English and Literature

English and Literature

If you are interested in pursuing a degree or finding a job in the field of English or literature, everything you need is here. Find the best schools, career information, history of the discipline, influential people in the field, and more.

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What Is Literature?

Literature is the academic study of written work, especially that of particular artistic merit. Students who pursue a degree in English or literature often pursue careers as authors, educators, or journalists.

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The Best Colleges and Universities for English Degrees

Best English Major Research Universities

  1. Harvard University
  2. Columbia University
  3. Yale University
  4. Stanford University
  5. Princeton University

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Best English Major Liberal Arts Colleges

  1. Weslyan University
  2. Amherst College
  3. Williams College
  4. Swarthmore College
  5. Barnard College

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Best English Major Online Colleges

  1. University of Missouri
  2. Texas Tech University
  3. University of Memphis
  4. University of Central Florida
  5. Marshall University

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To view the entire list of top English/literature schools, including schools offering online degrees and a breakdown of the best English/literature colleges and universities in your state, visit our look at the Best Colleges and Universities for English/Literature Degrees.

Deciding on a college major can be a struggle. Our comprehensive guide to college majors and programs can help steer you in the right direction.

For a dynamic, real-time listing of the most influential English/literature schools in the world, use our Custom College Ranking.

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Literature Degrees

What Will I Study as a Literature Major?

As a English/literature major, you’ll study topics like writing, literature, journalism, and communications, and more.

What Can I Do With a Degree in Literature?

Graduates with a degree in English or literature can pursue a career as a writer or educator, but it should also be noted that a degree in English can be the first step toward a career in film, communications, or journalism.

If you’re ready to earn your degree at one of the most prestigious schools in the world, get started with a look at the Most Influential Schools in Literature

If you’d like to learn more, check out our extensive list of resources for English/literature students, graduates, and professionals...

How To Get a Degree in Literature

Interested in pursuing an online degree in English? Check out these resources…

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Who are the most influential people of all time in the field of Literature?

A truly great writer can touch our souls, moving us in ways that few other mediums are able to do. The study of literature, while a seemingly narrow field of academia, is actually extremely nuanced and complex. Traditionally, our lists of influential people within a discipline are composed of scholars who have studied and taught in the field. However, because of the artistic nature of this discipline, the following list is comprised of the most influential authors from 1500-2022, rather than the most influential academic scholars in the field of literature.

  1. William Shakespeare was an English playwright, poet, and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world’s greatest dramatist.
  2. Edgar Allan Poe was an American writer, poet, editor, and literary critic. Poe is best known for his poetry and short stories. He is widely regarded as a central figure of Romanticism in the United States and of American literature as a whole, and he was one of the country’s earliest practitioners of the short story.
  3. John Milton was an English poet and intellectual who served as a civil servant for the Commonwealth of England under its Council of State and later under Oliver Cromwell. He wrote at a time of religious and political instability, and is best known for his epic poem Paradise Lost.
  4. T. S. Eliot was a poet, essayist, publisher, playwright, literary critic and editor. Considered one of the 20th century’s major poets, he is a central figure in English-language Modernist poetry.
  5. Henry James was an American/British author. He is regarded as a key transitional figure between literary realism and literary modernism, and is considered by many to be among the greatest novelists in the English language.
  6. Samuel Taylor Coleridge was an English poet, literary critic, philosopher and theologian who, with his friend William Wordsworth, was a founder of the Romantic Movement in England and a member of the Lake Poets.
  7. Ernest Hemingway was an American novelist, short-story writer, journalist, and sportsman. His economical and understated style—which he termed the iceberg theory—had a strong influence on 20th-century fiction, while his adventurous lifestyle and his public image brought him admiration from later generations.
  8. C. S. Lewis was a British writer and lay theologian. He is best known for his works of fiction, especially The Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Space Trilogy, and for his non-fiction Christian apologetics, such as Mere Christianity, Miracles, and The Problem of Pain.
  9. H. P. Lovecraft was an American writer of weird, science, fantasy, and horror fiction. Lovecraft is best known for his creation of a body of work that became known as the Cthulhu Mythos.
  10. Charles Dickens was an English writer and social critic. He created some of the world’s best-known fictional characters and is regarded by many as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era.
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Who Are the Current Top Literature Influencers?

The following are the top authors in the field today according to our machine-powered Influence Rankings, which are drawn from a numerical score of academic achievements, merits, and citations across Wikipedia/data, Crossref, and an ever-growing body of data.

  • Rick Riordan is an American author. He is known for writing the series, about a teenager named Percy Jackson who discovers he is a son of the Greek god Poseidon.
  • Salman Rushdie is an Indian-born British-American novelist and essayist. His work, combining magical realism with historical fiction, is primarily concerned with the many connections, disruptions, and migrations between Eastern and Western civilizations, with much of his fiction being set on the Indian subcontinent.
  • Stephen King is an American author of horror, supernatural fiction, suspense, crime, science-fiction, and fantasy novels. His books have sold more than 350 million copies, and many have been adapted into films, television series, miniseries, and comic books. King has published 63 novels, including seven under the pen name Richard Bachman, and five non-fiction books. He has also written approximately 200 short stories, most of which have been published in book collections.
  • Neil Gaiman is an English author of short fiction, novels, comic books, graphic novels, nonfiction, audio theatre, and films. His works include the comic book series The Sandman and novels Stardust, American Gods, Coraline, and The Graveyard Book. He has won numerous awards, including the Hugo, Nebula, and Bram Stoker awards, as well as the Newbery and Carnegie medals. He is the first author to win both the Newbery and the Carnegie medals for the same work, The Graveyard Book .
  • Philip Roth was an American novelist and short story writer. Roth’s fiction is known for its intensely autobiographical character, for philosophically and formally blurring the distinction between reality and fiction, for its “sensual, ingenious style” and for its provocative explorations of American identity.
  • Ian Mcewen is an English novelist and screenwriter. In 2008, The Times featured him on its list of “The 50 greatest British writers since 1945” and The Daily Telegraph ranked him number 19 in its list of the “100 most powerful people in British culture”.
  • Toni Morrison was an American novelist, essayist, book editor, and college professor. Her first novel, The Bluest Eye, was published in 1970. The critically acclaimed Song of Solomon brought her national attention and won the National Book Critics Circle Award. In 1988, Morrison won the Pulitzer Prize for Beloved ; she gained worldwide recognition when she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993.
  • Terry Pratchett was an English humorist, satirist, and author of fantasy novels, especially comical works. He is best known for his Discworld series of 41 novels.
  • Margaret Atwood is a Canadian poet, novelist, literary critic, essayist, teacher, environmental activist, and inventor. Since 1961, she has published 18 books of poetry, 18 novels, 11 books of non-fiction, nine collections of short fiction, eight children’s books, and two graphic novels, and a number of small press editions of both poetry and fiction. Atwood has won numerous awards and honors for her writing, including two Booker Prizes.
  • Joyce Carol Oates is the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury and the most senior bishop in the Church of England. He has served in that role since 2013. Welby was the vicar of Southam, Warwickshire, and most recently was the Bishop of Durham, serving for just over a year. Ex officio, he is the Primate of All England and the head primus inter pares in the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Learn more about other people who are influential in the field of literature.

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