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Nom de Plume: A (Secret) History of Pseudonyms Hardcover – June 14, 2011

4.4 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Ciuraru (Solitude Poems) includes 18 writers—from George Sand to George Orwell—in her lively literati masquerade party, recounting events that led to their pen names along with intriguing peeks behind their masks. In 1899, William Sydney Porter began writing as O. Henry: "Because he used an intermediary in New Orleans to submit his stories to editors, no one knew they were by a convicted felon." Eric Blair became George Orwell with his first book, Down and Out in Paris and London, telling his publisher, "I am not proud of it." An outstanding chapter details how Alice Sheldon spotted "Tiptree" on a marmalade jar and then fooled the science fiction community for years as James Tiptree Jr. When the ruse was revealed, "She was crushed to find that some of the male writers she'd considered friends... turned their backs on her." Patricia Highsmith used another name on her lesbian novel and wrote for comic books, but since she gave her credits to The Who's Who of American Comic Books, it's quite a stretch to call that a "secret life." Otherwise, this survey of authors who sought anonymity and privacy is well researched. Amid informative, illuminating profiles, Ciuraru successfully ferrets out curious literary charades. (June 14)


"This survey of authors who sought anonymity and privacy is well researched. Amid informative, illuminating profiles, Ciuraru successfully ferrets out curious literary charades. (June 14)" --Publishers Weekly

“Nom de Plume is filled with tremendous insight into the minds of these writers and their ability to create not only works of fiction within the covers of their books, but fictional lives for themselves as well....beautifully researched and deftly written-pure pleasure from cover to cover.” (New York Journal of Books)

“Carmela Ciuraru’s Nom de Plume deftly tells the stories of some of literature’s most famous pen names. For anyone who creates the book will enthrall. As much a meditation on the creative process as it is a tell-all about their names and the intrigue that created them.” (Associated Press)

“Nom de Plume is a fascinating collection of stories—populated by individuals whose ‘doubleness’ is so distinct that they acquire secondary personalities, and, in some notable cases, multiple personalities. It’s a richly documented literary excursion into the inner, secret lives of some of our favorite writers.” (Joyce Carol Oates)

“Stories of self-invention are always interesting to read about, especially in Carmela Ciuraru’s Nom de Plume. Ciuraru’s book presents a persuasive argument that the generative powers of the pseudonym should persist.” (The Daily)

“This survey of authors who sought anonymity and privacy is well researched. Amid informative, illuminating profiles, Ciuraru successfully ferrets out curious literary charades.” (Publishers Weekly)

“Ciuraru’s treatments of her subjects sparkle with rich, well-arranged detail and the sly wit of literary hindsight. With a central focus that remains urgent and appealing for 21st century readers even as it dissects the personal lives of authors long past, Nom de Plume is surely an important book.” (Chelsea Now Magazine)

“Nom De Plume is wildly entertaining, almost gossipy, but travels on the high end of the literary landscape. This book is beyond great.” (Bookazine)

“Ciuraru’s writing is bright, lively, and smart, making Nom de Plume both informative and extremely enjoyable to read. I strongly recommend this read for any fans of biography, especially writers, and perhaps even more especially, women writers.” (The Best Damn Creative Writing Blog)

“A fascinating book on a fascinating subject. We all have other selves, but only some of us give them a name and let them loose in the world. Carmela Ciuraru steps behind a host of shadowy facades to interrogate the originals, and the result is both enlightening and wonderfully entertaining.” (John Banville, author of The Sea, winner of the Man Booker Prize)

“Engaging without being breezy, informative without being pedantic, these essays offer insightful, fascinating literary portraits without the solemness and heft of so many literary biographies. Ciuraru gets to the essence of their lives efficiently and evocatively, which makes for pleasant and piquant summer literary non-fiction.” (The Reading Ape Blog)

“What to make of the paradox that some of the boldest writers have hidden behind pen names? Carmela Ciuraru has performed a valuable service in examining the phenomenon through her charming, sprightly, and illuminating biographical essays.” (Phillip Lopate)

“Nom de Plume is a delicious investigation of what leads the likes of the Brontës, Samuel Clemens, and Karen Blixen to ditch their names for safer, more romantic identities when they write. Whether their reasons are practical or mysterious, their lives and choices are here charmingly limned by Carmela Ciuraru.” (Honor Moore, author of The Bishop's Daughter)

“Each page affords sparkling facts and valuable insights onto the manufacturing of books and reputations, the keeping and revealing of secrets, the vagaries of private life and public opinion, and the eternally mysterious, often tormented interface between life and literature.” (Elif Batuman, author of The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them)

“...Ciuraru, a freelance literary journalist, writes well and has a fully functioning sense of humor, so “Nom de Plume” is a pleasure to read...” (Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post Book World)

“An engrossing, well-paced literary history…biography on the quick, and done well.” (BookForum)

