Figures "beginning/finding success", a little later in life?
January 22, 2018 1:59 AM   Subscribe

Hi, Metafilter. Can anyone think of some figures in creative work, or any great works, who discovered momentum, or notoriety, a little later in life? E.G. - Just a couple, Quentin Tarantino, a box office clerk, in his thirties, before entering a more intense focus, in film. Philip Glass drove a cab, in NYC, until he was forty-two, while composing/conducting.

While it isn't unheard of, I can only bring a few figures, to mind.

Suggestively, many 'millennials'(I hesitate to generalize, but do so for the sake of discussion), are marrying, buying houses, having children, finding career strides, quite a bit later, than their predecessors.

In this post, I am looking for some inspiring figures, who may have found a stride in their work, just a little later in life. Particularly any with challenging, or peculiar backgrounds, or significant obstacles.
posted by thewolfandewe to Society & Culture (27 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
 
Check out the life of Cervantes and also this scene from Little Miss Sunshine.
posted by johngoren at 2:10 AM on January 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


General---later President---Ulysses S. Grant was born in 1822 and pretty much was either mediocre or failed at everything he did until the Civil War came along, when he was 38.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 2:20 AM on January 22, 2018 [2 favorites]


The singers Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley.
posted by misteraitch at 2:37 AM on January 22, 2018 [4 favorites]


Previously.
posted by soundofsuburbia at 2:44 AM on January 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


The podcast Creative Pep Talk just interviewed Lisa Condon on the book she just published on this very topic. Haven’t read the book yet, but the podcast was so great. Please check it out!!
posted by jrobin276 at 2:52 AM on January 22, 2018


Also previously and previously. The latter links to Wikipedia's list of late bloomers.
posted by brushtailedphascogale at 2:52 AM on January 22, 2018


Oliver Jones was a musician all his life, but didn't make it big until his mid-40s.
posted by clawsoon at 3:14 AM on January 22, 2018


Grace Hopper was 37 when she left her tenured faculty job to join the Navy, and 45 when she invented compilers.
posted by haltingproblemsolved at 3:27 AM on January 22, 2018 [7 favorites]


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

The children's literature blog Fuse #8 did a survey of the best children's novels ever written, and one reader did a statistical analysis of the results. Here's what he found:
It seems as though an author's 40s really are his or her most productive years. 43% of the top 100 were published when the author was between the ages of 40-49. If we expand this range a mere two years in both directions we end up with nine more titles - 52 titles written by authors between the ages of 38 and 51. The pie chart below shows the entire breakdown by age decade. Louis Sachar remained the youngest author on the list. He was 24 when Sideway Stories from Wayside School was first published (he was 42 when title #6 Holes was published). Roald Dahl is our oldest author. He published Matilda at the age of 72, Matilda was also Dahl's highest ranking title (17th).
posted by yankeefog at 4:03 AM on January 22, 2018 [2 favorites]


This is great, thank you!

My apologies for the repetition- Welcome to add more answers, for a more recent/updated thread.
posted by thewolfandewe at 5:52 AM on January 22, 2018


Leslie Jones was 47 when she become an SNL cast member, after being hired as a writer something like a year before that.
posted by turkeybrain at 6:26 AM on January 22, 2018 [3 favorites]


Penelope Fitzgerald published her first book at 58, her first novel at 60, and her best novel in her late 70s. she was the greatest English novelist of her part of the 20th century.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:06 AM on January 22, 2018 [3 favorites]


Walker Percy threw away two novels and spent several years writing and rewriting his eventual debut, The Moviegoer, before it was published and won him the National Book Award. He was 45 by then.
posted by Polycarp at 7:10 AM on January 22, 2018


& Isak Dinesen was I think 48 on completion of her first book. not sure if she (or Fitzgerald) suit your criteria very well, though, as neither of them took any time to develop or find a voice or hit their stride, though they did get better over the years that they wrote. but they both lived until they knew everything you would need to know to write a book of genius, and then did it.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:12 AM on January 22, 2018


