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Spotlight On Modern Classic Authors

By Megan Powell, Yagmur Dur and Michael Calder


Modern classics are typically written after World War I and World War II with an aim to explore the new, emerging ideas and ways of thinking that were sparked after years of atrocities. After the wars, many people began engaging in conversations about gender, class and race ideologies. This push for transparency and boldness influenced many authors, poets and artists to embrace the realism of the modern world and begin experimenting with themes such as religion, politics (anti-war, anti-capitalism ideologies), societal flaws and gender rules. Modern classics push the boundaries of how we approach the everyday world, exposing readers to the ever-changing world around us.


Margaret Atwood


Self-publishing her first book of poetry, Double Persephone, in 1961, Margaret Atwood has forged a career that overflows with modern classics. The Canadian author, poet and activist garnered a reputation for imbuing incredible narrative and characters with political commentary. Her most renowned work, The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), will be familiar to most readers. The novel explores the collapse of civil rights under totalitarian rule, individual agency and complicity, religious philosophy and patriarchy within society. However, it is not her only text worthy of high status. Fantastic novels such as Oryx and Crake (2003) – an exploration of progressive science in tandem with unbridled profiteering and God complexes – demonstrate Atwood’s ability to repeatedly produce outstanding fiction. Her poetry, which should not be overlooked, is teeming with mythical references and classical heritage, but delivers a message that bears relevance to a modern audience. It is no surprise that Margaret Atwood has claimed an astonishing number of accolades and has shaped herself as an author of the modern classic.


Cormac McCarthy


Prominent for a unique writing style that disregards the typical rules, American novelist Cormac McCarthy has reimagined the post-apocalyptic and Western genres on several occasions. While McCarthy was touted for success from a young age, gaining recognition whilst studying at university and earning fellowships during his early career, the novelist found consistency difficult. Some of his early publications received positive reviews but never quite rose to acclaim. Others, such as Blood Meridian (1985), which is now amongst McCarthy’s most revered novels, flew under the radar when published. However, that trend was shattered when All the Pretty Horses (1992) was published, skyrocketing to a bestseller position and gaining McCarthy a deservedly increased readership. Following this breakthrough, the author continued to impress. His following novels, both sequels, formed a complete trilogy – the Border trilogy. McCarthy has since written a pair of culturally significant novels that are worthy of being dubbed classics. No Country for Old Men (2005) revitalised the gritty and bleak narrative style that was synonymous with McCarthy’s earliest work, and The Road (2006) has become a staple of the post-apocalyptic genre.


Ian McEwan


The Booker Prize winner was born in 1948 and spent a lot of his life in Germany and North Africa due to his father being an army officer. His return to England saw his enrolment at Sussex University, followed by the further study of MA Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. McEwan wrote many short stories, with his first collection First Love, Last Rites being published in 1976 and winning the Somerset Maugham Award. Yet, many of you may be more familiar with McEwan, the novelist. His first novel, The Cement Garden (1978), won the Whitbread Novel Award, starting the novelist’s hugely successful career. Most famous works by McEwan include Atonement (2001) and The Children Act (2014), which has recently been adapted for the screen. Throughout his career, the author has won many awards through his stories' challenging focus, revealing the dark humour and satirical commentary which have earned him critical acclaim. McEwan is still considered one of the best modern British writers of our time and is highly recommended.


Sylvia Plath


American poet and novelist Sylvia Plath was born in 1932. At the age of eight, she published her first poem and this success continued throughout her life. However, Plath suffered with severe depression and attempted suicide during her time at Smith College. She graduated with honours and moved to England to attend Newnham College in Cambridge. Plath married poet Ted Hughes but separated from him six years later after his affair. Plath’s life was the influence for many themes throughout her work, with The Bell Jar reflecting her own personal struggles. Published in 1963 under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas, The Bell Jar was the catalyst for more autobiographical and confessional works to be written. Famous poems by Plath include ‘Daddy’ and ‘Lady Lazarus’ which closely spoke to her experiences. Towards the end of her life, she produced numerous works breaking through literary restraints, focusing her writing on fact and truth. Plath took her own life in 1963, leaving behind a legacy through her work. The Bell Jar was republished under her name in 1966 and, even today, Plath receives new audiences and well-deserved appreciation for her work.

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