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Great 21st Century Writers You Need to Read

September 26th, 2010

contemporary-literature-books.jpgThe 21st century may have only just started, but it is never too early to start making reading lists. Here are five contemporary literary authors you have probably never heard of, but will never forget once you read their work.

Magnus Mills:

Born in 1954 in Bristol, U.K. and raised in Birmingham, the works of Magnus Mills explore the themes of the routines of everyday life, the desire for freedom and independence, and the psychology of relationships involving punishment and reward. From 1979 to 1986, Mills worked for a company installing high-tensile fences. In 1986, he worked as a bus driver in London, something that was much repeated when he became a professional novelist only two years later though as a matter of fact, he was already a writer during this job, writing a column The Independent for the modest sum of £10,000.

Mills broke into literature proper in 1988 with The Restraint of Beasts, in which the writer used his experience installing high-tensile fences as a backdrop. His other major works are All Quiet on the Orient Express (1999), a tragicomedy set in the Lake District of northern England, and Three to See the King (2001), about an unnamed, lonely man who lives at the bottom of a canyon.

Siri Hustvedt:

A Minnesotan, Hustvedt was born in 1955 to Norwegian émigré Ester Vegan and Scandinavian Literature professor Lloyd Hustvedt. Graduating from St. Olaf College and going on to Columbia to write her thesis on Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend, Hustvedt married fellow novelist Paul Auster in 1981. Her debut novel The Blindfold was published in 1992. The novel follows the life of a Midwestern graduate student studying literature at Columbia, much like Hustvedt had herself, and explores the themes of mental illness, sexual identity, and the nature of romantic attraction, themes that recur throughout the writer’s work. Her most recent fiction work was The Sorrows of an American (2008), a semi-autobiographical novel about a New York psychiatrist attempting to solve a mystery about his recently dead father and his dysfunctional family of Norwegian-American intellectuals.

Nicholson Baker:

A New York City writer, Baker was born in 1957 and grew up mostly in Rochester. His debut novel was The Mezzanine (1988), a work presenting the reflections of an office worker as he rides an escalator. This work established Baker’s style as a novelist in the vein of postmodern literature with its stream of consciousness style narration and its extensive use of extremely long footnotes, one of which is, ironically, a sermon on the virtues of using long footnotes. In his fiction, Baker tends to put more emphasis on creating interesting and complex characters and exploring how they view the world than on describing their actions. His most recent work was The Anthologist, about a poet attempting to make a poetry anthology and gradually being drawn into isolation as his personal life crumbles around him.

Sarah Schulman:

Another writer from New York City, Schulman, born in 1958, has been writing both fiction and nonfiction about the AIDS epidemic, homelessness, and other social issues since the early 1980s. Her first novel was The Sophie Horowitz Story (1984), which tells the story of the bohemian and lesbian-oriented culture of Manhattan’s Lower East Side. More recently, she wrote The Child (2007), about a gay 15-year-old named Stew Mulcahey whose liaisons with two older men he met online get them jailed for child abuse. But when Stew’s miserable home life leads to a breakdown in which he murders his young nephew, the prosecutors want to try him as an adult. But will doing so nullify the charges against the men jailed for “child” abuse? Schulman’s style is both unflinchingly realistic and deeply funny, and she is doubtless one of the most powerful novelists writing about social issues today.

George Saunders:

Saunders was born in Amarillo, Texas in 1958, and later moved to Chicago’s south side, where he spent most of his childhood. In college, Saunders studied Geophysical Engineering and one of his first jobs was working for the environmental engineering firm Radian International. Saunders’ first collection of short stories and a novella CivilWarLand in Bad Decline was published in 1996. The interconnected stories tell of a post-apocalyptic America in which the theme of “survival of the fittest” has come to the forefront of the human psyche. Saunders’ stories are usually biting satires of our corporation-dominated culture and our seemingly incurable vein of consumerism. However, not all of it is satire; there are moments of serious philosophical questioning and poignant tragedy mixed throughout his sharp, hilarious dissections of contemporary materialism.

This article was supplied by Kevin Corbett from Constant Content.

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