Writing isn’t just a young person’s game. Many authors who didn’t start writing until they were in their fifties, sixties, and seventies (and older!) have made their mark with critics and readers.
Jonathan Safran Foer published Everything Is Illuminated at age 25 and Haruki Murakami’s first novel, Hear the Wind Sing,, was published when he was 29 — and they’re far from the only notable authors to start young. For aspiring writers, especially those not in their twenties or thirties, it can be all too easy to look at the career timelines of literature’s most publicized stars and think that it’s a game best left to the young.
A closer look reveals a different truth: Whether you’re 20 or 90, it’s never too late to start writing and publish your first book. Here’s a wide-ranging sample of authors, from pioneers to presidents, who published their first work in the second half of their life.
Frank McCourt’s first book, Angela’s Ashes, won a Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography, earned a National Book Critics Circle Award, and was adapted into a major motion picture. He was 66 when it was published.
Angela’s Ashes, which recounted McCourt’s upbringing in poverty in Ireland and the United States, was just the beginning for the author. He penned several more books before his death, including ’Tis in 1999 and Teacher Man in 2005, which chronicle his experiences living and teaching high school in New York City.
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Born into a Wisconsin pioneer family, Laura Ingalls Wilder drew on her childhood experiences on the American frontier to create the hugely popular Little House on the Prairie series.
Wilder first honed her storytelling skills as a schoolteacher and then as a writer and editor for Missouri Ruralist and other publications. When her family lost much of its net worth in the stock market crash of 1929, she began work on what would become her first book, Little House in the Big Woods. It was published by Harper & Brothers in 1932, when Wilder was 64. She would go on to complete a total of eight autobiographical children’s novels in the still-beloved series.
In addition to creating Mr. Magoo, Millard Kaufman had an extensive career as a screenwriter, earning several Oscar nominations for his work. His first novel, though, came out towards the end of his life. Entitled Bowl of Cherries, the book was published in 2007, when Kaufman was 90 years old.
Kaufman didn’t stop there; his second novel, Misadventure, was published after the author’s death two years later.
Ulysses S. Grant
The 18th president of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant, created his renowned Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant in his final years. He rushed to complete the work before succumbing to throat cancer in hopes of having the book support his family in perpetuity. Despite being in significant pain during the memoir’s creation, Grant regularly completed dozens of pages per day.
The book was published (by Mark Twain, interestingly enough) upon Grant’s death in 1885 and quickly became a bestseller. Grant was 63 when he passed.
Born in the early 1900s, Harriet Doerr grew up in wealth as the granddaughter of a California railroad developer. She attended Stanford University but left in her junior year to raise a family. In the 1950s, she and her husband moved to Mexico, where they stayed until his death in 1972.
Afterwards, Doerr moved back to California, finished her degree at Stanford, and drafted her first novel, Stones for Ibarra, a story inspired by her time in Mexico. The book received the National Book Award for First Work of Fiction when it was published in 1984. Doerr was 74 at the time.
A former BBC political journalist and communications director for the Refugee Council, Tim Finch is the author of the 2013 debut novel, House of Journalists, which was published when he was 51.
“Writing is obviously a solitary exercise,” Finch told The Telegraph in 2017. “If it’s something you turn to in middle age, you often don’t have many or any contacts in the literary world.” Finch and dozens more novelists who first published after the age of 40 banded together into an organization called The Prime Writers, a group that Finch described to The Telegraph as existing to help “people in their ‘prime’ to realize it is certainly not too late to write that novel and get it published.”
When it comes to authors who first published in the second half of life, this sampling is just the beginning — so if you’re in your fifties or above and are working hard on your first book, you’re in excellent company.
Do you have any favorite authors who started publishing in middle age or beyond? Do you fit in that category yourself? Tell us in the comments below.
Famous Authors Who Died Before They Were Famous
Voices Silenced: 12 Authors Who Died in 2017
A historical tour of pen names [Infographic]
Are You A Writer, Or Someone Who Dreams Of Being A Writer?
Use Positive Language To Build Yourself Up