Pop Quiz: Ten Famous Authors and their "Other" Careers


Bill Gates is the author of one of this week's reviewed books, but before he became an author he was co-founder and CEO of Microsoft.

Caption thanks to Captain Obvious. :)

Each week I set out to research and document ten "fun facts" on a topic loosely based on the two books I've reviewed that week.  "Loosely" being the operative word. 

This week I reviewed Tecumseh and the Prophet, by Peter Cozzens, and Bill Gates' How to Avoid a Climate Disaster.

Cozzen's book is set in the time between the Revolution and the War of 1812. It explores the lives of two Shawnee brothers who formed a confederacy of Indian nations to try to defy westward expansion of  a young United States into the Old Northwest Territory. 

Meanwhile, in his book Bill Gates tackles the climate crisis like a business problem and ferrets out areas in need of innovations that will help societies move their carbon emissions to zero.

Both of these authors have had significant careers doing something other than writing. Bill Gates, of course, was co-founder and long time CEO of Microsoft, and now runs the Gates Foundation with his soon to be ex-wife Melinda. Peter Cozzens spent more than 30 years as a Foreign Service Officer in the US State Department.

And so we've found this week's topic. Yes, this Fun Fact Friday post focuses on ten famous authors and their "other" careers. And, since it was a hit a few weeks back, this post is once again in the form of a "pop quiz". I hope you have fun with this, and for you aspiring writers out there, I hope that these ten examples will provide some inspiration to keep on writing.

So, here we go - 

See how many of these authors you can name. Extra points if you can also name the book described in the clue. Answers are at the end of the post.  I do hope you have fun with it, but I don't think its an easy quiz, so I'll be suitably impressed by anyone who gets more than six correct Author+Book answers. 

Ten Famous Authors and their "Other" Careers:
  1. Airline Reservations Agent - For years this American author worked for Eastern Airlines as a reservation agent. In her spare time she wrote, and several of her stories were published. She was fortunate enough to have friends who scraped together a year's wages and gave them to her as a present with a note saying "You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas." At the end of that year she had penned a modern American classic, that was partly autobiographical and based on her childhood in Alabama. She was:

    • Erica Jong
    • Alice Walker
    • Harper Lee
    • Barbara Kingsolver

  2. Museum Curator - This already published author fled Nazi Germany for the United States in 1940. Once settled here, he joined Wellesley College, where he taught. He also acted as the butterfly curator for the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology. While traveling on butterfly collection trips he penned his first American novel. It's subject matter was so controversial that he couldn't find a US publisher. It was initially published in France, but was subsequently banned there, and the UK. It was finally published in the US in 1958 and is today considered a classic. The author is:

    • Graham Greene
    • Vladimir Nabokov
    • Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
    • Leon Uris
  3. Theater Critic - This Irish author first went to work in the Civil Service, and then went on to be a theater critic. He and his wife moved to London where they rubbed elbows with famous authors of the day including Oscar Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle. On a trip to the English coast he became inspired to pen his classic novel. This novel led to numerous adaptations, on stage and in film, and has inspired a whole genre of books about nocturnal creatures like his title character. This author is:

    • Frank McGuinness
    • Padraic Colum
    • James Joyce
    • Bram Stoker
  4. Janitor - This American author, born on the East Coast, worked odd jobs to pay for college, including as a janitor at a local high school. After receiving a degree in English, he managed to sell some short stories, but took a job as a teacher to pay the bills. His first book, released in 1974 and named after it's main character, was set in a high school and inspired by his time as a janitor and a teacher. The success of this book established him as an American institution. Today, his books have sold millions of copies and inspired a number of movies. He is the acknowledged master of his genre. He is:

    • Stephen King
    • Dean Koontz
    • Michael Crichton
    • Dan Brown
  5. Oil Company Vice President - Born in Chicago, this author held both US and British citizenship. Having served in World War I he returned to the US where he worked his way from bookkeeper to VP of the Dabney Oil Syndicate, only to be fired during the Great Depression. He taught himself to write by studying the work of Erle Stanley Gardner. His first novel was published in 1939, introducing the world to the detective on whom he based his subsequent novels. As his novels became the basis for movies (with Humphrey Bogart playing the role of his now famous detective), he went on to write screenplays as well. He is:

    • A.A. Fair
    • Raymond Chandler
    • Dashiell Hammett
    • P.G. Woodhouse

  6. Artist of Watercolors and Oils - A native of suburban Melbourne, this Australian novelist considered studying architecture but settled on art. She shared an art studio and exhibited at two Melbourne art shows before marrying her husband. After settling into married life the Great Depression forced the young couple to downsize into more affordable housing. She turned to writing and published a series of magazine articles, plays and a novel. Late in life she penned her most famous novel, named for dining at a natural feature and landmark of her home state of Victoria. The novel was made into a feature film by Peter Weir in 1975. She is:

    • Joan Didion
    • Joan Lindsey
    • Joan Hall
    • John Johnston

  7. Coffee Shop Counter Help - This Canadian author's first job was in a coffee shop in Toronto. She spent much of her childhood moving back and forth between Toronto, Sault Ste. Marie and Ottawa as her father relocated for his entomology research. She graduated with a bachelor's in English, and  taught at several Universities while she wrote poetry. Her first novel came out in 1972. Her most famous work in 1975 was a dystopian novel about subjugated women, and was the winner of an Arthur C. Clarke Award. It has gained renewed interest based on it's recent television adaptation. She is:

    • Ann-Marie MacDonald
    • Charlotte Gray
    • Margaret Atwood
    • Alice Munro

  8. Tobacco Picker - Born in Christchurch, this New Zealand novelist, poet and short story writer picked tobacco in Motueka on the South Island after graduating from high school. For a time she went back and forth between college and tobacco picking, writing all the while. Her novel about the complicated relationships between three outcasts of mixed European and Maori heritage was published in 1984. For this work she became the first New Zealander to win the Man Booker Prize. She is: 

    • Keri Hulme
    • Jane Campion
    • Ngaio Marsh
    • Joy Cowley

  9. Crewman Aboard Ship - This American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist is from Joplin, Missouri. Before going to college he worked several odd jobs, most notably as crewman aboard the ship S.S. Malone. At  Lincoln University, a historically black college, he was a classmate of future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. A prolific author, he wrote several novels, plays, non-fiction books, and books for children. Well known for his poetry today, perhaps his most famous work in his own time was a short story cycle that is a sardonic commentary on racism, published in 1934. He is:

    • August Wilson
    • Ibram X. Kendi
    • Richard Wright
    • Langston Hughes

  10. Navy Seaman and Vietnam Vet - Born in Washington D.C and raised in North Carolina, this American author considered himself to be a typical conservative and segregationist before coming out as gay after his service in the Navy. He later moved to San Francisco and in 1974 began writing a series of stories for the Pacific Sun newspaper, before moving them to the San Francisco Chronicle. These stories were reworked to become the first of several novels in his famous set of books, named in homage to San Francisco.  He and his husband now reside in New Mexico. He is:

    • Armistead Maupin
    • Edmund White
    • James Baldwin
    • Larry Kramer
So there you have it. Scroll down to find the answers. Let me know if you enjoyed this week's Fun Facts Friday Pop Quiz by leaving a comment below.

Answers below 

1 - Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
2 - Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita 
3 - Bram Stoker, Dracula 
4 - Stephen King, Carrie 
5 - Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep (and the detective is Philip Marlowe)
6 - Joan Lindsey, Picnic at Hanging Rock 
7 - Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale 
8 - Keri Hulme, The Bone People
9 - Langston Hughes, The Ways of White Folks
10 - Armistead Maupin, Tales of the City