Of Books & Tea, Part 3

Some of history’s greatest writers did their best work with the help of tea. Discover them in our three-part series.

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“When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth,” Kurt Vonnegut said.

Parts 1 and 2 of our three-part Books & Tea series showed how literary greats from Dostoyevsky to Orwell wrote their masterpieces with the help of tea. (Read them here and here.) But there’s one other writer’s indulgence that can’t be ignored: alcohol, that sweet, sweet libation that has helped many a writer dull the sharp pangs of self-doubt.

Read on for the stories of three who are the very definition of “functioning alcoholic” – and creatively combined alcohol and tea into their own form of creative fuel.

Kingsley Amis

The English novelist and poet was not shy about his fondness for the drink, penning not one, not two, but three books on his good friend alcohol: On Drink, Everyday Drinking and How’s Your Glass? In a 1975 interview, though, he explained how tea smoothed his daily transition into the harder stuff:

“I linger over breakfast reading the papers […] staving off the dreadful time when I have to go to the typewriter. That’s probably about ten-thirty, still in pajamas and dressing gown. […] It’s not till about one or one-fifteen [that] … I emerge, and nicotine and alcohol are produced. I work on until about two or two-fifteen, have lunch, then if there’s urgency about, I have to write in the afternoon, which I really hate doing […] With luck, a cup of tea turns up, and then it’s only a question of drinking more cups of tea until the bar opens at six o’clock and one can get into second gear.”


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Truman Capote

The infamously charismatic author best known for Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood loved to drink, and loved it so much it eventually killed him. Still, he made mint tea part of his daily routine, an afternoon pick-me-up to bridge the gap between his morning coffee and his sundown martini.

“I am a completely horizontal author… I can’t think unless I’m lying down, either in bed or stretched on a couch and with a cigarette and coffee handy. I’ve got to be puffing and sipping. As the afternoon wears on, I shift from coffee to mint tea to sherry to martinis. I don’t use a typewriter. Not in the beginning. I write my first version in longhand (pencil). Then I do a complete revision, also longhand.”


Source / Image left: Copyright Roger Higgins, via Wikimedia Commons / Image right

Carson McCullers

This writer of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter was one of the strongest literary voices to come out of the deep South in the 20th century. In her inner circle were the likes to Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams, both equally talented and equally alcoholic. McCullers produced her writing loosened up by a signature drink she dubbed “sonnie boy” – a spirited mix of hot tea and sherry, drunk out of a thermos that never left her side all day long.


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Of Books & Tea, Part 1

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Saul Bellow. Some of history’s greatest writers did their best work with the help of tea. Read Part 1 of our three-part series here.

Of Books & Tea, Part 2

Read about how tea was an essential part of the working day for literary greats like George Orwell, Simone de Beauvoir and C.S. Lewis in Part 2 of our series.