These days, people rarely stick with their first jobs, and why would they? It's not like Marble Slab has a competitive pension plan. And though we tend to disparage those horrendous first outings into the world of work, they provide a vital function in catapulting those with artsier aspirations out of 9-to-5 drudgery and into a beautiful art form.
In honor of Labor Day, which is Monday, we sifted through our favorite authors to find what jobs they had before they became literary giants, the jobs that made them say "Screw this!" and pick up a pen.
10. Charles Dickens: Shoe polish label-paster Dickens was just a kid when he went to work at a boot-black warehouse to help support his family, and he found more than a little inspiration for his seminal work about the perils of child labor, Oliver Twist: One of the boys he worked with was named Bob Fagin.
9. Harper Lee: Airline reservation clerk Lee worked for Eastern Airlines and British Overseas Airways during the '50s before penning her only novel, To Kill A Mockingbird.
8. George Orwell: Policeman Before he wrote about Thoughtcrime and Big Brother, Orwell (born Eric Blair) was out locking people up for petty crime as a member of the Indian Imperial Police in Burma. His experience here was the inspiration for the anti-Imperialist short story "Shooting an Elephant."
7. James Baldwin: Pentecostal preacher At the age of 14, James Baldwin joined the Pentecostal church and became a preacher. I don't know about you guys, but when I was 14, I could eat an entire thing of marshmallows in under a minute.
6. John le Carré: Teacher Before he joined MI5 and was led to a life of intrigue he would later write about, le Carré (born David Cornwell) was a teacher at Britain's prestigious Eton College.
5. Ayn Rand: Movie extra Cecil B. DeMille saw Rand standing at the gate of his studio and offered her a ride to the set of his movie, King of Kings. It was Rand's second day in Hollywood, and he gave her a job as an extra in the film. She went on to read scripts for him.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
4. Eudora Welty: Copy editor Welty worked as a copy editor for Jackson, Mississippi's first radio station before going on to work for the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression.
3. John Steinbeck: Tour guide Steinbeck worked a day job in a fish hatchery in Lake Tahoe, acting as a tour guide and caretaker, while working on his first novel.
2. Arthur Conan Doyle: Doctor In an ironic twist of fate, Conan Doyle was a patientless family practitioner who wrote short stories to support himself. The result was the creation of one of the greatest characters in fiction.
1. Kurt Vonnegut: Car salesman Though it was probably not his first job, Vonnegut took on the management of a Saab dealership while he was still struggling as an author.