7 Famous Writers and Their Cats
Alison Nastasi, author of Artists and Their Cats, is back again—this time, with writers! Her new book Writers and Their Cats celebrates 45 famous authors who have shared their homes and hearts with furry feline friends. Cats are clearly, in the words of Gloria Steinem, “a writer’s most logical and agreeable companion.”
Read on to learn about seven noteworthy authors who often had a cat by their side.
Ann M. Martin
Nineties kids know author Ann M. Martin as the creator of the popular Baby-Sitters Club series, which was published between 1986 and 2000. Many of the characters and situations Martin’s teen protagonists faced were inspired by real people and Martin’s own childhood memories. Mallory and the Ghost Cat features one of several fictional felines in Martin’s universe, and Kristy, founder of the Baby-Sitters Club, had a pet cat named Boo-Boo. Martin currently resides in upstate New York’s Hudson Valley where she lives with her cats, Gussie, Pippin, and Simon. She spends much of her free time fostering kittens for the ASPCA. In a 2016 interview for the website Vulture Martin said, “Taking care of them is like my version of babysitting.”
With a writing career that spanned more than seven decades, Chinese writer Bing Xin (birth name Xie Wanying) published a wide variety of imaginative works, including poems, novels, and essays, contributing to her reputation as one of the country’s most important early modern female writers. Her work features lyrical and sentimental observations about childhood, nature, and society. Several photos of the author feature a fluffy cat posed by her side, guarding her manuscripts—a companion in Bing Xin’s search for truth through her thoughtful prose.
Jorge Luis Borges
“You belong to another time / You are lord / Of a place bounded like a dream,” the Jorge Luis Borges poem “To a Cat” reads. The Argentine poet, essayist, and short-story writer who helped popularize Latin American literature shared his humble life with several cats, including a large white feline called Beppo, named after a character in a Lord Byron poem about a man who is lost at sea. Borges wrote his own poem for his companion: “The celibate white cat surveys himself / in the mirror’s clear-eyed glass, / not suspecting that the whiteness facing him / and those gold eyes that he’s not seen before / in ramblings through the house are his own likeness. / Who is to tell him the cat observing him / is only the mirror’s way of dreaming?”
Jamaica-born author Marlon James, whose 2015 novel A Brief History of Seven Killings won the Man Booker Prize, has described himself as a “write-every-day writer.” James wrote Seven Killings “all over the cities” in Minnesota—including the Aster Café on Main Street and the Espresso Royale on Hennepin. “I have to engage with the world when I write,” he told MinnPost in 2015. “I need the buzz of activity.” Bookstore and coffee shop cats around the world love to greet and snuggle the author, but one was particularly crazy about him. James used to help care for Tom the Cat, who belonged to James’s friends Kurt and Camilla Thometz in Washington Heights, New York. “Kurt also ran a bookstore, so you could say [Tom] was one of New York’s legendary bookstore cats,” James told me. “I think he got used to me, since he would jump in my bed and photobomb shoots.” Sadly, Tom (pictured here) passed away in 2017 after “a very long and pretty epic life.” The two friends shared such a strong connection that James was there during Tom’s final days. “Tom had lived a long life and was getting very old, and last year I got a message from Kurt saying that Tom was on his last legs but would love to see me,” James shared. “I was in New York so I went to visit. Kurt told me later that he wasn’t sure what I did, but the cat rallied for two weeks.”
A gorgeous Doberman named Lostris dominates the social media pages of Preeti Shenoy, the Indian novelist and artist, but the best-selling author of Life Is What You Make It is still a bona fide cat magnet. “Cats always come to me and are friendly with me. My earliest childhood memory was with a black cat that we used to own,” she told me. “When I travelled to Orissa [now Odisha], India, I came across an interesting custom in a temple, where cats are worshipped.” Shenoy wrote about the experience on her blog (www.preetishenoy.com), sharing a fascinating story about her trip to Kedar-Gouri Temple (also known as the Kedareswar Temple), devoted to Lord Shiva (Kedareswar) and Goddess Kedar-Gauri. The locals’ devotion to cats, Shenoy writes, has its origin in a folktale about a poor village family. The hungry wife drinks milk meant to be an offering to the Goddess, but tries to hide her wrongdoing by blaming it on the cat. Goddess Kedar-Gauri couldn’t bear to see the animal punished and rescued the cat, making it her “vaahan”—a symbolic animal elevated to divine status that is worshipped the same as a god or goddess. This explains the large number of feline residents at the temple, as people frequently honor the Goddess with the gift of a kitten.
The popular cat meme “If it fits I sits” is kitty speak for, “I’m going to sit on this, because I’m a cat—and I can.” It’s also a cry for attention, which Newbery Medal–winning children’s author Beverly Cleary knows all too well. Cat-loving Cleary has owned several pet pussycats over the decades, including one who was said to beg for attention while sitting on top of her typewriter keys. Cleary’s beloved 1973 book Socks is about the misadventures of a tabby cat with white paws who feels abandoned by his family after a baby is born. Cleary’s stories were often inspired by her own life, and she wrote about serious real-life issues—including the loss of a pet. In Ramona Forever, the family cat Picky-Picky passes away. Cleary shows how the sisters tenderly handle his funeral and take care with each other’s feelings in the aftermath.
Horror author and master of the macabre Stephen King has published some chilling stories about the family pet and other animals. Cujo is about a rabid dog who ends up terrorizing his own family. A family’s dead cat comes back to life in Pet Sematary, except he’s . . . different. That terror tale was inspired in part by real events after the King family cat Smucky was run over by a car. The late kitty was buried in a pet cemetery up a wooded path behind the King house where the author would sometimes write. The King-scripted film Sleepwalkers features bipedal were-cats. The 1985 film Cat’s Eye, written by King and based on his stories “Quitters, Inc.” and “The Ledge,” features a mysterious cat protagonist throughout the three-chapter anthology. “The Cat from Hell” is a short story King wrote in 1977 for a magazine contest and involves an unusual cat that becomes the target of a hitman. Despite all this, cats aren’t afraid to curl up for the long-term at the King residence. The Shawshank Redemption author has owned several pets over the years, including “a rather crazed Siamese cat” named Pear.
– – –
You can find Writers and Their Cats here.
The Chronicle Books Holiday Gift GuideDecember 5th, 2018
17 US-Based Charities That Put Books in the Hands of ChildrenNovember 27th, 2018
This Audiobook Company Benefits Your Local Indie BookstoreNovember 19th, 2018
Why Are Books Published on Tuesdays?October 22nd, 2018
6 Books for People Having a Tough TimeAugust 29th, 2018