Famous Oxford Authors Everyone Should be Reading

Oxford University in the UK is one of the most respected in the world. Since 1096 it has seen some of the greatest minds, from all around the globe, graduate and go on to have successful careers in all manner of fields – including science, politics, journalism, and the arts, including writers.

These authors span multiple eras and genres; from romantic poets to legends in fantasy tales and epic crime writers. It is, therefore, no surprise that bookworms are drawn towards Oxford university literary alumni regardless of whether you prefer an epic tome, a light-hearted magical tale, or an enthralling, nerve-wracking thriller, there is bound to be something to whet any reading appetite.  

In this article, we take a look at many of Oxford’s remarkable writers.

Famous Writers who graduated from Oxford

Percy Shelley, husband to Mary Shelley and Poet in own right.

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#1 Percy Shelley

Best known by some as the husband of Mary Shelley, Percy was a Romantic Poet, often regarded as one of the best philosophical lyricist in the English Language. He was a radical who was often found promoting, rather vocally, his thoughts on politics and religion and was actively atheist. These views led to his expulsion from the University, although he was given the grace to return on the condition that he renounced his views. A condition he was not prepared to meet and therefore technically never graduated from the university.

Best known works:

 The Devil’s Walk: A Ballad, Prometheus Unbound, and Rosalind and Helen: A Modern Eclogue.

Jonathan Swift author of Gulliver's Travels

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#2 Jonathan Swift

A fleeting graduate of Oxford, Swift first graduated from Trinity in Dublin before completing his MA at Hart Hall in 1692. He wrote many works of prose, poetry, and letters on a wide selection of subjects including religion, politics, and Ireland. Sometimes his work could be quite humorous and very inventive, while at other times his work could be savage making him a strong voice for political pamphlets and press articles.

Best known works:

 Gulliver’s Travels and A Tale of a tub.

Oscar Wilde, Playwright and novelist that attended Oxford University.

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#3 Oscar Wilde

He will be best remembered as a poet, playwright, and novelist but during his time at Oxford, Wilde was also an active member of the Free Masons and loved the secrecy it evoked.  He was individualistic in his approach to everyday life, wanting to stand out so wore his hair long and decorated his room in colourful peacock feathers, and flowers, while shying away from manly sports.

His life was one filled with controversy and after moving to London, found himself convicted of gross indecency for homosexual acts and was imprisoned for two years.

Best known works:

The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Importance of Being Earnest

Lewis Carroll author of Alice in Wonderland and Graduate of Oxford.

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#4 Lewis Carroll

Originally a mathematician, Lewis Carroll became the pen name of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, who taught at Christ Church College.

His inspiration for Alice in Wonderland, one of the bestselling children’s stories of all time, is apparently based on a local girl, Alice Liddell, who was the daughter of the Dean of Christ Church, although this has never officially been confirmed. 

On top of this novel, which included many of the author’s own poems, he is best known for writing nonsensical poems of a fantastical nature.

Best known works:  

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice Through the Looking Glass, and The Jabberwocky.

T.S. Eliot, writer and graduate of Oxford University

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#5 T.S. Eliot

After studying at Harvard, Eliot gained a scholarship to Merton College although he is known for saying that he hated “university towns and university people, who are the same everywhere”. To escape he headed to London where he met Ezra Pound, who is created for helping to launch Eliot’s writing career.

He went on to work at the well-known publishing house, Faber and Faber, and went on to be awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948.

Best known works:

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, The Waste Land, and Murder in the Cathedral.

J.R.R. Tolkien, author of the Lord of the Rings and a member of the Inklings group at Oxford University

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#6 J.R.R. Tolkien

One of the famous Inklings, a literary discussion group who encouraged fantasy writing, and author of the epic Lord of the Rings trilogy, Tolkien was once named as one the greatest British writers of his time by The Times.

 With the making of the world-wide successful film series of the same name, Tolkien has once again, become a household name, with his books now being read by younger generations and people everywhere trying to recreate the perfect Hobbit hole.  

Best known works:

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings

Dorothy L. Sayers, graduate from Oxford, and crime writer of the Lord Wimsey Series

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#7 Dorothy L. Sayers

Sayers was a writer during the Golden Age of English Detective fiction and became one of the first women to gain a degree from Oxford, an experience that would influence her Peter Wimsey series.  On top of her crime writing, she is also known for her plays, literary criticisms, and essays. She also took on the insane task of translating Dante’s Divine Comedy.

