The feline mystique has captivated people for centuries. After publishing my first book Artists and Their Cats in 2015, I wanted to continue exploring the link between creativity and cats. Being an artist and writer, myself, I knew researching the history of writers and their feline companions was an essential piece of the puzzle. The entries in Writers and Their Cats offers insight into each author’s unique personality, habits, and quirks. Like artists, writers seem drawn to cats as pets based on a mutual respect and an inherent understanding of their complexities, independent nature, and ambiguous allure. It’s a creative dream team. For writers, there is also the cat’s ability to help bring to life the inner language of the subconscious on the page. The feline muse becomes a silent—and sometimes mewling—collaborator, inspiring the primal power of connection that storytelling provides, allowing us to better understand ourselves and world around us. Also, there’s simply nothing better than a sleepy cat curled up on your lap (or laptop) as you write late into the night. There are no smug looks when you stare at a blank page for hours and no congrats when you finish a manuscript, but as Burroughs wrote: “The cat does not offer services. The cat offers itself.”
Haruki Murakami is a jazz aficionado and owns a floor-to-ceiling vinyl collection that would make any music lover jealous. In the 1970s, Murakami first shared his obsession for music by opening the Tokyo jazz club Peter Cat, named after one of his pets. The Norwegian Wood author wrote his first two novels there, Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973. Cats are featured in the early books as they always are in Murakami’s stories—elliptical symbols that slink in and out of his character’s lives.
The Osaragi Jirō Memorial Museum in Yokohama, Japan is dedicated to the author Jirō Osaragi and features numerous cat ornaments as an integral part of its feline-themed decor. Osaragi wrote several novels connected to Yokohama, including Gento (Magic Lantern) and lived at the Hotel New Grand for over 10 years (in room 318). It’s often said that the Shōwa-period author cared for over 500 cats throughout his lifetime at his home in Kamakura, Japan—which is sometimes open to the public. Visitors can lounge on Osaragi’s terrace and sip tea while picturing the hundreds of semi-feral cats that once frolicked in the gardens.
The Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret author adored a calico cat she kept that lived to old age—although the author’s most famous cat-centric portrait is a photograph of Blume holding her neighbor’s cat. The writer currently dotes on the many grand-cats in her family.
The feline protagonists in Stephen King’s novels lead haunted lives. In Pet Sematary, King tells a story of loss inspired by his family’s own tragic experience with their pet cat Smucky who was hit by a car. King’s cat-filled publicity photo for the movie Cat’s Eye, based on several of the author’s short stories, proves that the author’s fascination with the macabre didn’t stop him from being a cat magnet.
“I have always been an outsider,” Alice Walker stated in an author QA for her book The Way Forward Is with a Broken Heart. “The standard rules and acceptable forms of behavior have never applied to me. In that sense, I was raised wild. And why wouldn’t I be? Why would I attempt to ‘conform’ to a society that doesn’t value my existence, that has done everything to wipe me out? I always knew that I’d have to construct an alternative reality.” The novelist took the same approach when it came to her cats, seeming to favor the outsiders and misfits—like a snaggletoothed stray she took in or the shelter cat Frida, a sweet calico with a rough past that she named after artist Frida Kahlo.
“[Elizabeth] Bishop’s poetics is one distinguished by tranquil observation, craft-like accuracy, care for the small things of the world, a miniaturist’s discretion and attention,” wrote critic Ernest Hilbert about the American poet. This quiet precision was displayed by the cats Bishop kept and wrote about. One of her pets had a penchant for dissecting its prey like a world-class surgeon.
Helen Gurley Brown
In the 1970s, Cosmopolitan magazine’s mascot was a pink cartoon pussycat nicknamed Lovey. The sleek feline wore a large bow around its neck and boasted fluttering eyelashes. Lovey embodied the sassy, independent life Cosmo painted for its readers—the kind longtime editor Helen Gurley Brown lived to the fullest with her two chocolate-point Siamese cats by her side.
Jorge Luis Borges
Borges took a literary approach to naming one of his favorite felines, a large white cat he called Beppo. The kittenly companion was named after a character in a Lord Byron poem. The Argentine writer was also fond of tigers—evidenced by his short story “Blue Tigers,” about a professor who seeks out an elusive cobalt-colored beast.
British Nobel Prize-winning author Doris Lessing wrote of her affection for cats many times, but she felt a particular affinity for her pet El Magnifico. “He was such a clever cat,” she remarked to the Wall Street Journal in 2008. “We used to have sessions when we tried to be on each other’s level. He knew we were trying. When push came to shove, though, the communication was pretty limited.”
Plath lovers are unanimously charmed by a drawing The Bell Jar novelist left behind of a “curious French cat,” peeking out from behind a wall. She also practically pioneered the “crazy cat lady” trope with the poem, “Ella Mason and Her Eleven Cats.”
This article was adapted from Writers and Their Cats by Alison Nastasi, published by Chronicle Books 2018.