23 Writers Who Were Famous by Age 23
While it's not as easy for authors to become famous at a young age as it is for pop singers, it's still not unheard of for barely legal authors to find fame, success, and even fortune. Here are 23 authors who manager to achieve fame—though not always positive—by age 23.
1-2. Guptara Twins
Date of Birth: November 22, 1988
Best Known For: The Insanity Saga (fantasy trilogy)
At age 11, the UK-born but Swiss-based fraternal Guptara twins completed the first draft of their first novel, Conspiracy of Calaspia. At 15, Jyoti was published in The Wall Street Journal. By age 17, their Conspiracy of Calaspia had become a bestseller; Jyoti and Suresh are considered two of the world's youngest bestselling authors. At age 20, the twins were selected as two of the "100 Most Important Swiss" by Schweizer Illustrierte magazine. That same year, the second book in the saga, Warrior Code/Codex Cumulus, was released in German. Now 23, the twins have recently completed book three in their saga.
Image: Promotional photo from the twins' website
3-4. Winner Twins
Date of Birth: c.1995 (not publicized)
Best Known For: The Strand Prophecy (sci-fi trilogy)
By age 12, identical twins Brianna and Brittany had completed their first novel, The Strand Prophecy. At age 13, their book reached national distribution through Barnes & Noble. By the end of 10th grade, Brianna and Brittany had completed 4 novels, a screenplay, a comic book, and a guide to writing. At age 17, the twins were featured on the "Young Icons" show on the CW earlier this year. The third and final novel in their Strand series and the first book in a new series are expected to be published this year, all before they graduate high school. Oh, and to top it all off, they're dyslexic.
Image: Promotional photo from the twins' website
5. Gordon Korman
Date of Birth: October 23, 1963
Best Known For: Macdonald Hall (children's series)
At age 12, in 7th grade, Korman sent one of his completed writing assignments in to Scholastic; the manuscript was published that same year as This Can't Be Happening at Macdonald Hall, which became the first in a series. At 17, Korman received an Air Canada Award for promising authors in Canada. By the end of high school, he had published five books. At age 23, he had 11 books in print. Now 48, his books--more than 75 of them--have sold upwards of 7 million copies. One of his series, The Monday Night Football Club, was turned into the 4-season TV show "The Jersey" on the Disney Channel; Macdonald Hall, that series he started in 7th grade, was optioned as a TV show, but not produced.
Image: Promotional photo
6. Mary Shelley
Date of Birth: August 30, 1797
Best Known For: Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus
When she was almost 17 years old, Mary Godwin fell in love with Percy Shelley, who was five years her senior; just before her 17th birthday, they ran away to France together. Before she was even 18, she had given birth and suffered the death of her baby. At age 18, she gave birth to a son. At age 19, Mary came up with the idea for Frankenstein while spending the summer in Switzerland and she began writing the manuscript. Later that year, she married Percy Shelley and gave birth to a daughter. Before her 20th birthday, Mary had completed the Frankenstein manuscript. When she was 20, Mary edited and published History of a Six Weeks' Tour, journaling her group's 1814 trip. At age 21, her novel was published, though anonymously, leaving readers to assume the author was Percy Shelley. Also while 21, she endured the deaths of both her children, but gave birth to another son at age 22. During that time, she wrote 2 novels and 2 plays.
Image: Miniature by Reginald Easton
7. Percy Shelley
Date of Birth: August 4, 1792
Best Known For: "Ozymandias" and Ode to the West Wind
By 18, Shelley published one novel, Zastrozzi, and 2 collections of poetry, one with his sister Elizabeth and the other with his friend Thomas Jefferson Hogg. At age 18, while attending Oxford, he published another novel, St. Irvyne; or, The Rosicrucian, and a treatise on atheism. The pamphlet got him in trouble with the administration at Oxford, resulting in his expulsion at age 18. Shortly after turning 19, Shelley eloped with a 16-year-old, Harriet Westbrook.Age 20 brought the publication of a ballad, The Devil's Walk. By age 21, he had published another major poem, Queen Mab. When he was 22, he abandoned his pregnant wife Harriet and ran away with 16-year-old Mary Godwin. Before he turned 24, Shelley published 3 more works.