Best known work:

The Lord Peter Wimsey series

C.S. Lewis. a member of the Inklings group and author of the Chronicles of Narnia

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#8 C.S. Lewis

Along with Tolkien, C.S. Lewis was a member of the Inklings literary group and one of the best-known fantasy writers ever to grace the corridors of Oxford University.

During his lifetime he wrote more than 30 books for both adults and children, including titles of a Christian nature, biographical works, essays, academic papers as well as his well-known fiction novels.

Best known works:

 The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Space Trilogy.

Aldous Huxley author of Brave New World

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#9 Aldous Huxley

Huxley was an English writer and Philosopher who wrote more than 50 books which included works of fiction and non-fiction, as well as a number of essays and poems.  Over his lifetime, he was nominated for a Nobel Prize in Literature no less than seven times.

His writing was often both witty and malicious while his later works became more satiric and expressed his distress of 20th-century trends in both politics and technology.

Best known works:

Brave New World, The Doors of Perception, The Perennial Philosophy, and The Devils of Loudun.

Evelyn Waugh author of Brideshead Revisited

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#10 Evelyn Waugh

Waugh wasn’t just an English novelist and travel writer, he was also a prolific journalist and book reviewer.  His works often reflected his own experiences, were varied and stylistic although he was not always looked on positively by critics.

Best known works:

Brideshead Revisited, A Handful of Dust and Sword of Honour.

William Golding, author of Lord of the Flies

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#11 Sir William Golding

Featuring on many English Literature syllabuses around the country, Golding’s debut novel is well-known by many.  As a result of his contribution to literature, he was knighted in 1988 as well as being a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Best known works:

The Lord of the Flies and Rites of Passage

Jill Paton Walsh author and Oxford Graduate

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#12 Jill Paton Walsh

Not only a novelist and children’s author in her own right but Walsh also opted to continue the work of Dorothy  L. Sayer and her Peter Wimsey detective series.  In her early writing years, she wrote a children’s book nearly every year which were often historical in their setting.

Walsh was also a well-respected crime writer, producing four detective novels set in a Cambridge College.  This led to the trustees of Sayer’s estate asking her to complete the Wimsey series. She was also nominated for a Booker prize in 2004.

Best known works:

Knowledge of Angels, the Imogen Quy mysteries, and the Peter Wimsey series.

Seamus Heaney, world famous poet

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#13 Seamus Heaney

Nobel Prize winner and professor of poetry at Oxford, Seamus Heaney is considered one of the main contributors of poetry in Ireland.  His work often reflected the local landscape in Northern Ireland and if naturalism wasn’t the main topic of his poems then politics did.

The Nobel Prize committee described his poetry as “works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past”.

Best known works:

Death of a Naturalist, North, Field Work, The Spirit Level, District and Circle, and Human Chain.

Dr Seuss famous author, cartoonist, illustrator.

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#14 Dr. Seuss

The famous children’s author was a graduate student at Oxford but opted not to complete his MPhil in English Literature and instead took a job as an illustrator.

As well as being an author of more than 60 books, he was a political cartoonist, poet, animator, screenwriter, and filmmaker.  His children’s books have sold more than 600 million copies and have been translated into more than 20 languages.

Best known works:

The Cat in the Hat and How the Grinch Stole Christmas

John Fowles author of The Collector

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#15 John Fowles

Although he considered writing while at Oxford, Fowles started out as a teacher, working in schools in both France and Greece. It was on the Greek Island of Spetses that he started to draft his book The Magus but continued to teach English as a foreign language for a further 10 years.

It was only after his first book was published in 1963 that he gave up teaching to concentrate fully on his literary career.

Best known works:

 The Collector and The French Lieutenant’s Woman.

#16 Graham Greene

After trying to commit suicide several times, Greene finally worked through his unhappiness to attend Oxford where he studied History at Balliol College. Before becoming a writer, he was a private tutor and then a journalist finally becoming a sub-editor at The Times.

Even after his first book was published he remained working as a freelance journalist completing film and book reviews to supplement his income.

Best known works:

The Man Within, The Quiet American, and Our Man in Havana.

