Posted by: bluesyemre | April 15, 2019

When 80 famous #writers published their first (and last) #books Or, who has had the longest career?

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One of the many measuring sticks we use to compare writers (and compare ourselves to them) is age. We celebrate the women who started late. We gawk at, envy, and revile wunderkinds. Regardless of when they appeared, we love to marvel at famous writers’ early efforts, because of the careers they portend. But recently I’ve been thinking not about way (or the age) a literary career begins, but about its scope. Like any job, a writing career can last a lifetime—or less than a year.

In compiling these figures, I found it interesting to see how the length of a writer’s publishing career didn’t necessarily have any bearing on their current level of fame. Just look at the ten writers with the shortest number of years spent publishing: Shirley Jackson, Zora Neale Hurston, J.D. Salinger, Flannery O’Connor, Roberto Bolaño, Toni Cade Bambara, Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, Sylvia Plath, Nella Larsen. You wouldn’t exactly call any of these people “minor” or “forgotten.”

Some notes on process:

1.  I didn’t make any particular effort to find writers with extremely long or extremely short careers—I just picked the first 80 famous writers that came to mind, with the caveat that they had to be dead (for obvious reasons), and they had to have published more than one book in their lifetime, and compared them. I eliminated some because their publication records were too spotty to track, and you’ll notice there are many more English language authors than not—again because of ease of data gathering.

2. I did my best to count only new work, as opposed to collections of previous work, and only work published in the author’s lifetime—though I would allow for a final work published in the year after an author’s death (when I did so, I calculated using the year of their death). I didn’t count pamphlets, chapbooks, lectures, etc.

3. I did not account for months of birth and publication—I calculated by year—so depending on people’s birthdays, some figures may be slightly off.

4. I looked at three main categories, which you will see below.

Age at First Publication

The average age of first publication for men was 27; the average for women was 31. The overall average was 28.84.

Vladimir Nabokov – 17 (Poems)
Yukio Mishima – 19 (The Forest in Full Bloom)
Pablo Neruda – 19 (Crepusculario)
Adrienne Rich – 22 (A Change of World)
Carson McCullers – 23 (The Heart is a Lonely Hunter)
Claude McKay – 23 (Songs of Jamaica)
Clarice Lispector – 23 (Near to the Wild Heart)
F. Scott Fitzgerald – 24 (This Side of Paradise)
Truman Capote – 24 (Other Voices, Other Rooms)
Italo Calvino – 24 (The Path to the Nest of Spiders)
Kobo Abe – 24 (At the Guidepost at the End of the Road)
Julio Cortázar – 24 (Presence)
Leo Tolstoy – 24 (Childhood)
Jorge Luis Borges – 24 (Fervor de Buenos Aires)
James Joyce – 25 (Chamber Music)
Kathy Acker – 25 (Politics)
Marcel Proust – 25 (Pleasures and Days)
Evelyn Waugh – 25 (Decline and Fall)
Charles Dickens – 25 (The Pickwick Papers)
Fyodor Dostoyevsky – 25 (Poor Folk)
Langston Hughes – 25 (The Weary Blues)
Norman Mailer – 25 (The Naked and the Dead)
D.H. Lawrence – 26 (The White Peacock)
Angela Carter – 26 (Honebuzzard)
Ernest Hemingway – 26 (In Our Time)
Philip Roth – 26 (Goodbye, Columbus)
Flannery O’Connor – 27 (Wise Blood)
Philip K. Dick – 27 (A Handful of Darkness)
John Steinbeck – 27 (Cup of Gold)
Herman Melville – 27 (Typee)
Colette – 27 (Claudine at School)
Amiri Baraka – 27 (Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note)
Ray Bradbury – 27 (Dark Carnival)
Sylvia Plath – 28 (The Colossus and Other Poems)
Jack Kerouac – 28 (The Town and the City)
Bram Stoker – 28 (The Primrose Path)
Gabriel García Márquez – 28 (Leaf Storm)
Gwendolyn Brooks – 28 (A Street in Bronzeville)
Chinua Achebe – 28 (Things Fall Apart)
Octavia Butler – 29 (Patternmaster)
James Baldwin – 29 (Go Tell It On the Mountain)
William Faulkner – 29 (Soldiers’ Pay)
Patricia Highsmith – 29 (Strangers on a Train)
Richard Wright – 30 (Uncle Tom’s Children)
Rachel Ingalls – 30 (Theft)
Kurt Vonnegut – 30 (Player Piano)
Agatha Christie – 30 The Mysterious Affair at Styles)
Charlotte Brontë – 31 (Jane Eyre)
James Welch – 31 (Riding the Earthboy 40)
Marion Zimmer Bradley – 31 (The Door Through Space)
J.G. Ballard – 31 (The Wind from Nowhere)
Tove Jansson – 31 (The Moomins and the Great Flood)
Doris Lessing – 31 (The Grass is Singing)
J.D. Salinger – 32 (The Catcher in the Rye)
Shirley Jackson – 32 (The Road Through the Wall)
Alexandre Dumas – 32 (Travel Impressions: In Switzerland)
Eudora Welty – 32 (A Curtain of Green)
Toni Cade Bambara – 33 (Gorilla, My Love)
Virginia Woolf – 33 (The Voyage Out)
Lucille Clifton – 33 (Good Times)
Audre Lorde – 34 (The First Cities)
Denis Johnson – 34 (Angels)
Jane Austen – 35 (Sense and Sensibility)
Gertrude Stein – 35 (Three Lives)
Edith Wharton – 35 (The Decoration of Houses)
Iris Murdoch – 35 (Under the Net)
Tom Wolfe – 35 (The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby)
Frank Herbert – 36 (The Dragon in the Sea)
Chester Himes – 36 (If He Hollers Let Him Go)
Djuna Barnes – 36 (Ryder)
Nella Larsen – 37 (Quicksand)
Ursula K. Le Guin – 37 (Rocannon’s World)
Jean Rhys – 37 (The Left Bank and Other Stories)
Andrea Levy – 38 (Every Light in the House Burnin’)
Roberto Bolaño – 40 (The Skating Rink)
George Eliot – 40 (Adam Bede)
Maya Angelou – 41 (I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings)
Zora Neale Hurston – 43 (Jonah’s Gourd Vine)
Henry Miller – 43 (Tropic of Cancer)
Paula Gunn Allen – 44 (The Woman Who Owned the Shadows)

