This may just be me, but when I read books I don’t usually dig deep into who the author is, like finding out their background or upbringing. But it is always fascinating to see who or what inspires great authors to write such profound pieces. So as I started to research some famous authors, I came across some odd facts about them; things I never would have expected to see. Often times, we think we know authors based on the literature they produce, but behind their names on the covers of their books lie some peculiar circumstances. These are some of the most interesting and/or unexpected ones I’ve come across!
1. Stephen King has triskaidekaphobia
Image Via Dread Central
The famed horror writer Stephen King has what is known as triskaidekaphobia, which is the irrational fear of number thirteen. In fact, he’s so terrified of it that he wouldn’t pause reading or writing if he’s on page thirteen or it’s multiples until he reaches a number deemed safe for him. Ironic, considering his fiction is known to consist of some horribly disturbing aspects, none of which are a mere number. “The number thirteen never fails to trace that old icy finger up and down my spine.” he said. “When I’m reading, I won’t stop on page 94, 193, or 382, since the sums of these three numbers add up to thirteen”.
2. J.R.R Tolkien loved pranks.
Image Via Time Magazine
The legendary author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy was known to be a ruthless prankster. He actually once dressed as an axe-wielding Anglo-Saxon warrior and chased his neighbor. Quite a disturbing sense of humor.
Also, J.R.R. Tolkien opposed holding Catholic mass in English, to the extent that whenever the priests spoke the liturgy in English, he would loudly respond in Latin.
3. Dan Brown was a pop singer.
The author known for writing the Da Vinci Code, used to be a pop singer. He had once written a song about phone sex.
4. Edgar Allan Poe… where do we even start?
Image Via Britannica
Edgar Allan Poe, king of the mystery story was also a very disturbed and conspicuous man. As a matter of fact, Poe became assistant editor of The Southern Literary Messenger in August 1835, but he was fired only within a few weeks for being drunk on the job. He returned to his home of Baltimore, where he got a license to marry his first cousin Virginia on September 22nd, 1835. He was twenty-six years old at the time, while she was only thirteen. Also, no one knows how he died, but theories abound, including suicide, murder, cholera, hypoglycemia, rabies, syphilis, and the flu.
5. William S. Burroughs shot his wife.
Burroughs, the author of Naked Lunch, shot his wife in the head during a drunken attempt at playing William Tell. He had also once chopped the top part of his finger to give to his ex-boyfriend, but he instead presented it to his psychiatrist. He was then admitted to a private clinic.
6. Charles Dickens spent a lot of time in morgues.
Image Via The British Library
Most famous for writing A Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist, and David Copperfield, among many others, Dickens was so intrigued by dead bodies that he would spend a lot of his time at the Paris Morgue.
7. Maya Angelou was the first black woman to work as a cable car conductor in San Francisco.
As a teenager, Maya Angelou won a scholarship to study dance and drama but dropped out for a time when she was sixteen to become a cable car conductor. She told Oprah Winfrey that she “saw women on the street cars with their little changer belts. They had caps with bibs on them and form-fitting jackets. I loved their uniforms. I said that is the job I want.” She was the first black woman to hold the position. She also spoke six languages.
8. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle believed in fairies.
The legendary author of the Sherlock Holmesbooks was tricked by two young school girls into believing that fairies actually exist. I don’t think I need to explain how ironic this is. The Cottingley Fairies became famous, after the girls claimed to have taken photographs of themselves with fairies. Conan Doyle used the photos in an article about fairies for .The Strand Magazine. Doyle was very spiritual, and thought the photos to be undeniable evidence of the existence of fairies.
Whether you’re an aspiring writer, an avid reader, or none of the above you can’t help but admit the power and influence the written word has on us all. Writing can be cathartic, informative, distracting, devastating, connecting, and everything in-between.
I love writing and words and all the ways in which they can effect our lives so much (seriously) that I’m at a complete and total loss for them right now.
So, I’m just going to let these fifteen quotes from famous authors do the rest of the talking.
