A while back, Anis Shivani published what is by now a notorious list of the most “overrated” writers today. The critique, while provocative, seemed arbitrary in its vitriol and questionable in its methodology, but promised at the conclusion another list to follow, one that set forth the most underrated American writers. I looked forward to this, interested if he might provide some context for what he started in the initial post.
In the main, I find Shivani an interesting critic, but I fear him treading too close to the Dale Peck school of literary hatchet job. Alas, no list has turned up, and I am slowly resigning myself to the fact that Shivani was pulling a dumb stunt for media attention. A shame, truly. Regardless, I do like the idea of advancing the work of people who I’ve enjoyed and who seem to be as talented and accomplished in their work as any of the bedecked literati.
So, here’s my contribution to the conversation. These writers have impressed me with their unique and earnest engagement, and I hope more people seek out their work.
Note: there is absolutely no order of importance or worth in the ordering of the list.
Gann is an amazingly sophisticated language driven writer who deals with the suburban baroque. The depth and richness of his style match the involutions of character and setting. His strongest work, Our Napoleon in Rags, is a parade of dark psychology and unexpected redemption, dabbling in the grotesque with a distinctly original take.
I’ve mentioned Powell several times on this blog, and I have to say I’m ready for the world to wake up to what a great writer this guy is. He’s strongly in the Southern tradition of fine novelists, writing with a deep sense of the mythic and real. His novels Blood Kin and Prodigals are exceptionally strong, and I’m excited to see his latest, The House of the Lord, when it lands in the lap of a lucky publisher.
Another amazing, language driven writer. Adept at creating his own particular kind of syntax that is nothing like anything else written, in that way Denis Johnson and Barry Hannah can. Sometimes disorienting, but often as good as story writing can get. The classic beginning is his collection The Ice at the Bottom of the World.
The term prose poem is often overused, but not in the case of Wilkinson. Her stories embody the truest attention to natural lyricism. And yet, there’s a fully realized manifestation of character behind the voice, a real-life assertion that admits the perils and beauties of an actual world transformed into art. My favorite is Blackberries, Blackberries.
Taylor is a powerful young writer out of Kentucky that breathes remarkable vitality into short stories of the contemporary American South. His collection, The Name of the Nearest River, is not to be missed.
Another young short story writer, Yoon debuted with his collection Once the Shore, a group of stories set in a fictional island off the coast of South Korea. There is a quiet grace, a stateliness, in Yoon’s work that invites an impressionistic reading, but do not forget great depths and complications are at work beneath. Many of the stories are longer, and almost all read like condensed novels.
Lippincott’s work is defined by its stylistic precision and psychological acumen. His self-confessed influence of Virginia Woolf is apparent in his novel, Mr. Dalloway, but his best novel to date is the meticulously structured In the Meantime.
Briggs has been quietly building a strong reputation in independent literary circles for just over a decade, working in both stories and novels. His novel, The Strong Man, will be reviewed at length in the next week on this blog.
Parker first raised readers’ attention with his debut novel Ovenman. However, his collection The Taste of Penny, establishes him as a savvy, focused writer who writes with both his head and heart. My review of the collection will appear in the next online edition of Rain Taxi.
The stories that Deaver writes are not flashy, but they have an infectious quality, a sense of moral earnestness that is hard to shake off. Reminiscent of the best of Richard Ford and Russel Banks, Deaver steers his own remarkable course. His story collection Silent Retreats should be read by anyone interested in how the short story should be written.