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Famous Writers And Artists Who Were Terrible Humans

Updated November 2, 2020 7.3k votes 1.6k voters 101.9k views18 items

What makes a great artist or writer? Is it solely their great work that we should acknowledge? What if they were actually bad people - should that affect our criticism of their work and contributions to art or literature? Many people argue that we need the separate the bad person from the great artist, as the two are in distinct categories. But sometimes the bad nature of a person seeps into their work, influencing the overall narrative to reflect them.

Take H.P. Lovecraft for example: his virulent racism was seeped into his work and made it a challenging read for many people who were offended by his slurs and attacks on other races. Is it right to support these artists by buying their work and giving them money for their prejudice? What if some people use that money to directly spread this bigotry, in a Chik-fil-A type of scenario. Regardless of your view point on the subject, we can all agree that finding out your favorite author was a bigot is less than exciting.

Unfortunately though, like everyone else, they are people too, with flaws of their own. Sometimes those flaws are inexcusable, or even run contradictory to the very morals their works preach. The artists and writers below all led less than perfect lives and find themselves among the many artists and writers who were bad people throughout history.
  • Photo: Harper & Brothers / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Patricia Highsmith


    Who she was: Crime novelist and racist.

    The story: Patricia Highsmith captivated the world with her psychological thriller novels that bridged the twisting dissections of the minds of her mentally disturbed characters and an audience hungry for more. But she was also very much human, besot with some of the worst qualities a person could have. In fairness, she also had a horrible childhood. Her mother had tried to abort her by drinking turpentine while she was pregnant, forever creating a rift between the two.

    The author was an alcoholic and had troubling intimacy issues, preferring the company of animals to that of people. When she did hang out with others, it was often to their own displeasure. "She was a mean, hard, cruel, unlovable, unloving person," Otto Penzler, an acquaintance, once said of her.

    And then there wass her racism. Gathered from her deeply personal journals, she said that the Holocaust was a semicaust, because it had only succeeded halfway in eliminating Jews. She also hid no disdain for pretty much every race that wasn't white, frequently mocking them in her writings.

    • Age: Dec. at 74 (1921-1995)
    • Birthplace: Fort Worth, Texas
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  • Photo: Alvin Langdon Coburn / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Who he was: Modernist poet and anti-Semite.

    The story: Ezra Pound belonged to the group of poets called the Imagists, which focused on deconstructing a particular image to reveal its true nature and essence. While his poetry remains highly influential, arguably his greatest achievement was in financing some of the greatest writers of the 20th century, such as T.S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, and Robert Frost. Pound maintained a reputation for his own skills as a poet, his most famous poem being "In a Station of the Metro," which bears his trademarks of conciseness and image isolation. But where Pound was sparse, yet dense, in his ability to say so much with so little, his racist outbursts were the exact opposite: loaded, long, and shockingly forthright. 

    In 1940, Pound did a series of radio broadcasts blaming the Jews for being financiers of the war, “About Jew-ruined England. About the wreckage of France, wrecked under yid control. Lousy with kikes.” If that wasn’t enough, his own work even shared his racist views. His Italian Cantos were basically Fascist propaganda and anti-semitic diatribes, so much so that the poet’s work is banned from the Cathedral of St. John in New York.

    • Age: Dec. at 87 (1885-1972)
    • Birthplace: Hailey, Idaho
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  • Photo: Carl Van Vechten / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain


    Who he was: Pioneer of creative nonfiction who almost killed his wife.

    The story: Widely regarded as one of the great American writers of the 20th century, Mailer was as violent as he was brilliant. In 1960, while drunk at a party with his wife, Adele, she began to berate him. He reacted by pulling out his penknife, stabbing her, and giving her two wounds in the chest. She was rushed to the hospital and nearly died. Mailer was sent to jail.

    Later on, many writers and some of Mailer's friends defended the stabbing, saying that Adele started it, while others, such as James Baldwin, went so far as to call it an awakening of his talent. The act didn't stop there, and went on to color Mailer's life. In 1969 he ran for the mayor of New York City, but was unsuccessful, as his own personal history had made him an unpopular candidate. Later in life, Mailer himself said he was regretful of his bad action to his wife, "It is the one act I can look back on and regret for the rest of my life."

    • Age: Dec. at 84 (1923-2007)
    • Birthplace: Long Branch, New Jersey
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  • Photo: Jeremy Hall / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0


    Who he is: Author of the Ender’s Game book series and homophobe.

    The story: Ender's Game, a story about a boy genius military tactician who saves the last vestiges of humanity from an alien attack, is a science fiction classic. Its author, Orson Scott Card, is one of the most successful science fiction writers in modern times. He’s won every major fantasy award and has impacted the genre immensely. He is also homophobic.

    Card has written countless pieces on what he calls “the gay agenda” and even argues that sodomy laws should still be in effect. Card was raised a staunch Mormon and gets his views from his conservative religious upbringing. It doesn’t help that these extremist views sometimes bleed into his fiction writing, as is the case with Ender in Exile, which features snippets of blatant homophobia.

    To top it all off, back in 2013, Card wrote a column comparing Obama to Hitler, basically calling the US President a dictator who rose to power with his "urban gangs."

    • Age: 70
    • Birthplace: Richland, Washington
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