Two-Typewriter Homes: Famous Literary Roommates

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Recently, The Rumpus dug up a great article from a 1998 edition of the LA Times, wherein Saul Bellow describes living with Ralph Ellison in a grand old house in upstate New York. Inspired by this pairing, we decided to poke around to try and find out which other famous writers have lived together, whether before they became famous, while scribbling away, or as established authors living the high life. Just to be clear — we’re not counting famous literary couples (or at least not constant ones, anyway). That’d just be too easy. Click through to read about a few literary greats who split the rent, and you might start looking at that aspiring novelist roommate of yours in a whole new light.

Saul Bellow and Ralph Ellison

Almost 60 years ago, Saul Bellow and Ralph Ellison lived together for a while in a very wonderful sounding house in Tivoli, NY. If we can believe Bellow’s account of the experience in the LA Times , it sounds truly divine: “Ralph drove into Tivoli in his huge old Chrysler. He himself serviced it, coddled it, tuned it, and it ran as smoothly as it had when it came off the assembly line. The trunk, when it was opened, gave me my first hint of Ralph’s powers of organization. For hunting there were guns, there were decoy ducks; for fishing, rods, lures and a wicker-work creel; there were tools of every description. Ralph was able to repair radios and hi-fi equipment. I envied him his esoteric technical skills… He did not come alone. He was accompanied by a young black Labrador retriever who jumped from the Chrysler, eager to play, pawing my chest. Ralph had bought the dog from John Cheever, who was then, briefly, a breeder of black Labs… In the ballroom Ralph kept African violets which he watered with a turkey baster. It was from him that I learned all that I know about houseplants.”

Frank O’Hara and Edward Gorey

Poet Frank O’Hara and macabre writer and illustrator Edward Gorey were roommates at Harvard in the late ’40s, where they furnished their apartment with garden furniture and a coffee table made from a repurposed tombstone. According to The New Yorker , the pair “established their rooms as (in the words of a home-town friend) the spot to ‘lie down on a chaise lounge, get mellow with a few drinks, and listen to Marlene Dietrich records.'” Pompous and eccentric? Perhaps. But we bet their room was the coolest place on campus.

Dan Brown and Harlan Coben

We imagine epic late night discussions about plot twists and brainstorming about mysterious happenings in the Psi Upsilon fraternity at Amherst College, where the two bestselling thriller writers were roommates. “Harlan Coben is the modern master of the hook-and-twist — luring you in on the first page, only to shock you on the last,” Brown once wrote about his buddy. Sounds like they had fun.

Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson

Though we’ve long held onto the rumor that the two triply-monikered transcendentalists were roommates at Harvard, we can’t find any hard evidence to support that claim — while they were there around the same time, Emerson was a bit ahead. However, a few years after graduation, Emerson invited Thoreau to work as a live-in handyman at the Emerson estate, where he stayed for two years, developing his own ideas with the help of his friend and mentor. Even Walden pond was Emerson’s land.

William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg

Burroughs and Ginsberg lived together in more than one New York City apartment (not to mention in the so-called “Beat Hotel” in Paris) over the years — sometimes as lovers, sometimes as creative partners, sometimes just as friends. We probably have Ginsberg to thank for encouraging Burroughs to think of himself as a writer, which he has often claimed not to have done at the start, so it may be one of the most fruitful of all of these pairings.

W.H. Auden and Carson McCullers

Between 1940 and 1942, W.H. Auden acted as “house mother” to a series of writers, artists and performers, who shared a house on Middagh Street in Brooklyn. Carson McCullers, having escaped from her husband, lived on the top floor, where she wrote and drank in more or less equal measure. The friends called their home the “February House,” since so many of its occupants had February birthdays.

Jeffrey Eugenides and Rick Moody

After graduating from Brown in 1983, Eugenides and Moody moved together to Haight Street, in San Francisco — a place where Moody got a lot of writing done, and Eugenides almost none. He lived in San Francisco for five years, a period of time he calls “the lost years” because as he says, “my life just didn’t seem to go forward.” One can, however, see Moody’s influence in Eugenides’ most recent novel, The Marriage Plot — according to the author, it was Moody who was the expert in semiotics. In particular, he called his interest in Jacques Derrida “infectious.”

Tom Stoppard, Derek Marlowe and Piers Paul Read

The three writers lived together in an apartment in Pimlico, UK during the 1960s, where they supposedly spent much of their time making bets on who would get famous first. Marlowe and Read had their money on Stoppard, but it was Marlowe who made a name for himself before the others. That said, they were sort of right — Stoppard arguably enjoys the most enduring celebrity.