10 Great Contemporary Fiction Authors

Representing a diversity of backgrounds and nationalities, here are our picks for the best writers of contemporary fiction to emerge over the last 50 years. Browse our list to listen to outstanding audiobooks from these remarkable novelists.

This list is a compilation of 10 of the best authors currently writing contemporary fiction. If you like well-written novels that prioritize compelling timely storylines along with artful prose and structure, then this is the genre for you. While contemporary fiction can be character driven, those characters are affected and shaped by events that happen over the course of the novel. So, why is it called “contemporary”? Because it’s fiction set in the real world, in times contemporary to the date it was published, and the stories deal with real-world issues. 

Contemporary fiction isn’t primarily about escapism; rather, it’s about examining the world we live in and trying to make sense of it. With that in mind, here are 10 authors who write amazing contemporary fiction.

Haruki Murakami

Haruki Murakami is a Japanese author with global appeal. While Murakami’s works are primarily set in Japan, the author speaks to the human condition in a way that is identifiable across cultures. It’s no wonder, then, that Murakami’s works have been translated into more than 50 languages. If you’ve got the time and are ready to commit to a longer work, 1Q84, which clocks in at just under 47 hours, is a very rewarding experience. The audiobook, narrated by Allison Hiroto, Marc Vietor, and Mark Boyett, is an AudioFile Earphones Award-winner and features a bonus interview with the novel’s translators, Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel. Looking for something a bit shorter? Murakami’s Norwegian Wood is one of his most popular for a reason. It is truly unforgettable.

1Q84

Tokyo

Don’t approach Murakami expecting instant payoff. At least that’s what my friends warned me before I tackled 1Q84, the heralded author’s heftiest book. My previous Murakami experience was limited to What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, a meditative take on the sport that obsesses him. This magic-realist tale about a male writer, Tengo, and a female assassin named Aomame can’t be easily summed up, and Allison Hiroto’s calm, measured narration reveals the tangled parallel plot, drip by drip. Meanwhile Tokyo, in its isolating and frenetic way, takes shape: “Nighttime Tokyo poured its light into the room. Tokyo Tower’s floodlights, the lamps lining the elevated expressway, the moving headlights of cars, the lighted windows of high-rise buildings, the colorful rooftop neon signs: they all combined to illuminate the hotel room with that mixed light unique to the big city ... Aomame saw the light with a pang of familiarity. This was the light from the world to which she herself belonged.”

Colson Whitehead

Colson Whitehead is an American novelist whose fiction often explores themes of race and oppression in America. He recently won the Pulitzer Prize for his 2019 novel, The Nickel Boys. Set in the 1960s and the near present, the novel is based on the real story of the Dozier School, a Florida reform school that became notorious when investigators uncovered evidence of the horrific abuse inflicted on students by the staff. This is Whitehead’s second time winning the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction; the first was in 2017 for The Underground Railroad, which follows a young slave's journey to freedom. Both prize-winning stories have great narrative voices behind their audiobooks: JD Jackson narrates The Nickel Boys, and Bahni Turpin narrates The Underground Railroad. Two of the most talented audiobook narrators of our time reading two of today’s most important works of hard-hitting fiction is a combination that's not to be missed. 

The Nickel Boys (Winner 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction)

When Elwood Curtis, a black boy growing up in 1960s Tallahassee, is unfairly sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy, he finds himself trapped in a grotesque chamber of horrors. Elwood’s only salvation is his friendship with fellow "delinquent" Turner....

Donna Tartt

Donna Tartt is an American author who has published three novels. Her works are praised for their use of language, compelling plots, and fully fleshed-out characters. Basically, she’s got the trifecta of brilliant writing on lock. And those who love her work really love her work. When The Goldfinch was published in 2013, it’s all anyone could talk about—and with good reason: it would go on to win Tartt the Pulitzer Prize. Listen to The Goldfinch in audio, as narrated by David Pittu, to hear what all the fuss is about. Then go back and listen to Tartt’s debut novel, The Secret History, expertly narrated by the author herself with her charming Mississippi accent.

The Goldfinch

BFFs: Theo and Boris The Goldfinch is a haunted odyssey through present-day America and a drama of enthralling force and acuity. It begins with a boy. Theo Decker, a 13-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don’t know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his unbearable longing for his mother, he clings to one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.

Hanya Yanagihara

Yanagihara’s first novel, The People in the Trees is based in part on the real-life story of the virologist Daniel Carleton Gajdusek, who was convicted of child molestation. As you might have guessed, Yanagihara explores heavy topics in her novels. Her second novel, A Little Life revolves around four friends, with a specific focus on their traumas (addiction, self-harm, and abuse, to name a few) and their recovery from those traumas. (addiction, self-harm, and abuse, to name a few) and their recovery from those traumas. Despite its challenging subject matter, A Little Life is required listening (hence its inclusion in the Audible Editors' Best of the Decade list). The audiobook is read by Oliver Wyman, a critically acclaimed narrator who has won five Audie and 19 Earphones Awards.

