potter franchise and her adult novels, she is one of the highest-paid writers in modern history. In 2001 Warner Brothers released the first film adaptation of the Harry Potter franchise, and a cult following for the boy wizard and his world began.
Harry Potter was unique in that it created a renewed interest in crossover eviction, the type of fiction that appeals to both children and adults. Rowling has become a philanthropist, using her wealth to sponsor several charities focused on helping children, and she was the second-most generous UK-based charitable donor in 2015.
2. Zadie Smith
Zadie Smith is an English novelist and professor who is a graduate of King’s College and the University of Cambridge. Smith was born in London in 1975, and as a child, she wanted to be a dancer or perform in musical theater until literature became her passion. She has a lengthy list of awards to her name and is an elected fellow of the Royal Society of literature.
Smith’s first novel, White Teeth, received an award for publication before she completed it. Upon its publication in 2000, it became an instant bestseller, and she went on to write many more works. Her writings fall into the hysterical realism genre.
In 2002 Smith was elected as a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. She was also named one of the 20 Best Young British Novelists in 2003 by Granta. Today, she is a tenured professor of fiction at New York University, and she is a Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
3. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was born in Nigeria in 1977. She grew up on a college campus, which taught her to love education and writing. After earning a degree from Eastern Connecticut State University in Communication and Political Science, she went on to get a Master’s Degree in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University and a Master of Arts degree from Yale. She has multiple honorary doctorate degrees.
Adichie’s debut novel Purple Hibiscus won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book. She also published Half of a Yellow Sun and The Thing Around Your Neck, a compilation of some of her short stories. Half of a Yellow Sun won the Women’s Prize for Fiction.
Adichie is well-known as a feminist, and the themes of women’s rights and independence come out in many of her writings. In addition to writing, Adichie has several lectures published with TED Talks. She also continues to write.
4. Cormac McCarthy
Cormac McCarthy was born in 1933 in Rhode Island and attended the University of Tennessee. He started publishing his books in 1979 and continues to publish in the 21st century.
Mccarthy’s first successful novel was All the Pretty Horses which received the National Book Critics Circle Award and the National Book Award. In 2006 his book The Road won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize.
In total, Cormac has 10 novels, two plays, five screenplays, and two short stories to his name, many of which are Westerns or post-apocalyptic stories. He works with the Santa Fe Institute and was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 2012.
5. Elena Ferrante
Elena Ferrante is the pen name for the author of several novels originally published in Italian. One of her most widely-known works is the Neapolitan Novels, a four-volume work that tasks about two girls born in Naples. Because the author’s true identity is unknown, nothing is known about her biography.
Ferrante’s anonymity has not hurt her influence. In 2016, Time Magazine called her one of the 100 most influential people of the year. She believes that keeping her name out of her work is vital to her writing process. My Brilliant Friend is one of her most famous works, and it is part of the Neapolitan Novels series.
Many theories have come to light about Ferrante’s true identity, but it remains under wraps. Thus, her age and her nationality are not fully known.
6. George Saunders
George Saunders writes just about everything, including children’s books, novels, short stories and essays. Born in 1958 in Texas, he attended the Colorado School of Mines and got a graduate degree from Syracuse University. He teaches creative writing at Syracuse University and is a recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship and the MacArthur Fellowship.
Saunders has many award-winning works. His book Tenth of December published in 2014 won the Folio Prize, and he also received the Booker Prize in 2017 for Lincoln in the Bardo. He also contributes to many famous magazines, including GQ, The New Yorker and Harper’s.
Today, Saunders has 11 books to his name. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Time Magazine named him one of the world’s 100 most influential people in 2013, and he has had appearances on several talk shows, including The Colbert Report.
7. Hilary Mantel
Hilary Mantel was born in England in 1952. She is a British writer known for her personal memoirs, short stories, and historical fiction. She received her education at the University of Sheffield and worked as a social worker at a hospital and a sales assistant in a retail store before realizing writing was her passion.
Mantel has many books to her name, including her first novel Every Day is Mother’s Day published in 1985. Some of her 21st century writings include her memoir, Giving up the Ghost, and her novel Beyond Black and Wolf Hall, which won the Booker Prize in 2009. She won the Booker Prize again in 2012 for its sequel, Bring up the Bodies. She also wrote Thomas Cromwell A Revolutionary Life.
