There is a very specific image that comes to mind when we think of famous authors.
For me, it’s often times a nerdy skinny individual with a receding hairline, horrendous posture and clunky spectacles caused by years of staring, hunched over, at itty bitty words snailing their way across a glowing screen.
However, while this might be the case for some, a surprisingly large chunk of the world’s most famous authors were cool, devilishly good-looking and dare I say total badasses.
Famous authors who could whoop your ass (both on and off the page).
I’ve taken the afternoon to curate a list of literary badasses (many of which have had varying degrees of involvement in the military).
I’ve done this for a couple reasons… because I am damn curious about them and because I think it’s both a lovely and timely way to celebrate those who fought and lost their lives for our country.
1. Ernest Hemingway survived getting hit by a mortar.
Besides being one of the greatest American writers of all time, Ernest Hemingway was a war hero, too.
In 1918, Hemingway was on the Italian front volunteering for the American Red Cross as an ambulance driver. It was late. He was handing out chocolate and cigarettes to soldiers in dire need of sweets and a smoke.
Suddenly, an Austrian mortar shell came screaming through the sky hitting Hemingway and a few soldiers in close proximity. Shrapnel from the mortar carved itself into Hemingway’s left leg, knocking him out cold.
When he regained consciousness, Hemingway shoved cigarettes into his gaping wounds to clout the bleeding and then carried a badly injured soldier next to him to a nearby medical tent.
For his bravery, Hemingway was later rewarded the Italian medal of valor, the Croce de Guerra.
Besides taking a mortar to his left leg, he survived two plane crashes and the nasty injuries that came with them… internal bleeding, a ruptured kidney, spleen and liver, a crushed vertebra and a fractured skull.
He also managed to survive malaria, anthrax, pneumonia, dysentery, skin cancer, hepatitis and diabetes.
In many ways, Hemingway was invincible.
Or, so it seemed.
Like so many writers, what would eventually kill him was his own hand — in 1961 Hemingway took a shotgun to his skull.
2. J.D. Salinger had the first six chapters of The Catch in the Rye in his jacket on D-Day.
Unlike Hemingway, J.D. Salinger kept mostly to himself.
Still to this day, not much is known about one of the more prolific American writers of the past century.
What we do know is that during World War II he fought in the most gruesome battles the war ever saw — The Battle of the Bulge, the Battle of Hurtgen Forest and D-Day.
It’s rumored that while J.D. Salinger was charging Utah Beach on D-Day he was actually carrying the first six chapters of The Catcher in the Rye in one of his jacket pockets.
While Salinger certainly didn’t have the larger-than-life persona that Hemingway did, anyone who fought at D-Day is a certified badass in my book.
3. Tobias Wolff fought as a Green Beret in Vietnam.
Tobias Wolff is best known for his iconic autobiography, This Boy’s Life. It’s lovely. In fact, it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read, personally.
Wolff wasn’t just a Green Beret, he was a Green Beret during The Vietnam War. While Wolff like so many who’ve seen battle up close is modest, his comments to The Guardian shed some light on his experience in Vietnam…
“I could have been in a lot worse trouble than I was. I should have been in bad trouble. The first day I was there I went on an operation and somebody tried to kill me by throwing a hand grenade under my jeep. We got ambushed on the road within two or three days of my being there, and we got mortared now and then.”
Anyone who remarks on being mortared in the same casual tone as hitting a pothole probably has more badass in his thumb than the two of us have in our entire bodies. But, I digress.
A few other badass authors worth mentioning.
Hemingway, Salinger and Wolff weren’t the only badasses that also happened to sling ink.
Arthur Conan Doyle, the mastermind behind Sherlock Holmes, was a whaler in the Arctic in his early years and eventually became a ship doctor after graduating medical school — when the Boer war broke out in Africa he enlisted as a medical officer sewing up bullet holes and fighting hundreds of cases of typhoid fever.
Another name that comes to mind is Virginia Woolf (not to be confused with Tobias Wolff). While Virginia never served in the military she was both a prolific writer and fierce advocate for feminism. I adore her and have written about her here and here. While I would never under any circumstance advocate for suicide, Virginia Woolf decided to go out in a pretty badass way. She shoved handfuls of rocks in her pockets and walked out to the lake in her backyard.
And, even the slightly nerdy authors, like Stephen King are pretty damn tough, too.
In 1999, King got hit by a car shattering his hip, pelvis and ribs, puncturing his lung and fracturing his thigh bone. He writes about it in great detail in his beautiful memoir, On Writing.
Be it mortars, plane crashes or run-ins with speeding cars, one thing is certain… it seems the world’s greatest writers are doing some living off the page, too.
By Cole Schafer.
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