A Saturday Rumpus Index For the Conspicuously Old


I spent my 20s dilly-dallying, not-publishing, so sure of rejection by MFA programs that I never applied. So I am always happy to find new examples of people who did not start publishing until later in life. Until after, say, the age of 35. The Millions has a good series on Late Bloomers, but I am a woman who prefers to comfort herself with a collection of cold, hard facts. So, in Harper’s Index style, here are a number of writers I love who got started late in life:.

Age at which Wallace Stevens published Harmonium, his first book of poetry: 44.

Age at which George Saunders published CivilWarLand in Bad Decline: 38.

Age at which Janet Malcolm published her first book of essays, Diana and Nikon: Essays on the Aesthetic of Photography : 46.

Age at which Norman Rush published his first book, Whites: 53.

Age at which Alice Munro published her first collection of stories, Dance of the Happy Shades: 37.

Age at which Penelope Fitzgerald published her first book, a biography of Edward Burne-Jones: 59.

Age at which Willa Cather published her first novel, Alexander’s Bridge: 39.

Age at which Toni Morrison published her first novel, The Bluest Eye: 39.

Age at which Marilynne Robinson published her first novel, Housekeeping: 37.

Age at which Mary Anne Evans, a.k.a. George Eliot, published Adam Bede: 40.

Another favoured mode of self-soothing is checking out when writers publish their best work, which is to say, generally late in life:

Age at which Wallace Stevens, discouraged by the reviews of Harmonium, published his second book of poetry, Ideas of Order: 56.

Age at which Rebecca West published Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: 49.

Age at which Janet Malcolm published her masterpiece, The Journalist and the Murderer, as a New Yorker serial: 55.

Age at which Edith Wharton published The House of Mirth: 43.

Age at which Marilynne Robinson published her second novel, Gilead: 61.

Age at which Willa Cather published Death Comes for the Archbishop: 54.

Age at which Toni Morrison published Beloved: 56.

Age at which Virginia Woolf published Mrs. Dalloway: 43.

Age at which Junot Díaz published The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao: 39.

Age at which Robertson Davies published Fifth Business: 57.

Age at which Ian McEwan published Atonement: 53.

Age at which Eudora Welty published The Optimist’s Daughter: 63.

Feel better now? I certainly do. Feel free to add your own examples.

I need to cut today a little short, so that’s it for this week; back next.

N.B.: A few corrections have been made to this post since it initially appeared, specifically to the Janet Malcolm and Norman Rush entries, which I got a little wrong initially.

Michelle Dean has written for a variety of places, including The Awl, ELLE and Bitch. More from this author →