Earning a Living

Margaret Atwood was a coffee-shop worker. Octavia Butler labored as a dishwasher, a telemarketer, and a potato-chip inspector, among other endeavors. Agatha Christie was part of a Voluntary Aid Detachment working at a military hospital in Devon during World War I; she was also an apothecary’s assistant. Harper Lee toiled as a ticket agent for an airline. Lorrie Moore was a paralegal. Zadie Smith worked as a jazz singer.

Paul Auster has this to say: “Most writers lead double lives. They earn good money at legitimate professions and carve out time for their writing as best they can: early in the morning, late at night, weekends, vacations. William Carlos Williams and Louis-Ferdinand Celine were doctors. Wallace Stevens worked for an insurance company. T.S. Eliot was a banker, then a publisher. Among my own acquaintances, the French poet Jacques Dupin [was] co-director of an art gallery in Paris. William Bronk, the American poet, managed his family’s coal and lumber business in upstate New York for over forty years. Don DeLillo, Peter Carey, Salman Rushdie, and Elmore Leonard all worked for long stretches in advertising.”