Best Asian Authors of the 20th Century

The 20th century was an especially fruitful period in the history of Asian literature, with its best writers making significant contributions to the global canon.

Akira Kurosawa

Perhaps best known for his film Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa also directed Rashomon and won numerous awards. With a list of accomplishments so long, it would be easy to overlook his contributions to Japanese literature.

Over ten years, Kurosawa published over 150 short stories in literary magazines under various pen names. His most well-known work is probably The Quiet Duel. In 1962, he won a Nobel Prize for Literature but declined it, stating that he was more interested in creating films than writing books.

His was one of several names proposed by members Japan’s House of Councilors when they attempted to nominate him for an Academy Award in 2003—but he didn’t get enough votes from Japan’s House of Representatives to actually receive a nomination.

Akira Kurosawa
Akira Kurosawa

Haruki Murakami

Akira Kurosawa
Akira Kurosawa

Japanese author and translator, in addition to being a jazz aficionado and running a marathon each year. He wrote Norwegian Wood, among others. The book was made into a film directed by Tran Anh Hung in 2010.

He was born in Kyoto but lives mostly in Tokyo.

Marguerite Duras

Her novel The Lover (1954) is her most famous work and has been adapted into a number of films, including her own. Duras was also renowned for her screenplays, which won awards at Cannes, Venice and Berlin film festivals.

Known as one of France’s greatest contemporary writers and filmmakers, Duras was awarded with numerous honors during her lifetime and after, including an honorary César Award in 1996 for her whole body of work. She died on March 4, 1996 in Paris after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for several years. Her first book – Le Ravishments de Lol V.

Yasunari Kawabata

Kawabata Yasunari was a Japanese author, best known for his novels and short stories. He was awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature for his narrative art which with plastic clarity has evoked human depth and experience.

Kawabata has been called one of our great writers, a masterful storyteller, who captured the essence of Japan. Though most acclaimed for his fiction, he also wrote poetry and essays as well as non-fiction. He is also generally recognized as one of the most important modern Japanese authors.

Mao Dun

Born in 1895, Mao Dun was a pioneer of modern Chinese literature, whose works included Spring Silkworms, a short story published in 1924.

One of China’s most influential writers and journalists during his time, he helped create what became known as New Literature—newspapers and magazines designed to inform people about current events at home and abroad.

Later in life he was more influenced by American authors such as Faulkner and Hemingway. He died in 1962.

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