Knowing Me, Knowing You

Recently, I was thinking about pseudonymous authorship. Obviously I write under my own name here, but many academic bloggers maintain a protective (if not impenetrable) shield of psuedonymity. However, what struck me was the disappearance of the nom-de-plume from the literary world. I struggled to think of any current novels whose author is not known by the name on the title page.

I believe the practice persists in romance and other genre fiction, where for reasons of audience appeal – for instance – a male author will use a female pen name, or perhaps a writer better known for another type of literature will have a secondary identity for a different genre (Stephen King did this, but many years ago).

The social reasons for hiding one’s identity as an author have largely evaporated since the nineteenth century, when it wasn’t always considered appropriate for a lady to be a novelist, and any writer might choose to veil their real name. In addition, book tours, profiles with photographs in the New York Times or Washington Post book sections, such a prized part of the successful novelist, would be rather difficult with a writer who chose not to admit who they were! But I wonder whether we seek to know the novelist too well. I think of scholars poring over personal papers, accounts of acrimonious divorces, friendships and feuds, looking for greater understanding of the published work. Do I appreciate the novel more for the editorial introduction about his impoverished childhood, or her experiences as an immigrant? I don’t believe so.

Looking for examples of pseudonyms from contemporary publishing, most recently I can think of Primary Colors, a very public roman a clef, for which the author chose to be anonymous. Another is the author D. B. C. Pierre, who I believe was also running from various legal hot water of his own – unrelated to his writing.

However, an academic of personal acquaintance apparently writes novels under another name, (but I do not know the pen name!) – which led me to wonder: is it perhaps more common among academics? Many people who work in the humanities are excellent writers and very creative in different ways, that some would write novels is hardly surprising. But the only ones I can think of are in English – a field in which their creative work could be seen as a positive thing. Would someone in a different discipline have to hide their identity when publishing creative work?