The People in the Trees

In 1950, a young doctor, Norton Perina, signs on with the anthropologist Paul Tallent for an expedition to the remote island of Ivu'ivu in search of a rumored lost tribe and succeed, finding a group of forest dwellers....

Ann Patchett

You never know what kind of story you’re going to get from an Ann Patchett novel. Her 2001 novel Bel Canto is story of unexpected love and friendship inspired by the Japanese embassy hostage crisis of 1996–1997 in Lima, Peru. Her 2016 novel Commonwealth  explores the long-term impact of a tragedy on two families that are both torn apart and bound together by an affair. No matter what the story is, however, Ann Patchett believes her work has a common theme: the goodness of humanity. And if you haven’t yet read Ann Patchett’s latest, The Dutch House, you are in for a treat. The audiobook is wonderfully narrated by America’s dad, Tom Hanks.

Bel Canto

Ann Patchett’s award winning, New York Times best-selling Bel Canto balances themes of love and crisis as disparate characters learn that music is their only common language. The author’s lyrical prose and lucid imagination make Bel Canto a captivating story of strength and frailty, love and imprisonment, and an inspiring tale of transcendent romance....

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I first learned of Adichie from We Should All Be Feminists, an audiobook narrated by the author that's based on her TED talk of the same name. Adichie is a Nigerian writer whose work has been translated into more than 30 languages. Her feminist ideals are woven throughout her fiction. Her most recent novel, Americanah follows the journey of a young couple, Ifemelu and Obinze, as they move from military-ruled Nigeria to the West, grapple with separation and what it means to be Black in a Western country, and try to find their way back to one another. The audiobook is narrated by the talented Adjoa Andoh.

We Should All Be Feminists

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie offers listeners a unique definition of feminism for the 21st century, one rooted in inclusion and awareness. Drawing extensively on her own experiences....

Arundhati Roy

Arundhati Roy is an Indian author known for her lyrical prose. Her novel The God of Small Things won the Booker Prize in 1997 and has been translated into more than 40 languages. In 2017, Roy followed up her wildly successful first novel with The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. The audiobook, which Roy narrates herself, unfolds a braided narrative touching on some of the most difficult and most violent moments in contemporary Indian history. Both of Roy’s works confront political and social issues in contemporary India.

The God of Small Things

India

Every author can only communicate her own interpretation of a country, a region, a tiny village. Since each perspective is so personal and rooted in a specific time, it’s impossible for a listener to know if one interpretation encompasses all the nuances of a sprawling, changing landscape. And then comes a book that somehow seems to capture it all. Published 20 years ago, it’s no surprise that Roy’s debut novel won a clutch of prizes: Its portrayal of India (specifically Kerala, in 1969 and 23 years later) through the eyes of a crumbling family and pair of separated twins, is as rich in detail as the country itself.

And happy news for fans: Roy has a new novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.

Zadie Smith

Zadie Smith is a British author who is based in New York and Northwest London. In her critically acclaimed and best-selling debut novel White Teeth, Smith explores human differences through a multi-generational story of two families. The audiobook is narrated by Lenny Henry, Pippa Bennett-Warner, Ray Panthaki, and Arya Sagar. Pippa Bennett-Warner also narrates Smith’s most recent novel, Swing Time, a story about two children who both dream of being dancers, but whose lives diverge as they grow older and make different decisions.

White Teeth

At the center of this invigorating novel are two unlikely friends, Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal. Hapless veterans of World War II, Archie and Samad and their families become agents of England’s irrevocable transformation....

Kazuo Ishiguro

Kazuo Ishiguro is a novelist, screenwriter, and short story writer who was born in Japan but moved to the United Kingdom when he was five. The mixture of Ishiguro’s Japanese roots and British upbringing are apparent in his writing. His first two novels are set in Japan, but Ishiguro has said that the Japan of these novels is an imagined version of the country, one that he is trying to write into his memory. Aside from those common themes of memory and identity, Ishiguro's novels go in very different directions. Some are set in Japan, some in the United Kingdom, some in the present, some in the past. Some of Ishiguro’s novels are entirely realistic, while others use speculative elements to deal with real-world issues. For instance, in his novel Never Let Me Go, narrated with the right amount of melancholy from Rosalyn Landor, Ishiguro uses sci-fi elements to examine the nature of humanity and loss.

Never Let Me Go

From the Booker Prize-winning author of The Remains of the Day and When We Were Orphans comes an unforgettable mystery that is at once heartbreakingly tender and morally courageous....

Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan is a critically acclaimed British writer whose work is known for its beautiful prose and striking imagery. Maybe you’ve seen the acclaimed movie adaptation of McEwan’s Atonement a million times, and you feel like you know the story all too well. But McEwan’s novel about guilt and loss of innocence is well worth a listen for the writing alone. Next, listen to On Chesil Beach, a stunning novella about a newly married husband and wife who both feel anxious about their wedding night. The author narrates with just the right amount of tension.

Atonement

In Atonement, three children lose their innocence...


Emily Martin earned her PhD at the University of Southern Mississippi. She works as a contributor for Book Riot and as a blogger/podcaster at Book Squad Goals.

 

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