Claire Askew blogs at One Night Stanzas, an advice blog for those new to the world of creative writing. She also runs a literary and a small press, and works as a Lecturer in English. She is a huge geek about literature, vinyl records and Formula 1 motorracing.
1. Allen Ginsberg
He grew up taking care of his seriously mentally ill mother, suffered anti-Semitic and homophobic abuse as a youth, fought a massive obscenity trial to get his poetry published, campaigned tirelessly for gay and civil rights and mobilised a generation against government corruption, reckless consumerism and the Vietnam War. He also wrote amazing poems!
2. Margaret Atwood
She grew up in very provincial Canada, but has become a household name -- she's made science fiction "literary," made feminism accessible and helped to put Canadian writing -- particularly by women -- on the map. She's written over 30 books and is still going. She's also passionate about encouraging emerging writers.
3. Emily Bronte
If anyone's read Wuthering Heights, you'll know how unbelievable it is that that book was written by a timid vicar's daughter living in a tiny northern English town. She and her sisters had to pretend to be men in order to get their groundbreaking and (in Emily's case) pretty shocking -- but incredible -- novels published. They also had to deal with a crazy drug-addict brother and more than their fair share of scandal...
4. Robert Louis Stevenson
I'm Scottish, and this guy is a huge hero here. But he deserves it -- he was chronically ill his entire life, but still travelled all over the world writing about his experiences and raising awareness of native South Pacific cultures. Random trivia: he died while making salad dressing in his kitchen in Samoa.
5. Billy Collins
He's pretty much the only poet whose ever been properly rich and famous, so he gives me hope for penniless writers everywhere! But he's also a very cool guy: he fights constantly against massive literary snobbery, all because he writes poems that the public actually like. He also pioneered a huge project (Poetry 180) to get schoolchildren reading poems. And he writes poems about making sandwiches and smoking and sleeping!
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