Writerly Wroots

Raymond Cummings just asked his facebook friends an excellent question that I’m amazed nobody has ever asked me before:

“Who were the most important writers of your youth? Let’s make the cut off point age 13 or so (13 is the intended ceiling).This can mean: Novelists Comedians Cartoonists Lyricists Poets Comic book authors Etc”

This was my answer (though I may have forgotten some); feel free to post your own (and even explain why — or as Raymond suggested, “What about this work by these people made an impression on who you eventually became?”), if you want.

Columnists in Detroit newspapers, some syndicated, often baseball-oriented: Joe Falls, Bob Talbert, Mike Royko, Erma Bombeck.

Jim Bouton, for Ball Four.

Brendan C. Boyd and Fred C. Harris, for The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading and Bubble Gum Book

Gardner Soule, for The Maybe Monsters (cryptozoology book — I loved reading about dinosaurs too, but can’t think of any particular book that stood out)

Erich Von Däniken, for Chariots of the Gods

George Gamow, for One Two Three…Infinity

Walt Kelly, for “Pogo”

Favorite kids book writer was Richard Scarry, hands down.


  1. via facebook:

    Sara Quell
    Zap Comix, National Lampoon, Creem, Richard Scarry

    Phil Overeem
    Royko! He was syndicated in my small town SW Missouri paper.

    Chuck Eddy
    I assume he was probably syndicated *everywhere,* out of Chicago.

    Phil Overeem
    He and Dick Young in Sports Illustrated taught me A LOT.

    Phil Overeem
    Chuck, The Joplin Globe, bigger than our Carthage Press, didn’t. I had to miss him most of my college years, but he was in the Springfield News-Leader when I moved there.

    Chuck Eddy
    Your SI mention reminds me that I spent a lot of kid-time reading Baseball Digest, as well, though I doubt I much I noticed specific bylines. (And that goes double for the back sides of Topps and Fleers baseball cards!)

    Phil Overeem
    Chuck, yup, me, too. I meant Sporting News for Young, not SI, which I also read. Could not get enough sports journalism. That’s what I went to college to do–that, or become a professional sports statistician.
    My life was saved by rock and roll…

    David Cantwell
    Chuck Eddy I read Baseball Digest too—even subscribed for awhile. Had forgotten that until you mentioned it. (I also briefly subscribed to Sport and to Sporting News but, oddly, never Sports Illustrated…)

    Chuck Eddy
    I was a Sporting News subscriber too! And Sports Collectors Digest.

    Chuck Eddy
    And how did I leave out Baseball Encyclopedia, the first edition of which I got for Xmas when I was maybe ten?? Plus annual Baseball Register guides..
    And for that matter, Guinness Books of Records and (annual) Information Please Almanacs (hence my addiction to lists maybe?) and Ripley’s Believe It Or Nots. Though by now we’re getting far away from individual writers!

    Phil Overeem
    Chuck, didn’t do Information Please but yes, me too, on the rest plus the NBA Register. Out of pure nostalgia, I suppose, I recently bought the last-ever edition of The Baseball Encyclopedia for $10 on eBay (I’d stopped getting it in ’82, after getting burned out keeping stats for the Razorback baseball team (Kevin McReynolds era).


    Mike Freedberg
    Before age 13 ?
    Probably The Count of Monte Cristo

    Edd Hurt
    Twain, Edgar Rice Burroughs, George Plimpton. Stan Lee. Marvel Comics, also DC. Nik Cohn’s rock book. Heinlein. Science fiction–Silverberg and Harlan Ellison. Paul Hemphill’s book on country.

    Eric Johnson
    Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Jim Starlin, Steve Englehardt, Steve Gerber, Roy Thomas in comics, which were a huge part of my reading diet. Within 3-4 years there’d be better writers in that group, but by 1978 when I was 13.
    Outside of comics: Ray Bradbury, Tolkien, Harlan Ellison, Lester Dent (the Doc Savage reprints), Susan Cooper (The Dark Is Rising).

    Eric Johnson
    By 13 I might have discovered Greil Marcus & the whole idea of writing about rock. Probably that was 14-15 tho.

    Steve Pick
    Englehart sand Gerber ruled my teen years, with Starlin right behind.


    Greg Synodis
    Dr. Seuss. Meindert DeJong. Charles Schultz. Stan Lee. Shel Silverstein. Jules Feiffer. Lillian Roxon.

    Scott Bloomfield
    MAD magazine staff

    Scott Bloomfield
    I guess Charles M. Schulz and Dr. Seuss too

    Noah Goodbaum
    I’m a 1988 baby, so I assume my frame of reference is different from that of many of the rest of you, but I’ll give this a try:
    George Selden, for A Cricket In Times Square. Brian Jacques, for the Redwall series, especially the first book. Roald Dahl, hard as it is to read him now. Enid Blyton, same deal. Edward Eager, for Half Magic. Eric Carle, for The Very Hungry Caterpillar. And no accounting of the most important writers of *my* childhood is complete without Michael Maltese and the rest of the Looney Tunes creative team.

    Greg Synodis
    Michael Maltese! So underpraised!

