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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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The Google Docs Audio Hack You Might Not Know About
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To the uninitiated, Google Docs may take some warming up to. But although it may seem like any other word processor, Docs offers its fair share of nifty features that can make your life a whole lot easier. The only problem is that few people seem to know about them.

The Voice Typing function is one such example. As Quartz discovered, this tool can be used to drastically cut down on the time it takes to transcribe an interview or audio recording—a feature that professionals from many fields could benefit from. Voice Typing might also be useful to those who prefer to dictate what they want to write, as well as those with impairments that prevent them from typing.

Whatever the case may be, it's extremely easy to use. Just open a blank document, click on "tools" at the top, and then select "voice typing." A microphone icon will pop up, allowing you to choose your language. After you've done that, simply click the icon when you're ready to start speaking!

Unfortunately, it's unable to pick up an audio recording played through speakers, so you'll need to grab a pair of headphones, plug them into your phone or voice recorder, and dictate what's said as you listen along. Still, this eliminates the hassle of having to pause and rewind in order to let your fingers catch up to the audio—unless you're the champion of a speed typing contest, in which case you probably don't need this tutorial.

According to Quartz, the transcription is "shockingly" accurate, even getting the spelling of last names right. For a how-to guide on the Voice Typing tool, check out Quartz's video below.

[h/t Quartz]

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10 Fascinating Facts About Lewis Carroll
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Born Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, the writer known as Lewis Carroll was a Renaissance man of the Victorian Era. He was an accomplished mathematician, poet, satirist, philosopher, inventor, and photographer in the art form’s earliest days. Yet most of us know him best as a children’s author because of Alice and her adventures through the nonsense and tea of Wonderland.

If you’ve only seen him through the looking glass, this list of 10 facts should broaden your understanding of a unique literary voice.

1. HE INVENTED A WAY TO WRITE IN THE DARK.

Like a lot of writers, Dodgson was frustrated by losing the excellent ideas that inconveniently come in the middle of the night, so in 1891 he invented the nyctograph. The device is a card with 16 square holes (two rows of eight) that offers a guide for the user to enter a shorthand code of dots and dashes. Dodgson also considered it useful for the blind.

2. HE SUFFERED FROM A STUTTER MOST OF HIS LIFE.

Dodgson had a rough childhood. Calling it his “hesitation,” he developed a stutter at an early age that stuck with him throughout adulthood and ultimately became part of his personal mythos—including the evidence-free claim that he only stuttered around adults, but spoke without problem to children. A childhood fever also left him deaf in one ear, and a bout of whooping cough at 17 weakened his chest for the rest of his life. Late in life, he developed debilitating, aura-hallucinating migraines and what doctors at the time diagnosed as epilepsy.

3. HE WAS THE DODO IN ALICE IN WONDERLAND.

Original illustration of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by John Tenniel 1865
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Dodgson delivered the original story concept for Alice in Wonderland while on one of his boating trips with the Liddells—the children of his boss, Henry Liddell, the dean of Christ Church, Oxford—and he marked the July 4, 1862, event in the book itself as the Caucus Race. Alice is Alice Liddell, the Lory is Lorina Liddell, the Eaglet is Edith Liddell, the duck was colleague Reverend Robinson Duckworth, and the dodo was Dodgson himself. The popular story is that he used the bird as his caricature because his stammer made him sometimes introduce himself as “Do-Do-Dodgson,” but there’s no evidence to back up the claim.

4. DODGSON SPELLED OUT HIS INSPIRATION FOR ALICE IN THE LAST CHAPTER OF THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS.

Throughout his life, Dodgson denied that Alice was based on any real-life person, but “A boat beneath a sunny sky,” the poem at the end of Through the Looking-Glass, is an acrostic that spells out Alice Pleasance Liddell.

