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Writers Who Skipped College

At the edge of NGC891

At the Edge of NGC 891
Credit: Composite Image Data – Subaru Telescope (NAOJ), Hubble Legacy Archive,
Michael Joner, David Laney (West Mountain Observatory, BYU); Processing – Robert Gendler

“When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.    Ray Bradbury

Death of a Literary Giant

Ray Bradbury died last week and upon his death, I happened to take a quick look around the web and chanced across this interesting quote about his education. I was surprised to find that Ray did not attend college, but instead went straight from high school to writing short stories. His transition was a short one, but over time Ray’s writing improved and eventually after the publication of a novel or two, he was able to make a living off his writing. I’m sure that by the time he passed away last week, his annual income was quite high, something that most of us college-educated folks would be quite envious of. This set my mind wandering, as to what other writers were highly successful, despite their lack of a college education.

Mark Twain in cap and gown

Mark Twain receiving an honorary degree from Oxford University in England, from Wikipedia

Head of the List

Right away, the name of Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, popped up. Here, was a man that grew up setting type in his father’s press, but who never benefited from attending an institution of higher learning. Mr. Clemens had a fascinating life growing up on the Mississippi that included piloting a steamboat on the big river. From there, he participated briefly in the Civil War, only to head to the western territories in order to avoid service in the horrific conflict. From the West he was able to begin a literary career that has been matched by few. Despite this shortcoming, Mr. Twain eventually received an honorary Doctor of Literature from Oxford, quite an accomplishment for someone without a real diploma.

The Adventurers

Next come the adventurers like Jack London, who dropped out of college and headed for the Klondike Gold Rush. I doubt if London planned on being a writer, when he left Berkeley, California, it just kind of happened along the way.  Other adventurous writers, such as Jack Kerouac, Carl Sandburg, William Faulkner and Robert Frost were also college dropouts, who became household words despite completion of their academic careers.

Doris Lessing, 2007 Nobel Prize recipient for Literature

Two of Note

Two very interesting writers, who never attended college, are George Orwell and Doris Lessing, a Zimbabwean-British novelist, who won the Nobel prize for literature in 2007.   Even though George Orwell had an excellent British secondary education at Eton, he never attended college because of lack of financial funds. Instead he became a policeman in India. Over the years and after moving back to Europe, Orwell (Eric Blair in real life) eventually became known through the publication of several works of fiction that are still widely read today. In fact, his lack of monetary assets for a higher education, despite a stellar academic career,  may have been instrumental in the author’s political outlook and his frequent criticism of wealth distribution and other such occurrences in the 20th century.

On the other hand Doris Lessing’s remote location in southern Africa might help explain, why she dropped out of school at age 14. Her recent reception of the Nobel Prize proves that large obstacles to success can be eventually overcome. So it just goes to show that lack of a college diploma, is not always a deterrent to accomplishing great things. This is especially important in today’s economic climate where college tuition is climbing out of sight.

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