10 Literary Family Dynasties


Although we’re no longer bound to become blacksmiths or bakers based on our parents’ jobs, there are some professional skills that persist from one generation to the next. We’ve recently seen the power of artistic genetics with the release of Sophie Crumb’s first book (edited by her father Robert, no less), but it seems that literary DNA is particularly potent. With the holiday season now upon us — and with it, inevitable reunions with close family and distant relatives alike — here’s a toast to ten families for whom writing is part of the inherited legacy.

Kingsley and Martin Amis

Prominent icons of their respective literary generations, this British duo embodies the classic “like father, like son” adage. Sir Kingsley was a prolific novelist, poet, and critic, who wrote more than 20 novels in addition to short stories, radio and TV scripts, literary criticism, a memoir, and six volumes of poetry. His son Martin, meanwhile, is an award-winning and best-selling novelist closely associated with peers Salman Rushdie and Ian McEwan. Both Kingsley and Martin were ranked on The Times’ list of the 50 greatest British writers since 1945.

Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Bronte

Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Bronte are often lumped together as “the Brontes,” and this sister trio seemed to enjoy a shared identity throughout their lives. They wrote and edited in close collaboration, and indeed each of their first novels were published within a year of one another. If that’s not enough, they also chose to pseudonymously attribute their respective works to a different author from the fictional Bell family (Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell, respectively) before their true identities were later revealed.

John, Benjamin, and Susan Cheever

John Cheever is widely considered one of the best short story writers of American letters. That might seem like an impossible title to live up to, but his kids have managed to hold their own. Son Benjamin has reported for everyone from The New York Times to The New Yorker, and has written four novels as well as two nonfiction books. Daughter Susan, meanwhile, is a creative writing MFA professor at the New School and has authored five novels, three memoirs, and a biography.

David and Amy Sedaris

Both humorists, though in decidedly different respects, Amy and David Sedaris’ success as best-selling writers has come independent of one another. While Amy writes tongue-in-cheek yet enjoyable how-to books (including the recent Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People), David authors witty essays and short stories that perpetually exist in an untouchable best-seller halo.

Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley

Mary Shelley famously wrote Frankenstein when she was only 18-years-old — and still known as Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin — but her literary fame was later sealed when she married Romantic poet Percy Shelley. Still, she was hardly short on intellectual pedigree to begin with: her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, was one of the preeminent feminist writers of the 18th century, authoring novels, travel narratives, treatises, and history books before her premature death.

William Somerset and Robin Maugham

William Somerset Maugham pursued a writing career instead of his family’s legal tradition, and in turn became one of the most popular and active authors of his time — he wrote dozens of novels, essays, plays, and short stories, and hundreds of newspaper articles during his lifetime. Nephew Robin also defied the Maugham family’s legal dynasty by becoming a writer and authoring 20 novels as well as travel narratives, plays, and scripts for TV and radio.

Edith, Osbert, and Sacheverell Sitwell

Contemporary rivals of the Bloomsbury group, the Sitwell siblings formed an insular literary clique during the early 20th century. Although they eventually published novels, poetry, and criticism individually, the trio began their literary careers with Wheels, a series of poetry anthologies published between 1916 and 1921, which featured their own writing as well as work by prominent authors such as Aldous Huxley and Nancy Cunard.

The Tolkiens

It is almost impossible to keep track of J.R.R. Tolkien’s literary contributions, but his wide-ranging influence hardly ended with his death. His son Christopher continues as his father’s literary executor while also working as an editor and lecturer, and his grandsons Michael and Simon are a poet and novelist, respectively.

Charles Dickens, Monica Dickens, and Lucinda Dickens Hawksley

Although no descendants have surpassed his fame, Charles Dickens’ prolificacy was matched decades after his death by his great-grandaughter Monica Dickens, who wrote 30 novels and three children’s book series. His great-great-great-grandaughter Lucinda Dickens Hawksley, meanwhile, has emerged as an award-winning and best-selling author of non-fiction.

Nathaniel, Rodman, Stephen, and Frank Philbrick

Nathaniel Philbrick followed in his father and older brothers’ footsteps by attending Brown University before pursuing a career in writing. He won the National Book Award in 2001 for In the Heart of the Sea, and remains the most acclaimed member of his literary family. Brother Rodman, however, has written genre-bending fiction for both children and adults — his best known titles include Freak the Mighty and cyberpunk dystopia The Last Book in the Universe — while his other brother Stephen and nephew Frank most recently co-authored The Backyard Lumberjack.