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Learn more about the important authors throughout history, which includes poets, playwrights, novelists, essayists, and biographers. The terms writer and author tend to be used interchangeably, although some have argued that the two are quite different for reasons too complex to explore here. For the purposes of this brief essay, the term author applies to those who have become notable for their writing, either because they write professionally or because they produced a notable work.

One of the earliest surviving works of literature is the Mesopotamian work known as the Epic of Gilgamesh (written c. 2150–1400 BCE). While authors produced major works in the ensuing centuries, it wasn’t until the invention of the printing press in the 15th century CE, accompanied by increasing rates of literacy, that there was a significant increase in literary output.

Some of the earliest authors to make a living from their writing were the Elizabethan playwrights, the most famous of which was William Shakespeare (1564–1616). While playwrights could earn a living through ticket sales, authors of other types of literary works couldn’t profit from their writing because written works were considered to be in the public domain and so were freely copied without regard to compensating the original author. The creation of copyright laws in the late 17th and early 18th centuries allowed for authors to make money from their writing.

Novelists became prominent in the 19th century, as the Industrial Revolution produced a growing middle class that had the literacy and leisure time to read for pleasure. At the same time, publishing houses emerged to market and distribute authors’ works. Throughout the 20th century, partnership with publishers was the primary way authors got their books into the hands of readers. With the advent of self-publishing made possible by personal computers and internet distribution channels such as Amazon, the number of authors exploded in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Publishers Weekly reported that between 1990 and 2005, there was a 39 percent increase in the number of authors.

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Author Resources

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Gale databases offer researchers or teachers access to credible, up-to-date publications for research or teaching.

Primary Source Archives

Gale Primary Sources offers author collections that include journals and articles that provide researchers with firsthand material.

Gale eBooks

Gale offers a variety of titles covering a wide range of topics, including authors of children’s books, American writers, and more. Users can add Gale eBooks to a customized collection and cross-search to pinpoint relevant content. Workflow tools help users easily share, save, and download content.

  • American Writers: Supplement XXIX, 29th Edition

    American Writers: Supplement XXIX, 29th Edition

    Charles Scribner’s Sons | 2018 | ISBN-13: 9780684325606

    This collection of critical and biographical articles covers hundreds of notable authors from the 17th century to the present day. Signed essays, 12‒15 pages in length, by noted scholars, provide thought-provoking insights into the lives, careers, and works of American writers. Each supplement covers approximately 18 additional authors and features a cumulative index.

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  • Great Authors of Children’s Books, 1st Edition

    Great Authors of Children’s Books, 1st Edition

    Britannica Digital Learning | 2014 | ISBN-13: 9781622750979

    Few stories have the power to stay with us the way the tales we hear in childhood do. Great children’s book authors have at their disposal countless techniques to channel young imaginations and appeal directly to their audience’s tender sensibilities. They craft colorful characters whose circumstances and actions resonate with readers in a way that carries through well into adulthood. The creators of some of the most whimsical, witty, thought-provoking, and powerful children’s books of all time—including Lewis Carroll, Dr. Seuss, Beatrix Potter, Maurice Sendak, and Laura Ingalls Wilder, among many others—are presented in this exciting volume.

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  • Great Authors of Science Fiction & Fantasy, 1st Edition

    Great Authors of Science Fiction & Fantasy, 1st Edition

    Britannica Digital Learning | 2014 | ISBN-13: 9781622750917

    Fantastical realms, enchanted creatures, and imaginative technologies are but a few of the many elements that draw readers to the science fiction and fantasy genres of literature. Great science fiction and fantasy authors are skilled at blending the unfamiliar with the familiar, making their imaginative tales both grounded and, in some cases, prescient. Writers such as Ray Bradbury, Ursula K. Le Guin, J. K. Rowling, and J. R. R. Tolkien, to name a few, explore themes ranging from conformity and government control to the dual burden and blessing of advanced technology, challenging readers to reimagine the world they know. The lives of some of the most prolific and popular authors of these genres are surveyed in this compelling volume.

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