Famous Writers Who Never Attended College

The Amazing Mr. Twain

Although Mark Twain never spent a day in college, he was eventually awarded an honorary degree by Oxford University
Although Mark Twain never spent a day in college, he was eventually awarded an honorary degree by Oxford University | Source

A High School Graduate Writes a Short Story

A fanciful illustration of Bradbury's Undersea Guardians graced the 1944 cover of Amazing Stories
A fanciful illustration of Bradbury's Undersea Guardians graced the 1944 cover of Amazing Stories | Source

Remembering Ray

"I spent three days a week for ten years educating myself in the public library, and it's better than college. People should educate themselves - you can get a complete education for no money. At the end of ten years, I had read every book in the library and I'd written a thousand stories."

While recently putting together a piece about Ray Bradbury's death at age 91, I chanced across the fact that Ray Bradbury never attended college. However, he did graduate from high school and after doing so, he directly applied himself to the task of being a writer. Ray's main interest was science fiction, so the young author began putting together short tales and submitting them to suitable publications. This was during the depression before the outbreak of WWII. Eventually, he had some short fiction published and went on to sell some of his short stories also. Then he wrote the novel, Fahrenheit 451, and the rest is history.

Nonetheless, this whole chain of events got me thinking, as to what other writers skipped the hallowed halls of higher education and made it as a writer without the benefit of advanced education. Without delving into the lives of those writers who dropped out of college( i.e the Beats, Jack London etc.), I still was able to come up with some significant literary minds, who did not partake in any kind of collegiate pursuit.

Haley's Comet in 1986

Haley's Comet looked like this when it passed by earth again in 1986
Haley's Comet looked like this when it passed by earth again in 1986 | Source

A Riverboat Pilot Becomes An Author

Samual Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, is forever associated with Haley's Comet, for he was born in 1835, when the celestial event was visible in the sky and died 75 years later, when the comet came around again. The very same comet returned in 1986 and was often referred to by astronomers as the Hale Bopp comet.

Mr. Clemens grew up along the banks of the Mississippi, where he worked in his father's print shop. This job that included much typesetting and some proofreading appears to have been the author's major educational springboard, which enabled the Missouri native to become one of the nation's most noted and widely read man of letters.

Instead of continuing his educational pursuits, Sam left home and went to work on a riverboat and quickly became a pilot. From this experience, he produced his nom de plume, Mark Twain, and a book entitled, Life On the Mississippi. The Civil War interrupted his piloting and sent the young man west, where he first achieved literary success with a short story called, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. The rest of Twain's story is literary history, for today Samuel Clemens is one of the most revered of American authors.

Collage of different celestial bodies.
Collage of different celestial bodies. | Source

Other Writers

Twain and Bradbury are not the only major writers to never have attended college. Also of note are George Orwell (Eric Blair in Real Life), Truman Capote, Agatha Christie, Herman Melville, Doris Lessing (2007 Nobel Prize winner in literature), Stieg Larsson and possibly William Shakespeare. Their individual stories vary widely, but the end result is the same, everyone achieved literary success without the benefits of a college education. For example, Melville went to sea and Larsson worked in a Swedish smelting plant, where he contracted arsenic poisoning.

Others such as Orwell and Lessing grew up in such remote places, Persia and Southern Africa respectively, and so they never had such an opportunity. Christie, another Brit, was raised in England, but like Capote, an American, just never seemed to have any desire or need to attend a college or university. Upon his graduation from high school, Truman moved to NYC to be with his mother and new husband. There he began writing short stories.

Shakespeare is included because most evidence suggests that he worked in London as an actor before becoming a playwright. However, academic scholars still argue over who Shakespeare really was, so a question mark might remain about the Bard's academic background.

David's Citadel

David's Tower and Citadel in Jerusalem
David's Tower and Citadel in Jerusalem | Source

Most Popular Book of All

And finally don't forget that the most popular book of all, was written by a collection of writers, who never attended college at all. The book is simply called "The Bible" and it derives from a time and place, where colleges and universities did not exist. Remember that thousands of years ago in the Holy Land, most education took place at home or in the synagogue.

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Comments 10 comments

harrynielsen 3 years ago from Minneapolis, Minnesota Author

I think Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerburg were college dropouts. If you really look into it, the list is quite impressive.


diane west 3 years ago

Jane Austen thought, after her single year in a makeshift homeschool (learning to sew and do drama ) that it was a place of sheer torment and a waste of time! Charles Dickens didn't go to school at all and Shakespeare had very little grammar school education. I have yet to see any Ivy League graduate of the modern age - or anyone else for that matter, achieve their level of mastery. All genius, all brilliance is intuitive. It can't be taught by anyone nor can it be learned. It simply finds expression and comes forth from those within whom it exists - if they let it.


harrynielsen 3 years ago from Minneapolis, Minnesota Author

I'd love to be a well-known writer myself. Perfection is probably not necessary (if it is I'm screwed) to accomplish that goal, but perseverance and a positive attitude probably are.


LisaKoski profile image

LisaKoski 3 years ago from WA

Great hub! I'd love to be a well known writer someday. I have a degree in literature but I know it takes more than a piece of paper to make you a great author. Practice makes perfect!


johnnyco12 profile image

johnnyco12 4 years ago from Pascagoula, Ms

Thanks Harry, same here but I always like to ask first. (Better to ask permission than forgiveness I always say.) You are a great resource my friend.


harrynielsen 4 years ago from Minneapolis, Minnesota Author

And I forgot to mention it's positively OK to link to any of my posts.


johnnyco12 profile image

johnnyco12 4 years ago from Pascagoula, Ms

I love your writing style! I do have to make a correction your post will be linked to " So you wanna be a writer part 3 not part 2.


harrynielsen 4 years ago from Minneapolis, Minnesota Author

Actually the flip side of this coin is quite productive as well. Where would we be today without those two Oxford bards, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien......check out my other post here

http://hubpages.com/literature/Famous-Writers-Who-...


johnnyco12 profile image

johnnyco12 4 years ago from Pascagoula, Ms

I am elated to find your hub, I am going to link it to my latest hub "so you wanna be a writer" Part 2. ( that is if it's alright with you) This exactly the point I was trying to make in the section, Education vs Natural talent. Thanks for such a great work.


shalini sharan profile image

shalini sharan 4 years ago from Delhi

this was a really interesting hub, it reminded me of several great people who were college dropouts

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