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The Surprising Non-Literary Jobs of Some Authors

Dave Astor on Literature

Mark Twain

This is an updated, slightly edited rerun of a book piece I wrote back in 2012:

It’s not a big shock when novelists work as journalists or professors before, during, or after their book-producing years. But some famous writers have held rather unusual non-literary jobs.

On the positive side, stints of atypical-for-authors employment can inspire future books and/or give writers firsthand knowledge of the way non-writers live. On the negative side, need-the-money jobs can take away from precious prose-producing time.

My job is to now give examples of this multi-profession phenomenon, and I’ll start in the 19th century with the career arcs of a famous American literary trio: Mark Twain (born Samuel Clemens), Herman Melville, and Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Twain, from 1857 to 1861, worked as a riverboat pilot — a stint that inspired his pen name as well as the nonfiction book Life on the Mississippi and (to…

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