From The Literary Hub:
Some authors become so iconic that they cease, in some sense, to be people—especially once they’re dead, and have passed securely into the realm of our collective imagination. But there’s much to be gained from digging a little deeper into those writers, or at the very least, scratching off that first surface: the names (and personas) they invented for their writing careers.
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I have to admit, I had no idea that Toni Morrison was a pen name—but it’s true. The “Toni” came from her saint’s name, Anthony, which she took at 12 after converting to Catholicism. Toni soon became her nickname. “Morrison” was her first husband’s name—they married in 1958 and divorced in 1964. “To this day,” wrote Boris Kachka in a 2012 profile of Morrison, “she deeply regrets leaving that now world-famous name on her first novel, The Bluest Eye, in 1970.”
“Wasn’t that stupid?” she says. “I feel ruined!” Here she is, fount of indelible names (Sula, Beloved, Pilate, Milkman, First Corinthians, and the star of her new novel, the Korean War veteran Frank Money), and she can’t own hers. “Oh God! It sounds like some teenager—what is that?” She wheeze-laughs, theatrically sucks her teeth. “But Chloe.” She grows expansive. “That’s a Greek name. People who call me Chloe are the people who know me best,” she says. “Chloe writes the books.” Toni Morrison does the tours, the interviews, the “legacy and all of that.” Which she does easily enough, but at a distance, a drama-club alumna embodying a persona—and knowing all the while that it isn’t really her. “I still can’t get to the Toni Morrison place yet.”
“Myself is kind of split,” she told The Guardian the same year. “My name is Chloe. And the rest is . . . that other person.”
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Of all the writers on this list, John le Carré probably has the coolest reason for using a pseudonym—spies can’t use their own names when they publish books. I mean, obviously! He wrote his first novel, Call for the Dead, while an MI5 agent, but it didn’t print until he had moved to MI6. As le Carré explained:
I was what was politely called “a foreign servant.” I went to my employers and said that I’d written my first novel. They read it and said they had no objections, but even if it were about butterflies, they said, I would have to choose a pseudonym. So then I went to my publisher, Victor Gollancz, who was Polish by origin, and he said, My advice to you, old fellow, is choose a good Anglo-Saxon couple of syllables. Monosyllables. He suggested something like Chunk-Smith. So as is my courteous way, I promised to be Chunk-Smith. After that, memory eludes me and the lie takes over. I was asked so many times why I chose this ridiculous name, then the writer’s imagination came to my help. I saw myself riding over Battersea Bridge, on top of a bus, looking down at a tailor’s shop. Funnily enough, it was a tailor’s shop, because I had a terrible obsession about buying clothes in order to become a diplomat in Bonn. And it was called something of this sort—le Carré. That satisfied everybody for years. But lies don’t last with age. I find a frightful compulsion towards truth these days. And the truth is, I don’t know.
Trust a spy to keep the real story close to his chest. Well, at least he didn’t go with “Chunk-Smith.”
Link to the rest at The Literary Hub