“If I waited for perfection…I would never write a word.” —Margaret Atwood
“There isno greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” —Maya Angelou
“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” —Joan Didion
“Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.”—Virginia Woolf
“Who wants to become a writer? And why? Because it’s the answer to everything. … It’s the streaming reason for living. To note, to pin down, to build up, to create, to be astonished at nothing, to cherish the oddities, to let nothing go down the drain, to make something, to make a great flower out of life, even if it’s a cactus.” —Enid Bagnold
“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” —Anaïs Nin
“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” —Sylvia Plath
“When I’m writing I know I’m doing the thing I was born to do.” —Anne Sexton
“I am writing all this down in blue ink, so as to remember that all words, not just some, are written in water.” —Maggie Nelson
“In the diary you find proof that in situations which today would seem unbearable, you lived, looked around and wrote down observations, that this right hand moved then as it does today.” —Franz Kafka
“A person who writes a book willfully appears before the populace with his pants down.” —Edna St. Vincent Millay
“Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.” —William Faulkner
“Who am I? I’m just a writer. I write things down. I walk through your dreams and invent the future. Sure, I sink the boat of love, but that comes later. And yes, I swallow glass, but that comes later.” —Richard Siken
“Not all poetry wants to be storytelling. And not all storytelling wants to be poetry. But great storytellers and great poets share something in common: They had something to say, and did.” —Sarah Kay
“The secret to being a writer is that you have to write. It’s not enough to think about writing or to study literature or plan a future life as an author. You really have to lock yourself away, alone, and get to work.” —Augusten Burroughs
Maya Angelou was born on April 4, 1928, exactly ninety years ago. She played many roles throughout her life, including being a streetcar conductor, a singer, and a journalist. However, while she did not begin writing in earnest until a bit later in her life, it is her role as an author and poet that allowed her to leave her greatest mark on the world.
Her first book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings gained her mainstream attention as an author following its publication in 1969, and she went on to publish six more autobiographical works in addition to children’s books, nonfiction, and a wealth of poetry. Through her writing, she gave a voice to issues such as civil rights and gender equality. She was awarded numerous honors throughout her life, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2010.
Image Via Search Engine Land
Today, Google is celebrating this phenomenal woman’s birthday with a truly remarkable Google Doodle. The video Doodle is an animation and recitation of Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise.” In addition to featuring her own voice reciting the poem, it also includes the voices of Alicia Keys, Oprah Winfrey, America Ferrera, Laverne Cox, Martina McBride, and Guy Johnson, Angelou’s son. If you haven’t watched it already, do yourself a favor and watch it right now!
Oprah was, is, and probably always will be the queen of advice and lifestyle change, as well as the best gift-giver. However, behind every great woman is (oh yes) another strong, intelligent woman. For Oprah Winfrey it was the legendary Maya Angelou.
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The guru recently revealed that she’s turned to Angelou’s activism and written work for guidance through trials and tribulations. According to Cinema Blend, Winfrey discussed her feelings during Gwenyth Paltrow’s The Goop Podcast.
Every time I would get so upset about [gossip in the media], Maya would say, ‘Babe, you don’t have anything to do with that.’ I’d say, ‘But they’re saying, and it’s not true. You don’t know what it’s like when people are saying things about–‘… It’s been happening so long. She actually said, ‘Whoever’s sitting at the typewriter, they’re thinking, What can we say this week that’s going to sell some stories?’
Rumors that circulate regarding Winfrey’s thirty-year relationship with her partner Stedman have been a source of great stress for the actress, author and talk show host. There has always been speculation about about why they’ve never married or had children, however Winfrey struggles to understand the gossip surrounding their committed relationship. “It’s also why I stopped making as many public appearances with Stedman, because I realized that every time there’s a new photograph, there’s a new story.”
Image Via The Gospel Herald
It’s no wonder Winfrey turned to the late Maya Angelou for strength and advice. Angelou was someone who was sure of herself; she knew her path of life was all her own, not to be compared to others. Oprah seems to have followed that outlook when it comes to her decisions.
Nobody believes it, but it’s true. The only time I brought it up was when I said to Stedman, ‘What would have happened if we had actually gotten married?’ And the answer is: ‘We wouldn’t be together.’ We would not have stayed together, because marriage requires a different way of being in this world. His interpretation of what it means to be a husband and what it would mean for me to be a wife would have been pretty traditional, and I would not have been able to fit into that.
If there’s anyone who could remind us that we can make up our own rules, it’s Oprah Winfrey and Maya Angelou. Her work has encouraged us all to love in and out of time.