    Tom Carson
    Noah Goodbaum, I’m much older than you are, but grew up on Enid Blyton too. I have a depressing feeling that revisiting her work might — erm, erm — kill the charm.

    Tom Carson
    Another vote for Stan Lee here. Also Mad’s Mort Drucker, the first caricaturist I ever idolized. Plus Cornelius Ryan for The Longest Day and, perhaps oddly, quaintsy but funny Canadian humorist Stephen Leacock — whose fingerprints are all over every whimsical joke I’ve ever committed to print.

    Tom Carson
    Dammit, I forgot Kipling. When you’re growing up abroad as a Foreign Service brat, Kim and The Jungle Book drill straight down to your soul.

    Daniel Brockman
    ray bradbury
    douglas adams
    andy rooney
    judy bloom
    berke breathed
    carl sagan
    shirley jackson

    John Elliott
    Beverly Cleary, Maurice Sendak, S.E. Hinton, Chris Claremont (X-Men), Charles Schulz, everybody at Mad Magazine, Gary Larson, Stephen King (ugh), and, by age 13, probably you (and anyone else who was writing at Creem in ’83).

    Chuck Eddy
    Flattered, but I wasn’t technically in Creem until 1986-ish!

    Scott Bloomfield
    …and I was already 19 by then, or you would’ve gotten a mention, Chuck
    John Elliott
    Yeah, my teen years are all a blur! Definitely read Creem until the end of its (original) run, though, so you’d still make it into my youth.


    Janiss Garza
    Carlos Castaneda, W. Somerset Maugham, and Ken Kesey. I was a bit precocious, and two out of the three authors were introduced to me by a much-older guy I fell in love with when I was 13. I was precocious like that too.

    Lalena Pescadora
    I read so much it’s hard to choose, but I’ll list the first ones that come to mind..
    Picture books: Dr. Seuss, Richard Scarry, Brer Rabbit stories…
    Older: Harriet the Spy, Judy Blume, Archie Comics, MAD Magazine, Ray Bradbury…

    Azalia Snail
    Anne Sexton, Erica Jong, and Grace Paley, amongst many others.

    Brian O’Neill
    Issac Asimov.

    Bill Werde
    I’ve seen most of my others on here already. I’ll toss in Norton Juster (Phantom Tollbooth has aged incredibly well, according to my kids when they were 9), Madeleine l’Engle and Gary Larson, who I haven’t seen listed yet. Otherwise, it was a ton of sci-fi, comic books, and baseball writers, all already well-represented.

    David Williams
    Asimov, Clarke, Aldiss, early Crichton, Alistair MacLean, Basil Hart Lidell, Allen Drury…UFO books! von Daniken too! On and on.

    Bonze AnneRose Blayk
    Walt Kelly!
    The Holy Bible – Ecclesiastes

    Steve Pick
    If the cut-off point is age 13, my biggest influence with words would have been Stan Lee. Lots of other comic book writers, too, of course, but Lee taught me the value of going big or going home. Say it with flair, use alliteration if you can, don’t be afraid to be funny, understand there is a common humanity. Heck, by the time I discovered Creem (which wasn’t until I was 19), I was plenty ready for it. In between, Kurt Vonnegut was equally important.


  2. via facebook:

    Brian MacDonald
    As far as literature, I was an ignorant, illiterate kid. (I only started making up for it at the start of the 21st century.) I only bought records/CDs and played video games in the 80s. I dropped video games by the end of the 90s. Aside from school assignments, I read books on playing card games and music. I’m pretty sure I read your reviews in magazines, Chuck, especially if it involved SPIN — back in the newsprint days! When Byron Coley had a column there. I remember some John Leland reviews. (Now I have so many well written music history books, I’m running out of space.)

    Chuck Eddy
    Yeah, I was definitely in Spin all through the late ’80s, ’90s, and beyond.

    Brian MacDonald
    Chuck Eddy (obviously I still treasure the writing by you, Leland and Coley if that wasn’t clear)

    Sara Quell
    I read shitloads of sci-fi. One I especially recall was John Hersey’s ‘Child Buyer’, about how this scientific research institute would select really smart kids, isolate them for months in rooms full of drugs and computers, and remould them into “pure thinking machines” with “IQs up to 1000”. This was supposed to be a dystopia but 10yo me was like “holy fuck, where do I sign up?” Unfortunately last year I finally got my wish and it doesn’t work LOL

    Jeff Salamon
    Steve Gerber, Robert Anton Wilson, Arthur C. Clarke, Hunter Thompson (I think I was reading him that early; I might be wrong), Ray Bradbury, Robert Christgau, John Rockwell, Robert Palmer, Lester Bangs, Steve Englehart, Chris Claremont, Doug Moench, Gerry Conway, Archie Goodwin, Larry Niven, James Tiptree Jr, Cordwainer Smith, Edgar Rice Burroughs, the staff of the pre-Code Mad magazine, the staff of the post-code Mad magazine, Chaim Potok, Don McGregor, Jim Starlin, Agatha Christie, Franklin W. Dixon, Victor Appleton, Jerome Beatty Jr., Stephen King, Peter Benchley


Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: