Shy Authors

A List of Shy Authors and How They Handle Shyness

Many authors are shy; perhaps shy people gravitate toward writing or literature is the pursuit of those who prefer to think instead of speak. While some authors embrace their shyness others have worked to overcome insecurities. Although the underlying cause of shyness differs between writers, the common thread is that writing allows a form of expression and an outlet for emotion. Here is a list of some of the most famous shy authors and how they have handled their own unique experiences with shyness.

Agatha Christie

Photo: Getty / Walter Bird
Photo: Getty / Walter Bird. Photo: Getty / Walter Bird

Agatha Christie is hailed as the most popular mystery writer of all time, having written more than 66 novels featuring characters such as Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple. Her book "Murder on the Orient Express" was made into a feature film. Christie was shy as a child; she turned to music and writing as a means of expressing herself. She died on January 12th, 1976.

C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis was an Irish writer best known for the "Narnia Chronicles." When Lewis was just a boy his mother died of cancer; because of the wisdom of the time he was not allowed to grieve the loss. This early hardship is seen to have played out later in life as he became a very private and shy person.

Lewis was known for not revealing his private life and feelings in his writing or even in personal relationships. It is said that his shyness sometimes appeared to turn into aggression when others tried to get too personal, but that this was just a fear of close relationships. He is said to have been too shy and modest to believe anyone would want to know him.

Cormac McCarthy

Photo: Getty / Stephen Lovekin
Photo: Getty / Stephen Lovekin. Photo: Getty / Stephen Lovekin

Cormac McCarthy is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author best known for the book "No Country for Old Men" which was adapted into an Oscar-winning film. McCarthy is known for valuing privacy and turning down interviews even when finances were tough. His former wife Anne Delisle is said to have complained that:

"He would tell them that everything he had to say was right there on the page," she said wistfully. "So we would eat beans for another week."

Elfriede Jelinek

Elfriede Jelinek is an Austrian novelist and playwright who won the 2004 Nobel Prize for Literature. She is best known for works such as "The Piano Teacher" and "Lust"; her signature style is a language that mimics musical composition. She described herself as a loner during childhood and someone who used writing and poetry as an outlet for expression. Although she accepted the 2004 Nobel Prize, she did not attend the ceremony because of self-proclaimed extreme social phobia:

"I would gladly do it but I am suffering from social phobia. I cannot manage being in a crowd of people."

Emily Bronte

Photo: Getty / Hulton Archive
Photo: Getty / Hulton Archive. Photo: Getty / Hulton Archive

Emily Bronte is known for the famous literary classic "Wuthering Heights." Despite her ability to weave tales about society and people, in her personal life Emily was known to be shy and private. It is believed she wrote stories based on the gossip that she overheard rather than her own experiences; she had little contact with the world and spent her time living in fantasies of her own creation. She died on December 19th, 1948.

Emily Dickinson

Photo: Getty / Three Lions
Photo: Getty / Three Lions. Photo: Getty / Three Lions

Emily Dickinson is believed to have suffered either with social anxiety disorder or agoraphobia. A noted poet and writer, she penned almost 1800 poems in her lifetime but less than a dozen were put in print during her lifetime. She was known for eccentricities such as shouting to people from the windows of her home instead of coming to the door.

During the last two decades of her life she never left the family property. Despite her solitude, Dickinson corresponded regularly with literary figures and it is believed she had an affair with Judge Otis P. Lord of the Supreme Court; although the affair was by correspondence only. Dickinson passed away from Bright's disease on May 15th, 1886 at the age of 55. Dickinson is quoted as saying:

“Saying nothing sometimes says the most.”

Garrison Keillor

Photo: Getty / Evan Agostini
Photo: Getty / Evan Agostini. Photo: Getty / Evan Agostini

Garrison Keillor is an author, radio show host, comedian and newspaper columnist. Known to be shy, Keillor argues that shyness is simply a personality trait that should be welcomed as an individual difference instead of the subject of scrutiny and programs for change. Keillor believes that shy people face obstacles in life because they are bullied into fitting into an extroverted society. Keillor is proud of his shyness and sees it not as a disability that needs to be overcome but as a virtue.

George Bernard Shaw

Photo: Getty / Hulton Archive
Photo: Getty / Hulton Archive. Photo: Getty / Hulton Archive

George Bernard Shaw was an Irish novelist and playwright known for his bold and analytical writing about contemporary issues exemplified in works such as "Pygmalion." Shaw grew up shy and with an inferiority complex; it is said at one time he was too nervous to even knock on the door of a friend and instead walked up and down the banks of the Thames River.

Vowing not to let his fears overcome him, he built confidence through participation in oral debates. Shaw is credited with molding the thoughts of his generation and those that came after him. He received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1925. Shaw passed away on November 2nd, 1950.

Harper Lee

Photo: Getty / Hulton Archive
Photo: Getty / Hulton Archive. Photo: Getty / Hulton Archive

Harper Lee is best known as the author of the famous 1960's novel "To Kill a Mockingbird." Lee is known for being a private person who preferred staying out of the limelight and had no interest in fame. Lee is also famous for turning down interview requests for magazines, newspapers, and television.

