Examples of authors/musicians who began their work in their 40s?
August 9, 2015 2:48 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for examples of authors and musicians who lived artistically unremarkable lives for their first four decades, only beginning to express themselves creatively in their 40s, and who subsequently received critical or popular acclaim for the work they produced during that fifth decade.

  • I'm not interested in authors/musicians who were creatively active before the age of 40. The examples I'm seeking are of people who only began exploring their creativity once they were in their 40s.
  • Likewise, it's got to be in their 40s. I'm not interested in authors/musicians who began their writing/performing/recording in their 50s or beyond. I really want examples of people who lived ordinary lives and then suddenly blossomed at some point in their 40s.
posted by paleyellowwithorange to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
Alasdair Gray published his first novel, Lanark when he was 46. The book was begun much earlier, but once it was published Gray immediately became one of Scotland's most important writers (I'd argue United Kingdom, but that's neither here nor there). He may not quite qualify as he worked as a penniless artist, scene painter and unsuccesful playwright for years prior to that, but his life changed completely with Lanark.
posted by kariebookish at 4:25 AM on August 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Raymond Chandler published his first short story at age 45. He'd decided to become a writer after being fired from an oil rig a year earlier.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 4:31 AM on August 9, 2015 [4 favorites]

Although I cannot vouch that every writer featured in The Millions' long-running Post-40 Bloomers column will fit your criteria, I know quite a few will.
posted by minervous at 5:16 AM on August 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

I found something in the Library of Congress that debunks the story of Raymond Chandler's late creative blooming. But aside from some juvenile poems, he doesn't appear to publish anything until his 40s.
posted by Scram at 5:38 AM on August 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

She was a few years younger than 40, but acclaimed science fiction author Lois McMaster Bujold didn't see her first publication until the age of 37.

Julia Child published her first cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, at 49.
posted by Surprised By Bees at 8:34 AM on August 9, 2015

Toni Morrison was 39 when she wrote The Bluest Eye, her first novel. It was published when she was 40, and didn't do very well - her first major works (Sula, Song of Solomon) were in her 40s.

Vanda Scaravelli took up yoga in her late 40s and became one of 20th century's most significant teachers, with her own discipline - Scaravelli Yoga.

C.J. Sansom began writing novels in 2000, he was born in 1953, his Shardlake books have become bestsellers.

Edit: Sorry, I threw in Scaravelli before RTFQ properly!
posted by Gin and Broadband at 9:35 AM on August 9, 2015

Joseph Conrad started writing at 36.
posted by SemiSalt at 11:02 AM on August 9, 2015

I've mentioned him before on the Green but Donald Ray Pollock was a factory worker/heavy drinker until he went to graduate school at 45 to get his MFA. He's written two excellent, well-reviewed books.
posted by jabes at 11:05 AM on August 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

George Elliot started writing fiction when she was 40. Prior to that she had written a lot of non fiction but no fiction.
posted by alms at 11:43 AM on August 9, 2015

C. S. Lewis wrote his first novel (Pilgrim's Regress) at 35, but didn't write his first successful novel (Out of the Silent Planet) until 40.
posted by lharmon at 12:21 PM on August 9, 2015

And along similar lines, Tolkien published The Hobbit at 45.
posted by lharmon at 12:46 PM on August 9, 2015

Came to say Julia Child, but Surprised By Bees beat me to it.
posted by briank at 1:56 PM on August 9, 2015

Bestselling english crime writer P.D James published her first book "Cover her face" at 42.
posted by Petersondub at 2:26 PM on August 9, 2015

Thanks minervous for linking to our original Post-40 Bloomers column at The Millions. You can find the full run of columns here.

The Bloomers column was created by our staff writer, author Sonya Chung, who created a spinoff site Bloom, a literary site that features authors whose first books were published when they were 40 or older. Bloom will have many examples of the sort you are looking for. The column -- and Bloom -- is a response to the pervasive obsession with youth in the literary world (think all the awards and lists devoted to authors under 40 or 30, the press given to the 23-year-old wunderkind debut author at the expense of the 43-year-old, etc.)

Mods, feel free to delete if this is too self-promotional!
posted by cmaxmagee at 2:39 AM on August 10, 2015 [4 favorites]

Ann Leckie's premiere novel, published at the age of 47, won the Hugo Award for Best Novel, the Nebula Award, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and the BSFA Award.

Her second novel won the Locus.
posted by porpoise at 10:47 AM on August 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Watching this question, myself :)

Cesária Évora and Charles Bradley - but both had musical inclinations, and did things on a smaller scale when they had the opportunity before they started in earnest.

A few over-40 stories in these past questions (also).

(If it happens that it's difficult to find stories of inspiration that exactly meet your criteria, though, I don't think you should let it deter you from your own efforts. Who knows - you might turn out to be somebody people will offer as an example in future questions like this.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:11 AM on August 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

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