Call Me Twitterer: Literary Twitter’s First Tweets

Twitter had its big moment last week, but unlike so many other technology start-ups in the seeming parade of millionaire-makers over the last two decades (with the obvious exception of, Twitter has developed a special following in the literary community, from high-brow to low. Perhaps that’s not surprising. Writers revel in words, and Twitter, nearly alone among hot technology start-ups, is mostly about words, crafting them to meet the medium’s peculiar restraints and sending them out into the world to be engaged with or ignored. Twitter is like some atomized version of the writer’s process. With Twitter, ideas go out piecemeal, the whole process taking a millionth the amount of time it would if you were to glom all those ideas together into one big whole and turn it into something as unlikely-seeming by comparison as a book. This speed, then, may be deeply satisfying — even addictive — as writers bypass so much of the toil of getting a book out of their brains and off to readers (New York’s Kathryn Schulz elaborated smartly on this idea last week.)

There is no uniform stance on Twitter in the literary community, of course. Some, like Teju Cole and Colson Whitehead, find it vital; many others — led by a certain one-time Time coverboy from the Midwest, do not. Some writers have more prosaic feelings about Twitter. Novelist Peter Orner wrote, “Some are talented at it; others, less so.”

Zadie Smith is not on Twitter. Nor are Jeffrey Eugenides (though his vest once was), Michael Chabon (not really, though his writer wife Ayelet Waldman is), George Saunders, or David Mitchell. Jennifer Egan is, but just a little bit.

Nonetheless, Twitter appears to be here to stay, for a while anyway. And it will remain a pastime for writers looking for book news, inspiration, distraction, literary puns, and every other thing they might want. But it wasn’t always that way. In the not too distant past, the literary lights of Twitter pecked out their first 140 characters and waited to see what Twitter would bring.

Curious, I dug back into the Twitter archive to see how these writers took their first steps into Twitter. What follows are the very first tweets of some of Twitter’s well-known practitioners from the literary world.










































created The Millions and is its publisher. He and his family live in New Jersey.


  1. I joined Twitter shortly after it came into being at the behest of some techy friends, but it was only after a January 2009 tweet from Neil Gaiman about winning the Newbery Award ( that I started paying attention and tweeting myself. (FYI I’m in the children’s book world where Newbery is very important and I believe this is the first tweet a winner sent out not to mention, the first to use a certain word to express his excitement — at least in print this way!)

  2. Agree with Shelley above, tweets are an art form all their own. A place to test out your strategic wit and dazzle. Colbert is indeed a master. Among writers, Oscar Wilde would have been as well (Dickens? No so sure). Tweets are quick and ephemeral, and shameless ridiculousness is an asset. I don’t think Dickens could bear to be that ridiculous.

    Some of my favorites:

    [Irish Mammies ‏@irishmammies
    “I remember the day you were born as. If. It. Was. Yesterday…Of course you were a fierce cranky baby.”]

    Fifty Sheds of Grey ‏@50ShedsofGrey (“Erotica for the Not So Modern Male)
    ‘Hurt me!’ she cried, pressing her body up against the shed wall. ‘Alright,’ I said. ‘You’re a terrible cook and I fancy your sister.’

    @Dr. Algernop Krieger (Evil Mad Scientist on FX’s “Archer”)
    (“Day 168- At least he thought enough to write home. That’s more than my other failed experiments have done for me.”)

    and my personal favorite (providing an endless supply……..)

    [Overheard in Dublin ‏@OverheardDublin 13 Nov
    “How’s Aunt Mary keeping, I heard she wasn’t well?”..”Ah she’s not too bad, she is just waiting for the results of her autopsy” #

    Moe Murph
    (Former Fierce Cranky Baby, Now Just Cranky)

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