A History of Famous Literary Mentorships

Most aspiring writers daydream about having a successful author drop into their life, recognize their talent, and help them get published. That might sound like a fairytale, but some of the book world’s most celebrated talents first burst onto the scene thanks to the guidance of established authors. In honor of the 10th anniversary of National Mentoring Month, we pay tribute to literature’s most fruitful mentorships. And we hope you’ll help continue this fine literary tradition by supporting non-profits such as Girls Write Now, 826 National, and The Young Storytellers Foundation.

Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison

After being introduced in 1936 by Langston Hughes himself, Richard Wright helped encourage Ralph Ellison’s burgeoning writing career by helping him to get a job with the Federal Writers’ Project. In this position, Ellison conducted interviews with Harlem residents, an enriching experience that directly influenced his best-known work, Invisible Man. Ellison later split with his mentor over ideology, reacting to Wright’s Native Son, which reflected anger over a repressive society, with Invisible Man’smore optimistic portrayal of African-American traditions as a positive force and sense of identity. “I understood that our sensibilities were quite different,” Ellison said of Wright. “And what I was hoping to achieve in fiction was something quite different from what he wanted to achieve.”