They are writers who captured the spirit of their generations, the authors of classic books that we read underneath the covers with a flashlight after Mom and Dad had mined off the brand-new black-and-white console TV, the books that we carried around with us during the struggle for civil rights, that we read on the beach when Watergate was just another hotel, when Monica Lewinsky was just another White House intern. But they're in a different era now, one that new authors are helping to define. So, what happened to the literary stars of yesteryear? Some fled the public eye altogether; some are still writing books; some are lazing about in hot tubs atop secluded mountains (we'll get to that guy later). Here's a look at some of our best-love writers--where they were then, and what they' re doing today.
Back in 1960, she wrote what would become one of the most famous novels in American history. But what has she been up to since then?
Harper Lee To Kill a Mockingbird, 1960
More than forty years ago, she emerged with a book that could legitimately be called the Great American Novel, one that still sells hundreds of thousands of copies each year (see chart, page 41). But then she disappeared, didn't publish anything else, and now doesn't do interviews and rarely appears in public. So, what's Harper Lee been up to since To Kill a Mockingbird? She now divides her time between Monroeville, Alabama, where she lives with her older sister, Alice, a lawyer, and New York City, where she keeps an apartment. In both cities, she leads a quiet, humble life. And if she's been writing, nobody's talking. "She's not a recluse," explains Lee's agent, Sam Pinkus. "She lives a very full life out of the public eye." Pat Childs, a waitress at Radley's Fountain Grille, a Monroeville restaurant named after Lee's character Boo Radley, calls Lee "quiet and reserved." Childs says that Lee, a regular customer, usually orders the soup of the day and a chicken salad and tips generously, but, like Boo Radley, prefers to keep to herself. "If she was in here, you wouldn't even know," Childs says.
S.E. Hinton The Outsiders, 1967
Of all the children's novels ever published, none has sold better than Charlotte's Web. "That damn bug still beats me," says S.E. Hinton, the author of the second-most-popular kids' book, The Outsiders, which Hinton wrote while still in high school. That book was one of five classic young-adult novels Hinton penned, four of which were made into movies. Afterward, Hinton took a break to raise her son in her native Tulsa, only writing a couple of picture books since 1979. "People think I've been sitting here in an ivory tower with minions or something. But I've been wandering around the Safeway wondering what to cook for dinner like everybody else," says Hinton, who still calls Tulsa her home ("I grew up here and my friends are here. There's nothing wrong with here," she explains). Now that Hinton's son is in college, she has finally returned to writing. Her first novel for adults, an adventure-horror book, is slated for next year. The tentative title: Hawkes Harbor. "For my writing to be any good, I have to be emotionally committed to it; for a long time, I was just emotionally committed to being a mother," Hinton says. "I didn't have anything left over."
Rod McKuen Listen to the Warm, 1967
Rod McKuen was to poetry in the 1960s and '70s what Stephen King was to horror writing in the '70s and '80s: He was so famous for it, it was as though no one else was even in the game. Listen to the Warm, his best-known book, was that rarest of publishing rarities: a blockbuster poetry collection. (The dedication read, "For E.--If you cry when we leave Paris / I'll buy you a teddy bear all soft and gold.") As a composer, his English version of Jacques Brel's "If You Go Away" has been recorded more than a thousand times. In the early 1980s, drained by the performing life and his …