Image: "Percy Bysshe Shelley" by Alfred Clint
8. Minou Drouet
Date of Birth: July 24, 1947
Best Known For: Arbre, Mon Ami
By age 6, Drouet reportedly was not yet speaking but, when she heard a Brahms symphony, she swooned, and began speaking upon awakening. She also began to write poetry. When she was 8 years old, Drouet's poetry was read and discussed by the French writing community, with some believing the young girl's adoptive mother was the true author. Within a year, Drouet had proven her ability by writing poems solo in front of witnesses, including a test for admission to France's Society of Authors, Composers and Music Publishers. When Drouet was about 9 years old, André Parinaud published a book about her, L'Affaire Minou Drouet. In 1957, at 10 years old, Drouet published her first book, Arbre mon ami, which was, according to the New Yorker, "phenomenally successful." From roughly age 10 to age 18, Drouet was on tour as both an author and a musician--she played piano and guitar. During that time, she published 3 more books. Around age 19, she took a 2-year hiatus from public life before becoming a singer-songwriter and children's novelist around age 21.
Before age 23, Drouet had published 2 more books.
Image: Book cover
9. Alec Greven
Date of Birth: c.1999 (not publicized)
Best Known For: How to Talk to Girls (children's book)
At just 9 years old, Greven published his first book, How to Talk to Girls, which started out as a project for school. Between February 2008 and April 2009, he appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Late Night with Conan O'Brien, and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. By January 4, 2009, the book had made it onto the New York Times bestseller list. In 2009, Greven published three more books: How to Talk to Moms, How to Talk to Dads, and How to Talk to Santa. In 2010, at roughly 11-years-old, he published Rules for School. His books are available in 17 countries.
Image: Promotional photo
10. Hilda Conkling
Date of Birth: 1910
Best Known For: Poems by a Little Girl (collection of poetry)
When she was 4 years old, Hilda Conkling began composing poetry, reciting them to her mother, who would record the poems. Mrs. Conkling would later read the poems back to her daughter, who would correct anything her mother had recorded incorrectly. Between ages 4 and 10, Hilda wrote most of her poetry; during that time, her poems were published in magazines, including Good Housekeeping. At age 10, her first collection of poetry was published, Poems by a Little Girl. At age 12, her second collection, Shoes of the Wind, was published, followed by a third collection, Silverhorn, at age 14. When she was 15, her poems were included in the anthology Silver Pennies.
Image: Book jacket photo by James Chapin
11. Helen Keller
Date of Birth: June 27, 1880
Best Known For: The Story of My Life (her autobiography)
At 19 months, Keller fell ill and was left both deaf and blind. When she was 6, she was able to communicate with her family through a collection of more than 60 gestures developed over the years. Shortly before Keller's 7th birthday, Anne Sullivan arrived to serve as her instructor. At age 11, Keller wrote a short story, "The Frost King," that she sent as a gift to the head of the Perkins School for the Blind; the story was then published in the school's alumni magazine, followed by a deaf-blind education journal, The Goodson Gazette. A controversy erupted over the story, which was said to be strikingly similar to Margaret Canby's "Frost Fairies." At age 12, Keller endured a "trial" of sorts at Perkins, including a 2-hour interrogation; although the trial ended in Keller's favor, Michael Anagnos, the head of Perkins, had lost all trust in Keller and Sullivan, and Keller suffered a nervous breakdown. When she was 22, while attending Radcliffe College, Keller published her autobiography, The Story of My Life.
