All writers are influenced by other writers, but some become closer to their influencers than others. The world of literature is full of pen pals, friends, and lovers who influence each other’s life and work. In this list, we’re counting down some of the greatest literary power couples and friendships in history. These are the people who changed literature by changing each other.
John Updike and John Cheever were both chroniclers of small-town and suburban life in the Northeastern United States. The two were close friends (and sometimes antagonists) until Cheever’s death in 1982. When Cheever’s journals were later published, Updike wrote a moving essay on his reactions to their tortured contents.
Emerson met Thoreau in the mid-1830s and acted as his mentor. Together, they developed the philosophical movement of Transcendentalism. When Thoreau died of tuberculosis, Emerson delivered the writer’s eulogy and continued to call Thoreau his “best friend” for the rest of his life.
F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway met in Paris in 1925. The stormy and strange friendship that followed has been immortalized in countless works, including Hemingway’s own A Moveable Feast. Between their frequent fallings-out, the two writers influenced each others’ work and lives.
Ginsberg and Orlovsky were both key figures in the Beat movement of the 1950s. Both from New York City, the two met in San Francisco and became lovers. They stayed together in an open relationship until Ginsberg’s death in 1997. Before meeting Ginsberg, Orlovsky showed little interest in poetry; during the relationship, he grew to become a respected poet.
Monroeville, Alabama gave America two of its greatest writers: Harper Lee and Truman Capote. The two writers grew up together in the small Southern town, and stayed friends for a long time. They fell out in part over Capote’s failure to properly credit Lee in In Cold Blood – she’d helped him with his research in Kansas.
Morrison met Baldwin when she worked in publishing, and the two began a friendship that influenced her budding literary career. Both authors look unflinchingly at the world of race in the United States. Morrison wrote a moving tribute to Baldwin after his death.
Sylvia Plath, the immensely talented but deeply troubled American poet, was married to British poet Ted Hughes from 1956 until her death in 1963. Hughes’ role in the relationship, particularly after Plath’s death, has been questioned by scholars and feminists. He burned her final journals (to protect their children, he said) and some of her other work, preventing the world from ever seeing it.
The great romantic poet Percy Shelly and the famous author Mary Shelley formed one of the greatest literary power couples in history. Mary Shelley is best known for her novel Frankenstein, which was conceived on a vacation she took with her husband, the poet Lord Byron, and other friends. Both Shelleys died relatively young – Percy in a boat accident, and Mary of a brain tumor when she was in her early 50s.
The most modern literary couple on this list met during their college days at Cambridge. Zadie Smith is a famous author, best known for her stunning debut novel White Teeth. Laird is a Northern Irish poet and novelist.
J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were close friends for a quarter of a century. The two greatest fantasy writers of their time, they were also both veterans of World War I and both Oxford dons at the time they met. With help from Tolkien, C.S. Lewis found the Christian faith that would define much of his later work (though Tolkien, a Catholic, was disappointed to see Lewis become an Anglican).