Joanna Trollope, author and Oxford Graduate

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#17 Joanna Trollope

Joanne spent her early years after graduating as a teacher before becoming a full-time author in 1980. She began writing historical romances before moving on to contemporary fiction with several of her books becoming TV adaptations.

Best known works:

Parson Harding’s Daughter and The Rector’s Wife

John le Carre, author of some of the greatest spy novels and Oxford Graduate

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#18 John le Carré

 John le Carré worked for both MI5 and MI6 before becoming a writer and you have to wonder whether his experiences in the services helped him to create some of the most successful espionage novels of all time.

Best known works:

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, The Constant Gardener, and The Little Drummer Girl.

William Boyd author of A good Man in Africa

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#19 William Boyd

After studying for his Ph.D. at Oxford, he went on to lecture in the English department there while writing his first novel.  Due to his success as a writer, the estate of Ian Fleming asked for Boyd to continue the James Bond legacy.

Best known works:

A Good Man in Africa, and Any Human Heart.

V.S Naipaul Oxford Graduate and author

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#20 Sir V.S Naipaul

V. S. Naipaul was a Trinidad and Tobago-born British writer of works of fiction and nonfiction in English. Publishing over 50 books during a period of 30 years, some, taking inspiration from his childhood, reflected life back in Trinidad while others were travel books reflecting the history and brutality of the countries he visited. During the course of his life, he won both the Booker Prize in 1971 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001. In 1990 he was also awarded a British knighthood.

Best known works:

A House for Mr. Biswas, In a Free State, A Bend in the River and The Enigma of Arrival.

Helen Fielding author of Bridget Jones's diary

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#21 Helen Fielding

Her writing is said to have been one of the biggest things to influence female British Culture in the last few decades.  Originally started as a column in The independent, her female character, Bridget Jones, is a firm favourite for any woman needing a feel-good pick-me-up.

Best known works:

 Bridget Jones Series

Phillip Pullman author of His Dark Materials

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#22 Phillip Pullman

After graduating, Pullman started teaching his first book was published in 1995. From 1996 he continued to deliver talks and write occasionally for The Guardian but more of his time and effort went into his novel writing.

He has gone on to win several awards within the industry and is currently the President of the Society of Authors. He is also vocal on causes that are important to him and has recently supported a campaign for libraries to remain open.

Best known works:

His Dark Material Trilogy and The Book of Dust Trilogy.

York Literature Festival, Val McDermid, Author, Writer, Crime novels, Out of Bounds

Val McDermid

#23 Val McDermid

One of the biggest names in crime writing Val McDermid’s novels have been translated into over 40 languages.   She considers her work to fall into the Tartan Noir Scottish crime fiction genre and has won numerous awards including the Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger for Best Crime Novel of the Year. She has also

Best known works:

The Tony Hill Series (which became the Wire in the Blood TV series)

Vikram Seth author of A Suitable Boy

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#24 Vikram Seth

Born in Calcutta, Vikram later went on to study Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at Oxford.  He has gone on to write eight books of poetry and three novels, one of which has been adapted for TV.

Best known work:

 A Suitable Boy

Susanna Clarke author of Piranesi

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#25 Susanna Clarke

After graduating, Susanna went on to work in publishing for 8 years before teaching English as a foreign language in Turin, and Bilbao.  While working as an editor of cookbooks she started her first novel, a historical alternative set in 19th century England during the Napoleonic Wars.  It took a further 16 years before her next novel was published.

Best known works:

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and Piranesi

Mark Haddon author and Oxford Graduate

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#26 Mark Haddon

Acclaimed Children’s author and screenwriter, Haddon won the Whitebread Book of the Year Award for his first adult novel, although it was marketed for both adults and children.

Best known work:

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

That’s not all though…

On top of those that have studied or lectured at Oxford, Agatha Christie, the queen of mystery writing, lived nearby at Wallingford for many years, and Colin Dexter, although a graduate of Cambridge University lived in Oxford where he also set his well-known Inspector Morse series.

Have you read anything by the authors mentioned above? What are your most memorable books by Oxford authors?

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These 26 authors have all either attended Oxford university as a student or lecturer and are some of the best known authors in the world. Find out more via tbookjunkie about which famous authors you are associated with the oldest university in the uk

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