The Reluctantly Famous: 5 Authors Who Stayed Out of the Public Eye

J.D. Salinger and Harper Lee were among the clan of writers who eschewed fame for solitude.


From Stephen King to J.K. Rowling, there are plenty of recognizable authors who regularly interact with both the press and the public. But what about the ones who aren’t quite as willing to step into the limelight? More than a few authors have chosen to eschew the fame completely, sometimes even living in solitude instead of engaging with the world. The most well-known of these reclusive authors is easily J.D. Salinger, who also happens to be the topic of the recently released Rebel in the Rye.

Salinger wrote 5 books over the course of his career, as well as dozens of short stories. He’s most famous for Catcher in the Rye, of course, his coming-of-age novel about angsty teen Holden Caulfield. Not long after Rye was published in 1951, Salinger became famously reclusive, shying away from the press and his readers. He lived mostly out of the public eye in Cornish, New Hampshire, until his death in 2010 at the age of 91.

Rebel in the Rye was released September 17th with IFC Films, starring Nicholas Hoult as a young Salinger. It chronicles the years the author spent fighting in World War II, and the process of writing and publishing Catcher in the Rye.


The story is based on J.D. Salinger: A Life, a nonfiction account of Salinger’s early years, written by Kenneth Slawenski. Both the book and the film attempt to shed some light the reclusive author, helping us truly understand where he came from – and how his upbringing and military service may have led to his eventual decision to leave fame behind for good.

But though he may be one of the most famous reclusive authors, Salinger certainly isn’t alone. Here are 5 other reluctantly famous authors who would definitely make Salinger proud.

Thomas Pynchon


The Bleeding Edge

By Thomas Pynchon

Considered to be one of the best living novelists, Pynchon is also one of the most reclusive. Very little is known about his personal life, and he has steered far away from any kind of publicity around his novels. When he won the National Book Award in 1974, he even had a comedian accept the prize instead. There are almost no photos of the author, particularly in his later life. His seclusion is so famous, in fact, that he helped poked fun at it in a cameo on The Simpsons. His character appeared twice, both times with a paper bag over his head (though the voice is actually Pynchon’s). His aversion to fame has done nothing to alienate his fans, who have spent years trying to discover more about the talented author. His most recent novel, Bleeding Edge, came out in 2013.

Elena Ferrante


My Brilliant Friend

By Elena Ferrante

Since she published her first book in 1992, the mysterious Italian author of the beloved Neapolitan Novels has made it clear that she won’t be doing any press or interacting with fans. For over 20 years, Ferrante managed to keep her true identity a secret. The mystery was broken last year, when The New York Review of Books ran a story written by journalist Claudio Gatti who claimed that Ferrante was really a translator named Anita Raja. 

Many fans were not happy at the investigative lengths Gatti went to in order to discover the truth. Since then, Raja has confirmed that she is Ferrante but asked to be left alone, saying in a Tweet: “I will never talk about Elena Ferrante, nor will I answer in her name, nor will I say anything about her books.” The mystery around her identity may be dead, but Ferrante’s desire to stay out of the limelight is clearly still alive and well.

Harper Lee


Go Set a Watchman

By Harper Lee

Even though she wrote one of the most popular books of the 20th century, Lee had no interest in the fame that came with it. She even won a Pulitzer for To Kill a Mockingbird, but she never did any interviews and rarely appeared in public to promote the book. At the Alabama Academy of Honor in 2007, she famously said: “Well, it’s better to be silent than to be a fool.” Lee also never published another book until 2015, when a sequel to Mockingbird was released, titled Go Set a Watchman. Some believe that the elderly Lee was manipulated into publishing the book and that she may not have been in well enough health to consent to the publication. She died just one year later in February, 2016, at the age of 89.

Marcel Proust


In Search of Lost Time

By Marcel Proust

When he was younger, Proust spent years as a part of French society. But all that changed after his parents passed away in 1903 and 1905. Always sickly, Proust slowly began to withdraw, spending more and more time shut away. For 17 years he rarely left his apartment in Paris, often working through the night and sleeping during the day. He even soundproofed his room, lining the walls with corks and blocking the windows. He truly lost himself in his most famous work, the 3,200-page epic 7-part novel, In Search of Lost Time. It’s believed that he didn’t leave the apartment at all for the final 3 years of his life, eventually dying of pneumonia and a pulmonary abscess in 1922.

Emily Dickinson


The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson

By Emily Dickinson

Now considered to be one of the most famous poets in history, Dickinson saw little of that fame while she was alive. Not only was her poetry mostly underappreciated until years after her death, but she also preferred to write and live in solitude. When she was younger, Dickinson was more social, traveling and spending time with friends. But that changed in her later life, when she stopped leaving her family home after her mother’s health began to seriously decline. For 20 years Dickinson never left the house at all, even choosing to listen to her father’s funeral through her cracked bedroom door. She certainly produced a lot of work though – by the time of her death in 1886, she had written close to 1,800 poems.

This article originally appeared on BookTrib., “Where Readers Meet Writers,” is a network for readers and writers to make a connection and keep books alive in a distracted world. Created by Meryl Moss Media, a literary PR firm with a successful 25-year track record.

Featured Image: Cover of "Go Set a Watchman" by Harper Lee