From a writing point of view, the 20th century is characterized by 3 major advancements: firstly, the technological advances, particularly in the printing industry; secondly, the unparalleled advancement in electronic media; and thirdly, advancements due to globalization. Advanced printing techniques made the books easily affordable for the common folk, consequently increasing the readership to the encouragement of writers. Electronic advancements, particularly the use of the Internet, caused an information burst and changed the whole scenario. Formerly, people had to go through a number of library shelves just to know where to find information, and by the end of the 20th century, the readers and writers were constrained to restrict their search to make sure where not to try finding information. A whole stack of hay is available to the writer today who tries to find a needle or a grain of wheat. One has to literally sort the needle out of the chaff. Globalization, too, has impacted the writing greatly in the 20th century due to the intercultural exchange among communities all over the world.
1. Rabindranath Tagore
Rabindranath Tagore was born to Debendernath Tegore and Sarada Devi in Calcutta, Bengal Presidency of the British Empire on May 7, 1861. He died in Calcutta on August 7, 1941 at the age of 80 years. He was the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature and, according to the Nobel Committee, it was ‘because of his profoundly sensitive, fresh, and beautiful verse by which, with consummate skill, he has made his poetic thought, expressed in his own English words, a part of the literature of the West.’ In 1915, King George V knighted him, but he did not accept the knighthood in protest of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre. He is best known for his beautiful poetry as it appeared in his famous Nobel Prize winning book Gitanjali.
2. William Butler Yeats
William Butler Yeats was born in Sandymouth County, Dublin, Ireland on June 13, 1865 and died in Menton, France on January 28, 1939. He was an Anglo-Irish symbolist poet and considered 1 of the main writers of the 20th century. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1923 because he, according to the Nobel Committee, ‘inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form, gives expression to the spirit of the whole nation.’ Replying to the congratulation letters for winning the Nobel Prize, he wrote ‘I consider that this honor has come to me less as an individual or as a representative of Irish literature; it is part of Europe’s welcome to the Free State.’
3. Rudyard Kipling
Joseph Rudyard Kipling was born to Alice Kipling and Lockwood Kipling in Bombay Presidency of British India on December 30, 1865 and died in London, England on January 18, 1936. He is best known for his Jungle Book and other tales for children. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1907 and was the first English writer as well as the youngest writer to receive this prize ‘in consideration of the power of observation, originality of imagination, virility of ideas, and remarkable talent for narration which characterizes the creation of this world-famous author.’
4. J. R. R. Tolkien
J. R. R. Tolkien was born to Arthur Reuel Tolkien and Mabel in Bloenfontein, Orange Free State on January 3, 1892 and died in Bournemouth, England on September 2, 1973 at the age of 81 years. He was one of the most well-known writers of the 20th century admired for has famous works: The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and Silmarillion. He taught at Pembroke College, Oxford from 1925 to 1945. He was appointed CBE, Commander of the Order of the British Empire, by Queen Elizabeth II on March 28, 1972. More than 100 million copies of The Lord of the Rings were sold by 1955. According to the Times, he was number 6 on the list of The 50 Greatest British Writers since 1945. In 2009, Forbes ranked him the 5th, top-earning celebrity.
5. Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway was born to Clarence Edmonds Hemingway and Grace Hall Hemingway in Oak Park, Illinois, U.S on July 21, 1899 and died in Ketchum, Idaho, USA, July 2, 1961 at the age of 61. He is best known for his Nobel Prize winning; The Old Man and the Sea. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1954, according to the Nobel Committee ‘For his mastery of the art of the narrative, most recently demonstrated in The Old Man and the Sea, and for the influence that he has exerted on contemporary style.’ The novel is about an old fisherman, Santiago, who does not give up after many days without a single catch of fish and ends up with catching a marlin bit too big for him. While dragging it homeward, the giant fish was attacked and consumed by sharks, leaving nothing behind except its skeleton. The novel is an embodiment of the tireless struggle.
6. John Steinbeck, Jr.
John Ernst Steinbeck, Jr. was born to John Ernst Steinbeck and Olivia Hamilton in Salinas, California on February 27, 1902. He died in New York City, U.S. on December 20, 1968 at the age of 66 years. He has written 27 books and is famous for his Pultizer Prize winning novel The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, and East of Eden. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1962. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1948 for his book A Russian Journal based on his experience of visiting different parts of Russia. He is probably the most famous of all the writers of the 20th century.
7. John Hersey
John Richard Hersey was born to Roscoe and Grace Bird Hersey in Tientsin, China on June 17, 1914 and died in Key West, Florida on March 24, 1993 at the age of 78. During World War II, he wrote for Time and Life. In 1945-46, he met and interviewed atom bomb survivors. Based on their interviews, he wrote his world famous 31,000-worded article which is considered the finest work of journalism in the 20th century. The opening sentence of this article is ‘At exactly 15 minutes past 8:00 in the morning on August 6, 1945, Japanese time, at the moment when the atomic bomb flashed above Hiroshima, Miss Toshiko Sasaki, a clerk in the personnel department of the East Asia Tin Works, had just sat down at her place in the plant office and was turning her head to speak to the girl at the next desk.’
8. Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison was born to Ramah and George Wofford in Lorain, Ohio, U.S. on February 18, 1931. She is best known for her work relating to African American Literature. The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon, and Beloved are her best-known works. She received a Pultizer Prize for Beloved in 1987. She received a Nobel Prize in 1993 because, in the eyes of the Nobel Committee, she was ‘who in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality.’ She was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom on May 29, 2012.
9. Pearl S. Buck
Pearl Sydenstricker Buck, better known as Pearl S. Buck, was born in Hillsboro, West Virginia, U.S. on June 26, 1892. She died in Danby, Vermont, U.S. on March 6, 1973 at the age of 80 years. She was a prolific writer and had written 39 novels. She is best known for her novel Good Earth which is the first volume of the trilogy The House of Earth. She was awarded the Pultizer Prize and the William Dean Howells medal for this distinguished work which enlightens the reader on the life of a Chinese peasant. The novel is based on her first-rate experience. After visiting the Pearl S. Buck House in October, 1998, the U.S. President George H. W. Bush remarked that, like millions of other American, he too gained appreciation of theChinese through Pearl S. Buck’s writing. She was the first American to receive the Nobel Prize. She received the Nobel Prize for Literature from King Gustav V of Sweden in 1938.
10. J. K. Rowling
J. K. Rowling was born in Yate, Gloucestershire on July 31, 1965. She is best known for her debut novel Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, published by Bloomsbury in London on June 26, 1997. The book topped the New York Time’s list of best-selling fiction in 1999. As of 1997, more than 120 million copies of the book were sold. It was mainly by virtue of this book that within a period of five years, she progressed from living on Social Security to a world-famous, multi-millionaire. Forbes ranked her as the 48th most powerful celebrity of 2007 while Time Magazine named her the runner-up for the 2007 Person of the Year.
The 20th century was, perhaps, the most prominent from a reading and writing point of view as the preceding century was not as gifted in technological advancements, and the following century was a bit too advanced. People are only too preoccupied with the Internet to afford time for reading books.