WHERE ARE THE GREAT NOVELISTS?
It's an important question. There need to be exemplars, recognized masterpieces of art, that the artist strives to equal. It's in that striving that we become better writers. This involves understanding what the "best" or "greatest" means.
What do we mean by a great writer?
In my view, two aspects feed off each other.
1.) That the novelist be artistically great-- which means, large, innovative, important.
2.) The novelist have enough widespread popularity and appeal to be a national cultural figure. Or: a large persona. A compelling personality or story or intellect.
For the Czech Republic, poet and playwright Vaclav Havel was a great writer. In some ways for the entire world.
My example of a great American novelist is Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway wrote important novels beginning with The Sun Also Rises. He revolutionized the art with his style, a follow-through of the innovations of modernists like Stein, Pound, and Anderson. He was taken seriously as a thinker and an artist.
Hemingway bestrode American culture like a colossus. He was America, the American ethos and personality, in the flesh. The Hemingway persona was outsized-- instantly recognizable everyplace. He was a bigger cultural figure than any singer of his day (Jolson, Crosby, Sinatra); bigger than movie stars. Top movie actors like Gary Cooper and Ava Gardner were eager to meet him, hang with him, and star in movies based on his novels. When he wrote a series of magazine articles about bullfighting, it was a national cultural event.
Hemingway's standing shows that as big as literature may be, it can be much bigger, with the addition of exciting writers who are also dynamic thinkers and compelling personalities.
Where are they?