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Future Classics: Readers of 1936 Predict Which Authors Will Endure

Find out which famous writers didn't make the top ten in this poll.

Ernest Hemingway’s 1923 passport photo (Source: National Archives)

In 1936, a quarterly magazine for book collectors called The Colophon polled its readers to pick the ten authors whose works would be considered classics in the year 2000. Sinclair Lewis, author of the 1935 hit It Can’t Happen Here, was a natural choice for the top spot. Just five years earlier Sinclair had been the first American to win the Nobel Prize for literature. But some of the authors are likely forgotten names to even the most ardent reader here in the year 2012:

  1. Sinclair Lewis
  2. Willa Cather
  3. Eugene O’Neill
  4. Edna St. Vincent Millay
  5. Robert Frost
  6. Theodore Dreiser
  7. James Truslow Adams
  8. George Santayana
  9. Stephen Vincent Benet
  10. James Branch Cabell

The editors at the magazine supplemented the published list with their own ideas of who might still be read in the year 2000. Their list included authors like Thomas Wolfe, H.L. Mencken, Ernest Hemingway and Hervey Allen.

How do you think these readers of the 1930s did with their predictions? Who would you put on a list of authors read today who will still be read into the year 2080 and beyond? What do you think the future holds for the book, a form of technology that’s getting harder and harder to define as it becomes less popular as a physical object and more often a collection of words that reside in our devices?

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