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July 5, 2011 6:32 AM   Subscribe

What notable "creative types" started out late in the game?

I get a bit discouraged from fully exploring my creativity at times because of how many truly great artists, writers, musicians, etc started out so young.
I'd like to compile a list of those that didn't to serve as inspiration to keep going despite all.

Can you name some animators, artists, illustrators, novelists, playwrights, guitarists, pianists, percussionists, composers, and so on, that realised their creative talent later in life? Preferably during their late twenties, thirties, forties, and beyond.
posted by Vrai to Media & Arts (34 answers total) 66 users marked this as a favorite
Grandma Moses leaps to mind.
posted by likeso at 6:36 AM on July 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Haruki Murakami began writing when he was 29 years old.
posted by Senza Volto at 6:37 AM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Mary Delaney
posted by empath at 6:41 AM on July 5, 2011

Raymond Chandler, an inspiration of Murakami's, began his career at 45.
posted by Senza Volto at 6:42 AM on July 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Van Gogh only started taking painting lessons in 1880 or so, and in the next ten years became one of the most important artists in Western civilization.

Raymond Chandler began writing at 44 after being fired from his job at an oil company. (Just read The Big Sleep, which is fantastic.)

Brendan Gleeson began acting professionally at 34 after working as a teacher.

These just come to mind, but there are many others.

Never give up!
posted by Admiral Haddock at 6:46 AM on July 5, 2011

Ack, I meant to say that Van Gogh was 27 or so when he took up painting.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 6:46 AM on July 5, 2011

Mary Anne Shaffer was in her early seventies when she wrote The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. It was her first novel, and it reached #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list. Sadly, she died a couple of months before it was published, but I've always thought it was terrific that she at least knew it was about to be.

It's an absolutely charming book, btw.
posted by Georgina at 6:50 AM on July 5, 2011

Frank McCourt wrote Angela's Ashes at age 66. It was his first book.
posted by 256 at 6:53 AM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Charles Bukowski was 49 when he decided to quit his post office job and take up writing full-time.

I believe Harvey Pekar started late in life.

F.X. Toole (of Million Dollar Baby fame) was actually a cut man before he retired to write stories.
posted by Gilbert at 6:53 AM on July 5, 2011

Henry Miller was 36 when he began writing.
posted by mauvest at 6:55 AM on July 5, 2011

Late bloomers
posted by rmless at 6:56 AM on July 5, 2011 [4 favorites]

Preda Mihăilescu, a Romanian mathematician, earned his PhD at age 42. He then went on to prove a number theory conjecture that had been open for over 150 years.
posted by AkzidenzGrotesk at 7:03 AM on July 5, 2011

Novelists, in general, tend to have later starts. A lot get their start in their early-to-mid thirties. J.K. Rowling was in her early thirties when the first Potter book came out. Edith Wharton was thirty-five when her first novel was published. Samuel Clemens was around that age when he published his first. John Grisham was thirty-two. Hemingway published his first novel at twenty-seven, making him downright precocious.

I think it's less that novelists are late bloomers and more that the novel is a form which requires a certain amount of maturity, experience, and dedication to do at all well. Simply writing 80,000+ words takes a long time, and writing that many that someone else might actually care to read is hard. Doing so without the benefit of at least a decade or two of adulthood seems unlikely at best.
posted by valkyryn at 7:15 AM on July 5, 2011

While Tori Amos started out young, her first solo album - the work that got her famous - didn't come out until she was in her 30s.
posted by wondermouse at 7:23 AM on July 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Sorry, I guess she was 29 when Little Earthquakes came out. Anyway- same basic point.
posted by wondermouse at 7:24 AM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Kurt Vonnegut started writing novels full time quite late. His oldest son said that people often asked him what it was like having a famous writer for a father, and that he had to disappoint them because growing up his dad was a copywriter for GE.
posted by atrazine at 7:53 AM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Norman Rush published his first book, Whites, when he was 53. It got nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. His second book, Mating, won the National Book Award.

