ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITER TOURNAMENT
Two American writers were so gigantic in standing and influence, even on the world stage, that they're automatic #1 seeds. Both of them, in ways good and bad, helped define what it is to be American.
1.) Ernest Hemingway. Possibly the biggest writer persona ever. In his day he was a bigger figure than movie stars and pop singers. Instantly recognizable. Larger than life. A giant part of the culture. He destroyed the effete image of literature. He had popular best-sellers but was also a critical darling. He defined, at least for a while, the American voice-- and in many ways transformed the English language. Even the Brits weren't the same after Hemingway. In America, the hard-boiled detective genre sprang from a single Hemingway short story. ("The Killers.") Hemingway began as an underground writer, the artistic creation of Sherwood Anderson, Gertrude Stein, and Ezra Pound. He took from his mentors, synthesized their ideas and made them accessible to the world. It's impossible for us today to understand how revolutionary was the early Hemingway sound. Though much of his work today is dated, his best stuff holds up-- his "Macomber" story one of the most exciting tales ever written; his top novels, "Sun" and "Farewell" striking reads also.
2.) Walt Whitman. More than any other single writer, Walt Whitman created the American voice and justified a distinctive American literature very different from its Old World models. Beyond that, he transformed the art of poetry on a world scale. Many consider him the father of free verse. Not just his art, but his persona was distinctively American. "Leaves of Grass" was every bit as revolutionary an artistic happening as anything Hemingway wrote. Or, for that matter, Allen Ginsberg and the Beats, who would've been impossible without Whitman blazing the trail before them. Whitman was the first hippie. He lived during a time when poetry was popular, and he was the most popular poet. The American character is a mix of several influences. Whitman is surely one of them.
Those are the two automatics. This leaves us with two more slots to fill. Who else is on their lofty level? There are several candidates. The literary establishment surely wants Henry James up there-- but he has a couple strikes against him. Other names seem to fit more comfortably as #2 or #3 seeds. Then there are the Nobel Prize winners, but some of the winners have been quite mediocre. I have a rough idea of who else belongs at the top of the seeding, but am willing first to hear remarks. (After all four top seeds are determined, there will be a news conference, at our venue site, at which I hope to get a few remarks from the big four.)