Literary Hub

20 Author Photos: Then and Now

One of my favorite things about skulking around old bookstores is the possibility of chancing upon a first edition of a beloved author’s early work and looking at it in its original context—not repackaged nor redesigned, not yet Made into a Major Motion Picture, and still boasting the kind of blurbs you get before you’re a literary superstar (honest, I mean, or as honest as blurbs get). Plus, there’s often the original author photo, which might be years or decades old. That’s always the most fun.

We grow to recognize authors so well by their author photos (particularly now that those photos may also be attached to their tweets and other electronic traces). We may do more than just recognize them—in some cases, these photos may even change how, and to what extent, we appreciate their work. Author photos may be good or bad, either objectively or in terms of sales. They are frequently embarrassing, as an artistic form. But they always tell you something—especially when you can compare them across the years, to see how an author’s self-presentation has evolved over time.

This is all to say that I have recently spent some time digging up the early author photos of a handful of famous writers, and comparing them to their current (or recent) author photos. Not just snapshots, mind—but the actual publicity photographs used on their books, or in some cases, their websites. For true “then and now” action, I’ve limited the scope to living authors, so with that in mind, feel free to add on to the list below.

Toni Morrison first author photoToni Morrison on the back cover of the first edition of The Bluest Eye (1970)

VS.Toni Morrison author photoToni Morrison on the back cover of God Help the Child (2015)

Joan Didion first author photoJoan Didion in her author photo for her debut novel Run, River (1963).

VS.
Joan Didion South and WestJoan Didion on the back cover of South and West (2017). (Not a current image, but her last used author photo.)

Nathan Englander first author photoNathan Englander in his author photo for his debut collection For the Relief of Unbearable Urges (1999)

VS.Nathan EnglanderNathan Englander on his current website (2017)

Alice Walker first author photo once

Dana Durst

Alice Walker on the back of her first book of poems, Once (1968)

VS.Alice Walker 2013 Alice Walker on the back of Cushion in the Road (2013)

Alice Munro first author photoAlice Munro on the back of the first US edition of her debut collection, Dance of the Happy Shades (1973)

VS.
alice munro

Alice Munro on the back of Dear Life (2012)

Philip Roth first author photoPhilip Roth as he appeared on the back of his debut, Goodbye, Columbus (1959)

VS.Philip Roth as pictured on the back of Nemesis (2010)

Dan Brown first author photoDan Brown in his author photo for Digital Fortress (1998)

VS.

Dan Brown in his current press photo, from his website (2018)

Eugenides first author photoJeffrey Eugenides on the back cover of his debut novel, The Virgin Suicides (1993)

VS.Jeffrey Eugenides author photoThe photo of Jeffrey Eugenides that is on the back flap of Fresh Complaint (2017)

Stephen King first author photoStephen King on the inside flap of his debut novel, Carrie (1974)

VS.Stephen King as he appears on the flap of End of Watch (2016) and his current website (2018)

margaret atwood first author photoMargaret Atwood on the back of the first US edition of her first novel, The Edible Woman (1969)

VS.margaret atwood author photoMargaret Atwood in her author photo for The Heart Goes Last (2015)

Anne Rice on the back of her first novel, Interview with the Vampire (1976)

VS.Anne RiceAnne Rice on the flap of her 34th novel, Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis (2016)

Donna Tartt first author photoDonna Tartt in her author photo for her debut novel, The Secret History (1992)

VS.Donna Tartt on the back of the first US edition of The Goldfinch (2013)

Jonathan Franzen first author photoJonathan Franzen as pictured on the back of his debut novel, The Twenty-Seventh City (1988)

VS.Jonathan Franzen purity author photoThe picture of Jonathan Franzen on the inside flap of Purity (2015) (Note the sock tan.)

Cormac McCarthy first author photo

Joe Blackwell

Cormac McCarthy as pictured in the first edition of his debut novel, The Orchard Keeper (1965)

VS.

Derek Shapton

Cormac McCarthy in his current author photo, from his most recent book (!) The Road (2006)

Jhumpa Lahiri first author photoJhumpa Lahiri on the back cover of the first edition of her debut collection, Interpreter of Maladies (1999)

VS.Jhumpa Lahiri on the back cover of her most recent novel, The Lowland (2013)

neil gaiman first author photoNeil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett on the back cover of the first edition of Good Omens (1990)

VS.Neil Gaiman as he appears on the flap of The Ocean at the End of the Lane (2013)

zadie smith first author photo

Roderick Field

Zadie Smith on the flap of the first edition of her debut novel, White Teeth (2000)

VS.zadie smith author photoZadie Smith‘s author photo for Swing Time (2016)

don delillo first author photoDon DeLillo on the back cover of Americana (1971)

VS.don delilloDon DeLillo on the back flap of Zero K (2016)

ursula k le guin early author photoUrsula K. Le Guin on the inside flap of the first edition of The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) (Not her first book, of course, but the earliest author photo I could find.)

VS.

ursula k le guin

Marian Wood Kolisch

Ursula K. Le Guin‘s current author photo, from her website (2018)

Isabel Allende first author photo

Peter Peitsch

Isabel Allende on the back of her first novel, The House of the Spirits (1982)

VS.Isabel allendeIsabel Allende on the back of her most recent novel, In the Midst of Winter (2017)

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