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  • Katie Cortese

horsemanship: famous authors off-duty

Many thanks to everyone who answered our submissions call for the Bedroom Issue. You’ve given our staff words to make them swoon, blush, and gasp into the small hours of the night. Since it will be tough to whittle final selections out of the excellent work we’ve seen so far, we’ve built in ten days of rest before gates open on our next submission call. While we’d like you to keep the upcoming theme in mind (it’s our National Poetry Month Issue, or NaPoMo, with submissions welcome between Sept. 29th and October 31st), we know that in order for creativity to flow most writers need a breather between projects, a way to clear the mind and get inspired for the next effort.

Some of us de-stress with impromptu dance parties (like James Baldwin and Lorraine Hansberry above), while others take classes, play an instrument, or pick up other skills. Just as Sylvia Plath kept bees, Flannery O’Connor loved birds, and Vladimir Nabokov chased butterflies (read more about their non-writerly occupations here), most of us have a go-to means of de-stressing, one proven to re-ignite our imaginations. If you’ve ever felt chained to your computer between chapters or sonnet cycles, try out one of these pastimes enjoyed by some of the best in the biz. You might discover a new passion, and if not, writing will seem all the more appealing when you’re ready to get back to work.

Famous Authors’ Little-Known Hobbies:

Norman Mailer, winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, admitted to Vanity Fair his fondness for Texas Hold ‘Em, and coindentally confessed that playing cards is when he'd be most likely to lie.

Celebrated poet Claudia Rankine varies her workload by moving between genres. As she told Sampsonia Way: “I’m very glad that I started out defining myself as a poet, but at this stage I see myself as a writer and an artist and so I just do whatever I want. If people want to say, ‘No, I can’t read this because it doesn’t satisfy my own understanding of poetry,’ that’s fine with me. I love my education in poetry. I love poets. I love reading them. They are the people who have guided me through my life, who are necessary to me. Now I make films, I write plays, I do whatever I want.”

It should be no surprise to anyone who has read one of Margaret Atwood’s intricately plotted novels that she has a fondness for design. In 1990, she told The Paris Review more about her attraction to visual art: “All writers, I suspect—and probably all people—have parallel lives, what they would have been if they hadn’t turned into what they are. I have several of these, and one is certainly a life as a painter. When I was ten I thought I would be one; by the time I was twelve I had changed that to dress designer, and then reality took over and I confined myself to doodles in the margins of my textbooks. At university I made pocket money by designing and printing silk-screen posters and by designing theater programs. I continued to draw and paint in a truncated sort of way and still occasionally design—for instance the Canadian covers of my poetry books. It’s one of those things I’m keeping in reserve for when I retire. Maybe I can be a sort of awful Sunday painter like Winston Churchill.”

Richard Blanco, the inaugural poet chosen to open Barack Obama’s second term in office, has had a lengthy career as a professional civil engineer as well as a newer gig as a professor of creative writing. He takes inspiration from William Carlos Williams and Wallace Stevens, both poets with day jobs. In an interview with the Los Angeles Review of Books, Blanco says the fact that both poets “had other careers—completely different livelihoods […] always fascinated me. Another level—they have that other side to them. I carried them not only as models for writing, but for pathways or journeys, for what a poet can be or do in this world. Williams is my right brain and Stevens is my left brain.”

Amy Tan received parental pressure to achieve as a child, and was told she would become a doctor by day and a concert pianist by night. After becoming a technical writer instead, she escaped the 90-billable-hours she was averaging each week by writing stories that would become The Joy Luck Club. She still finds relief in the fiction that rescued her from what family and friends regarded as a dangerous level of workaholism, telling The Academy of Achievement: “There are so many things I would like to do. I would like to go trekking into Nepal. I would like to write a song. I would like to breed Yorkies. Sometimes I think I would like to be an interior decorator. There are so many things but the nice thing about being a writer is if I can’t do all of those things, all I have to do is imagine them and put them in a story. That’s second place but it’s pretty good.”

--Katie Cortese, Assistant Editor


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