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11 Writers Who Started Late

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Forget “under 30” or even “under 40” lists. Some of the world's most celebrated writers didn’t hit their literary stride until their mid-forties or later.

1. James A. Michener

The youngest person on the list, Michener is notable more for his output than his age. The Tales of the South Pacific author (whose Pulitzer Prize-winning book would later be adapted into a Broadway musical) wrote a staggering 40 books after the age of 40—nearly a book a year—after spending much of his life as a teacher.

2. Sherwood Anderson

Anderson held a handful of jobs—including newsboy and racetrack helper—during his youth in Clyde, Ohio before moving to Chicago to try and make it as a copywriter. He flailed and returned to a nearby town in his home state where he worked as a manager at a paint factory until 1912, when he decided to leave his job and family to pursue a career in writing. While the act and the way he did it (disappearing for four days and then reappearing in an untidy and troubled state) are hardly admirable, the gamble did pay off. He returned to advertising and was publishing novels by 1916. His best known work, Winesburg, Ohio came out when Anderson was 43-years-old, garnering the success and acclaim the aspiring writer so boldly sought. 

3. Laura Ingalls Wilder

Inspired by her daughter, Wilder began writing in her 40s, but she didn’t find great success until some 20 years later, when Little House in the Big Woods was published. The Little House books drew from Wilder’s life experiences, so maybe waiting gave her some extra time to gather material.

4. Raymond Chandler

Only Raymond Chandler would have coped with losing a job as an oil company executive three years into the Great Depression by deciding to write detective fiction. It’s a good thing he happened to be among the best the world has ever seen. His first short story was published a year later, in 1933, and his first novel, The Big Sleep, came out in 1939, when he was 44 years old. He would publish six more novels before his death in 1959, along with many more short stories and screenplays.

Despite his illustrious writing career, Chandler was never quite at ease in the publishing world. In 1949, he wrote to publisher Hamish Hamilton: “There is something about the literary life that repels me, all this desperate building of castles on cobwebs, the long-drawn acrimonious struggle to make something important which we all know will be gone forever in a few years, the miasma of failure which is to me almost as offensive as the cheap gaudiness of popular success.”

5. Helen DeWitt

Like Chandler, DeWitt was 44 years old when she published her debut novel, 2000's The Last Samurai. After years spent juggling odd jobs and working simultaneously on many writing projects, she decided: “I will write a novel with a simple structure that can be FINISHED. I will set aside a month and write with NO INTERRUPTIONS.” Sounds like she was channeling her subject.

6. Marquis de Sade

The famous libertine, philosopher, politician and aristocrat had a lot going on, so it makes sense that he didn’t get around to a writing career until age 47. Even then, he only had time to write because he was in prison at the Bastille for crimes related to sexual deviancy (though he was imprisoned under a lettre de cachet obtained by his mother-in-law). That’s one way to eliminate distractions. It was there that he wrote his first novel, Justine, which wasn’t published until four years later, when de Sade was 51.

7. Wallace Stevens

Stevens worked for most of his life as a lawyer and later vice president of an insurance company. He was first published at age 35 in Poetry Magazine, though the majority of the work he is known for today was written after the age of 50. Stevens passed away in 1955, just a few months after winning the Pulitzer Prize for his Collected Poems at the age of 75.

8. Anna Sewell

Sewell’s only published work is the classic Black Beauty. She began writing it at age 51 while in declining health and dictated much of the novel to her mother.  At 57, she sold the book. Sewell died of hepatitis in 1878, just five months after the novel was published.

9. Frank McCourt

Frank McCourt's story attracted worldwide attention when Angela’s Ashes was published in 1996, especially when the memoir—which recounted his impoverished childhood in Ireland and an adulthood teaching in New York—went on to win the Pulitzer Prize. It was published when McCourt was 66 years old.

10. Harriet Doerr

Doerr spent the first four decades of her life in California before moving to Mexico, where her husband Albert was working to restore a family-owned copper mine. The years spent there ultimately helped inspire the works she penned after Albert’s death. Doerr returned to California when she was in her 60s, finished her education, and began writing. Stones of Ibarra, Doerr’s first novel, was published when the author was 74 years old. It went on to win a National Book Award. 

11. Millard Kaufman

A co-creator of Mr. Magoo, Kaufman began screenwriting in his early 30s, but his first novel (Bowl of Cherries) was published when he was 90 years old—a testament that it’s never too late to try something new.

Note: This article originally stated that Joseph Heller was 52 when Catch-22 was published. He was 38. 

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11 Brilliant Gifts for the Notebook Enthusiast
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Science says it's easier to organize and remember information when you write it down. Help everyone on your list stay on track with these charming notebooks that are great for artists, writers, planners, and dreamers.

1. POKETO CONCEPT PLANNER; $34


Poketo

Your loved ones could tap reminders into their phones, but this glam pink planner makes keeping appointments much more fun. The 252-page, open-dated book includes space to scribble goals for the week, month, and year as well as calendar sheets for scheduling activities. The binding lies flat while open and the 8-by-5-inch fabric-textured cover gives your giftee's plans a fashionable finish.

Find It: Poketo

2. RITE IN THE RAIN ALL-WEATHER TOP-SPIRAL NOTEBOOK; $7


Rite in the Rain

It looks like a regular notepad, but Rite in the Rain's 4-by-6-inch gridded sheets are completely waterproof, able to withstand the wetness of a rainforest, a summer downpour, or being dropped in the mud. Use any pen or pencil for smudgeproof writing that will stay legible no matter what Mother Nature throws at it.

