Towards a Typology of Dyslexic Writers

In Proust and the Squid, Maryanne Wolf makes some observations about which fields dyslexics are to be found in — “In medicine, individuals with dyslexia were likely to be found in radiology, where the ability to read patterns is central. In engineering and computer technology, they gravitated toward design and pattern recognition. In business, individuals with dyslexia, such as Paul Orfalea and Charles Schwab, tended to focus on high finance or money management, where forecasting trends and making inferences from large patterns of data are critical. My brother-in-law, an architect, told me that his former firm never allowed letters from its architects to go out without two spell-checks. Artists with dyslexia include sculptors such as Rodin and the painters Andy Warhol and Picasso.”

Rodin, Picasso, and Warhol may well have something in common, although I can’t quite pinpoint what. Certainly you couldn’t accuse them of thinking “inside the box.”

But what if anything do dyslexic writers have in common? There are those like Agatha Christie and Roald Dahl who have a knack for plot structures. Maybe with a bit of conceptual squeezing, Hans Christian Anderson and Lewis Carroll could be forced into this category too? Since a story is a type of a pattern, any fiction writer will be pattern-obsessed – but is this even more true of dyslexic writers?

Into another category of dyslexic writers fall the stylistic perfectionists like Gustave Flaubert and Gary Lutz, famously obsessed with micro-patterns, the structure of the sentence… Samuel R. Delany is one example of a dyslexic writer who fits into both categories mentioned – this makes me think of my earlier statement that Delany is a rare case of a critic who’s good both at close reading and at distant reading.

In his criticism, Delany uses the word “pattern” a lot. In About Writing, discussing Modulations by Richard Kostelanetz, Delany writes “there is a level of storytelling that seems to me entirely structural, topological even, and that has nothing to do with reference,” and it seems to me that might be a dyslexic kind of an insight to have…

Also dyslexic were or are W.B. Yeats, Octavia Butler, John Irving, and Richard Ford, but as yet I’m unclear what to do with these examples in terms of my dyslexic writer classification system.
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  • Carmelo Brian Valone

    Love this!

  • Ralph Ferraa

    Roberto Bolaño was dyslexic too.

  • Drs. Fernette and Brock Eide

    Great post! Some dyslexic writers seem to have vivid personal memories – highly detailed recollections that may date back into their childhood…these memories seem multisensory and highly imagistic.