Friday, June 13, 2014


Prospective authors, take note: The list of literary legends who didn’t attend college for one reason or another includes Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, Edith Wharton, Truman Capote, Ray Bradbury, Raymond Carver, Raymond Chandler, Dorothy Parker, Maya Angelou, William Saroyan, John Cheever, Sherwood Anderson, and Louis L’Amour. And the likes of Edgar Allen Poe, Jack London, J.D. Salinger, and Henry Miller made only fleeting attempts at the university experience.

But before you decide to give the heave-ho to higher education, you might be interested to learn that these folks went to Harvard: Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, John Updike, Horatio Alger, Gertrude Stein, Norman Mailer, William S. Burroughs, John Dos Passos, George Plimpton, Michael Crichton, Peter Benchley, and Eric Segal.

Every year, the U.S. News & World Report puts out a ranking of American colleges and universities—based on all sorts of criteria. But I wondered: How would we rank the way they’ve churned out celebrated writers?

So I came up with a list of 128 American authors, poets, and playwrights—from Pulitzer winners to super-bestsellers, from 19th century transcendentalists to 21st century “Oprah” faves. Did I miss some good ones? Undoubtedly. But the list is as varied as this dozen: Nathaniel Hawthorne, Stephen Crane, Langston Hughes, Toni Morrison, S.E. Hinton, James Michener, John Irving, Thomas Pynchon, Dave Eggers, Garrison Keillor, Daniel Steel, and R.L. Stine. Or if you prefer, the list included the authors of everything from Slaughterhouse-Five to Seabiscuit to Superfudge.

I slotted them by undergraduate degrees (including those who made a decent stab at getting a degree if not quite finishing the deal—guys like Frost at Harvard, John Steinbeck at Stanford, and Cormac McCarthy at Tennessee). Then I ranked the schools—first by quantity, then by legacy (or, to be honest, personal preference). Essentially, there’s a massive tie for 20th place, but I kept ranking them to the end.

The results suggest two obvious conclusions. One is that Harvard and Columbia have damn impressive literary pedigrees. The other is that the rest of America’s greatest writers drew on a remarkably diverse education. Here’s the list:

1. Harvard University
Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, John Updike, Horatio Alger, Gertrude Stein, Norman Mailer, William S. Burroughs, John Dos Passos, George Plimpton, Michael Crichton, Peter Benchley, Eric Segal

2. Columbia University
Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Joseph Heller, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Herman Wouk, Carson McCullers, Paul Auster, Isaac Asimov, William Goldman

3. Princeton University
F. Scott Fitzgerald, Philip Roth, John McPhee, Jodi Picoult

4. Yale University
Robert Penn Warren, Eugene O’Neill, Thornton Wilder, Sinclair Lewis

5. University of Cal-Berkeley
Philip K. Dick, Terry McMillan, Beverly Cleary, Irving Stone

6. Cornell University
E.B. White, Kurt Vonnegut, Thomas Pynchon

7. Northwestern University
Saul Bellow, Sidney Sheldon, George R.R. Martin

8. City College of New York
Upton Sinclair, Bernard Malamud, Mario Puzo

9. Smith College
Sylvia Plath, Margaret Mitchell, Ann M. Martin

10. Rutgers University
Robert Pinsky, Junot Diaz, Janet Evanovich

11. Bowdoin College
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Nathaniel Hawthorne

12. Washington and Lee University
Tom Wolfe, Tom Robbins

13. Swarthmore College
James Michener, Jonathan Franzen

14. Sarah Lawrence College
Alice Walker, Ann Patchett

15. Duke University
William Styron, Anne Tyler

16. New York University
Judy Blume, Danielle Steel

17. Amherst College
Dan Brown, Scott Turow

18. Wesleyan University
Robert Ludlum, Robin Cook

19. University of Kansas
Sara Paretsky, Rex Stout

20. Huntingdon College
Harper Lee

21. Dartmouth College
Theodore Geisel

22. Stanford University
John Steinbeck

23. University of Mississippi
William Faulkner

24. University of New Hampshire
John Irving

25. University of Maine
Stephen King

26. Georgia College and State University
Flannery O’Connor

27. Mississippi University for Women
Eudora Welty

28. University of Utah
Wallace Stegner

29. University of Pittsburgh
Michael Chabon

30. Hampshire College
Jon Krakauer

31. University of Missouri
William Least Heat-Moon

32. University of Nebraska
Willa Cather

33. U.S. Naval Academy
Robert Heinlein

34. University of Arizona
Richard Russo

35. DePauw University
Barbara Kingsolver

36. Tulane University
John Kennedy Toole

37. University of New Mexico
Edward Abbey

38. University of Michigan
Arthur Miller

39. University of Tennessee
Cormac McCarthy

40. University of Texas
Rick Riordan

41. University of Tulsa
S.E. Hinton

42. Tuskegee University
Ralph Ellison

43. Howard University
Toni Morrison

44. University of Illinois
Dave Eggers

45. Mississippi State University
John Grisham

46. University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
Garrison Keillor

47. Haverford College
Dave Barry

48. University of Iowa
Tennessee Williams

49. University of Oregon
Ken Kesey

50. Fordham University
Don DeLillo

51. Michigan State University
Richard Ford

52. Syracuse University
Joyce Carol Oates

53. University of Vermont
Annie Proulx

54. Randolph-Macon Women’s College
Pearl Buck

55. The Citadel
Pat Conroy

56. San Jose State University
Amy Tan

57. University of Detroit Mercy
Elmore Leonard

58. Bradley University
Charles Bukowski

59. University of Notre Dame
Nicholas Sparks

60. Kenyon College
E.L. Doctorow

61. Loyola University-Maryland
Tom Clancy

62. Vassar College
Jane Smiley

63. Manhattan College
James Patterson

64. Ohio State University
RL Stine

65. Davidson College
Patricia Cornwell

66. University of Connecticut
Wally Lamb

67. Kenyon College
Laura Hillenbrand

68. University of Alabama
Winston Groom

69. Hofstra University
Nelson Demille

70. University of Pennsylvania
Zane Grey

71. UCLA
Jonathan Kellerman

72. Claverack College
Stephen Crane

73. Shippensburg University
Dean Koontz

74. Indiana University
Suzanne Collins

75. University of Louisville
Sue Grafton

76. Brandeis University
Mitch Albom

77. University of North Texas
Anne Rice

78. Brigham Young University
Stephenie Meyer

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