We think so much of authors in terms of what they’ve written. A reading of Twilight might lead one to believe that Stephanie Meyer has a serious fetish for sparkling vampires and glistening werewolves. But then you find out that she is Mormon. She doesn’t drink or smoke. And your view of Stephanie Meyer becomes a bit distorted.
A fellow contributor shared a recent article on Cracked.com with me that made me think about who readers perceive authors to be versus who authors actually are. For instance, Shel Silverstein, best known for his children’s book The Giving Tree, worked for Playboy for almost forty years. He drew pictures for the erotic magazine, like this one:
Silverstein wasn’t just an author of children’s books and illustrator of porno mags though, he was also a poet and songwriter (ever heard of “A Boy Named Sue”?) who was often inspired by weed, writing songs like “I Got Stoned And Missed It.” What would parents think if they realized the author of their child’s favorite book was not only a pothead but, well, kind of a pervert?
Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women, wrote about true love, domesticity, and virtue even in the face of great wealth. In 2009 scholar Harriet Reisen said in a NPR interview:
She wrote what she called ‘moral pap for the young’ because it pays well.
Earlier in life, the author had written lesser known works about lust and revenge, quite the opposite of “moral pap.” She published these works anonymously and never claimed them as her own to the public because she knew the books could hurt the sales of her popular Little Women series. Alcott was even known as having a life-long addiction to opium, which she began using after contracting typhoid fever as a nurse in the Civil War.
Does these revelations make Alcott a bad person? No. Although some might argue she’s a sell-out. It’s hard to rectify these contrasting images of the authors we thought we knew. But the truth is, it’s wrong of us to assume authors must in some way or shape represent the characters and novels that they’ve written. Alcott was complicated. Though she had an addiction, it was in a time when no one really understood addiction or how to help someone in her situation. Even though her writing was sweet, dealing with marriage and true love, she herself was never married. She was a feminist and an abolitionist.
I’d rather be a free spinster and paddle my own canoe. – Louisa May Alcott
So it seems, authors, as well as books, should not be judged by their covers.
– Melanie Figueroa