“Ms. Ciuraru…writes with clarity and confidence, and her research is impressive.” (Wall Street Journal)

“You are on the second-to-last page of Carmela Ciuraru’s NOM DE PLUME and wishing you weren’t because this book is such great fun...Intelligent, confident, and trustworthy.” (San Francisco Chronicle)

“Our curator is always having fun in ‘Nom De Plume,’ and, as a result, so are we.” (Jewish Daily Forward)

“Fascinating, lively, and fun - you can’t do much better than to read about George Sand, born Amandine-Aurore-Lucile Dupin, who adopted a swaggering male persona to go along with the name.” (Boston Globe)

“With description that captures the imagination, Nom de Plume is what nonfiction should be - accessible, thought-provoking, and highly entertaining.” (Christian Science Monitor)

“…‘Nom de Plume’ is part detective story, part exposé, part literary history, and an absorbing psychological meditation on identity and creativity. It’s a delightful book.” (Huntington News)

“Ciuraru builds each history as its own personal story, then builds the literary charm and genius behind the pathos, … a tale of literary genius all its own.” (Los Angeles Times)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 366 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1st edition (June 14, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061735264
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061735264
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.2 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,987,775 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By takingadayoff TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 18, 2012
Format: Paperback
You could draw the conclusion, after reading this book, that writers who use pen names are weird. But that's probably not a fair conclusion. Author Carmela Ciuraru had a universe of writers with pen names to pick from and there was no point in picking the normal, boring ones.

Writers have different reasons for choosing pseudonyms, and Ciuraru seems to have picked the authors whose own identities were overshadowed by their alter egos, even in their own lifetimes. Perhaps the oddest of the bunch was Fernando Pessoa, who with over seventy identities, was a troubled and sick man. The Bronte sisters used men's names to maintain their anonymity and to give themselves an advantage in getting published. They were the least strange of the bunch.

My reading of Nom de Plume gravitated toward the authors whose works I have read and I was fascinated to read the story of Georges Simenon, who was busy enough to be at least a dozen men, but was astonishingly only one. He wrote an average of four books a year throughout his life and still had time to conduct multiple affairs. Obviously time management was a special talent of his.

Patricia Highsmith only wrote one book under a pseudonym, and therefore barely qualifies to be in this book, but her story is so peculiar, unpleasant, and irresistible, that Ciuraru had to include it.

Mark Twain was not only the well-known pen name of Samuel Clemens, but was the smoother, friendlier version of the man. Clemens was grumpy, depressed, and difficult, but Mark Twain was the funny, wry, publicly acceptable persona.

What surprised me was the number of writers who not only adopted pen names, but seemed to prefer their new identities to the old ones.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It was hard for me to get into this book, probably because I had little interest in some of the first writers discussed, but as I read more and more I became more interested. The author does a good job of providing condensed bios on the writers she discusses, along with the various reasons they adopted other names for their writings. If you aren't interested in writers or literature it might be hard to "get into" this book... which would be a shame because it does have a lot to offer.
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This has really good view of authors who chose to write under a pen name. Patricia HIghsmith is described as "the most wretched person you'd ever hope to meet", and you'd have to agree with that! Mostly the book is a side to these people that you won't read in their bios, and it makes them appear much more human.
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Format: Paperback
I am rarely thrilled by anything I read. This is both a function of having read all the good stuff, and a downright dearth of anything new worth reading. At last, I am able to report that I found my thrill, not on Blueberry Hill but in the obscure pleasures offered up by the ethereal Carmela Ciuraru in her brilliant (HarperCollins, thought so!) NOM DE PLUME: A (SECRET) HISTORY OF PSEUDONYMS. The adjective ethereal was not chose lightly. There is a photograph of Carmela on the back flap of the book cover. I am sure you would agree that hers is a face from Botticelli, a unique beauty, something deliriously ethnic in her face, and cerebral in her sweet, cynical smile.

It must be serendipitous that I should find this book within days of the breaking July, 2013 news of J.K. Rowling. Apparently she published her last novel--The Cuckoo's Calling--under the pseudonym John Galbraith. The story, of course, is probably a publisher-conceived media stunt. Each day it has built itself "legs" and the pundits & analysts are slicing & dicing as I write. It would be a great injustice to their viewers should the 24-hour news mavens not invite Carmela as a guest commentator on the issue of pseudonyms in general. The author is undoubtedly an articulate, charismatic, camera-ready treat.
I strongly advise whoever is scheduling guests to get on this right away

Her book is a nuanced analysis of various motivations behind an author's use of a pseudonym for publication. In addition to being a fascinating read, particularly for writers, NOM DE PLUME, it sets each story--and they're all there: Twain/Clemens, Blair/Orwell, Carroll/Dodgson, Dinesen/Blixen, Plath, Simenon, and Highsmith--sets each episode of literary schizophrenia in historical context.
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