The eleven volumes of Popular Contemporary Writers present ninety-six important contemporary authors, most still living, whose work enjoys the respect and affection of young people all over North America. This set—in common with its companion publications, Great American Writers: Twentieth Century (2002) and Great World Writers: Twentieth Century (2004)—exists to enable school and community libraries to offer their patrons a comprehensive introduction to a judicious sampling of the work of some significant writers.
No reference of this size could possibly give adequate coverage to every notable contemporary writer (even if such had been the goal), and so a selection has been made, one that balances the expected and the less expected, the cautious choice and the more audacious one, and the legitimate claims of popularity, genre, and appropriateness. Some of the chosen writers are men and women whose accomplishments have already earned them high esteem. Others are even now in their most productive years, and new books from them are eagerly awaited events. Still others have the bulk of their career in front of them and may lead the popular taste of the twenty-first century in new and as yet unanticipated directions.
THE POPULAR AND THE LITERARY:
AN ARTIFICIAL DIVIDE?
This encyclopedia provides an introduction to a group of writers from widely divergent backgrounds, men and women whose writing has met with popular success during roughly the past quarter century. As readers will quickly see, the term writer has been interpreted in a fairly broad fashion to encompass screenwriters, journalists, and comics artists, as well as the poets, novelists, and dramatists one might expect to find in such a collection as this. While the major print media and the academic establishment still tend to look askance at popular writing—seeing it as mere entertainment rather than something of enduring importance— teachers, critics, and writers themselves have, in recent decades, begun to question the validity of the division between popular and literary forms of creativity. It is worthy of note, however, that one of the most important criteria for inclusion in this encyclopedia was that a writer be not only widely read but also judged valuable by a significant number of teachers, librarians, and other educators.
Popularity's Pluses and Minuses. In a literary context the term popular has always been a doubleedged sword. On the one hand, to be popular is to be embraced by a wide audience. If one thinks solely in democratic terms, solely from the consumer's point of view, then popular would appear to have only positive connotations. The term cannot shake itself free, however, of an implication of commonness or even baseness. Those people entrusted with cultivating public discourse about literature in the United States and Canada—book reviewers and literary scholars—have their own historically cultivated ideas of taste or refinement that are implicitly hostile to the wider culture of mass consumption in North America, and they have often stressed the tendency of popular writing to cater to the lowest . . .