When we read a book we have this strange separation from its creator that never occurs in any other form of entertainment; is there a singer you love but whose gender you are ignorant of, an actor whose films you watch and you have no idea what they look like? Yet we can read an author’s entire bibliography without ever knowing just who it is that lies behind the words we so adore.
In modern times female authors are not discriminated against nearly so much as they once were, yet we still have writers such as JK Rowling and EL James publishing using just their initials in order to render their names gender neutral and perhaps tempt in readers who would otherwise have been put off by a female author but as a rule women are no longer second class citizens when it comes to writing. Female authors may have fought against discrimination from society over the years when ti comes to being published but they are not the only diverse group who write. From people of colour to those with disabilities and others who are LGBTQ here are just five authors you never knew were diverse.
The creator of the Three Musketeers Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie later to be known as Alexandre Dumas was the son of Thomas Alexandre Dumas a man born to a French father and an enslaved African woman; as was the accepted action back then Thomas Alexandre’s father chose to take his offspring from his mother and bring him to live in the family household legally freeing the child when he was very young. Rising through the French military ranks Dumas became general-in-chief of the Army of the Pyrenees, the first man of colour to reach that rank. After his father’s death when he was just four years old Alexandre’s mother would regale him with tales of his father’s military exploits and it is these stories that inspired Dumas to write The Three Musketeers
Fyodor Dostoyevsky is considered to be one of the greatest Russian authors that ever lived; his novels Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov, to name but two, are regularly cited as must read novels and are permanent fixtures in many top 100 lists of literature but did you know he was epileptic? His epilepsy appears to have manifested when Dostoyevsky was in his early teens and would become a major part of his life with seizures becoming more and more frequent and more devastating as he grew older. With the fits becoming so debilitating that he could no longer work, Dostoyevsky moved to Ems where he would spend his final years.
Walt may not have been openly gay but it is generally accepted that his sexuality was either homosexual or bisexual. With critics of the time commenting that Whitman was guilty of “that horrible sin not to be mentioned among Christians.” Walt enjoyed what were viewed as intense friendships with many men and boys throughout his life and despite many people trying to discover the truth of his sexuality citing letters, journal entries, and other sources that they claim as proof of the sexual nature of some of his relationships he never divulged the truth of his sexual and emotional preferences. The closest anyone can come to a definitive answer is Whitman’s friendship with a bus conductor Peter Doyle who said of Walt “We were familiar at once—I put my hand on his knee—we understood. He did not get out at the end of the trip—in fact went all the way back with me.”
Paradise Lost, an epic poem that consisted of ten books with over ten thousand lines of verse that was written by Milton almost two decades after he lost his sight. Despite living in an era way before braille or in fact anything that offered the visually impaired a way to enjoy reading or writing Milton was not deterred by his blindness and would ask his daughters to read to him in order to allow him to continue enjoying literature and dictating his writing to a transcriber. Milton famously detailed the experience of losing his sight in a sonnet aptly titled “On His Blindness.”
An American writer, literary critic and editor Anatole would write columns for the New York Times and publish several short stories, essays, and two books during his lifetime. Unremarkable during his life Broyard would become mired in controversy after his death when it was announced that he had “passed himself off as being white” when wanting to be accepted as a writer. While it may seem strange now for anyone to feel the need to hide their heritage a comment made by the writer and editor Brent Staples in 2003 explains exactly why the successful author felt the need to be ‘white’: “Anatole Broyard wanted to be a writer — and not just a ‘Negro writer’ consigned to the back of the literary bus.”
The world is a strange place and as they say the truth is often stranger than fiction but in these modern times hopefully humanity has evolved to the point whereby no person is ever judged by their colour, their faith, their physical abilities, or their sexuality and I think that the examples above show that, in the main, we readers are an inclusive lot rarely if ever judging an author (or anyone for that matter) on anything but their actions.