Annie Proulx was born in 1935; Postcards was published in 1992. She had some challenging circumstances, as I recall. She also has a lot of academic and specialized background that is reflected in her work, and she published steadily, both fiction and non-fiction, before embarking on a novel. So in hindsight I think her career looks fairly logically structured; by any measure though, she is a late first-time novelist.
posted by BibiRose at 7:34 AM on January 22, 2018


Robert Jordan and Rex Stout both started writing fiction relatively late in life, and both were near the top of the game in their respective genres.
posted by seyirci at 12:14 PM on January 22, 2018


Julia Child didn't start cooking until she was almost 40.
posted by mudpuppie at 12:29 PM on January 22, 2018 [2 favorites]


Love this question. So much of the time — especially in creative pursuits — success very young is a measure of economic privilege and luck, not talent. I resent "30 under 30" lists for this reason.

SF/fantasy author N.K. Jemisin didn't publish her debut novel until she was 38. She's been winning the Nebula, Hugo, and Locus awards quite a lot since.

Apparently, in 2016 she raised enough Patreon money to quit her job as a psychologist and focus on writing full-time. Definitely an obstacle for writers who don't have wealth or partner support to fall back on — the need to earn a living.
posted by fire, water, earth, air at 1:16 PM on January 22, 2018 [6 favorites]


Norman Maclean started writing memoir/semi-fiction after retiring from a long career as an English prof. I think he was 72. He wrote A River Runs Through It, and Young Men and Fire, the latter of which was published posthumously. Both are wonderful books, a very worthy legacy. One can wish he'd started sooner and given us more, but there is much to be grateful for in his small oeuvre.
posted by Orlop at 1:43 PM on January 22, 2018


Anthony Bourdain was in his mid forties when he submitted a piece to the New Yorker that got him a book deal and launched his career.
posted by pecanpies at 2:28 PM on January 22, 2018 [2 favorites]


Rosalie Gascoigne started exhibiting in sculpture at 57.

Mary Wesley found success as a novelist in her late 60s after the death of her husband left her nearly impoverished.

I’d argue that both faced significant obstacles to their careers as women raising families in the early twentieth century.
posted by arha at 2:47 PM on January 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


Anthony Bourdain was in his mid forties when he submitted a piece to the New Yorker that got him a book deal and launched his career.

He also mentioned on The Daily Show the other night that he never even traveled much before he was in his 40s.
posted by mrmurbles at 2:59 PM on January 22, 2018 [3 favorites]


Muhammed was 40 when he received his revelation, and 43 when he began preaching it.
posted by solarion at 5:21 PM on January 22, 2018 [2 favorites]


Rosalie Gascoigne started exhibiting in sculpture at 57.

Mary Wesley found success as a novelist in her late 60s after the death of her husband left her nearly impoverished.

I’d argue that both faced significant obstacles to their careers as women raising families in the early twentieth century.


I read a quote once from a woman who started a career later in life and achieved fame and fortune that has really stuck with me. She said no one her age set out to try and do it all, they married young and had kids and then later on they took on new tasks as they came up and they had time or had to, often beginning careers in their late 30s. She described it as a life like a cake with layers added one on top of the other, which really made me stop worrying about my age so much. Maybe it's OK to have several lives one after another than to burn out trying to have them all simultaneously. Maybe it's OK to only get serious about a career after you've done other things or the other way around,
posted by fshgrl at 9:32 PM on January 22, 2018 [7 favorites]


These are great, more please!
posted by thewolfandewe at 2:47 AM on January 23, 2018


I've posted this before on AskMe, but happy to repost:

... this guy who couldn't get into the college he'd always dreamed of so he tried business school, but he only managed one semester. He started his own business when he was 35, but it went bankrupt. It took him 13 years to pay off the debts. He tried taking night classes in law when he was 40, but he dropped out. But around the same time, he got an administrative job with the courts. That led to other jobs with the county, and then with the state. When he was 50, he was elected to the US Senate, and when he was 61, he became President.
posted by kristi at 11:42 AM on January 23, 2018 [2 favorites]


Jack Kirby was in his fifties when he and Stan Lee were the driving force behind Marvel Comics in the Sixties.
posted by Eikonaut at 11:33 PM on January 23, 2018


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