Find It: Amazon

3. MOLESKINE SMART WRITING SET; $199


Moleskine

If your favorite notebook enthusiast draws or writes in this Moleskine paper tablet with the included Pen+ smart pen, their creation will appear in digital form on your phone or iPad via a companion app. Encoded technology allows the pen to capture each stroke and smoothly transfer freehand doodlings from page to screen. From there, the user can edit, add text, share ideas and more.

Find It: Moleskine

4. MIDORI GRID NOTEBOOK; $10


Amazon

You'll notice Midori notebooks are missing something: a cover. That’s entirely on purpose. These minimalist Japanese notebooks allow users to focus on the joy of writing through their gentle gridlines, thread-stitch binding, lay-flat design, and colored string on the spine that indicates the notebook's page style.

Find It: Amazon

5. PRINCETON ARCHITECTURAL PRESS OBSERVER'S NOTEBOOK: ASTRONOMY; $19


Princeton Architectural Press

If the 2017 total solar eclipse sparked a new love of astronomy in someone you know, give this handsome 7-by-9-inch hardcover notebook, so they can record night sky observations. The ruled pages are paired with information about stars, planets, constellations, and other celestial bodies, plus gorgeous color images from the Hubble and ESA space telescopes.

Find It: Princeton Architectural Press

6. LEDA ART SUPPLY SKETCHBOOK; $18


Amazon

Whether your gift recipient draws in pencil, ink, pastel, charcoal, or watercolors, this softcover sketchbook is ideal for many kinds of art. The 160 pages of 7-by-10-inch archival paper are thread-bound and include an elastic band to keep the book closed. A ribbon bookmark adds a classy finishing touch.

Find It: Amazon

7. PILOT FRIXION CLICKER RETRACTABLE ERASABLE GEL PENS; $11


Pilot

The perfect pen for The New York Times Sunday crossword, Pilot's long-lasting Frixion gel pens write incredibly smoothly in a variety of ink colors and erase completely with the attached eraser, without damaging the writing surface beneath. The 0.7-millimeter fine point gives penmanship an elegant flourish. When you're finished writing, the nib clicks back into the pen shaft.

Find It: Amazon

8. TRAVELER'S COMPANY BROWN LEATHER NOTEBOOK; $32


Amazon

Indulge your loved one's inner Hiram Bingham or Nellie Bly with this classic traveler's notebook. Encased in a hand-made chocolate leather cover is a sheaf of blank Midori paper (refills are available); the book includes a ribbon bookmark and a band for keeping the cover closed when not in use. At roughly 8.5 inches by 5 inches, the notebook is sized for stuffing into a safari jacket.

Find It: Amazon

9. PRESENT AND CORRECT CORNER RING BOUND NOTEBOOK; $7-$18


Present and Correct

A cool twist on your typical spiral-bound notebook, this pad by British company Present and Correct hinges at the corner with a chic brass coil. The 50-page book comes in small (2.75 inches by 4.75 inches) and large (5.8 inches by 8.3 inches) and three variations: black cover/blank sheets, green cover/ruled sheets, and gray cover/dotted sheets.

Find It: Present And Correct

10. MOLESKINE LIMITED EDITION MINIONS NOTEBOOK; $24


Moleskine

Kevin, Stuart, and Bob blurt out silly sayings and cavort inside the covers of this limited edition Minions notebook from Moleskine. The hardback notebook includes 70 ivory lined pages and a bookmark, plus Minions stickers and extra goodies printed on the inside of the paperband.

Find It: Moleskine

11. PRINCETON ARCHITECTURAL PRESS POCKET DEPARTMENT NOTEBOOKS; $20


Princeton Architectural Press

Inspired by 1950s stationery, the Pocket Department notebooks recall old-school composition books with a modern splash of color. This pack includes each of four different styles—backpack, messenger bag, shirt pocket, and back pocket sizes—containing 64 lined pages apiece. The set comes wrapped in a reusable interoffice-style envelope with a string closure, suitable for your office's secret Santa rounds.

Find It: Princeton Architectural Press

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Designer Reimagines the Spanish Alphabet With Only 19 Letters
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According to designer José de la O, the Spanish alphabet is too crowded. Letters like B and V and S and Z are hard to tell apart when spoken out loud, which makes for a language that's "confusing, complicated, and unpractical," per his design agency's website. His solution is Nueva Qwerty. As Co.Design reports, the "speculative alphabet" combines redundant letters into single characters, leaving 19 letters total.

In place of the letters missing from the original 27-letter Spanish alphabet are five new symbols. The S slot, for example, is occupied by one letter that does the job of C, Z, and S. Q, K, and C have been merged into a single character, as have I and Y. The design of each glyph borrows elements from each of the letters it represents, making the new alphabet easy for Spanish-speakers to learn, its designer says.

Speculative Spanish alphabet.
José de la O

By streamlining the Spanish alphabet, de la O claims he's made it easier to read, write, and type. But the convenience factor may not be enough to win over some Spanish scholars: When the Royal Spanish Academy cut just two letters (CH and LL) from the Spanish alphabet in 2010, their decision was met with outrage.

José de la O has already envisioned how his alphabet might function in the real world, Photoshopping it onto storefronts and newspapers. He also showcased the letters in two new fonts. You can install New Times New Roman and Futurysma onto your computer after downloading it here.

[h/t Co.Design]

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