When I was twelve and playing Authors with my friends, Victor Hugo was a major literary figure, but so too were Stevenson and Longfellow. After many years in the study of literature, Hugo (and Stevenson and Longfell0w) were moved to a lesser rung and received that academic curse that relegates them to the wire rack down and the drugstore .. popular writers. Many people rebel against this somewhat subjective (but hardly permanent) designation: there are good reasons why Stephen King is not dominating the Freshman syllabus in the English Department at the University. Unfortunately too many readers blame the academics for not recognizing the wealth of literary excellence to be found in Harry Potter. I’m certain I could find a dozen readers who would insist that Fifty Shades of Gray be taught in an honors seminary at the university (in the English Department, not Health Sciences). Fifty or a hundred years from now if Anne Rice is still remembered, her works just might be read, studied, and overanalyzed by academics … but a safer bet would be that no one will remember Anne Rice.
It is a typically American condition to have a part-time grocery clerk know more about literature (or anything else) than the experts in the field. I know the brain surgeon in this area always calls me up for advice just before a tricky operation.
The opposite is also true: there are many works of fiction that are receiving a great deal of academic attention today that may fade and sink fast (ask the estate of Thomas Wolfe).
What current authors will withstand the test of time and have their works become true classics? I’ll start a list of authors but I’m guessing they won’t all survive: