25 Influential Writers

This post has been sitting in my ‘Drafts’ folder for about a year – I started on it, and simply forgot it was there.  I’m sure you’ve seen this meme a fair bit, but here are my twenty-five influential writers anyway. These are not necessarily twenty-five writers who influenced the world; they are writers who are dear to my heart, and who have shaped my ideas and understanding over the years. I have grown not only to treasure their works, but also to be inspired – and challenged – by their lives.

1) The Bronte sisters

Charlotte, in particular. I was about nine or ten the first time I read Jane Eyre, and as is probably the case with thousands of other girls, Jane had a huge influence on me. She impressed me so much as a little girl; I was always amazed at how unfazed she was in front of Mr Rochester. I would have been so tongue-tied in front of him, sardonic thing that he is. Later down the road, I came to love Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey too. What I find most admirable about the Bronte sisters is that they persevered – despite the odds (three governnesses in quietYorkshire, what are the chances?) their novels – and names –  have survived the test of time, and discrimination. It’s a shame that Emily and Anne were so overlooked in their time, and continue to receive more or less the same treatment today (though, of course, no one today would dare suggest that Charlotte penned Wuthering Heights)

2) Gao Xingjian

It was through my recent experience with Soul Mountain that I realised how rigid my thoughts were. The elusiveness and ambiguity of Gao’s prose allowed me – for a while anyway – to untangle myself from the constraints of my own mind. Sometimes it’s such a relief to allow yourself to be led down unknown paths by the writer.

3) William Shakespeare

What I love about Shakespeare is the powerfully evocative quality of his plays. I think I love Hamlet, The Tempest and Much Ado About Nothing most of all. A Midsummer Night’s Dream follows close behind.

4) George Orwell

One of the greatest thinkers of the twentieth century. Always playful, always thought-provoking, always a pleasure to read. Still haven’t finished that volume of his essays though. Will get around to it someday.

5) Vladimir Nabokov

Beautiful, haunting prose. Need to read Nabokov that isn’t Lolita.

6) Virginia Woolf

She entered my world quite unexpectedly, but I immediately sensed that there was something refreshing and timeless about her work. After reading my first Woolf, Mrs Dalloway, I became aware of the powerful rhythm of words and language. These days, though, I prefer Woolf’s diaries and letters to her novels. I find myself more fascinated by her life and the struggles she went through in order to produce works such as The Waves and To the Lighthouse.

7) Anne Frank

Apart from penning an incredibly poignant account of her teenage years in Nazi-occupied Europe, Anne Frank had a large influence on my diary-keeping habits. I’ve fallen out of the habit now, but many of my childhood hours were spent filling notebook after notebook after notebook.

8) Roald Dahl

A truly wonderful storyteller. To be honest, I never quite ‘outgrew’ Dahl – I still own a copy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and I love to re-read it. I suppose I should mention Quentin Blake here too, because Dahl’s stories wouldn’t be complete without those quirky illustrations of his. I only wish I had a copy of Matilda.

9) Jane Austen

To call her a feminist is a bit – okay, very – far-fetched, but she’s an admirable figure anyway.

10) Anonymous

How many valuable pieces of poetry and fiction have been penned byAnon, or Anonymous? Sometimes it’s easier to value writing when the author’s identity remains a mystery. In this way, our perceptions aren’t skewed by contextual knowledge, or by any sort of partiality.

11) Beatrix Potter

I’m actually not a fan of Peter Rabbit, but I loved the film Miss Potter.

12) Arundhati Roy

Roy’s writing is overly stylized – at times unbearably so – but there’s something so vivacious about The God of Small Things that I can’t help but love it. It’s such a beautifully crafted book.

13) Homer


14) William Blake

I’m drawn more to his artworks than his poetry, but this man fascinates me.

15) Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is far from one of my favourite books and yet I can’t help but admire her passion and unbridled talent. She was only nineteen years old when she penned the book, and though it’s an unpolished work, it’s  still a powerful piece of literature. And beautiful too, in hindsight.