In celebration of Black History Month, we thought we’d give you a solid twenty books by and about people of color. Some are fiction, some nonfiction, and there’s even a little poetry in here. Twenty is a lot of books, but maybe you can read just one this month. It really doesn’t matter which—they’re all awesome! We promise.
1. Rest in Power: The Enduring Life of Trayvon Martin by Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin
Summary: “Trayvon Martin’s parents take the readers beyond the news cycle with an account only they could give: the intimate story of a tragically foreshortened life and the rise of a movement” (Barnes & Noble)
Why you should read it: This book will remind you of the issues and struggles faced by people of color in today’s society, and the very real inequalities suffered by young black men.
2. Dreams of My Father by Barack Obama
Summary: A memoir from the son of a black man and a white mother, trying to find his place and meaning in life as a black American. Follow along with Barack Obama as he traces back his family lines, all while learning more about himself and his father.
Why you should read it: Get an inside look on Barack Obama before the oval office, and how his family and journey as a black man shaped him to be the man he is today.
3. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Image Via Amazon
Summary: This is a story about a 16-year-old girl who witnesses her childhood best friend get shot at the hands of a police officer, even though he was unarmed.
Why you should read it: Although fictional, stories like this have happened all around the country. See police brutality through the eyes of someone new, and how it affects the community in which it happened.
4. I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual by Luvvie Ajayi
Summary: A collection of humorous essays that dissect cultural obsessions, Ajayi’s book loudly calls out bad behaviors in both our real and digital worlds. Subjects vary from cultural importance of television shows, to discussions of race and media representation.
Why you should read it: We all get swept up in pop culture and debates on the internet. It might be time to check yourself on the facts and the way you handle yourself on social media. During today’s political climate, this book will bring you the information you need to Do-Better.
5. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Summary: Cora is becoming a woman, while enslaved on a cotton plantation in Georgia. A new arrival from Virginia, Caesar, tells her about the underground railroad. It has the same purpose as the underground railroad we are familiar with, except it’s an actual railroad with conductors and engineers.
Why you should read it: Colson Whitehead brings together terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era and terrors faced today. This novel can bring things to light for its readers, while telling a compelling and powerful story of one woman.
6. Go Tell It On The Mountain by James Baldwin
Summary: A semi-autobiographical novel, it follows John Grimes—an intelligent teenager in 1930s Harlem. This novel accounts for Grimes’ relationship to his family and church. The personal side focuses on the relationship between Grimes and his mother, his biological father, and his stepfather. It discusses the negative and positive impacts the Pentecostal Church had on the lives of African-Americans.
Why you should read it:Go Tell It On the Mountain was ranked 39th on Modern Library’s 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century, and was included in Time Magazine’s TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005. This novel is extremely influential and is a must-read for everyone.
7. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
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Summary: This book discusses issues specific to men of color and mass incarceration in the United States. Alexander notes that the discrimination faced is also prevalent among other minorities and socio-economically disadvantaged people as well. The central focus is within the title: “mass incarceration is, metaphorically, the New Jim Crow”.
Why you should read it: A lot of people believe the wicked Jim Crow laws are long gone, but they’ve just changed shape. Read this book to understand what is happening, and why.
8. Strength to Love by Martin Luther King Jr.
Summary: A collection of Martin Luther King Jr.’s sermons that focus on racial segregation in the U.S., emphasizing permanent religious values. King reflects on his deep understanding for the need of agape, while discussing how we need to first face our fears in order to reach the better world he believes there is.
Why you should read it: The sermons included have shaped many movements around civil rights and are extremely important to remember today. King’s speeches and sermons are inspirational for everyone, reading this book could change your perspective on life while giving you an extra nudge to keep fighting.
9. The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou by Maya Angelou
Summary: A collection of Maya Angelou’s poems, containing her reflections on African American life and hardship, celebration of womanhood, and tributes to influential people of her time.
Why you should read it: Angelou’s poetry shifted and shaped the world, inspiring and captivating both people of color and women. Every line and every word she writes serves its purpose. Angelou was highly influential, and everyone should have her poetry under their belts.
