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Literary Kinfolk

Authors Who Make Writing a Family Business

By Ashly Moore Sheldon • August 19, 2020

Many writers will tell you that their profession can be a lonely one. Authors tend to disappear into their work. Perhaps it helps if you are related to other writers. But then again, maybe it can also lead to conflict. Here we profile authors who have made a family business out of the occupation.

Sibling Scribes

There are some obvious literary siblings, like the famed Brontës, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne. And the fairy-tale-loving Brothers Grimm are literally inseparable, so they don't really count.

But you may not have heard about twin sisters Esther Pauline "Eppie" and Pauline Esther "Popo" Friedman. Together they attended Morningside College, where they cowrote a gossip column. Both sisters then went on to become nationally syndicated advice columnists, known for their strong (and often salty) opinions. Eppie, older by 17 minutes assumed the pen name Ann Landers (Ask Ann Landers) while, Popo went by Abigail Van Buren (Dear Abby). As competing columnists, a rift developed between the sisters and they were estranged from one another throughout much of their adult lives. Catherine Schine's novel The Grammarians about identical twin sisters obsessed with language borrows heavily from their story.

In a similar plotline, A. S. Byatt, who won the Booker Prize for Possession is the older sister of acclaimed author Margaret Drabble, author of more than two dozen books, including The Millstone. Both attended Cambridge University and have had considerable success in their careers, yet their relationship has reportedly been strained over issues of sibling rivalry. However, both sisters claim that their feud has been overblown by the media.

Wedded Writers

Familial tension between authors doesn't only apply to siblings. Michael Chabon has made comments suggesting that his success contributed to his 1991 divorce from then-struggling poet Lollie Groth. But that didn't stop him from marrying Israeli-born writer Ayelet Waldman just two years later. Chabon has said that their union inspired the relationship between Sammy Clay and Rosa Saks in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. Waldman is known for her clever Mommy-Track mystery series as well as several standalone novels. A 2007 Entertainment Weekly article declared the couple "a famous—and famously in love—writing pair, like Nick and Nora Charles (from The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett) with word processors and not so much booze."

Bestselling British author Zadie Smith first met her Irish poet/novelist husband Nick Laird when they were both undergrads at Cambridge and she submitted a short story to a collection he was editing. Her contribution was, Laird said, "just heads-and-shoulders above everything else." After Smith's career took off, Laird commented that going to literary parties with her made him feel "two feet high." Even so, the pair made it work, now parents to two children. The dedication of Smith's third book, On Beauty, reads to "my dear Laird." In 2005, Laird won the prestigious Rooney Prize for his book of poems, To A Fault.

Scribbling Spawn

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree in many literary families. Stephen King and his wife, writer Tabitha King, have two author sons, Joe Hill and Owen King. Writer Anthony West, born in 1914, was the product of an illicit affair between esteemed British authors H. G. Wells and Rebecca West.

George du Maurier was a prominent cartoonist during the latter half of the nineteenth century. In 1891, when worsening eyesight forced him to curtail his art career, he began writing novels. His gothic horror Trilby, published only two years before he died in 1896 at age 62, has proved to be his most enduring work. Several of du Maurier's progeny became artists and authors, including granddaughter Daphne du Maurier, born more than a decade after her grandfather's death. Her horror-infused romantic novels continue to intrigue readers today. Her classic Rebecca has inspired several screen adaptations, including a new star-studded movie due to be released this October.

Author Alice Walker, who won a Pulitzer Prize for The Color Purple, was known to have expressed the opinion that motherhood hampered her creativity and freedom. Perhaps it's not surprising then that she and her daughter, Rebecca Walker, have at times been estranged. Still, the younger Walker has followed her mother's lead and become an author herself.

This kind of drama between writers who are related to one another makes a certain kind of sense. After all, authors tend to be sensitive, opinionated sorts with intense inner worlds. Their occupation requires a certain degree of solitude and focus that could make connecting with others difficult at times. In any case, it's been fascinating to learn about some of the familial connections between literary figures. Have we missed any good ones? Let us know.

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