Several controversies have surrounded Mantel and her writing. She has made critical statements about monarchy and once stated she fantasized about the murder of Margaret Thatcher.
8. Ian McEwan
Winner of the Somerset Maugham Award in 1976, Ian McEwan continues to contribute writing to the literary world. This English novelist was born in 1948 in England and receive his education at the University of Sussex and the University of East Anglia. He traveled often during his childhood, which gave him fodder for many of his stories.
McEwan became a mainstream name in literature at the turn of the 21st century with Amsterdam, which won the Booker Prize in 1998, and Atonement, which was named the best novel of 2002 by Time magazine. Other recent works include Solar and Sweet Tooth.
Awards seem to follow everything McEwan does. In the 2008 British Book Awards, he was named Reader’s Digest Author of the Year after receiving the Galaxy Book Award for On Chesil Beach. He also earned the Boldeian Medal in 2014.
9. Margaret Atwood
Canadian writer Margaret Atwood became a household name when her book The Handmaid’s Tale became a major series on Netflix. The story tells of a dystopian society believed to be in what was once America, where fertile women are given as handmaidens to the upper class for the sole purpose of bearing them children. Though the book’s original publication was in 1985, it has gained a new following with the television series, prompting the publication of its sequel, The Testaments, in 2019.
Atwood was born in 1939 in Ontario, Canada, and attended the University of Toronto and Radcliffe College. Today she is known as one of the more inspiring feminist writers of the era, though she does not take the title for herself.
Though The Handmaid’s Tale is her most famous work, it is not her only story. The Blind Assassin, published in 2000, earned the Booker Prize and the Hammett Prize. In 2001 Atwood was inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame for her work in literature. She also published Hag-Seed, a modern retelling of The Tempest, in 2016.
10. Marilynne Robinson
Marilynne Robinson is a novelist from America with many awards to her name. She was born in Idaho in 1943 and attended Pembroke College and the University of Washington. She has honorary doctorate degrees from Oxford and Yale.
Robinson has several works she is famous for writing, but Gilead is one of her most popular, winning the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2005. The book centers on the life and theology of a fictional congregationalist minister, and it gave her the chance to explore some of her theological ideas in a work of fiction. She also wrote Jack, Lila, Home, and Housekeeping.
In 2016 Robinson was given the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction. She also was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people. In addition to her novels, she often publishes essays on the topics of religion, science, history and politics.
11. Veronica Roth
Born in 1988, Veronica Roth is one of the younger influential writers of the 21st century. Her young adult dystopian coming-of-age fantasy series the Divergent trilogy is her most famous work, and she wrote the first book on winter break while attending Northwestern University. She currently resides in the Chicago area.
Divergent and its sequels sold over five million copies by 2013, pushing the young woman towards success. She went on to publish several short stories from the Divergent world, as well as additional young adult novels and short stories, including Carve the Mark, which came out in 2017.
Roth was lucky in that she published her works around the same time as several other coming-of-age young adult novels. This helped catapult her fame and success.
12. Colson Whitehead
Colson Whitehead was born in 1969 in New York and grew up in Manhattan. This African-American author attended Harvard University and lived in Brooklyn for a time in his early writing career, before moving back to Manhattan. He started writing for The Village Voice, which gave him a place to showcase his work while also starting his novel-writing career.
Whitehead has eight novels to his name, with The Underground Railroad being one of his most famous and an Oprah’s Book Club choice. This book won the 2016 National Book award and the 2017 Pulitzer Prize. He won the Pulitzer again in 2020 for The Nickel Boys, and he has two non-fiction works as well: The Colossus of New York and The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky & Death.
Colson Whitehead has received many awards for his work, including the Young Lions Fiction Award and the PEN Oakland Award. He also has a Guggenheim Fellowship and MacArthur Fellowship.
13. David Mitchell
English novelist David Mitchell was born in 1969 in Lancashire, England. He attended the University of Kent to study English and literature. He taught English in Japan for a season while building his earnings as a writer.
Ghostwritten was Mitchell’s first novel, and it came out in 1999. It showcased his skill as a writer, winning the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. He also wrote Cloud Atlas, which was a feature film by the same name, and The Bone Clocks, which was shortlisted for the 2014 Man Booker Prize. Utopia Avenue is one of his recent works, published n 2020.
