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Fewer Alcoholic Writers, More Novelists Working at Cafes

Have Cafe Novelists Replaced Boozin' Writers?

In the past, the writer's life was often a lush life. Many great American novelists — including Ernest Hemingway and John Cheever — were notorious drunks. In fact, according to an article by Tom Shone in the new issue of More Intelligent Life, five of America's seven Nobel literary laureates were alcoholics:

In America William Faulkner and Scott Fitzgerald were the Paris and Britney of their day, caught in the funhouse mirror of fame, their careers a vivid tabloid mash-up of hospitalizations and electroshock therapies.

Rehab wasn't something people did back in the '30s. Neither was recovery-centric memoir writing. When F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote a story for Esquire chronicling his struggles, Hemingway told him to cast his "balls into the sea—if you have any balls left."

Ever since rehab went mainstream in the 1960s, Shone observes, the boozing writer stereotype is less typical. Both Cheever and Raymond Carver came out of rehab and kept writing; Stephen King got sober after an intervention. So where have all the overindulgent writers gone?

Shone doesn't really have an answer aside from the obvious fact of rehab. Certainly, fewer people are willing to sit back and watch loved ones struggle with addiction for the sake of art.

Nowadays, you're more likely to find writers tapping away on laptops at cafes than pounding the hard stuff at home. Michael Idov, author of the cafe-centric novel Ground Up, even has a list of tips for writers who work in cafes. He writes on Grubstreet:

A writer, especially one with a laptop, is the plague of every New York café — yet every good café needs a few. They are the equivalent of the “stool pigeons” at a dive bar.

Funny that Idov mentions dive bars, but despite the alcoholic history of great fiction, you certainly don't see many novelists plugging away at pubs nowadays.

Source: Flickr user Carbon NYC

Join The Conversation
janneth janneth 8 years
Rehab really is mainstream. Nobody is shocked by it, and there are no more secrets. So...if you are a struggling writer in a cafe all day with your computer, how many cups of coffee do you have to buy in a 4 hour period to keep your seat? Not "legally", but etiquette-wise?
mamasitamalita mamasitamalita 8 years
maybe that's why literature of yore is so much better? we don't have this mass-produced vampire crap, we have Capote, Fitzgerald, Lee, etc.
Ac2366 Ac2366 8 years
Don't call him Steve King. It's Stephen.
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