Reclusive writers hold a certain mystique in popular culture. When a famous literary figure chooses to withdraw from the public eye or from the public altogether, it often adds to their legend. But how accurate are these legends and what kind of social lives do these writers actually have?
by Lindsay Thobe
Some of us might have known the stories of Emily Dickinson’s reclusiveness, like lowering baskets of food to neighboring children, before we ever read any of her poems. That anecdote is particularly interesting because it seemed like Dickinson was withdrawing from the outside world but not necessarily people. (This is also a handy skill to have during the current pandemic). Dickinson had a very active social life as a teen and even after she kept mostly to her room she lived with her parents and sister. Her home also had a conservatory so she could garden year-round.
Calvin & Hobbes creator Bill Watterson has largely stayed out of the public eye and also seems to have no regrets about ending the strip when he did. In an interview with the Cleveland Plain Dealer in 2010 he said that the legacy of Calvin & Hobbes doesn’t keep him up at night and that his part in it “largely ended as the ink dried.” When asked about how he handles fans or groupies, he went on to say that he mostly goes about his private life and ignores the attention. He’s proud of the strip and happy for the success but he wrote the strip decades ago and is no longer the same person.
SE Hinton, the novelist behind 8th grade reading list favorite The Outsiders, has also kept a pretty low profile. On her official website she has a short biography that states after the success of The Outsiders she felt a lot of pressure from the publicity that resulted in writer’s block and depression. Her book That Was Then, This is Now followed and she wrote just two pages a day. Her site also says she’s a very private person who is uncomfortable sharing facts about her personal life, but she lives in Oklahoma with husband and son. Most of the photos on her official Twitter appear to be of her cats.
Thomas Pynchon has taken dodging press to new levels. Because not much was known about his personal life and he has chosen not to talk to the press there was even a theory floated that he and JD Salinger were the same person. Pynchon replied to that with a pithy, “Not bad, keep trying.” He has voiced himself on The Simpsons (according to Matt Groening Pynchon’s son is a fan) and when John Larroquette made references to Pynchon on his show, Pynchon contacted him through his agent to offer suggestions and corrections. Even though he doesn’t speak directly with reporters it would seem that Pynchon is very much participating in the discussion about him. He even said to CNN, “My belief is that ‘recluse’ is a code word generated by journalists…meaning, ‘doesn’t like to talk to reporters.’”
Currently, most of us are staying away from each other but some of the famous “reclusive” writers were perhaps more connected than we have been led to believe. They have families, pets they love, hobbies like gardening that make them happy when they weren’t interacting with the greater public. Just because you’re physically distant doesn’t mean you’re really alone.
Written by Lindsay Thobe
Lindsay came to the museum after working in sales for two years at Chicago Athletic Clubs. She previously worked at Columbia College Chicago where she got her Masters in Arts, Entertainment, and Media Management. She received her Bachelors from Wright State University where she studied Motion Picture History, Theory, and Criticism and Mass Communications. In her free time she writes trivia for Geeks Who Drink and was a contributing writer for their book Duh!: 100 Bar Trivia Questions You Should Know (And the Unexpected Stories Behind the Answers).