Sarah Weinman has an interesting piece about all the American writers who've died in the past year. She wonders which of them well continue to be read in the future. She mentions everybody from Mailer to Styron to Sidney Sheldon. I'd agree with her that the smart money is on Vonnegut. I'd also agree with her (as I noted here earlier) that all the condescending obits to the contrary ("not a stylist"), no other writer had the popular culture impact of Ira Levin. Can you say Rosemary's Baby. Can you say Stepford Wives. For the rest of her fine piece read here: http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/books/2007/11/grand_eulogies_today_but_who_w.html
I was shocked when I saw how quickly John D. MacDonald started to fade after his death. I've given his books to several thirty-somethings and to a person they find him "slow." Ross Macdonald faded just as quickly following his death but he's certainly had both a critical and commercial resugurence. Plus Tom Nolan's written an outstanding biography of him.
Of course there's literary immortality and there's literary immortality. There are writers who will not only be read beyond their years but taught as well. There was a David Goodis convention last year. (The Baker Street Irregulars aren't all that different from the David Goodis fans in intent, though I'm pretty sure that Conan Doyle was a wee bit different in personality from David Goodis.) Some of the more scholarly magazines (Clues, for instance) still deal with writers long passed. These are the benchmarks of literary immortality as it's been known up now.
But the egalitarian nature of the internet guarantees hundreds of writers at least a shadow of remembrance. Ed Earl Repp was one of the most god awful writers who ever hacked out a living for the pulps (and later for Hollywood) but I just Googled him and he's got four entries and he's been dead since 1979. I doubt the entries get many hits (even when I was nine I knew that The Radium Pool was bad news) but for those interested, he's there.
And Thrilling Detective, to name just one site, has catalogued and examined at some length the careers of dozens of hardboiled and noir writers who--in an earlier age--would have been remembered by only a handful of ardent fans.
Take your choice. Mother Internet loves all her writers.