In 2007, Time Magazine named Mitchell one of the top most 100 influential people in the World. He was twice shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, though he never won it. He currently lives in Ireland with his family, where he continues to write.
14. Jennifer Egan
Jennifer Egan is a short story and novel writer from America. In 2018, she was the president of the PEN America Center. She was born in 1962 in Chicago and attended the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Cambridge. At one time she dated Steve Jobs of Apple and Macintosh fame.
Egan got her publishing start working for several periodicals, including The New Yorker, Harper’s and Zoetrope. She published her first novel, The Invisible Circus, in 1995, and it later became a film by the same name. A Visit from the Goon Squad is one of her most famous works, and it won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle award in 2011.
In addition to the awards for A visit from the Goon Squad, Egan won the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction for Manhattan Beach, her 2017 novel. It was also chosen as the book for the New York City One Book, One New York read that year. She also was a finalist for the National Book award for her 2001 book Look at Me.
15. Jonathan Franzen
Jonathan Franzen is an American author who was born in Illinois in 1959. He attended Swarthmore College and started writing for The New Yorker magazine. In 1981 he received a Fulbright Scholarship and used it to study in Berlin.
Franzen has five novels to his name, but his most famous and the one that brought him to fame is The Corrections, published in 2001 and winning several awards. It quickly became one of the best-selling works of fiction of the decade. In 2020, he published Crossroads, which was the first volume in what Franzen says will be a trilogy.
Franzen also has non-fiction works, with five publications to date. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and he won the James Tait Black Memorial Award.
16. Winfried Georg Sebald
W. G. Sebald was a German writer who was born in 1944 and died at the age of 57 in 2001. Though many of his works were published in the 20th century, he deserves a spot on this list because of his contribution, Austerlitz, his final novel, which he published in 2001. It won the National Book Critics Circle Award, and at the time of his death, literary critics called him one of the greatest living authors.
Sebald studied literature at the University of Freiburg and the University of Fribourg. When his works were translated from German into English, he carefully oversaw the work to ensure his writing remained as close to the original as possible.
In addition to Austerlitz, Sebald published The Rings of Saturn, Vertigo and The Emigrants. He also wrote three books of poetry.
17. Michael Chabon
Michael Chabon is an American novelist and short-story writer who was born in Washington, D.C. in 1963. He has several pen names, including Leon Chaim Bach, Malachi B. Cohen, and August Van Zorn. He attended Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of California.
Chabon got his start when his adviser submitted his master’s thesis for publication without his knowledge. It became The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, and a literary career was born.
Chabon frequently uses metaphor in his writing and also uses complex language. In 2001, he won the Pulitzer for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, and he also wrote The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, which won the Hugo, Sidewise, Nebula and Ignotus awards. Several of his books have become films or television series. Today, Chabon lives in California with his family.
18. Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman was born in 1960 in England and is both an author and a screenwriter and voice actor. He grew up with a love for reading, which eventually became a passion for writing. He loves fountain pens and always writes the first draft of a book with one.
Gaiman not only writes traditional novels, but he also writes comic books. The Sandman is his comic book series, and he also wrote Coraline, The Graveyard Book, Stardust, and American Gods.
He holds both Newberry and Carnegie medals, winning both for The Graveyard Book in 2008. He also has won the Hugo, Bram Stoker and Nebula awards. Gaiman is also known for his activism as an advocate for global refugees. He also supports the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.
19. Stephen King
A list of famous and influential 21st-century authors would not be complete without a mention of Stephen King, the famous horror and supernatural writer. Named the “King of Horror,” King has many famous works to his name, including 64 novels. He was born in 1947 in Portland, Maine, and graduated from the University of Maine. He continues to publish books today.
King has several awards to his name. In 2004, he won the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement, and in 2007 he won the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America. He also has a National Medal of Arts from the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts.
Many of his works, including The Shining and Salem’s Lot, are now major motion pictures. The Shining remains his most popular book, selling over 700,000 copies on its own. King’s books have sold more than 350 million copies to date.
20. Alan Hollinghurst
Alan Hollinghurst was born in 1954 in Gloucestershire, England. He is a writer and translator known for his novels, poems and short stories. He studied English at Magdalen College and worked as a lecturer at several colleges before launching his writing career.
