Life gives us many gifts. Some of them are beautiful and make us happy. Others come in ugly packages; they’re painful to open and difficult to survive. We draw upon this mixed bag of gifts as older writers.
By the time we’re over 40 or 60, or any age you choose, we’ve known love, joy, pain, heartache, and loss intimately. We’ve gotten knocked around, and we’re usually better for it, but even if we aren’t, we still have something to say.
Are older writers late bloomers? Who decides when blooming should begin? Maybe we’re meant to produce our most beautiful blooms when we’re 30 or perhaps 75. So many cliches, I know. I think we experience many chapters in our lives. The chapter when we write arrives when it does.
The book world values “fresh voices,” “new talents,” “emerging artists” with lists of the best writers under 30 or 40. There’s less attention to the writers who are over 40 who possess those same qualities.
All ages come with their unique and beautiful gifts. Writers of all ages, no matter when they begin, can find their voices and contribute their unique gifts to the written word.
Many writers didn’t find their success until they became experienced in life. This is not a new phenomenon.
- Mary Anne Evans wrote seven novels under her pen name, George Eliot. She published Adam Bede when she was 39 and Middlemarch, her masterpiece when she was in her fifth decade.
- English writer, Daniel Defoe, one of my favorite writers, was almost 60 when he completed Robinson Crusoe in 1719.
- American writer, Mark Twain had his first novels published in his forties. Tom Sawyer at 41 and Huckleberry Finn when he was 49.
- Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov were written when Fyodor Dostoevsky was in his mid-40s
Not every writer will win a Nobel or Pulitzer Prize for their work, or like Toni Morrison, both, but many prize winners began their writing career later in life as she did.
- Frank McCourt won the Pulitzer Prize for literature for Angela’s Ashes. He was 66 years old when it was published.
- Edward P. Jones, won the Pulitzer Prize for The Known world when he was 53 after he began writing in his 40s
- Nobel Prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez was forty when One Hundred Years of Solitude was published.
- Harriet Doerr was 74 years old when her first novel, Stones of Ibarra won the National Book award.
- Viet Thanh Nguyen wrote his first novel The Sympathizer when he was 44. He won the Pulitzer Prize for that book in 2016
If she had lived and written in another time in history, Zora Neale Hurston, who began writing in her 40’s, might have won a Pulitzer for Their Eyes Were Watching God. It is one of the most commonly taught novels in American schools today.
There are other notable writers who began writing later in life.
- Laura Ingalls Wilder was in her 40s when she began writing. Her popular book, Little House in the Big Woods, was published almost 20 years later.
- Charles Bukowski started writing when he was young only to give it up. He began writing poetry in his late 50s. His first published novel Post Office was published when he was 51.
- William S. Burroughs published his first book at 40 and Naked Lunch at 46.
Several best selling authors also had their first works published in their 40s including JK Rowling, Joseph Heller, and James Michener who published 40 books after turning 40.
There are many more writers over 40 writing contemporary fiction than it’s possible to list.
We all have our unique artistic journeys. Very few of us fit a standard mold or timeline. Don’t worry if you haven’t published your book yet, or if you’re just beginning to write; there’s time.