There is a tradition in American literature that began in the work of Emerson and Thoreau and is solidified in the writings of Upton Sinclair, Theodore Dreisder, John Dos Passos, Sherwood Anderson and Ernest Hemingway. These writers write with a simplicity and eagerness to create a portrait of America, a description of the ever changing American dream, even, as in the case of Hemingway, if it is done stylistically.
The inheritors of this tradition are the New Journalists of the ’60s and ’70s – Joan Didion, Norman Mailer, and even Hunter S. Thompson. Don DeLilo, Philip Roth and Jonathan Franzen are contemporary writers who follow in the trajectory of this pure Americana writing, as distinguished from the Southern Gothic novel.
The father of this smaller category is Mark Twain. After him Thomas Wolfe, William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams, and even Carson McCullers should be mentioned. I’d argue that Cormac McCarthy is the inheritor of his throne with Flannery O’ Connor close behind. Blake Butler might be another one to watch out for…
The last thread of American writers I want to adumbrate is the reclusives/depressives. These guys either die young or have little or no public image. Poe, Fitzgerald, Salinger, Pynchon, and David Foster Wallace are the masters of this pitiable line. I bet that any of the writer you’re thinking of can be placed into these three broad categories.