Everyone knows that Prince is from the land of 10,000 lakes, but a little less celebrated is our state’s impressive collective of famous writers and authors.
It’s true. Minnesotan writers have left quite a dent on the arts!
From famous Hollywood screenplays to some of the most celebrated American novels of all time, here are the most famous writers and authors from Minnesota.
11. Honorable Mention: Bob Dylan
- Birthplace: Duluth, MN
- Most popular book on Goodreads: N/A
Fittingly, we’ll start out our list of authors/writers with someone who wasn’t an author or writer at all (at least in the traditional sense). Gotta love the accuracy around here!
There’s a method to our madness though. You see, Bob Dylan is worth mentioning because not only was he only of the most famous musicians from Minnesota, but in 2016, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for “having created new poetic expression within the great American song tradition.”
The Duluth, Minnesota native was the first musician to win the award in its 115-year history, and to this day, remains the only musician to ever receive the award.
P.S. – In the 1950s, Bob Dylan enrolled in the University of Minnesota and lived in a second-story apartment in Dinkytown. The building was recently bought by the UofM, but book fans can also catch glimpses from a reading nook inside the Dinkytown bookstore, The Book House.
10. Honorable Mention: Mary Welsh Hemingway
- Birthplace: Walker, MN
- Most popular book on Goodreads: How It Was (4.00 average rating, 73 ratings)
In the late 1930s, Mary Welsh was a journalist for the Chicago Daily News. Shortly thereafter, she took a position at the London Daily Express and began covering the events of World War II.
By 1944, she married the famous American author Ernest Hemingway. For the next two decades, she lived with Hemingway in both Cuba and Idaho, even appearing in a cameo in the 1958 film adaptation of The Old Man and the Sea.
Perhaps Mary’s most historically influential moments came after Ernest Hemingway’s death in 1961. Five years later, she was the first person to admit to the press that Hemingway’s fatal gunshot, which to that point had been reported as accidental, was actually a suicide. Afterwards, Mary also acted as the literary executor to Hemingway’s estate, and she was responsible for publishing Hemingway’s most famous posthumous works.
In 1976, she published her own autobiography – How It Was.
9. Maud Hart Lovelace
- Birthplace: Mankato, MN
- Most popular book on Goodreads: Betsy-Tacy (4.07 average rating, 24,000 ratings)
Maud Hart Lovelace is best known for her beloved series of children’s books, The Betsy-Tacy series. She published the first book in 1938, and the series’ tenth and final book was published in 1955.
The main character, Betsy, is based on Maud Lovelace herself and inspired by events from her own childhood. She originally told the stories to her own young daughter, Merian, before deciding to publish the stories as children’s novels.
Today, Lovelace’s childhood home in Mankota, MN is a national historic landmark and a permanent museum called Betsy’s House.
8. Allen Eskens
- Birthplace: Missouri, but an adopted Minnesotan 🙂
- Most popular book on Goodreads: The Life We Bury (4.01 average rating, 104,000 ratings)
Allen Eskens is a popular author of mystery, thriller, and suspense novels.
While he was born in Missouri, he received his Master of Fine Arts degree from Minnesota State University, his journalism degree from the University of Minnesota, and his law degree from Hamline University. He currently lives in Minnesota.
He has published several successful novels, the most popular being The Life We Bury, the first book of the Joe Talbert series.
7. Scott Z. Burns
- Birthplace: Golden Valley, MN
- Most popular writing: The Bourne Ultimatum screenplay
Scott Z. Burns is a Hollywood screenwriter and producer who was born in Golden Valley, Minnesota and graduated with an English degree from the University of Minnesota.
6. Jerry Juhl
- Birthplace: St. Paul, MN
- Most popular writing: The Muppets
Jerry Juhl is a television and film writer best known for his writing on The Muppets.
He was born in St. Paul, Minnesota before moving to California as a teenager. Most notably, he was the head writer on The Muppet Show for four seasons, and for 20 years, he was involved in the writing for every Muppets film from The Muppet Movie to Muppets from Space.
Lisa Henson, the daughter of The Muppet’s creator Jim Henson, famously credited Jerry Juhl for the success of the iconic franchise. “So much of the humor, irreverence, caring, and heart began with Jerry. He was, in many ways, the real voice of the Muppets.”
5. Thomas L. Friedman
- Birthplace: St. Louis Park, MN
- Most popular book on Goodreads: The World is Flat (3.69 average rating, 101,000 ratings)
Thomas L. Friedman is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author best known for his weekly columns in The New York Times and his bestselling book The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century.
