In The Huffington Post, Anis Shivani writes a deliberately provocative article: The 15 Most Overrated Contemporary American Writers (PHOTOS). Excerpt, then a comment:
Are the writers receiving the major awards and official recognition really the best writers today? Or are they overrated mediocrities with little claim to recognition by posterity?
The question is harder than ever to answer today, yet it is a worthwhile exercise to attempt (along with identifying underrated writers not favored by bureaucracy).
It's difficult to know today because we no longer have major critics with wide reach who take vocal stands. There are no Malcolm Cowleys, Edmund Wilsons, and Alfred Kazins to separate the gold from the sand.
Since the onset of poststructuralist theory, humanist critics have been put to pasture. The academy is ruled by "theorists" who consider their work superior to the literature they deconstruct, and moreover they have no interest in contemporary literature.
As for the reviewing establishment, it is no more than the blurbing arm for conglomerate publishing, offering unanalytical "reviews" announcing that the emperor is wearing clothes (hence my inclusion of Michiko Kakutani).
The ascent of creative writing programs means that few with critical ability have any incentive to rock the boat--awards and jobs may be held back in retaliation.
The writing programs embody a philosophy of neutered multiculturalism/political correctness; as long as writers play by the rules (no threatening history or politics), there's no incentive to call them out. (A politically fecund multiculturalism--very desirable in this time of xenophobia--is the farthest thing from the minds of the official arbiters: such writing would be deemed "dangerous," and never have a chance against the mediocrities.)
I've done the same kind of thing as this article. It's harmless fun, and sometimes it makes people think. Shivani's list makes me think because it includes not a single writer I've ever read, so I have no opinion on his assessments.
But maybe that's an opinion in itself: As I approach 70, I read almost no fiction except for a little SF and an occasional revisit to García Márquez and the "mainstream" novelists I read in my youth.