Washington Irving (American, 1783-1859)

As one of the first American authors to receive significant praise abroad, Irving played an outsized role as an influence on American literature and intellectual life. He first trained as a lawyer and lobbyist before traveling abroad for 17 years and gaining success through writing in Europe and the US. Irving is the source of many of the most popular and long lasting American short stories, including “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” His biographies of historical figures, including George Washington, Christopher Columbus, and Muhammed, often blended historical fact with romantic fiction. Despite criticisms of his historical writing, his fame as a skillful writer proved inspirational to many subsequent generations of American authors and helped to legitimize it as a professional career. Irving’s vernacular style, satirical humor, and creativity were essential in the creation of a unique American short story tradition.