Image: Photo from the Library of Congress
12. Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud
Date of Birth: October 20, 1854
Best Known For: Une Saison en Enfer (extended poem)
At age 15, Rimbaud's poem "Les Étrennes des orphelins" ("The Orphans' New Year's Gift") became his first poem in print when it was published in Revue pour tous. At age 16, Rimbaud wrote "Le Bateau ivre," which he sent to the poet Paul Verlaine as an introduction. A month before his 17th birthday, Rimbaud travelled to Paris at the request of Verlaine and began a brief but torrid affair with the older poet. Shortly before his 18th birthday, Rimbaud left Paris with Verlaine, who abandoned his wife and child, to move to London. When he was almost 19, Rimbaud returned to Paris; when Verlaine later joined him, the reunion did not go well, and Verlaine shot at Rimbaud in a drunken rage, hitting Rimbaud in the wrist. (As a result of the ensuing police investigation into the attempted murder as well as the two men's relationship, Verlaine received a 2-year prison sentence.) When he was 19, Rimbaud published Une Saison en Enfer, Rimbaud's first and only work published by himself. By age 20, Rimbaud had given up creative writing for good. When he was 21, he enlisted in the Dutch Colonial Army, but subsequently deserted once he got to the Dutch East Indies. (Though Rimbaud had only one published work before the age of 23, he had many other poems circulating through the French literary scene, and he was well-known, if in large part for his relationship with Verlaine.)
Image: Photo by Étienne Carjat
13. Barbara Newhall Follett
Date of Birth: March 4, 1914
Best Known For: The House Without Windows
By age 4, Follett was already writing poetry. At age 12, she wrote her first novel, The House Without Windows, with help from her father, Wilson Follett, a critic and editor. When she was 13, Follett's book was published by Knopf to great acclaim, bringing fame to the young author. At age 14, she published The Voyage of the Norman D. to more critical acclaim; that same year, her father walked out on the family. Over the next few years, Follett wrote several more manuscripts, but she never published anything else, and she disappeared at age 25.
Image: Photo from Follett's family's collection, via her website
14. Amelia Atwater-Rhodes
Date of Birth: April 16, 1984
Best Known For: In the Forests of the Night (YA fantasy)
When she was 13, Atwater-Rhodes wrote her first novel, though she had more than a dozen stories in development, and first met her agent. At age 15, Atwater-Rhodes saw the publication of In the Forests of the Night, her first book, though it was a year later than expected. The month following her 16th birthday, she published Demon in My View, a sequel to her first book. At age 17, Atwater-Rhodes graduated high school a year early and published Shattered Moon, her third book. About 8 months after the publication of Shattered Moon, when she was 18, Atwater-Rhodes published Midnight Predator. At age 19, she published her fifth novel, Hawksong, her first non-vampire book, which won Best Book of the Year from the School Library Journal.Age 20 saw the publication of Snakecharm, followed by Falcondance at age 21, Wolfcry at age 22, and Wyvernhail at age 23. In the meantime, she had also managed to graduate magna cum laude with a double major from University of Massachusetts Boston and was featured in numerous publications, including Seventeen and The New Yorker.
Image: Promotional photo
15. Christopher Paolini
Date of Birth: November 17, 1983
Best Known For: Eragon (YA fantasy)
At age 15, Paolini graduated high school and then began writing his first book. Three years later, when he was 18, his book Eragon was published by his parents' company and Paolini embarked on a 135-stop promotion tour. That same year, Eragon was discovered by Carl Hiaasen and bought by Knopf. When he was 19, Paolini's book was re-published and landed on the New York Times bestseller list. At age 21, Paolini wrote an essay for the anthology Guys Write for Guys Read and published his second book in the Inheritance Cycle series, Eldest. At just 23 years old, Paolini saw his first novel adapted into a major motion picture.
