Writing an Essay on Famous American Writers: People, Periods, and Writing Tips

So, you're assigned an essay on famous American essay writers, and now, you're not even sure how to get started. This is understandable — free-assigned topics can be intimidating, especially if literature is not one of your majors. On the upside, America has plenty of famous essayists who've influenced international writing stage, and you can definitely choose the one you're familiar with or the one who appeals to you.

So, let's have a look at the list of most prominent writers — in the eyes of readers and critics. For your convenience, we're listing American essayists chronologically — on the off chance that you're supposed to stick to one particular period rather than choose any writer you like.

Early Colonial Period

This is a unique period not only in American literature but also on the international writing scene. New World discovery, revolutionary air, and hope for a better future — all of those are persistent themes of the early Colonial epoch. Famous essayists of this time criticized stiff European traditions, spoke against slavery and oppression, and were sharing their ideas on how to make this world a better and juster place.

The most prominent writers of this period are:

  • Francis Bacon
  • Samuel Sewall
  • John Woolman

American Revolution

No wonder that with so much talk about justice and new horizons, the US started a revolution to proclaim its independence. In a way, American Revolution literature logically continued on the writings of the Colonial epoch. It went on describing the injustice of slavery, which was still common in the Southern states. Most American Revolution essays focused on the notions of democracy, equality, and social stability.

One more distinguishing trait of this period was the widespread popularity of essay as a literary form. Writers would publish most of their works in newspapers and magazines, and their thoughts reached a very large audience. Since they could not target a narrow niche, writers had to work hard to catch their readers' attention. That's when hooks became so common — and even today, an attention-grabbing hook is one of the surest ways to get a high grade for any essay.

The most renowned writers of this epoch were:

  • Benjamin Franklin
  • Thomas Paine
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • Washington Irving

Romantic Period

Even though America made a unique input into the world literature, some of the global trends still affected American writers and essayists. So, the romantic wave that spread over Europe in 1820-1860s, was also reflected in the American writings. Just like in Germany, England, and France, American writers focused on social rather than political issues. They wrote about people and their spirited characters. They were hoping to inspire readers to become good humans rather than good citizens. The primary ideal of this epoch was self-development, and most works of this period are highly optimistic.

Still, while most European essays focused on self-development and personal expression, American essays had another recurring theme — that is, a person's union with nature. Since the continent remained relatively unexplored, this topic left essay writers plenty of room for expression.

Writers shaped the face of American Romantic period:

  • Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • Edgar Allan Poe
  • Margaret Fuller
  • Oliver Wendell Holmes
  • Frederick Douglass

The age of realism

Despite its cultural and historical influence, the Romantic movement eventually evolved into realism. Once again, this shift does not concern America exclusively — the same trends were common in Europe as well. Both continents were going through rapid changes in their histories. In the US, the Civil War played a major part in what we now can call a 'rough awakening.'

So, innocence and optimism gave way to more dramatic and less naive ideas. Once again, writers focused on social and moral issues; however, there was little optimism in their works. They wrote about war and social inequality; they draw dark images of present-day reality. They described industrialization and its harmful effect on people's lives. For the first time in the world's literature, writers draw attention to the notion of alienation and its impact on individuals and societies alike.

The most prominent thinkers of this time were:

  • Mark Twain
  • Mary Austin
  • Louisa May Alcott
  • W.E.B. Du Bois
  • Bronson Alcott
  • Henry Adams

Modernism

The first half of the twentieth century has brought America some of its best writers, whose ideas are still relevant even today, almost a century after their works were written. Once again, the theme of 'lost generation' was a globally recurring topic, and American writing stage was no exception, having lost many lives during WWI. Men that came back were never the same, though — and we can observe these thoughts in many works of this period.

Another event that influenced the American writing scene was, of course, the Great Depression. All in all, the first half of the twentieth century can be described as an epoch of disillusionment. This theme is present in most literary works, and — more importantly — writers emphasize the idea that there is no easy way out from this situation.

Some of the most notorious figures of this decadent epoch were:

  • Ernest Hemingway
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • William Faulkner
  • George Ade

Postwar period

The Second World war also played a huge part in the literary scene. Still, even as Europe was devastated after the destruction, America experienced an unprecedented economic boom. It was one of the few continents that did not suffer massive losses during WWII, and it supplied plenty of goods worldwide.

The subsequent Cold War was also reflected in American writers' thoughts. In fact, most works of this period are highly reflective. Writers made it their primary goal to observe social events, making their own comments, and drawing their own conclusions. Social change was a characteristic trait of this epoch, and one can gain a lot of insight into people's mentality when reading postwar writings.

Essayists who contributed the most were:

  • Joan Didion
  • Norman Maile
  • John McPhee
  • Edward Hoagland

Contemporary period

This period starts in the 1990s and lasts even today. And, as you probably, know, the topics for discussion are plenty. The world has changed a lot; the American economy and political scene have been relatively peaceful for decades. The Internet has given plenty of people a chance to freely express their ideas and share their world outlooks. So, the contemporary writing scene covers plenty of acute (but still peaceful) topics, like religion, feminism, social life, and environments, etc.

Perhaps, the biggest literary innovation of this period is essay form. As our lives run faster and faster, reading turns into a rare habit. So, writers try to convey their messages across as quickly as they possibly can — because they realize that no one is going to read pages of text. They say brevity is the soul of wit — and, even though this expression is way older, it is perfectly applicable to the contemporary writing period.

Writers who are most famous today are:
  • Stephen King
  • David Shields
  • Marilynne Robinson
  • John Jeremiah Sullivan

More tips to help you with an essay

As you can see, American literature has plenty of exciting periods, and you can choose any writer (and any essay) to analyze in your own paper. Still, choosing an exciting topic is not the only requirement you'll need to follow to get an A+. Here are a couple of other tips to keep in mind:

  • Choose a topic you're interested in: your excitement will be reflected in an essay, which usually results in a higher grade.
  • Create a compelling thesis: this is the primary argument you are going to prove in your work; so, make sure it is an argument, not a widely accepted fact.
  • Describe one distinct thought per paragraph: when working on your body paragraphs, make sure you discuss one distinct issue per paragraph. Also, do not forget that any ideas you are discussing should logically follow one another and include proper traditions between your body sections.
  • Wrap up on a positive note: ideally, an academic conclusion leaves its readers thinking about your paper and makes a final impression on your audience. Make sure this impression is a positive one.

Finally, do not forget that you can always count on professional writing help when you need one. We've all been students, and we all know how overwhelming the sheer amount of homework can get. So, if you do not have the time to cope with all of your essays independently, let our expert writing team handle these assignments for you. All of our writers are professional experts in their niche subjects, and they can come up with a creative, 100% original paper even a very short deadline.

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