The list of five fiction writers and seven poets replaces a list of about 40 authors and 40 poets, including some from the United States, India and the Caribbean, drawn up by the Government's advisers on the curriculum and examinations.
Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education, will decide during the next month whether to accept the list for secondary school
The list includes James Joyce, D H Lawrence, Graham Greene, George Orwell, T S Eliot, W B Yeats and Ted Hughes. American writers such as Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck have been dropped, as have non-British authors such as V S Naipaul, Derek Walcott and Grace Nichols.
Modern writers such as Jan Mark, Nina Bawden and Susan Hill have disappeared, as have earlier ones such as Tolkien, Evelyn Waugh and Arnold Bennett. Sylvia Plath fails to find a place alongside her husband, Ted Hughes.
Members of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, whose chairman is Sir Ron Dearing, have devised the list as part of their proposals for a reduction in the national curriculum.
They have agreed to drop plans for a list of 80 authors from which schools must choose and opted for the list of 12 suggested, rather than compulsory, writers. The authority argues that schools will still be free to choose from a wide range of authors and poets as well as those on the list.
Non-British authors have been excluded because the authority believes English literature lessons should concentrate on the literary heritage of this country. Nick Tate, the authority's chief executive, wants to promote a sense of heritage in both history and English lessons.
The decision to make the list of 20th-century authors exemplary rather than compulsory is in response to a campaign by English teachers who oppose any list.
However, a book list of pre-20th-century literary choices remains compulsory. Anne Barnes, general secretary of the National Association for the Teaching of English, said teachers would continue to teach children a wide range of literature, including American writers, whatever appeared on the list.
She said: 'We are against having a list on principle. Teachers and pupils should be exploring texts and finding out what suits them rather than sticking to someone else's list. A list prevents important good new writers coming through.'