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In truth, what we do know of Shakespeare’s personal life, including his upbringing in Stratford-upon-Avon, is clearly present in the poetic imagery of his plays. The plays exist in various forms, due to the haphazard nature of publishing at the time, making Shakespeare scholarship an almost forensic practice, but while Shakespeare did collaborate with other playwrights, the theory his plays were completely ghostwritten is rather fanciful.
Skipping through the centuries, there has been much speculation that Truman Capote ghostwrote a substantial part of Harper Lee’s magnificent Pulitzer Prize winning novel To Kill A Mockingbird. Now largely discredited, the rumours arose due to the fact Harper Lee never published another book, that she and Capote had been friends from childhood and that she had helped him research In Cold Blood while finishing her novel. The lines between advice, collaboration and ghostwriting can sometimes blur.
Running a country or political movement leaves little time for literary endeavours, yet many political leaders have felt the need to express themselves in writing and have used ghostwriters to do so.
US President John F. Kennedy won the Pulitzer Prize for his book Profiles In Courage, which collected stories of US senators who had acted in opposition to public opinion in order to stay true to their principles. However, when his speechwriter Theodore Sorenson published his autobiography Counselor, it emerged he had written a large amount of JFK’s book.
Another classic example of political ghostwriting is the stirring autobiography of Malcolm X. Alex Haley, author of the celebrated novel Roots, worked as a ghostwriter, shaping long interviews with Malcolm X into the work that was completed in the weeks following the political leader’s assassination.
Haley is often seen as more of a co-author than a ghostwriter of the autobiography; without doubt he shaped the narrative style of the tome and censored controversial aspects of Malcolm X’s political viewpoint, particularly his anti-Semitism. Despite minimising his voice, Haley deliberately crafted a powerful portrayal of his subject and his immense influence on the finished work is far from invisible.
How have we arrived at the current role of the ghostwriter? One major influence has been the collaborative process of the film writing and making process. Tom Clancy acts akin to a director in the way he oversees the production of his novels and computer game scenarios by ghostwriters.
Some collections of popular novels like the Nancy Drew series are written under a pseudonym, in this case the fictional author Carolyn Keene, by a team of ghostwriters, evolving the series into something similar to a brand.