GWS Debate: Who is the Most Underrated Writer?


Friends, one of our greatest strengths is one of our greatest sadnesses.  There are so many fantastic writers out there, so many beautiful books, so many powerful short stories and poems that we will never have time to read all of them.  I know; there are worse problems to have.  Just like you, I could walk into any bookstore in the English-speaking world and come out with an armful of tomes, some of which I would never get around to reading.

While we’ll never get around to everything on our lists, we can and should spread the word about lesser-known writers who mean a lot to us.  We’ll never convert ALL of our friends, but it’s important to put as much attention as we can on cool people.  (After all, that’s most of why I do this site.)

In that spirit, I ask…

Who is the most underrated writer around?  Everyone knows about Joyce Carol Oates and T.C. Boyle and how great they are.  Those writers, quite deservedly, get a constant stream of attention from powerful media outlets.

You know who should get more attention?

Mary Miller.

I love her stuff because she manages to be “literary” (whatever that means) and entertaining at the same time.  Her stories are built from beautiful sentences, but her solid plots keep me reading because I want to know what happens to the well-drawn characters.

Now it’s your turn.  Who should we know about and why?





  • Well, I keep waiting to see who’s gonna bite, but I guess you’re stuck with me and my ramblings until someone with a pithy response comes along.

    Problem is: my underappreciated-writer list is more or less all women. Especially women of color. Even with lit classics, women tend to get shuffled to the side. Sure, Jane Austen used free indirect discourse a half century before Flaubert, but he gets the credit, and she’s a “cute little writer” who writes books about flirtation and romance. And don’t even begin to excuse how Bronte’s Jane Eyre formulated a kind of proto-Freudianism and some magnificent analysis of the female psyche.

    But here’s the thing: I’m looking at the more recent books on my shelf, and I keep coming back to a bunch of white men who I think haven’t gotten enough love. That kinda scares me, (and I’ll get to who they are, don’t worry), but fact is, Rebecca Makkai’s first novel The Borrower got a lot of play (and she was in BASS four years running, for pete’s sake), Karen Russell was on the Pulitzer shortlist, Taiye Selasi has both Salman Rushdie and Toni Morrison as mentors, and Celeste Ng’s first novel Everything I Never Told You made the NYT best-seller list, was named Amazon’s #1 best book of 2014, and a whole bunch of other lists of excellence. I can’t complain about the attention they’re getting. The women who wrote stories I loved, who I’d like to see more from - Molly McNett, Ayşe Papatya Bucak (remember her from “Iconography”) and Taymiya Zaman (“Thirst”) - well, I’ve only read those single stories, so I can’t speak to them as “writers” though I’m hoping to read more.

    So who are these white guys I think are underrated? I don’t think you’ll be surprised - Tim Horvath, whose collection Understories amazed me (and he practically had to force me to read it; I’m so glad he did). And Seth Fried, whose collection The Great Frustration is uneven, but the high spots are so high (“Frost Mountain Picnic Massacre” and “Those of Us In Plaid”, the whole Animacula series, man, how could he make me cry over microbes?) I’m ok with skipping over a couple of things. For that matter, Bennett Sims seems to have his name out there a lot, but his zombie-novel-without-any-zombies-but-lots-of-philosophy-tribute-to-DFW novel A Questionable Shape didn’t exactly raise a stir. And Manuel Gonzales, who is the only one of these guys to snag a “major” publisher, hardcover, paperback and all that, with his collection “The Miniature Wife” but I’m not sure that went anywhere, or maybe he’s just getting ready for his next book (I just noticed he’s teaching at the University of Kentucky, I’m taking a mooc from there, nothing to do with writing, though).

    /end rant. Yeah, I just ran out of steam, no nice tidy ending today. Gotta study chemistry. 😉

    • I’m not sure why, but I can’t get any big fights started. I guess I don’t have that clickbait mojo.

      And I’m happy to see your ramblings, of course. I never saw Austen as a “cute little writer.” I saw her books as extremely modern when I read them in high school; on par with the other writers I liked. (Even though many parts of her works aren’t modern. She didn’t even include texting in her books!)

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