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24 Writers’ Jobs, Before They Were Writers


MentalFloss put up a great post yesterday about the early jobs of 24 famous writers. It’s definitely worth clicking through to read the whole post, but here are seven of my favorites:

2. William S. Burroughs was an exterminator. He really liked that job. He liked the word, too, and published a collection of short stories called Exterminator! not to be confused with a collaborative collection of stories with Brion Gysin called The Exterminator.

4. Nabokov was an entomologist of underappreciated greatness. His theory of butterfly evolution was proven to be true in early 2011 using DNA analysis.

7. Ken Kesey was a voluntary participant in CIA psych tests. Mostly these involved being unwittingly dosed with LSD. The one element of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest based on his experiences in the lab (a.k.a., hallucinations): Dr. Broom.

10. Zane Grey was a dentist. He really, really hated it. When he married his wife Dolly, he closed the practice he’d been running for nine years to focus on his literary career. The couple (and his mother-in-law and sister-in-law) lived off of Dolly’s inheritance.

13. Haruki Murakami (whose most recent title is 1Q84) worked in a record store during college. Just before graduation, he and his wife opened a coffeehouse and jazz bar in Tokyo called the Peter Cat.

15. Before writing 1984, George Orwell (born Eric Arthur Blair) was an officer of the Indian Imperial Police in Burma. He shouldered the heavy burden of protecting the safety of some 200,000 people, and was noted for his “sense of utter fairness.”

24. Harper Lee, author of one of the great American novels and winner of the 1961 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, had worked as a reservation clerk at Eastern Airlines for years when she received a note from friends: “You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas.” By the next year, she’d penned To Kill a Mockingbird.

That last one especially blew my mind. I don’t know how they swung it or what they did to get Lee a year off from her job, but what amazing and thoughtful friends – and smart, too, to recognize a talent that needed time to flourish. I hope she knows how lucky she was!

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Beth Carswell

About Beth Carswell

I've been reading, selling, researching, loving and writing about books with AbeBooks since 2000.

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