Image: Photo by Wikimedia users Rafael-a-ribeiro and Ptyx
16. Alexander Pope
Date of Birth: May 21, 1688
Best Known For: The Rape of the Lock
As a child of 12, Pope wrote "Ode on Solitude," which was not published at the time but would later be included in most anthologies of his work. When he was 21, Pope rocketed to fame with the publication of his Pastorals as part of the publisher Jacob Tonson's Poetical Miscellanies. Right around his 23rd birthday, Pope released An Essay on Criticism, which, though published anonymously, was also well-received. (The Rape of the Lock, arguably Pope's most famous work, was first published when he was 24.)
Image: Painting by Jonathan Richardson
17. S.E. Hinton
Date of Birth: July 22, 1950
Best Known For: The Outsiders (YA fiction)
At age 15, Hinton began work on her first book, and she completed the book at age 16. When she was 18, her first novel, The Outsiders, was released under the initials S.E. instead of the name Susan to avoid any sexism or prejudice. For 3 years, Hinton suffered writer's block as a result of the publicity and pressure--including being dubbed "The Voice of the Youth"--surrounding The Outsiders. Over the course of 1970, Hinton wrote her second book in two-page-a-day increments; she married her boyfriend a few months after completing the manuscript during the summer she turned 20. In 1971, she published her second novel, That Was Then, This Is Now. Both of Hinton's pre-23-years-old novels were adapted into major motion pictures.
Image: Promotional photo
18. Joyce Maynard
Date of Birth: November 5, 1953
Best Known For: At Home in the World (memoir)
At age 12, Maynard won her first student writing prize from the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards; she also won in 1967, 1968, 1970, and 1971. As a teenager, she was a writer for Seventeen magazine while she attended Phillips Exeter Academy for high school. At age 17, as she started classes at Yale, Maynard submitted her work to the New York Times Magazine, who hired her to write an article. When she was 18, her article "An Eighteen Year Old Looks Back on Life was published in The New York Times Magazine, which lead to a complimentary letter from 53-year-old J.D. Salinger. Before her 19th birthday, Maynard had exchanged 25 letters with Salinger, had dropped out of school following her freshman year, and had moved in with Salinger at his home in New Hampshire, where Maynard stayed for 10 months. In 1973, Maynard published her first book, the memoir Looking Back, in which Salinger is not mentioned, at his request. At age 20, she bought her first house with the proceeds from her memoir. Between the ages of 20 and 23, Maynard contributed to the CBS radio and television series "Spectrum." In 1975 at the ripe old age of 23, she was hired as a general reporter at the New York Times. (Maynard is most well-known for her 1999 memoir, At Home in the World, as it was the first time she revealed her relationship with Salinger in writing.)
Image: The cover of the New York Times Magazine featuring Maynard
19. William Cullen Bryant
Date of Birth: November 3, 1794
Best Known For: "Thanatopsis" (poem)
When he was 13, Bryant published "The Embargo," a satirical poem attacking President Thomas Jefferson; the poem quickly sold out, necessitating a second (expanded) edition, due in part to publicity over Bryant's age. Sometime around 1813 (or earlier or later, depending on your source), when Bryant was a young adult, he wrote what would become known as "Thanatopsis." When he was 21, Bryant was inspired to write the poem "To a Waterfowl" after watching a duck flying across the sunset. (The poem was not published for another 2.5 years.) In 1816, he began practicing law, since poetry didn't pay very well. When Bryant was 22 years old, his father submitted some of his son's verses to the North American Review, where the pieces were joined together and given the title "Thanatopsis" (though it was mistakenly attributed to Mr. Bryant instead of his son); the poem was well-received.
