10 Famous Authors Who Remind Us That Great Writers Can Also Be Decent Human Beings
Authors, and artists in general, are notoriously difficult to deal with. The list of writers who created masterworks that illuminated truths about the human condition – all while behaving badly toward others in their actual lives -- is a long one.
There are certainly exceptions to this rule, though. Some authors manage to create beauty on the page and also do good in various ways -- whether by donating their time and money to worthy causes, connecting with their fans in meaningful ways, or just being kind to their friends and families.
Here, from a range of genres and time periods, are some notable exceptions to the "all famous authors are jerks" rule:
Library of Congress
Mark Twain was an ardent anti-imperialist. Regarding American imperialism in the Philippines, he notes, "I have seen that we do not intend to free, but to subjugate the people of the Philippines. We have gone there to conquer, not to redeem." He was also a firm supporter of abolition, civil rights and women's rights (including suffrage). He didn't believe that non-Caucasians received the justice they deserved: "I have seen Chinamen abused and maltreated in all the mean, cowardly ways possible to the invention of a degraded nature... but I never saw a Chinaman righted in a court of justice for wrongs thus done to him." He also gave financial support to African-Americans and women who needed it (including Helen Keller).
More than any other author, Judy Blume created a safe space for girls to talk about being girls, helping generations of women navigate the twists and turns of young adulthood -- from masturbation and menstruation to the loss of virginity and any other topic girls might be uncomfortable discussing with their parents. In addition to this she is also the founder and trustee of The Kids Fund, a charitable and educational foundation. She also recently joined a fight against a school's attempted ban on Stephen Chbosky's "The Perks of Being a Wallflower." She ended up helping to save the book from being banned. She even wrote a piece about why book censorship is so horrible. In it, she wrote, "But it's not just the books under fire now that worry me. It is the books that will never be written. The books that will never be read. And all due to the fear of censorship. As always, young readers will be the real losers." Wow. We never cease to be amazed with Judy Blume.
John Green is the cream of the crop among nice authors. He used to volunteer as a student chaplain in a children's hospital, where he interacted with children who had terminal illnesses. In fact, Green's friendship with a real girl who had terminal cancer helped him when he was writing "The Fault in our Stars." He notes that her "humor and empathy and charisma and intelligence was really important to me and found a way into the story." The book is dedicated to her. He is constantly making YouTube videos for his fans, who, since there are so many of them, have now been given a name: Nerdfighters. In 2007, he also created the Project for Awesome, where YouTube users uploaded videos promoting charities and non-profits. He ended up raising $483,446 for charity. Need we say more?
Tolstoy, though a notoriously difficult husband, was known for singing the praises of the peasants in Russia and for writing about their plights. He worked with them in the fields, and spent a lot of time around them. In 1848, Tolstoy opened schools for the children of his serfs. He wanted the children to learn because they wanted to learn. He tried to push serf and education reform with the Tsar, but was unsuccessful. This didn't stop him from trying to offer his own serfs a chance to own their own land, or from continuing to encourage education with his own serfs.
King created the Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation initially to help artists who were unable to work because of health problems. In 2011, King's radio stations attempted to raise $70,000 through donations to help pay for heating during the cold months for Maine residents in need. King also wrote an op-ed for The Daily Beast, called "Tax Me, for F@%&’s Sake!" where he rails against the superrich and tries to bring attention to America's income inequality. He also noted in this piece the other charitable contributions he makes yearly: "My wife and I give away roughly $4 million a year to libraries, local fire departments that need updated lifesaving equipment (Jaws of Life tools are always a popular request), schools, and a scattering of organizations that underwrite the arts... All fine as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough."
First off, Margaret Atwood will retweet pretty much anything you ask her to on Twitter, to her over 400,000 followers. That's pretty nice. She is known for being a feminist (many of her female protagonists are strong women who are oppressed by the patriarchy). Atwood is also an environmental activist, and her book, "The Year of the Flood," promotes environmental awareness.
Neil Gaiman is a really nice guy. He engages with his fans at events and on Twitter. It was just announced that he'll be rereleasing some of his rarer comic book work, and that for every download (the work will initially be free), 50 cents will be donated to the charity Malaria No More. Also, though Gaiman charges speaking fees for events, he donates the money to good causes. In an interview, Gaiman noted, "When I get money like this, I put it back out again. In this case, 25% of what I get goes to a social/abuse charity, and the other 75% goes to an author/literature/library related charity program."
George Orwell spoke out against anti-Semitism. In his 1945 essay, "Antisemitism in Britain," he wrote that it would be helpful to discover why anti-Semites "swallow such absurdities on one particular subject while remaining sane on others." Orwell covers anti-Semitism in his classic, "Nineteen Eighty-Four," as well.
Orwell was also known for having impeccably good manners. Fellow novelist Jack Common noted after meeting him that, "Right away manners... showed through."
George RR Martin
We know that some people hold it against Martin that he kills off popular characters in his famous "A Song of Ice and Fire" series. But you shouldn't fault him for his artistic choices. The man is very generous with his fans and charities. He attends countless science fiction conventions to give talks about his characters and the series. And we really don't think he's just doing that for his health. He has auctioned off numerous "Game of Thrones" memorabilia items for charity. Also, the guy looks like Santa Claus. How could he be a jerk?