Some of the most renowned authors have surprisingly humble beginnings. Their stories of overcoming poverty and childhood struggles, persevering through rejection after rejection, and writing out of necessity to support their families are truly remarkable. You will appreciate these legendary authors more knowing how far they’ve come.
While on a train from Manchester to King’s Cross in 1990, JK Rowling got her first ideas for what would eventually become the Harry Potter series. She spent the next 5 years planning the story and creating the wizarding world, writing in various Edinburgh coffee shops. Before the 1997 release of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Rowling struggled as a single mother, taking odd jobs at a local church. Rowling was rejected by 12 publishers before Bloomsbury Publishing accepted her series.
Orwell spent the majority of his life working odd jobs, often supporting himself on loans from friends and family. He took any job he could and even wrote propaganda for Britain during the Second World War. Months before the war ended, Orwell released the novella Animal Farm, an allegorical fantasy analysis of communism. Four years later, Orwell published his iconic novel 1984, and both his works remain prevalent subjects of academic study.
Beatrix Potter came from a wealthy family, who disapproved of her literary passions, believing a respectable lady must marry and should not work. Many publishers rejected The Tale of Peter Rabbit, so in her persistence, Beatrix published the book herself. In December of 1901, Beatrix printed out 250 copies and handed them out to family and friends. The book gained a reputation and the publishing house Frederick Warne & Co. reconsidered their initial decline and offered her a contract.
In his acclaimed memoir A Long Way Gone, Beah writes of having been forced to become a child soldier in Sierra Leone at the age of 12. He was rescued by UNICEF three years later and was forced to flee increasing violence in his new town. He continued his education in New York and started writing down his memories of the war. Beah’s memoir was a huge success and captivated readers across the globe.
The first black woman to win the Pulitzer Prize, Alice Walker was raised in a family of eight children. Her parents were sharecroppers in a rural farming town. When she was 8, Walker was shot in the eye by a BB gun, leaving her permanently blind in that eye. This injury led her to pursue reading and writing. She became a published writer while still in college and established herself as a major author of the Black Arts movement.
After his father left the family, Stephen King and his brother were raised by a single mother. For years, Stephen King was barely able to support himself and his wife Tabitha due to unemployment. He made a modest income selling short stories to magazines before drafting Carrie. King became so frustrated with his first novel that he threw it in the garbage. His wife Tabitha continued to encourage him and Carrie proved to be his big break in 1974.
In her memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya writes of having been abused as a child, at one point homeless, and giving birth to her son at the age of 17. She was a sex worker briefly in young adulthood to support her son. She then found work as a singer and dancer, then focused on writing and activism, going on to publish her acclaimed memoirs, poetry, essays, and prose.
Charles Dickens was raised in a poor family of eight children. He was forced to leave school to work ten-hour days in a boot-blacking warehouse at the age of 12. In young adulthood, Dickens rose to fame through the publication of his serialized novels. Oliver Twist was inspired by Dickens’ early experiences of poverty and child labour.