5. HE WROTE 11 BOOKS ON MATHEMATICS.

British mathematician, author and photographer Charles Lutwidge Dogson (1832 - 1898), who wrote several books under the pseudonym of Lewis Carroll
Rischgitz, Hulton Archive/Getty Images

A master logician, Dodgson's work in the fields of linear algebra, geometry, and puzzle-making is noteworthy. He wrote almost a dozen books that ranged from An Elementary Treatise on Determinants, With Their Application to Simultaneous Linear Equations and Algebraic Equations to The Game of Logic to The Theory of Committees and Elections. His interests and expertise widely varied; he also wrote the first printed proof of the Kronecker-Capelli theorem [PDF] and a conceptual system for better governmental representation.

6. THE ALICE STORIES ARE POSSIBLY SATIRES OF NON-EUCLIDEAN MATH.

As with several elements of his life, Dodgson was a conservative mathematician, living and working in an age in which the discipline was dramatically changing. In a 2010 op-ed for The New York Times, Melanie Bayley made a compelling case that Alice’s adventures parodied an incipient, conceptual math that featured imaginary numbers and quaternions, which Dodgson scoffed at. The Cheshire Cat may represent the growing abstraction in the field, and the overall absurdity of Wonderland may be meant to match the “absurdity” the conventional Dodgson saw emerging in his discipline.

7. ONE ABSURD PERSON THOUGHT DODGSON WAS JACK THE RIPPER.

circa 1891: A map of Whitechapel in east London, where eleven women were killed between 1888 and 1891, and the murders often attributed to unidentified serial killer Jack the Ripper.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The list of people suspected of being Jack the Ripper is a long one, and, for some reason, the mind behind Alice is on it. The Ripper and Dodgson were contemporaries; the murders took place in 1888, when Dodgson was in his mid-50s. Author Richard Wallace theorized that Dodgson, following a strict religious upbringing and potential bullying during his unhappy school years, grew up to become a serial murderer following his successful teaching and writing careers. The bulk of the theory stems from Wallace rearranging Dodgson’s writing into “confessions.” While Dodgson did bury codes and clues in his books, scrambling random paragraphs into syntactically awkward statements about killing is more than a stretch.

8. HE WAS AN ACCOMPLISHED PHOTOGRAPHER.

Beginning in his mid-20s and continuing for over two decades, Dodgson created over 3000 photographic images, including portraits of friends and notable figures (like Alfred, Lord Tennyson), landscapes, and stills of skeletons, dolls, statues, paintings, and more. According to Lewis Carroll: A Biography, Morton N. Cohen’s biography of the artist, Dodgson had his own studio and briefly considered making a living as a photographer in the 1850s.

9. HE WAS A LIFELONG BACHELOR, WHICH HAS LED TO SOME SPECULATION ABOUT HIS ROMANTIC INTERESTS.

Dodgson’s photography has also been at the center of a modern reconsideration of Dodgson’s sexuality. The author was a lifelong bachelor whose surviving photographic work is 50 percent comprised of depictions of young girls, including Alice Liddell, as well as several prints where the girls are nude. The most famous of these is a portrait of one Oxford colleague’s daughter, Beatrice Hatch. Not much is directly known about Dodgson’s personal relationships, which has led to speculation—notably by Cohen—that he had romantic feelings for the 11-year-old Alice, but author Karoline Leach suggested that the reframing of Dodgson as a pedophile is a myth borne from ignorance of Victorian morals and the popularity at the time of nude children in art combined with Dodgson’s family burying information about the writer’s relationships with adult women.

10. HE BECAME A DEACON, BUT NEVER A PRIEST.

English mathematician, writer and photographer Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll (1832 - 1898) with Mrs George Macdonald and four children relaxing in a garden.
Lewis Carroll, Hulton Archive/Getty Images

So much of Dodgson’s life invites speculation, including his refusal to become a priest, counter to the rules of Christ Church during his residency there. He was ordained as a deacon on December 22, 1861 but had to petition Dean Liddell to avoid becoming a priest. Once again, his stammer appears to be one possible explanation as to why he refused priesthood, but there’s no evidence that it might have impeded his ability to preach. Other possible reasons include a love of theater (which the Bishop of Oxford spoke out against), tepid interest in the Anglican Church, and a growing interest in alternative religions.

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