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The ‘Ordinary’ Early Jobs of 5 Famous Writers


When you think about the early lives of famous authors, do you picture them toiling away in a garret somewhere, composing deathless prose by the light of a single candle? It turns out, they were more likely to be working under the glare of fluorescents, in an office cubicle similar to yours.


(Photo Credit: Shannon Mollerus/Flickr)

Daniel Lefferts of Bookish recently contributed a column to USA Today, in which he examined the early gigs of literary superstars. Here’s what they have in common: they’re almost universally not very exciting.

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Don’t believe us? Try these on for size:

1. Harper Lee – Airline Ticket Agent

If it weren’t for Michael Martin Brown, we might not have “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The Broadway composer and his wife agreed to support Lee for a year while she finished her book. In an alternate reality, Harper Lee continued to work for Eastern Airlines either until her retirement — or until it dissolved in 1991.

2. Anne Rice – Insurance Claims Examiner

It’s hard to imagine the queen of gothic horror working in any normal-person job, but she did. In the early ’60s, Rice worked in an insurance office, and also did stints as a waitress and an usherette.

3. Wallace Stevens – Vice President of an Insurance Company

Who know that the insurance field was such fertile ground for creativity? Wallace Stevens went to work at Hartford Accident and Indemnity Co. in 1916, rising to the position of Vice President in 1934. In fact, we’re cheating a bit by including this one — Stevens worked in the insurance industry for 40 years, once turning down a teaching position at Harvard to keep his day job.

4. Kurt Vonnegut – Car Salesman

The author of “Slaughterhouse-Five” owned a Saab dealership on Cape Cod, prior to becoming a famous writer.

“I used to be the owner and manager of an automobile dealership in West Barnstable, Massachusetts, called ‘Saab Cape Cod,'” Vonnegut wrote. “It and I went out of business 33 years ago. The Saab then as now was a Swedish car, and 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.”

5. Douglas Adams – A Little of Everything

We will give you Mental Floss’s summary of the “Hitchhiker’s Guide” author’s early years in its excellent entirety:

“When Douglas Adams’ comedy-writing career stalled in the mid-70s, he worked as a hospital porter, barn builder, chicken shed cleaner, a hotel security guard, and a bodyguard for an entire family of oil tycoons from Qatar.”

That sounds just about right.

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Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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