s an aspiring writer, or even just as an adult who feels as though they haven’t yet put out anything of meaning into the world, we’re here to tell you that it’s okay you haven’t done so yet.
Everyone has their own timeline. This is a widely accepted concept in regard to the age at which someone chooses to get married or have children, so why should it be any different for the age at which one accomplishes their greatest feat?
There are many celebrated authors who published their greatest work well into adulthood, so let these authors serve as a reminder that your best work might be yet to come.
1. Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison, who is known for devoting the central theme of her novels to the Black American experience, was 40 years old when her first novel The Bluest Eye was published in 1970.
She went on to write Sula in 1973, the critically acclaimed Song of Solomon in 1977, and later Beloved in 1987.
She didn’t receive national attention until Song of Solomon won the National Book Critics Award in 1978, when she was 48 years old.
2. Carriane Leung
Next on the list is Carriane Leung, who we’d like to mention not only because she didn’t publish her first novel The Wondrous Woo until she was 45 in 2013, but also because she has some wise words to say about her experience publishing later in life.
Leung went on to write a short story collection titled That Time I Loved You in 2018, which won her the Danuta Gleed Literary Award in 2019.
3. J.R.R. Tolkien
J.R.R Tolkien, author of The Hobbit (1937) and The Lord of the Rings (1954), is widely known as the father of modern fantasy literature, but much less widely known is that he didn’t publish The Hobbit until he was 45 years old.
Tolkien’s work is said to have paved the way for subsequent fantasy works in literature such as George R.R. Martin’s book series A Song of Ice and Fire (often referred to as its TV adaption name Game of Thrones) and the videogame Dungeons and Dragons. Without J.R.R Tolkien’s perseverance, we may never have had all of these later works that he inspired.
4. Mark Twain
Throwing it back a bit to the late nineteenth century, we have Mark Twain who didn’t publish his first book The Innocents Abroad (1869) until he was 41 years of age.
He went on to write The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in 1876 and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in 1884, which you most likely read or at least heard of when you were in grammar school.
Lauded as the "greatest humorist the United States has produced" and "the father of American literature,” publishing at the age of 41 only helped rather than hurt Twain.
5. George Saunders
George Saunders, author of the bestselling experimental novel Lincoln in the Bardo (2017), didn’t get his start until he was 37.
Well, that’s not entirely true. Saunders worked as a geophysical prospector in Indonesia, a roofer in Chicago, a doorman in Beverly Hills, and a technical writer in Rochester, New York before publishing his first book of short stories CivilWarLand in Bad Decline in 1996.
Saunders is the author of eleven books and was named one of the world’s 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine in 2013.
Saunders is also living proof that you can do other things before becoming an author. Seriously, he has a degree in Geophysics from the Colorado School of Mines and still went on to win the Man Booker Prize in 2017 for best work of fiction in English.
6. Laura Ingalls Wilder
Throwing it back to the late nineteenth century yet again, if the name Little House on the Prairie rings a bell, you may be interested to know that author Laura Ingalls Wilder didn’t publish the first book in this famous series until she was 65 years old.
The Little House on the Prairie series was a children’s book series published between 1932 and 1943 based on Wilder’s childhood being raised in a settler and pioneer family in the American Midwest between 1870 and 1894.
With encouragement from her daughter, Wilder began writing down the memories of her childhood which grew to become the The Little House on the Prairie series that is still cherished today.
7. Bram Stoker
Bram Stoker, Irish author of the Gothic horror novel Dracula (1897), didn’t commit himself to publishing his longer works until he was 43 years old.
Stoker published his first novel The Snake’s Pass in 1890. It centers on the legend of Saint Patrick defeating the King of the Snakes in Ireland.
He went on to write Dracula in 1897, which first introduced the character of Dracula and many conventions of subsequent vampire fantasy. His novel has also inspired countless adaptations. I mean, would Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series even be here if it wasn’t for Bram Stoker?
8. Anthony Burgess
Anthony Burgess, author of the controversial 1962 novel A Clockwork Orange, didn’t publish until he was 39 years of age.
Before becoming a writer, Burgess served in the military, worked as a teacher, and organized amateur theater productions. It was while teaching in Malaya that he fell ill and began to write. His first novel, Time for a Tiger was published in 1956 and became the first of a trilogy titled The Malayan Trilogy.
A Clockwork Orange, Burgess’ most famous work, came out later in 1962. The novel is set in a near-future dystopian society and is concerned with the conflict between the individual and the state, the punishment of young criminals, and the possibility or otherwise of redemption. Its impact on culture - literary, musical, and visual - has been extensive. For example, Heath Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker in The Dark Knight (2008) was inspired, in part, by A Clockwork Orange.
9. George Eliot
Mary Ann Evans, better known by her pen name George Eliot, was one of the leading writers in the Victorian era - and she didn’t publish her first novel until she was 40 years old.
Her first book, Adam Bede, was published in 1859 and her seminal novel Middlemarch in 1871.
Middlemarch is lauded as perhaps the greatest Victorian novel because it captures the idealism, disillusion, social unrest, and complexity of romantic relationships in England in the mid-nineteenth century.
Not only did Eliot publish “late in life,” but she also published under a male pen name so that her work would be taken seriously at a time when female writers were associated with silly, romantic novels. And she still managed to publish one of the greatest Victorian novels.
10. Daniel Defoe
Daniel Defoe did not publish his debut novel Robinson Crusoe (1719) until he was 59 years old.
After giving up on his initial intent of becoming a minister, he went into business where he traveled often, selling goods such as wine and wool. He later became a political writer and journalist. It wasn’t until 1719 that his writing took a literary turn and he published Robinson Crusoe.
Claimed to be second only to the Bible in its number of translations, Robinson Crusoe is one of the world’s most famous adventure novels. Defoe went on to write a handful of novels including Captain Singleton (1720), Moll Flanders (1722), Colonel Jack (1722), Journal of the Plague Year (1722), and his last major fiction piece Roxana (1724). Defoe then returned to writing editorial pieces.
Let these authors serve as a reminder to you that there is no such thing as “late in life.” It’s never too late into adulthood to publish your writing. And who knows, your writing might just have a huge impact on the world like the work of these authors did.
Main image courtesy of Rolling Stone.