Image: Painting by Wyatt Eaton
20. Kaavya Viswanathan
Date of Birth: c.1986 (not publicized)
Best Known For: How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life (YA fiction)
While in high school, the India-born but America-based Viswanathan showed an assortment of her writing to her private college admissions counselor, was then signed to the William Morris Agency, and received a two-book deal with Little, Brown and Company. During the summer after high school and her freshman year at Harvard, Viswanathan completed the manuscript for her first book. When Viswanathan was a 19-year-old sophomore, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life was published, the movie rights were bought by DreamWorks, and Viswanathan was featured in the New York Times. But less than a month after the book's release, Viswanathan became embroiled in controversy when allegations of plagiarism were raised. By the end of Viswanathan's sophomore year, she had been accused of plagiarizing 5 different prominent authors: Megan McCafferty, Salman Rushdie, Sophie Kinsella, Meg Cabot, and Tanuja Desai Hidier. By the start of her junior year, Viswanathan had been interviewed for numerous stories about the plagiarism allegations, she had lost her book deal, all copies of her book had been recalled by the publisher (and first editions were being sold on eBay for triple their original price), and production of the film adaptation had been halted, though the scandal didn't affect her status at Harvard. In 2008, Viswanathan graduated with honors; she made the news again briefly the following year when she entered Georgetown University as a first-year law student. (Post-23, she has presumably graduated from Georgetown; she also suffered the deaths of her parents in a plane accident in 2011.)
Image: Cover of "Opal Mehta"
21. Bret Easton Ellis
Date of Birth: March 7, 1964
Best Known For: American Psycho
In the 1980s before he published any books, Ellis was a part-time musician. At age 21, Ellis had written his first novel, Less Than Zero, for which the movie rights were purchased before the book was even published. When the book was published in 1985, it was criticized by many and petitions against the book caused Simon & Schuster to drop Ellis. That same year, Less Than Zero became a bestseller when re-published by Knopf, due in part to the controversy; it sold 50,000 copies in 1985. At age 23, Ellis published his second novel, The Rules of Attraction. The same year, Less Than Zero was adapted into a major motion picture which Ellis initially hated, though he now feels "sentimental" towards it.
Image: Photo by Wikimedia user André Müller
22. Stephen Crane
Date of Birth: November 1, 1871
Best Known For: The Red Badge of Courage
By age 4, Crane had taught himself to read and was already writing. He was 8 when he first enrolled in school and completed the work of two grades in just six weeks. At age 14, Crane wrote "Uncle Jake and the Bell Handle," his first known story. When he was 16, he joined the staff of his brother's news bureau for the summer. At 18, his first signed article was published. At 19, his story "Great Bugs of Onondaga" was published in two newspapers; he then decided to leave school to devote himself to working as a reporter and writer. Over the course of 1892, when Crane was 20, he had 14 unsigned stories published in the New York Tribune. That same year, one of his stories for the Tribune created a firestorm of controversy when the subjects felt they were being ridiculed; Crane's work for the Tribune ended that year. At 21, Crane self-published his first book, A Girl of the Streets, later titled Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, which is considered "the first work of American literary Naturalism." Also at age 21, Crane began work on a war novel, selling stories to newspapers to make money and simultaneously writing a handful of poems each day; his first collection of poems, The Black Riders and Other Lines, was accepted by a publisher that year. Just after turning 23, Crane's war story, The Red Badge of Courage, was published serially in newspapers, and he embarked on a trip through the West (of the U.S.) to write syndicated newspaper articles. While 23, Crane began work on 2 new novels--The Third Violet and George's Mother--and finally saw the publication of The Black Riders, which caused some commotion over its unconventional poetry. Also while he was 23, Crane's The Red Badge of Courage was published in book form and spent 4 months on bestseller lists around the country, with two or three more printings in 1895.
Image: Photo by W.H. Stauffer
23. Helen Oyeyemi
Date of Birth: December 10, 1984
Best Known For: The Icarus Girl
During her time studying for A levels, Oyeyemi wrote her first novel, The Icarus Girl. At college, she wrote two plays that were performed at school and later published by a British publishing company. When she was 20, Oyeyemi's The Icarus Girl was published. Two years later, at age 22, her second novel, The Opposite House, was published by Bloomsbury.
Image: Promotional photo