Authors Who Started Later in Life

While I’ve published short stories, magazine, and Internet articles, besides self-publishing an academic book, I have not published with traditional or digital methods. Not that self-publishing is bad, there is still a stigma attached to many self-published works, simply because there are well written manuscripts but even more poorly written ones. Having entered a new decade, I wanted to find successful authors who were late bloomers. There are more than you might think.

Toni Morrison may have won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction in 1988 for her epic novel, Beloved, but you may not know she had her first novel published at 40. That novel, The Bluest Eye was published while Morrison was an editor at Random House that marked the beginning of her extraordinary literary career. In 1989 she become a professor at Princeton, continuing to produce great works including Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (1992). In recognition of her contributions as a writer, she received the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature. Morrison was the first African-American woman to be selected for this award.

Emma Bombeck was also 40 when her first book, At Wit’s End, was published. The humorist wrote a newspaper column starting in the Ketterling-Oakwood Times, eventually being syndicated in hundreds of papers.

Janet Evanovich was 44 when she sold her first book to Bantam Loveswept. Seven years later Evanovich began her popular Jersey Bounty Hunter Stephanie Plum series.

Ian Fleming was also 44 when he created the world’s greatest spy, James Bond, in Casino Royale.

Laura Ingalls Wilder launched her writing career in 1911, around the age of 44. She began by writing the leading agriculture newspaper in Missouri, The Missouri Ruralist. Laura’s daughter, Rose, a well-known writer, encouraged her mother to write for national audiences. In May 1930, Laura finished Pioneer Girl, her first book an autobiography focusing on her childhood and adolescence. The work was unsuccessful, but an unabbreviated version became the first book in Wilder’s Little House series.

Alex Haley had a full 20-year career in the United State Coast Guard before he published his first book, The Autobiography of Malcolm X in 1965 at 44. Co-written with Malcolm X, the work sold more than 5 million copies, launching Haley’s writing career. Haley is probably best known for his book, Roots, which he published at 55 and become a ground-breaking television miniseries in 1977.

Richard Adams is best known for the book, Watership Down, his first, which he published at the age of 53. The book became a phenomenon, selling millions of copies in 18 languages. In 1974, Adams retired from the civil service in London to take up writing full-time.

Daniel Defoe first worked as a journalist writing political pamphlets, some of which landed him in jail in 1713. At the age of 59 in 1719, Defoe took a new literary path, publishing the fictional Robinson Crusoe.

Frank McCourt published his first and Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Angela’s Ashes, when he was 66.

These are just a few of the authors who started later in life and went on to find success. The forties seem to be the most common age when author’s find their literary calling and make it happen. I look at my own life and realize my passion for writing didn’t take off until my mid-thirties, during the writing my master’s thesis. It is never too late to write!

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