Edward P. Jones was 41 when he published his first book, Lost in the City. It was nominated for a National Book Award. His second book, The Known World, won the Pulitzer, the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, and a couple others.

Helen DeWitt was 43 when she published her first book, The Last Samurai. It was pretty fucking great.

Paul Harding published his debut novel, Tinkers, when he was 42. It won the Pulitzer Prize.
posted by fryman at 8:20 AM on July 5, 2011

On this topic, if you haven't already, listen to this great interview with Ira Glass where he talks about the creative spark and process and the frustration of trying to do that thing that inspires you. And then get to work!
posted by amanda at 8:48 AM on July 5, 2011 [10 favorites]

Toni Morrison's first novel was published when she was 39.

Helen Hoover Santmyer was 88 when she wrote And Ladies Of The Club which was the novel that made her famous.
posted by yankeefog at 8:51 AM on July 5, 2011

Debbie Harry was in her early thirties when Blondie had their first chart success.
posted by freya_lamb at 8:56 AM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Don DeLillo was at least nearing 30 when he got his start as a novelist.
posted by ndfine at 9:22 AM on July 5, 2011

Patty Griffin didn't really get started until she was about 30.
posted by threeants at 10:18 AM on July 5, 2011

George Eliot published her first work of fiction when she was thirty-nine.
posted by alms at 11:09 AM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm in the middle of Patti Smith's memoir, Just Kids, and she's 23 and just starting to contemplate what, exactly, she's going to do with her life. She's scribbling poetry and schmoozing with the Warhol Factory scene, but she's definitely not a rock star yet.

Wikipedia implies she wasn't a bona fide musician (as opposed to occasional dabbler in songwriting) until she was in her late 20's.
posted by Sara C. at 11:23 AM on July 5, 2011

Cormac McCarthy published his first novel at 32, and didn't write his first widely acclaimed novel, Blood Meridian, until he was 52 (and even then, the acclaim was slow to come).
posted by Rhaomi at 2:44 PM on July 5, 2011

Joseph Conrad didn't even learn english until he was in his twenties.
posted by Uncle Ira at 3:01 PM on July 5, 2011

Wassily Kandinsky started painting at 30, after starting a career as a lawyer.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:26 PM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

many truly great artists, writers, musicians, etc started out so young.

Slight derail, but as we are here to cheer you up, remember that many of the young'uns burned out young as well. There are only so many coming of age novels one can write, only so long that one can be an enfant terrible.

Gauguin started relatively late.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:06 PM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Although she had her first short story published when she was 19/20, Alice Munro's first book was published when she was 35. She published her latest collection in 2009 when she was (by my count) 78, and won the Book International Prize in the same year.

Here's a New Yorker article about how people prize the narrative of the prodigy, while many creative paths don't work like that at all.
posted by the cat's pyjamas at 5:49 AM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

That should be the Man Booker International Prize. Bork bork bork.
posted by the cat's pyjamas at 5:50 AM on July 6, 2011

Also, Roberto Bolano wrote poetry through out his adult life, but it wasn't til 1993 (aged 40) that he published his first work of fiction, and he was (I think) 45 when The Savage Detectives was published.
posted by the cat's pyjamas at 6:20 AM on July 6, 2011

Cézanne studied art for most of his life, but really did not produce any good work until his 40s and 50s. Most of his truly canonical paintings weren't produced until very late in his life.

Malcolm Gladwell also has a really fun essay about late bloomers.
posted by goateebird at 8:03 AM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

My personal hero Bob Newhart didn't start his comedy career until his early 30s.

"Bob had been living at home with his parents, feeling very uncertain about his future until he was 30. He had a dream of pursuing comedy and didn't give up on it even though his chances must have looked pretty slim by then. As he told me, he wondered whether he could succeed in comedy and he just had to find out."

He was an accountant first before he was a comedian.
posted by dottiechang at 11:25 AM on July 9, 2011

The late Helen Hooven Santemeyer was 88 when her book ".....And Ladies Of The Club" was published.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:08 PM on September 7, 2011

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