Harriet Beecher Stowe

Photo: Getty / Hulton Archive
Photo: Getty / Hulton Archive. Photo: Getty / Hulton Archive

Harriet Beecher Stowe is a noted American author most famous for the volume "Uncle Tom's Cabin" about slavery in the United States. Over the course of her career Stowe wrote more than 30 works including children's novels, biographies, and advice books; she was known for her conversational style. Stowe was raised in a religious family in which the children were expected to shape the world through their work.

Stowe took up writing as it allowed her to express her thoughts and beliefs during a period when women did not have rights and liberties to speak publicly, hold office, or even vote. Stowe was known to be shy as a child and kept to herself. She died on July 1st, 1896.

J.D. Salinger

J.D. Salinger is most famous for the 1951 novel "The Catcher in the Rye." Salinger was known as a reclusive writer who refused to speak with the press and insisted on keeping his private life out of the public eye. People in his small town of Cornish, New Hampshire were known for supporting Salinger's privacy; they refused to give out his address to reporters who asked. Salinger died at the age of 91 on January 27th, 2010.

J.K. Rowling

Photo: Getty / Dan Kitwood
Photo: Getty / Dan Kitwood. Photo: Getty / Dan Kitwood

J.K. Rowling (Joanne Rowling) is a British author known for the "Harry Potter" series of books. She describes herself as a shy, daydreaming child who had no sports ability but a love of literature; she began writing at the age of six. Rowling devised the storyline for "Harry Potter" while stuck on a stopped train for four hours, but it took her another six years to finish the book. She believes in taking chances:

"It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might has well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default."

Kimberly Willis Holt

Kimberly Willis Holt is an American children's author best known for "When Zachary Beaver Came to Town." The book won the 1999 U.S. National Book Award for Young People's Literature and was adapted into a screenplay. Holt was shy as a child, due in part to her family's constant moves:

"When I was a child, the thing I wanted more than anything was to grow up and live in one house. Since my dad was in the Navy, that wasn't possible. Instead, I lived in a different home every couple of years. I learned French in Paris, explored caves in Guam, rode the ferry across Puget Sound in Washington. Now I feel lucky that I had such a diverse background, but as a child I was shy and hated moving. My sister, the family clown, made friends more easily than I did. About the time I made a close friend or two, it was time to leave again."

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Photo: Getty / Hulton Archive
Photo: Getty / Hulton Archive. Photo: Getty / Hulton Archive

Nathaniel Hawthorne was an American writer best known for the books "The Scarlet Letter" and "The House of Seven Gables." Forced to think and read after a childhood leg injury, Hawthorne was somewhat isolated as a child and later refused to engage in public speaking at college. He spent the years from 1825 to 1837 writing in near seclusion. Most who knew him agreed that he was shy:

"Often, too, he was strangely shy, so much so that he has been known to leave the highway for the fields rather than encounter a group of approaching villagers."

Robert Frost

Photo: Getty / Bachrach
Photo: Getty / Bachrach. Photo: Getty / Bachrach

Pulitzer-Prize winning American author Robert Frost has been heralded as one of the greatest poets of all time. He is best known for works such as "The Road Not Taken" and "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening." Frost is said to have grown out of his natural shyness as a result of his experiences as a teacher. Frost died January 29th, 1963. He is quoted as saying:

"Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life; define yourself."


BAPS. George Bernard Shaw: The Literary Wizard.

Brainy Quotes. Crowd Quotes.

Brainy Quotes. J. K. Rowling Quotes.

Encyclopedia of World Biography. Biography of Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Famous Poets and Poems. Robert Frost Biography.

Good Reads. Emily Dickinson Quotes.

Good Reads. Robert Frost Quotes.

Harriet Beecher Stowe Center. Harriet Beecher Stowe's Life.

Internet Movie Database. C.S. Lewis.

Internet Movie Database. Garrison Keillor.

Internet Movie Database. J. K. Rowling.

Life. Out of Sight: Famous Recluses.

Momscape. Harriet Beecher Stowe Biography: Author of Uncle Tom's Cabin.

Mystery Net. Agatha Christie.

NNDB. Elfriede Jelinek.

Neurotic Poets. Emily Elizabeth Dickinson.

Nobel Prize. Biography of George Bernard Shaw.

Orson Scott Card at Southern Virginia University. Remembering C.S. Lewis.

Poetry Research. Robert Frost.

Scholastic. Kimberly Willis Holt Biography.

Shy and Free. Shy folks, unite! And, don't feel so woebegone.

The Biography Channel. J. K. Rowling Biography.

The Official Website of the Cormac McCarthy Society. Cormac McCarthy: A Biography.

The Washington Post. The Limits of Shyness.

Wired for Books. Audio Interviews with Raymond Carver.

Encyclopedia Britannica. Emily Bronte.

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