10. The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley and Malcolm X
Summary: Published in 1965, this book is the result of a collaboration between Malcolm X and Alex Haley. It’s based on a series of interviews held between Haley and Malcolm X between 1963 and Malcolm X’s assassination in 1965. It describes Malcolm X’s philosophy of black pride, black nationalism, and pan-Africanism.
Why you should read it: It’s impossible to fully understand the Civil Rights movement without understanding Malcolm X. There’s no better way to understand his mind than committing his autobiography to memory. And watching the movie.
11. Michelle Obama: A Life by Peter Slevin
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Summary: Slevin follows Michelle Obama from her working-class childhood in Chicago’s largely segregated South Side. Highlighting her tribulations at Princeton and Harvard Law School during racially charged times of the 1980s, to raising a family and helping Barack Obama become the President of the United States.
Why you should read it: One of the first detailed accounts of Michelle Obama’s life, showing the path of how she got to her seat as first lady. Read this novel to see how Michelle Obama has always strived to change the world.
12. The Souls of Black Folk by W. E. B. Du Bois
Summary: A collection of essays written focusing on race, Du Bois’ book takes from his own experiences as a black man in the United States.
Why you should read it: This book is extremely relevant to black history, and holds a special place in social science as one of the early works in sociology.
13. A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
Summary: Set after World War II, this play follows a family facing their own war against racism in Chicago. The Younger family of five lives in an apartment meant for three, building tension. When the patriarch of the household passes, the family comes into $10,000 from a life insurance check. Each member of the family has their own plans for what the money could go to.
Why you should read it: This play accurately depicts the lives of a family in post-WWII Chicago. It’s a classic, simple as that.
14. Kindred by Octavia Butler
Summary: A story that focuses on a young black woman from 1976, who finds herself jumping time between her present Californian life and a pre-Civil War Maryland plantation. She meets her ancestors and becomes entangled in the community, conflicting with her existence in her own time.
Why you should read it: There’s nothing like a socially conscious time travel story, and Butler’s the master.
15. The Known World by Edward P. Jones
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Summary: A historical novel published in 2003, set in pre-Civil War Virginia, Jones examines the issues regarding the ownership of black slaves by both black and white Americans.
Why you should read it: This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel takes on slavery in a very personal way. It’s pretty unforgiving and unforgettable.
16. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Summary: This book is written as a letter to the author’s teenage son about feelings, symbolism, and realities of being black in the United States. Coates explains American history and the “racist violence that has been woven into American culture” to his son.
Why you should read it: Published in 2015, this is a more recent and accurate telling of what it’s like to be black in America. Coates’ style of writing letters to his son creates a personal feeling to the book, and gives its readers a closer look into his thoughts.
17. Negroland: A Memoir by Margo Jefferson
Summary: This memoir recounts Jefferson’s life in the upper-crust of black Chicago, her father being the head of pediatrics at Provident Hospital, and her mother a socialite. She takes us into the insular and discerning society she grew up in. “I call it Negroland because I still find ‘Negro’ a word of wonders, glorious and terrible.”
Why you should read it: Jefferson gives a different perspective, showing the readers a glimpse into the world of the Talented Tenth. It showcases privilege, discrimination, and misconception of “post-racial” America.
18. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Summary: A collection of poetry sharing what it feels like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, seeing the shadow of Jim Crow and becoming aware of the Civil Rights movement.
Why you should read it: It’s a National Book Award winner and Woodson can do no wrong. It’s a great place to start!
19. Fences by August Wilson
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Summary: A play written in 1985 that explores the African American experience while examining race relations (and other themes). Troy, 53-years-old, is the focus of the play. He’s the head of the household who struggles providing for his family. It follows Troy’s struggles throughout his life, and the effects they have on his family.
Why you should read it: It was adapted into a film in 2016, and we all know the book is better. The play gives the readers a chance to see color barriers faced by people of color in the 50s, and how some were able to break that barrier.
20. The House That Race Built: Original Essays by Toni Morrison, Angela Y. Davis, Cornel West, and Others on Black Americans and Politics in America Today edited by Wahneema Lubiano
Summary: Essays from some of today’s most respected intellectuals that share their ideas on race, power, gender, and society.
Why you should read it: This collection of essays can shed light on issues you may not be aware of, or bring more knowledge on issues you’ve already known about. There’s no such thing as knowing too much about something.