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Are questions about authors on-topic, or just their works? For example, asking about authors' lives, motivations, interviews, or anything relating to their work.

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I would say that they would be on-topic, but only insofar as they relate to an author's literary life.

We had a similar issue on History of Science and Mathematics early on. Would a question about Einstein's favorite style of eggs be on-topic? Obviously not, because, as far as we know, eggs did not have any role in Einstein's scientific work. Extrapolating that here, I don't think that a question about J. R. R. Tolkien's favorite sandwich should be on-topic, but I do think that a question about whether certain portions of his books related to certain events in his life should be on-topic.

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  • Agreed that questions should only be related to their literary works. – Devar-TTY Jan 19 '17 at 16:20
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    Did JRRT <strike>program</strike> write on a boat? – DVK Jan 19 '17 at 17:00
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    OTOH, given how much GRRMartin goes on and on and on about food, it might well be considered on-topic to ask what his favorite sandwich is, and whether it shows up in ASOIAF. – Lauren-Clear-Monica-Ipsum Jan 19 '17 at 22:47
  • @LaurenIpsum You think GRRM goes on about food? Try reading the Redwall books. – Rand al'Thor Mar 1 '17 at 23:16
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    This is trivially bypassed: "Does JRRT have a favourite sandwich and does he mention it in any of his books?" We need a way to judge questions which don't require answers to tell us if they're topical. – BESW Mar 1 '17 at 23:32
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Counterpoint: They should be on-topic. How do we predetermine whether or not a particular biographical detail is relevant to a writer's work?

For example, if someone asks a question such as this:

Was writer Foo fond of lollipops? The city Bar where he spent some time during the summer holidays when he was a schoolboy is famous for lollipops.

... it might at first blush seem like a trivial detail that has nothing to do with Foo's work and so a candidate for closure. But a priori we can't tell. An expert on Foo might be able to draw connections between lollipops and some of Foo's work. Perhaps a schoolboy character in one of Foo's plays is depicted as being overly fond of lollipops. Or perhaps a weird edible currency he says is used on a distant planet in one of his fantasy novels suddenly becomes less weird when we realize that this currency is based on the lollipops of Bar.

Even if such connections aren't already known, some future scholar might draw them. Or some unpublished manuscript of Foo's might turn out to be all about Bar lollipops. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence—just because the relevance of this detail is not known yet, it doesn't mean that there is no relevance.

History of Science and Mathematics may have decided such details are irrelevant for their purposes, but it doesn't follow that they are irrelevant for ours as well.

I'm not claiming this is a good question. It is a bad one. I'm claiming, however, that it can't be judged as off-topic. To become a good question, it does need to be related to the work somehow, rather than staying at the level of biographical detail. But I think it could easily be recast as a good, indisputably on-topic question:

Writer Foo spent some time in city Bar during summer holidays as a schoolboy. Bar is famous for its lollipops. Do any of his surviving letters from his schooldays or later mention Bar or its lollipops? Do the city and/or lollipops figure in Foo's work? For example, is there a character in any of his stories that is inordinately fond of lollipops, or detests them?

And an enterprising answer might say:

Foo's poem Baz was written shortly after he was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. The following lines are often said to be about the eyes of his lost love. But in the light of this detail about his schooldays, they can be interpreted as a hankering after the lollipopular pleasures of his childhood: "Barred now from the sweet, bright orbs / that delighted my heart in days gone by."

You never know.

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  • This is definitely a good point, but it brings up the next question of what do we count as an author? Since speeches and quote-source questions are on-topic, does that mean asking about any detail about the life of boris-spassky or winston-churchill would be on-topic here? – Rand al'Thor Apr 27 at 18:48
  • @Randal'Thor Fair question, but different from the question being asked here. I'm wondering why we let the Spassky question stand as relevant to our site in the first place. Do we consider proverbs or aphorisms literature, irrespective of their context? – verbose Apr 28 at 3:40

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