Earlier this week, we read a fascinating article over at The New Yorker that asked the question, “why is literary fame so unpredictable?” Apparently, in 1929, the readers of The Manchester Guardian were asked to vote on the authors they thought would still be read widely in 2029, and their top choice was John Galsworthy, who — though he won the Nobel Prize for The Forsyte Saga in 1932 — is now relatively unknown, or at least not very popular. The article goes on to discuss the difficulty in making predictions of literary prestige over long periods of time, noting a couple things that might give clues (a staunch but small readership of fellow authors, for one). While we concur that this kind of thing often rests on chance, fashion and unforeseeable future circumstance, we thought we’d take a stab at rounding up a few of the contemporary (read: living) authors we think we might still be reading in 100 years. Click through to see our predictions, and let us know your own in the comments.
Gabriel García Márquez
In addition to having written several beautiful novels (and, you know, having been awarded the Nobel Prize), Márquez is the figurehead of magical realism, a literary style that he popularized with the success of One Hundred Years of Solitude. So if nothing else, the author will at least be forever remembered and studied in conjunction with that stylistic trend, and his popularity will likely shift along with it.
Murakami has a unique combination of factors that we think will keep his work relevant for years to come — he’s weird enough to be beloved by critics and literati, he’s mainstream enough to pen instant bestsellers, he’s a strong international presence, and his writing is pretty much unlike anyone else’s (at least in the Western canon). Plus, the man is so fit that he’ll probably live for another hundred years, and will be available for publicity tours.
McCarthy already seems like a legendary author, so it’s not a stretch to imagine him as an enduring classic of American literature. Plus, three of his novels have been turned into good movies (with that pesky Blood Meridian always almost getting made), which, as The New Yorker suggests, is probably one of the best assurances of longevity. Since apparently no one reads anymore, let alone in the future.
Like McCarthy, King has had the good fortune to have several of his books adapted into popular (and in some cases, already classic) films, which will go a long ways towards carving him a permanent place in the literary canon. Not only that, but the man is so prolific, not to mention so beloved, that we doubt he’ll be falling out of the collective consciousness anytime soon.
As the New Yorker article suggested, perhaps “it’s not how many read you but who reads you.” Lydia Davis may not have had any bestsellers, but she’s a critics’ darling and a writers’ writer, so we think she’ll endure, at least on the intellectual, academic plane, for a good long while. Plus, she has, at least in our opinion, perfected her chosen form — the short short story — and so will always be the touchstone for anyone interested in that kind of writing, whether its popularity waxes or wanes as the years go on.
Some of you may bristle at this, but we think too many children (and let’s face it, adults) have been touched by Rowling’s Harry Potter series for it to fade into oblivion. A great many of the books we read as children we read because our parents loved it when they were children, and some of them even came third hand from our grandparents, so we think there’s definitely a chance that our own great great grandchildren will be reading about Voldemort in the backseat of their parents’ hovercrafts.
Already a legend, Morrison has been awarded a Nobel Prize, a Pulitzer, and most recently, was the 23rd writer to be presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She has been an incredibly influential force on the American literary stage, bringing both an African American and a female viewpoint to the mainstream, and consistently knocking our socks off with her phenomenal prose. In 2006, The New York Times sent out a query to “a couple of hundred prominent writers, critics, editors and other literary sages,” who voted Morrison’s novel Beloved as “the single best work of American fiction published in the last 25 years.” That has to count for something.
Already one of our most lauded contemporary authors, we think Roth’s ability to appeal to both the masses and the critics makes him a shoo-in for this list. Plus, he fits the profile: “authors who consistently write best-sellers will not last, but every lasting author needs at least one best-seller.” Well, he has more than one, but his works are definitely not fluffy crowd-pleasers — there’s both meaty substance and crowd-pleasing sugar in Roth’s oeuvre, a balanced meal sure to get him through the rough century ahead.
Mario Vargas Llosa
The Peruvian-Spanish writer, who is by far one of the most influential authors on the world stage, won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2010. The Swedish Academy explained their choice, claiming that they presented the award to Llosa “for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt, and defeat.” We don’t know, but that just seems like the kind of thing that’s going to keep being relevant in years to come.
The New Yorker suggests that one way to have your writing last is to “become interesting to an intellectual movement,” which makes a great deal of sense. In addition to being one of the best writers we can think of (and an absurdly charming grump to boot) Lessing has dabbled in so many genres and literary movements (Sufism! Science Fiction! “Inner Space” Fiction!) that it’s easy to imagine her work being at least tangentially important to almost any large-scale intellectual pursuit that might pop up in the next hundred years.