Before They Were Famous: The Strangest Jobs of Six Literary Luminaries
Everybody has to make a living, even writers. Here are some interesting jobs by famous authors before they became famous. I am convinced, though, that each of these people gained insight about the human condition while fulfilling their jobs. Kurt Vonnegutmanaged America’s first Saab dealership in Cape Cod during the late 1950s, a job he joked about in a 2004 essay: “I now believe my failure as a dealer so long ago explains what would otherwise remain a deep mystery: Why the Swedes have never given me a Nobel Prize for Literature.”
John Steinbecktook on a range of odd occupations before earning enough to work as a full-time writer. Among his day jobs: apprentice painter, fruit picker, estate caretaker and Madison Square Garden construction worker.
Stephen Kingserved as a janitor for a high school while struggling to get his fiction published. His time wheeling the cart through the halls inspired him to write the opening girls’ locker room scene inCarrie, which would become his breakout novel.
Harper Leeworked as a reservation clerk for Eastern Air Lines for more than eight years, writing stories in her spare time. This all changed when a friend offered her a Christmas gift of one year’s wages, with the note, “You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please.” She wrote the first draft ofTo Kill a Mockingbirdwithin the year.
Before his writing career took off,William Faulkneralso worked for the Postal Service, as postmaster at the University of Mississippi. In his resignation note, he neatly summarized the struggle of art and commerce faced by many authors: “As long as I live under the capitalist system I expect to have my life influenced by the demands of moneyed people. But I will be damned if I propose to be at the beck and call of every itinerant scoundrel who has two cents to invest in a postage stamp. This, sir, is my resignation.”
T.S. Eliotworked as a banker, serving as a clerk for Lloyds Bank of London for eight years. The job must have been a bummer—he composed passages ofThe Waste Landwhile walking to work each da Sometimes, an odd job can actually lead to opportunity. Poet Vachel Lindsay was interrupted as he dined at a hotel restaurant in Washington, D.C., by a busboy who handed him some sheets of poetry. At first irritated by the young man, Lindsay was quickly impressed by the writing. When he asked, “Who wrote this?” the busboy replied, “I did.” Langston Hughes was about to get his big break