As the race heats up for this year's Nobel Prize for Literature, American writers appear increasingly unlikely to get the nod from Stockholm.
"Of course there is powerful literature in all big cultures, but you can't get away from the fact that Europe still is the centre of the literary world ... not the United States," Engdahl told The Associated Press.
Engdahl added that US literature suffered from writers being "too sensitive to trends in their own mass culture".
"The US is too isolated, too insular. They don't translate enough and don't really participate in the big dialogue of literature. That ignorance is restraining," said Engdahl.
The statements by the Swedish Academy's permanent secretary provoked a furious reaction in the United States, where book lovers contacted by the news agency leapt to the defence of their national canon.
In a letter to newspaper Svenska Dagbladet, Engdahl said he had not yet read the article but had the impression he had been misunderstood.
"The Nobel Prize is not an international competition but a reward for individual authors. It is important to remember this when feelings of national pride are running high," he said.