Top 11 Weird Day-Jobs of Famous Authors

Caitlin Muchow ‘18 / Emertainment Monthly Assistant Executive Copy Editor

Being a writer can be a very taxing job, and it doesn’t always pay a lot. Especially when being an author isn’t exactly a prestigious job. Many famous authors also had a more regularly paying job. Some were teachers, librarians, and publishers, but many had much more unusual jobs, some that don’t even seem like real jobs. Here’s a list ranking the top eleven famous authors with the most interesting day jobs.

1.Harper Lee, Ticket Agent

Photo Credit: Business Insider
Photo Credit: Business Insider

Harper Lee worked at British Overseas Air Corp (BOAC) and Eastern Airlines for years until she got a note from a friend, Broadway composer and lyricist Michael Martin Brown, that said “You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas.” Within the year that he supported her, she wrote her famous novel, To Kill a Mockingbird.

2.James Joyce, Cinema Operator

Photo Credit: Poetry Foundation
Photo Credit: Poetry Foundation

After abandoning his medical degree, James Joyce was struggling to get published. So he worked, singing and playing piano, as well as teaching English in Croatia and Italy, until he met a group of businessmen who ran cinemas in Italy. He told them that his hometown Dublin didn’t have a cinema and they sent him there to open one, which he called The Volta.

3.J.D. Salinger, Luxury Cruise Activities Director

Photo Credit: biography.com
Photo Credit: biography.com

After he and Eugene O’Neill’s daughter, Oona, broke up, J.D. Salinger took a job as activities director on the MS Kungsholm, a luxury Caribbean cruise liner. He wrote a short story entitled “Slight Rebellion Off Madison” during this time, which later inspired his book The Catcher and Rye.

4.Kurt Vonnegut, Writer for Sports Illustrated

Photo Credit: enotes.com
Photo Credit: enotes.com

After returning from WWII military service, Kurt Vonnegut had a wide-ranging string of day jobs before his writing career took off. He worked as a journalist for Sports Illustrated until one day he was asked to write a story about a racehorse that jumped over a fence and tried to escape. Vonnegut stared at the paper until he finally wrote “The horse jumped over the fucking fence” and walked out. After that he worked as a car dealer, advertising agent, and English teacher before Cat’s Cradle became a bestseller.

5.Mark Twain, Steamboat Pilot

Photo Credit: biography.com
Photo Credit: biography.com

In 1859, Samuel Clemens became a licensed steamboat pilot and found regular employment plying the shoals and channels of the Mississippi River. He worked on the river until the Civil War broke out, which stopped most civilian traffic on the river. His eventual pen name “Mark Twain” is a Mississippi River term that means “Mark number two,” which means twelve feet—a safe depth for the steamboat.

6.Vladimir Nabokov, Butterfly Curator

Photo Credit: Goodreads
Photo Credit: Goodreads

Vladimir Nabokov had already published several novels in Russian before he fled Europe to the United States and went to Wellesley College in Massachusetts, and later Harvard. There he became the butterfly collection curator at the Museum of Comparative Zoology, while there he published several works about butterflies and moths, before publishing Lolita.

7.George Orwell, Indian Imperial Police Officer

Photo Credit: biography.com
Photo Credit: biography.com

George Orwell enlisted in the Indian Imperial Police at 19 years old, and served as a policemen in Burma. Five years later, Orwell contracted dengue fever and was sent home to England to recuperate. His experience inspired his novel Burmese Days and his essay “Shooting An Elephant.”

8.Douglas Adams, Bodyguard

Photo Credit: Goodreads
Photo Credit: Goodreads

Before finding success with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams struggled to find his writing niche, trying his luck writing for things like Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and finding that he was not fit for radio or television writing. He worked as a hospital porter, barn builder, chicken shed cleaner, hotel security guard, and a bodyguard for an entire family of oil tycoons from Qatar.

9.Ken Kesey, Participant in CIA Psych Tests

Photo Credit: biography.com
Photo Credit: biography.com

Ken Kesey voluntarily participated in CIA Psych Tests, mostly by being unwillingly dosed with LSD. His experience, especially his hallucinations, influenced his book One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

10.Octavia Butler, Potato Chip Inspector

Photo Credit: Goodreads
Photo Credit: Goodreads

Before Octavia Butler was a well-known science fiction writer and winner of the MacArthur Fellowship, she worked many odd jobs including potato chip inspector. She never let any of these jobs get in the way of her writing—she would often get up as early as 2 a.m. and write until she went to work.

11.Jack London, Oyster Pirate

Photo Credit: biography.com
Photo Credit: biography.com

As a teenager Jack London was a self-appointed oyster pirate. He stole from oyster farms in the San Francisco Bay and sold them at a marketplace in Oakland, until his boat, named the Razzle-Dazzle, became damaged and he joined the California Fish Patrol, then later the crew of a Pacific seal-hunting boat. His time in the Pacific inspired his first published work Typhoon off the Coast of Japan, which was published in the school magazine when he was seventeen.

 

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