The Line of Beauty is one of the most famous works from this author, and it won the Man Booker Prize in 2004. This book became a BBC Television series in 2006
Hollinghurst also won the Somerset Maugham Award for The Swimming Pool Library. Other works from Hollinghurst include the Folding Star, Spell, and The Stranger’s Child.
21. Kazuo Ishiguro
British novelist Sir Kazuo Ishiguro was born in Japan in 1954, moving to England when he was just six years old. This prolific sci-fi and historical fiction writer has many works to his name, and he won the Man Booker Prize for different times throughout his career. He attended the University of Kent and the University of East Anglia.
Ishiguro’s novels are known for their great emotional appeal. In 2017, he received the Nobel Prize in Literature for his work. Never Let Me Go is one of his most famous works. This 2005 novel was named one of the 100 best English-language novels of its day.
In 2018, Ishiguro was appointed Knight Bachelor for services to literature, taking on the title “Sir.” In addition to his novels, he published Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall, a collection of short stories, and has several screenplays to his name.
22. Suzanne Collins
Suzanne Collins was born in 1962 in Connecticut and attended Indiana University Bloomington and New York University. She publishes young adult and children’s fiction works, with two main series to her name.
Though she writes for children and teens, Suzanne Collins has made an impact on 21st-century literature. Her acclaimed series The Hunger Games has become a major motion picture franchise, and it sat on the New York Times bestseller list for over 60 weeks in a row. She published the first one in 2008 and went on to publish a full trilogy and several companion works. In 2012, they ranked second in NPR’s poll of the top teen novels, falling short of Harry Potter in first place.
Collins also published The Underlander Chronicles, a children’s book series that takes readers on an underground journey in a fanciful world where giant rats reign. She won many awards for her work, including the California Young Reader medal and the Best Books of 2008 status from the School Library Journal.
23. James Patterson
James Patterson is an American author and philanthropist who is the most financially successful modern writer. He has created several enduring characters like Alex Cross and Michael Bennett. He won the 2019 National Humanities Medal and was awarded the Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community by the National Book Foundation.
Patterson was born in New York in 1947. He attended Manhattan College and Vanderbilt University. He published his first book, The Thomas Berryman Number, in 1976, and to date has over 200 novels to his name. He is most famous for his detective series and holds the Guinness World Record for the most New York Times bestsellers by a single author.
Estimates indicate Patterson has an income of $85 million a year, making him the highest-paid author. His books have sold over 400 million copies, and he was the first author to sell 1 million e-books.
24. Philip Roth
Philip Roth is an American novelist and short-story writer from Newark, New Jersey. He was born in 1933 and died in 2018 at the age of 85. His works were often known for blurring the line between reality and fiction as he explored what made America America.
Though he wrote in the 20th century, his book The Plot Against America, published in 2004, was impactful. It talks about an alternate history in which Franklin D. Roosevelt does not win the presidential election and the fate of America is forever changed.
Roth has many awards to his name, including being a three-time PEN Faulkner Award winner. In 1997, he won the Pulitzer Prize for his book American Pastoral. He created a well-known character named Nathan Zuckerman who was the main character in four of his novels.
25. Sally Rooney
Not all authors on this list have a large number of works to their name. Sally Rooney has just three, but her second novel, Normal People, is considered one of the best novels of the century so far. Published in 2018, it was an instant best seller and sold 64,000 hardcover copies in its first four months.
Rooney was born in 1991 in Ireland, making her one of the youngest authors on this list. She attended Trinity College in Dublin after writing her first novel at the age of 15. She published her first book, Conversations with Friends, while earning her master’s degree in literature.
In addition to her novels, Rooney has short stories, essays and poetry in her bibliography. She won the Costa Book Award for Normal People. It was also named “Irish Novel of the Year” at the Irish Book Awards.
26. Anne Enright
Anne Enright is an Irish novelist who was born in 1962. She attended Trinity College and the University of East Anglia and began writing in earnest on her 21st birthday. She won several awards for her creative writing as a young woman before settling down to be a television producer for the Nighthawks program in Dublin.
Enright’s writing has shown up in many magazines and newspapers. In 1995 she wrote her first novel, The Wig My Father Wore. She gained fame when she published The Gathering, which won the Booker PRize in 2007.
One of her most popular works is The Green Road. This 2015 novel follows the Madigan family and the struggles they face. It won the Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award in 2016.
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