10 Writers' Unruly, Manly Manes


We were a little bit late in reading Jorian Polis Schutz’s analysis of manly manes in the last issue of Cabinet, titled “Barbers and Barbarians,” but we’re glad we did. Schultz writes, “The savage impulse must withstand the perennial opposition of forces for shortness — for there is always a national mythology of hair to grow out of and into.” This got us thinking about great writers’ hairstyles through time, from ancient Greek poets to the conceited French intellectuals of today. If hair doth make the man, then the following writers stand against the grain in these times, acting as iconoclastic reminders that one can still be manly (perhaps even more so) with an irrepressible hairdo. So let your hair down and enjoy the following modern scribes’ tangled tresses.

Neil Gaiman

In Gaiman’s 2009 picture book, Crazy Hair, he writes: “Prides of lions / Make their lair / Somewhere in my crazy hair.” Susan Henderson at LitPark even got the author to write a history of his hair on her website here. At one point, Gaiman recounts bleaching his hair as an ill-conceived adolescent stratagem to look like Billy Idol, admitting that it resulted in more of a ginger color. After taking extreme corrective measures, it ended up “raven black,” which we think was for the best.

Nadeem Aslam

Aslam published his first short story in Urdu at the tender age of 13 before his family moved from Pakistan to England. His is best known for his novel about exile, Maps for Lost Lovers, and was recently featured in Granta‘s Pakistan issue (#112). Aslam has a tangled mess of loose corkscrews, which tend to fly in all directions, as you can see in the photo above.

Frederick Douglass

Urban Dictionary says, “The Frederick Douglass is a non-discriminatory hairstyle and can be worn by anyone, but does require a degree of masculinity and volume.” It also requires a serious side part, so the weak-willed need not apply. If you’re going to be a renowned orator, writer, and social reformer, you’re going to have to invest some time in cultivating a look, and Douglass has done just that.

David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace was known for his long locks; they were either on display or wrapped in a bandanna, Axl Rose-style. Even half-covered, his hair was a presence — when it was down to his shoulders, it couldn’t help but fall over one eye while he read, so Wallace would have to eventually, casually, toss it back. Girl With The Curious Hair is DFW’s postmodern story series,which actually does involve a young woman with an unusual ‘do, so don’t tell us the man didn’t notice these sorts of things.

Bernard-Henri Lévy

What would Bernard-Henri Lévy be without his hair? This man is truly bombastic, and thus requires equally supercilious hair to match his role as a contemporary French littérateur with an incredible sense of self importance.

Malcolm Gladwell

When you think of Malcolm Gladwell you might first associate him with his articles on social psychology, but the second thing you think of is his hair. Gladwell writes, “On a whim, I let [my hair] grow wild, as it had been when I was teenager. Immediately, in very small but significant ways, my life changed.” He continues, “What struck me was how even more subtle and absurd the stereotyping was in my case: this wasn’t about something really obvious like skin color, or age, or height, or weight. It was just about hair.”

Martin Amis

Martin Amis may be a bit thin on the top these days, but in the ’70s this man was the king of the flyaway look. In his panegyric to debauchery, Money, Amis writes, “The smocked chick fingered my hair and said in her stupid voice, ‘You’re receding.’ ‘We all are,’ I said. We all are. We are all receding — waving or beckoning or just kissing our fingertips, we are all fading, shrinking, paling.” Here’s to Amis and his boyish curls of yesteryear.

Jerzy Kosinski

Jerzy Kosinski had a very sad life, and an even worse death, but the man had an exquisite, incredible mop of curls. Though he was born Józef Lewinkopf, a Polish Jew who was a child during World War II, Kosinski survived in part by using a forged baptismal certificate given to him by a Catholic priest. His novel, The Painted Bird , describes the brutality of the time in graphic detail. In the novel, he writes, “The carpenter and his wife were convinced my black hair would bring lightning to their farm.” Powerful hair from a man with one of the most penetrating gazes in modern history.

Jack Kerouac

Kerouac, the quintessential beat writer, had a clean-cut approach to messy hair. The top would often cascade down his forehead in a crude question mark, while the rest of his locks were kept to the sides of his head with a generous dose of pomade. His soft, wild hair surely reflected both his inner and outer Dharma Bum to anyone who was curious.


Though an imagined bust of the blind poet, many believe he had an alarming mass of curls framing his face. In the Iliad, Homer vividly describes soldiers offering their hair to Patroclus during his funeral (e.g., “Cutting off their hair, they strewed it, covering the dead.”) Which was a pretty big deal, considering Homer previously describes their glorious “tufts of of streaming hair” during a battle scene. The lesson here is that real men offer their luxurious locks to their fallen comrades. It’s only right.