16) Victor Hugo

Les Miserables – need I say more?

17) T S Eliot

Much like Woolf, Eliot provided a fresh element to his medium – i.e. poetry. I read his gritty Prufrock and Portrait of a Lady and Rhapsody on a Windy Night at a time when I was thoroughly sick of nightingales and cherry boughs, and found his poems so refreshing.

18) J R R Tolkien

Master of worldbuilding. And he’s the man who thought up hobbits. I went through a brief fantasy stage – though I suppose I should say Tolkien stage, because I only ever read Tolkien – and his works fascinated me to no end.

19) Alfred Tennyson

I know Tennyson is a poet, not a painter, but I can’t help but associate him with the Pre-Raphaelites and their ethereal depictions of Arthurian legend. My favourites of his are The Lady of Shallot and The Mermaid.

20) The Brothers’ Grimm

The Grimm brothers’ archetypal folk tales are such magical, beautiful, amorphous things.  I loved them as a child, and I love them still (though for different reasons altogether). Their tales have been the inspiration behind many favourites – Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, in particular. Her stories are just wonderful.

21) Oscar Wilde

Poisonous, sinister, bursting with ideas.

22) C S Lewis

Prim and proper prose, with quintessentially British characters called Lucy and Edmund and Susan and Peter is my sort of thing. Plus, he was a wonderful theologian.

23) Alexandre Dumas

Like Hugo, Dumas has the gift of encompassing an entire world in his novels. Lengthy though they may be, there is not a single word or chapter I would remove from his works, because they are such a delight to read.

24) J K Rowling

By now, I think everyone knows how much I love Harry Potter. It’s the writing too, but mostly I love the world she creates. It’s so wonderfully insane. To me it doesn’t matter that she ‘borrows’ elements of other fantasy writers’ work perhaps a little more than is appropriate; she never outright plagiarised, and a book doesn’t necessarily have to be shockingly original to be shockingly good.

25) Dr Seuss

No one does rhyme and bizarre creatures like Seuss, except perhaps Roald Dahl. Star-Bellied Sneetches, the Grinch, Green Eggs and Ham, Cat in the Hat … Such a mastermind.


16 thoughts on “25 Influential Writers

  1. I think your list has a great mix of authors, and I admire the time and effort that must have been required to create it! I’m not sure I could easily pick 25 influential writers in my life (too many or too few?)… I could see myself easily falling back on simply discussing my favorites, which is a slightly different question, I think.

    I laughed a little when I read Beatrix Potter. We just recently watched Miss Potter, and were a bit bemused by it (let’s be honest: I’ll watch any movie with Ewan McGregor!). I wasn’t quite sure about her whole talking to her pictures – did the real Potter do this, treat her paintings as living, breathing friends? I think the filmmakers were going for “endearingly quirky”, but I must admit we found film Beatrix a bit, well, disturbed.

    1. Hmm, favourites/influences – it’s a pretty fine line. Most of the writers up there are also favourites, except perhaps Mary Shelley and Beatrix Potter.

      HAHAH! Yes! She is a complete nutter in the movie, and I thought they ruined a completely good film by putting in those stupid cartoon animals that come to life and wriggle their tails and what not. But isn’t her life so inspiring? Until the end, she lived the way she wanted, refusing to conform to the expectations placed on her by society. Sort of, anyway. I don’t know what I’m getting at. But it seems an ideal sort of life. Then again, Hollywood has a way of skewing perspectives. In reality, it probably wasn’t all that rosy.

      Also, I think Renee Zellweiger’s (sp.?) portrayal made Beatrix Potter seem more disturbed, because it was basically Bridget Jones in a turn-of-the-century gown.

      1. Ha it’s so true! I think I felt unconvinced by the Beatrix character because I essentially couldn’t see her as anything other than Bridget Jones, so you’re expecting her to say something foolish or have her skirt fly up over her head or something like that!

