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Famous Writers Who Never Attended College

Updated on January 16, 2018
harrynielsen profile image

The biographies of the literary greats tells us many things about these authors and the times in which they wrote.

Miss Calypso Goes On to Become a Treasured Writer

Before Maya became a writer, she was a cabaret singer and recording artist
Before Maya became a writer, she was a cabaret singer and recording artist

Skipping the Halls of Higher Learning

Perhaps George Bernard Shaw, the rebellious Irish bard, summed it up best, when he said: “Schools and schoolmasters, as we have them today, are not popular as places of education and teachers, but rather prisons and turnkeys in which children are kept to prevent them disturbing and chaperoning their parents.”

Shaw, who dropped out of school at age 14, did not cease learning, he simply stopped attending school; and like many self-taught writers, the library became his new center of education.

Other famous writers, who never set foot in a college or university include George Orwell, , Truman Capote, Agatha Christie, Herman Melville, Doris Lessing (2007 Nobel Prize winner in literature), Stieg Larsson and Maya Angelou. Their individual stories vary widely, but the end result is the same, each one 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.

A High School Graduate Writes a Short Story

In 1944, Bradbury's Undersea Guardians graced the cover of Amazing Stories
In 1944, Bradbury's Undersea Guardians graced the 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."

Ray Bradbury graduated from high school in Waukegan, Illinois during the depression and soon thereafter, he moved to Southern California with his family. This chain of events may explain why Bradbury never attended college. Instead, the young man 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. Eventually, he had some short fiction published and then went on to sell some of his short stories. Finally, just after WWII had ended, Bradbury wrote the novel, Fahrenheit 451, which would become the young writer's gateway to a fulfilling literary career..

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 an 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.

The Amazing Mr. Twain

 Mark Twain never went to college, except to pick up a honorary degree or two. The picture above shows Mr. Twain as he is about to receive a honorary degree from Oxford in England.
Mark Twain never went to college, except to pick up a honorary degree or two. The picture above shows Mr. Twain as he is about to receive a honorary degree from Oxford in England.

A Riverboat Pilot Becomes An Author

Samual Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, grew up along the banks of the Mississippi, where he worked in his father's print shop. This job, which included much typesetting and some proofreading, appears to have been the author's major educational springboard that 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 eventually 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.

Mark Twain's Bio

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.

Who Wrote the Holy Bible

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    • harrynielsen profile image
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      Harry Nielsen 4 years ago from Durango, Colorado

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

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      diane west 4 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 profile image
      Author

      Harry Nielsen 5 years ago from Durango, Colorado

      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

      Lisa 5 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 5 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 profile image
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      Harry Nielsen 5 years ago from Durango, Colorado

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

    • johnnyco12 profile image

      johnnyco12 5 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 profile image
      Author

      Harry Nielsen 5 years ago from Durango, Colorado

      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

      https://owlcation.com/humanities/Famous-Writers-Wh...

    • johnnyco12 profile image

      johnnyco12 5 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 5 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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