Friedman was born in St. Louis Park, MN, graduated from Saint Lewis Park High School, and spent two years at the University of Minnesota. After graduation, he began a journalism career covering the Lebanon Civil War. In 1981, he was hired by The New York Times, where he won three Pulitzer Prizes for his coverage of events and foreign affairs in the Middle East.
He has authored six bestselling books, the most notable being The World Is Flat, which covers his thoughts on globalism.
4. Vince Flynn
- Birthplace: St. Paul, MN
- Most popular book on Goodreads: American Assassin (4.25 average rating, 86,000 ratings)
Vince Flynn is a New York Times bestselling author, best known for his Mitch Rapp series of best selling thrillers.
Flynn was born in St. Paul, Minnesota. He graduated high school from the Saint Thomas Academy and received an Economics degree from the University of St. Thomas in 1989.
Flynn was working as commercial real estate agent in Minneapolis when he decided to drop everything and pursue his dream of becoming a writer. He then spent the next three years bartending at O’Gara’s in St. Paul at night while working on his first novel during the day. Eventually, he self published the book, Term Limits, which sold so well around the Twin Cities that he signed a major publishing deal.
Shortly thereafter, he published the first Mitch Rapp novel, Transfer of Power, which began a long run of New York Times bestsellers for the series.
3. John Sandford
- Birthplace: Cedar Rapids, IA (another adopted Minnesotan 🙂 )
- Most popular book on Goodreads: Rules of Prey (4.11 average rating, 83,000 ratings)
John Russel Camp, better known by his pen-name John Sandford, is a prolific author of the Lucas Davenport “Prey Series” thriller novels.
To date, he’s published over fifty novels, all of which have been New York Times bestsellers. (Most of them debuting at #1.)
Sandford was actually born in Iowa and currently lives in New Mexico. But we Minnesotans have adopted him as one of our own, whether he likes it or not, for three reasons:
- He lived in Minnesota for 30 years.
- He came to fame while working at the St. Paul Pioneer Press, where he was both a finalist and winner of the Pulitzer Prize.
- His bestselling novels are based on a fictional character working for the Minneapolis Police Department and Minnesota Department of Public Safety. They clearly draw on Sandford’s time spent living here, as evidenced by the numerous real-life Twin Cities and Minnesotan references throughout the books.
2. Sinclair Lewis
- Birthplace: Sauk Centre, Minnesota
- Most popular book on Goodreads: Main Street (3.77 average rating, 25,000 ratings)
Sinclair Lewis is one of the most famous American writers of all time, and he was born and raised right here in Minnesota.
Lewis rose to prominence during the 1920s for his hugely successful novels about American life during the period. His most popular work was his breakout satirical novel Main Street, which later biographers would describe as “the most sensational event in twentieth-century American publishing history” due to its unprecedented popularity. (At the time, his agent’s most optimistic scenario for the novel was 25,000 copies sold, but the novel quickly sold over two million copies.)
Lewis followed up the success of his first novel with several more bestsellers, many of which won numerous awards and successful film adaptions. By 1930, he was the most famous American novelist of the era, and the first United States writer to ever receive the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Today, his childhood home in Sauk Centre, Minnesota is a museum and National Historic Landmark.
1. F. Scott Fitzgerald
- Birthplace: St. Paul, MN
- Most popular book on Goodreads: The Great Gatsby (3.93 average rating, 4.8 million ratings)
Yep, the author of what just might be the country’s great novel was born in St. Paul, Minnesota.
He attended the St. Paul Academy from 1908 to 1911, before spending his early adult life in New York and New Jersey. When his plans there didn’t work out, he returned to St. Paul in 1919, determined to be a writer. Fitzgerald spent the next year living as a recluse on the top floor of his parent’s house on Summit Avenue while working on his first novel, This Side of Paradise.
The debut novel was a success, and the Summit Avenue house is now a historical mansion and landmark in St. Paul’s Summit Hill Neighborhood.
Fitzgerald then moved between St. Paul and to New York, eventually returning to St. Paul to have his only child. While the Jazz Age parties he attended in New York may have had the greatest impact on his writing, historians do attribute his experiences as an outsider in St. Paul’s wealthiest neighborhood as an inspiration to what would be become perhaps the most iconic American novel of all time – The Great Gatsby.
Want to read about more famous people from Minnesota? Check out our article: 21 Famous people you might not know are from Minnesota.