  2. That’s a wonderful list. I haven’t read some of the authors, but I couldn’t agree more with the ones I have read. JK Rowling might be an exception, and, I’d probably replace her with Enid Blyton, but, that’s about it, really.

    Congratulations on compiling this list though – don’t think it’s something I could’ve done in this lifetime. Too many authors/poets and all that.

    1. Hmm, I’m not sure about Enid Blyton. I did read a lot of her books when I was little, but I’m of the Harry Potter generation, after all, hahah – and Blyton just never was as influential as Rowling was (to me personally). To me, Blyton falls more under the category of ‘childhood favourites’. But this is a very personal and subjective list, so if Enid Blyton belongs on yours, then what can I say? :)

      And yes, now I am starting to wonder how I ever got it down to 25. There are so many I missed, like Fitzgerald (F Scott, not Penelope – I’ve never read her) and Vikram Seth and oh my gosh, I left out Tolstoy. I chose to list anonymous over Tolstoy. How thoughtless of me! :O

  3. What a great list!! I loved reading Nabokov’s short stories. Still haven’t read Lolita.

    I haven’t read most of these authors, and those that I have, I wouldn’t say have influenced my life (JK Rowling is fun, but not, for me, life-impactful). But as you say, this is *you* list. I don’t think I”ve read enough by any particular author to put them on the list, but I wonder which works would end up on my list if I were to make one? Hmm. Maybe I need to do that.

    Thanks for getting me thinking!

    1. Oh yes, I remember reading your post on the short story collection and thinking ‘need to read Nabokov that isn’t Lolita’, but I still haven’t :)
      Hmmm, as for Rowling – I can see why it’s a bit of an iffy thing. Even for me, she’s more fun than life-impacting. Yet I say influence because the HP books were a big part of my childhood, hahah! Like, you know, the 80s kids had their Ninja Turtles and leg warmers and Pretty in Pink, and we had Harry Potter and the Spice Girls and Pokemon.

  4. I love the idea of personally influential, rather than influential for the Wide World of Literature. It really points to the importance of literature in our development – or at least, the development of those of us who go on to write about reading! :-) Of course I’m now inspired to go make my own list; thanks for the idea.

    1. Hmm, yes – I remember seeing this sort of list on other lit blogs and I really liked the idea because ultimately, reading is such a subjective experience! I’m always amazed at the different ways people interpret books; it probably says a lot about the way we see the world around us :)

  5. I do agree with you about Anne Bronte. Always overshadowed by her sisters yet Agnes Grey is a terrific novel. I visited her grave about eleven years ago and it was covered it fresh flowers. So moving.

  6. I have just discovered your wonderful blog by way of Kiss a Cloud’s link in today’s post. I very much look forward to following you in the weeks and months ahead.

    I love this idea of creating a post of influential authors. It would probably take me a year to methodically create a list; but an exercise worth doing.

    1. Hi, Molly! Nice to meet you! Aw, I’m glad you like my blog; but I have to warn you that any commenting could provoke long-winded discussions from me. Sometimes I write people comments as long as essays, and it is a bit intimidating hahah! :)

      Hmmm, well, I did leave my post in the drafts folder for a year, and that gave me a bit of perspective. I was like, why did I put you in there; *insert more influential author here* etc etc. But the best way to do it is probably to think off the top of your head! You know, sort of like when you ask someone to pick a name of a person they know, and the first name they say is probably the person they think about the most …

      or not!

  7. This is pretty impressive. I have to admit that I haven’t even heard of some of these writers, but love some of them as well. As I was reading, I wondered what my list would look like? I realized that I was more interested in content than style, but C.S. Lewis would be very near the top. I also realized how narrow my reading became the older I got. I used to explore James Joyce, Oswald Chambers and Francis Frangipane. I also realized as I was looking at your list, that I didn’t pursue authors, but subjects. I have been so impacted by Julia Cameron, and to be honest the only book that I’ve finished in the last few years was Simon Cowell’s “I don’t mean to be rude, but….” Well, interesting list. It got me thinking….

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