Famous Writers Who Flourished in Academia

Updated on October 3, 2017
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The biographies of the literary greats tells us many things about these authors and the times in which they wrote.

Academic Writers

A meeting of doctors at the University of Paris
A meeting of doctors at the University of Paris | Source

Writers From Within the University System

While many avid readers relish books written by the great vagabonds, such as Twain, Kerouac, London etc., there is still a fascinating body of work put out by college professors. Some of these academics, such as J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, are so widely read that few realize that their careers were intricately interwoven with the university system for many decades. Even among the Beat Writers, advanced degrees are quite common with Ginsberg, Snyder and Ferlinghetti returning to the university for further advancement. Following are a select few writers, who have flourished in academia.

Longfellow Square In Portland

Statue of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in Portland, Maine
Statue of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in Portland, Maine | Source

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Though Longfellow was born early in the history of this nation before any substantial homegrown literary movement had developed, he lived long enough to see the success of many American writers, including his own. Henry was born in Portland, Maine in 1807 and lived there until going away to attend nearby Bowdoin College. After his graduation, Longfellow first traveled to Europe, then was offered a teaching position at his Alma mater. At age 27 Henry was offered a prestigious chair at Harvard teaching foreign languages. It was from this respected position that Henry began publishing his poems and other writings. Henry stayed in Cambridge for the rest of his life, but resigned from Harvard, 20 years later, just before his publication of The Song of Hiawatha. After leaving the Ivy League institution, the writer continued to enjoy the rich intellectual community that surrounded the college.

Tolkien During WWI

During WWI Tolkien served in the Signal Corp for Great Britain
During WWI Tolkien served in the Signal Corp for Great Britain | Source

J.R.R. Tolkien

"The English-speaking world is divided into those who have read The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit and those who are going to read them."― (London) Sunday Times

All you have to do is mention this guy's name and immediately, there is a wide recognition of great storytelling. The recent success of the Lord of the Rings movies does nothing but enhance the reputation of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, more commonly known as J.R.R. Tolkien. Today, Tolkien is generally regarded as one of the foremost fantasy authors of the 20th century and often cited as someone responsible for reviving the genre. From 1925 until 1959 Tolkien taught Anglo-Saxon and English Literature at Merton College in Oxford, England. It is reported that the inspiration for the characters known as hobbits came to Tolkien, while he was grading papers and that the physical inspiration for the Shire came from the landscape in nearby Warwickshire.

Clive Staples Lewis

C.S. Lewis in 1947
C.S. Lewis in 1947 | Source

Tolkien's Counterpart

It would difficult to mention Tolkien without giving equal time to his co-conspirator in Oxford, C.S. Lewis. More formally known as Clive Staples, C.S. Lewis began teaching at Magdalene College (a small part of Oxford) after receiving a rare triple award for his academic studies. During his tenure, he began publishing short stories, novels and philosophical essays. Along with Tolkien, Lewis participated in the Inklings, a casual and lively discussion group at Oxford that advocated narrative and fantasy within the realm of fictional writing. In 1954, Lewis was awarded a fellow at Cambridge, which he maintained until he died on that same infamous day in November 1963, when John Kennedy was killed. Originally from Ireland, Lewis is probably best known for his Chronicles of Narnia, a series of seven fantasy novels that feature a talking lion as the principle character.

The Inklings

At Columbia University

Gary Snyder speaking at Columbia University in 2007 at age 77
Gary Snyder speaking at Columbia University in 2007 at age 77 | Source

Gary Snyder

The reality of the Beat Writers, as a wild bunch of college dropouts, is superseded by the fact that all of the major writers, except Kerouac, returned to the university to receive advanced degrees. Of particular note is Gary Snyder, who in his younger, carefree days, provided the inspiration for Japhy Ryder, a major character in Kerouac's The Dharma Bums.

Originally from the Bay Area, Snyder went on to become a major voice of the Beat Generation. His first publications were two poetry books, Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems, that were first released in Japan in 1959. Since then, his literary career has included numerous volumes of poetry, several academic degrees and a Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. Since 1986, Gary has been a professor at the University of California at Davis, where he has worked extensively with young students, as they pursue a writing career.

Recent MacArthur Award Winner

Deborah Eisenberg  speaking at Tulane University in 2009, the same year she won the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship
Deborah Eisenberg speaking at Tulane University in 2009, the same year she won the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship | Source

The Quiet Writer

Although Deborah Eisenberg is not a household name, she is widely regarded as a master of the literary short story. While interest in the short story has declined over the years, Deborah Eisenberg has worked hard at perfecting her craft. A short list of prestigious grants and awards will attest to this accomplishment. Along with the MacArthur Fellowship in 2009, Eisenberg has also received the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, four O'Henry Awards, a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Whiting Writing Award. Currently, Eisenberg teaches at the University of Virginia, where, since 1986, she has published six short story collections and one play.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti

On a slightly different note there is Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who after receiving a doctorate from the very prestigious Sorbonne in Paris came home to San Francisco to teach. After discovering that teaching wasn't his thing, Lawrence opened the now world famous City Lights Bookstore in a down-to-earth place called North Beach. City Lights still thrives today as a bookstore, publishing house and a place for all kinds of people to get together.

City Lights Bookstore


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