Age at Last Publication

The average age for final publication for men was 65; the average for women was 64. The combined average was 64.6.

Sylvia Plath – 30 (The Bell Jar)
Charlotte Brontë – 37 (Villette)
Nella Larsen – 38 (Passing)
Flannery O’Connor – 39 (Everything that Rises Must Converge)
Toni Cade Bambara – 41 (The Salt Eaters)
Jane Austen – 41 (Northanger Abbey published the year after her death)
Carson McCullers – 44 (Clock Without Hands)
F. Scott Fitzgerald – 44 (The Last Tycoon published the year after his death)
D.H. Lawrence – 44 (The Virgin and the Gypsy)
J.D. Salinger – 44 (Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction)
Yukio Mishima – 45 (The Decay of the Angel published the year after his death)
James Joyce – 45 (Pomes Penyeach)
Jack Kerouac – 46 (Vanity of Duluoz)
Shirley Jackson – 46 (We Have Always Lived in the Castle)
Kathy Acker – 49 (Pussy, King of the Pirates)
Roberto Bolaño – 50 (2666 published the year after his death)
Claude McKay – 51 (Harlem: Negro Metropolis)
Marcel Proust – 51 (Proust died halfway through the publication of In Search of Lost Time)
Angela Carter – 51 (Wise Children)
Richard Wright – 52 (Eight Men published the year after his death)
Ernest Hemingway – 53 (The Old Man and the Sea)
Philip K. Dick – 54 (The Transmigration of Timothy Archer published shortly after his death)
Clarice Lispector – 56 (A Breath of Life published the year after her death)
Truman Capote – 56 (Music for Chameleons)
George Eliot – 57 (Daniel Deronda)
Zora Neale Hurston – 57 (Seraph on the Suwanee)
Evelyn Waugh – 58 (Unconditional Surrender)
Charles Dickens – 58 (The Mystery of Edwin Drood was in progress as a serial at the time of his death)
Octavia Butler – 58 (Fledgling)
Audre Lorde – 58 (The Marvelous Arithmetics of Distance published the year after her death)
Andrea Levy – 58 (Six Stories and an Essay)
Fyodor Dostoyevsky – 59 (The Brothers Karamazov)
Virginia Woolf – 59 (Between the Acts)
Italo Calvino – 60 (Mr. Palomar)
James Welch – 60 (The Heartsong of Charging Elk)
James Baldwin – 61 (The Price of the Ticket)
John Steinbeck – 64 (America and Americans)
Bram Stoker – 64 (The Lair of the White Worm)
William Faulkner – 64 (The Reivers)
Langston Hughes – 65 (The Panther and the Lash)
Alexandre Dumas – 65 (The Whites and the Blues)
Frank Herbert – 65 (Man of Two Worlds (with Brian Herbert))
Paula Gunn Allen – 65 (Pocahontas: Medicine Woman, Spy, Entrepreneur, Diplomat)
Denis Johnson – 67 (The Largesse of the Sea Maiden published the year after his death)
Kobo Abe – 68 (The Flying Man published the year after his death)
Julio Cortázar – 68 (Autonauts of the Cosmoroute)
Pablo Neruda – 69 (El mar y las campanas published the year after his death
Marion Zimmer Bradley – 69 (Traitor’s Sun)
Chester Himes – 71 (A Case of Rape)
Herman Melville – 72 (Timoleon)
Lucille Clifton – 72 (Voices)
Gertrude Stein – 72 (Brewsie and Willie)
Rachel Ingalls – 73 (Black Diamond)
Patricia Highsmith – 74 (Small g: a Summer Idyll published a month after her death)
Vladimir Nabokov – 75 (Look at the Harlequins!)
Eudora Welty – 75 (One Writer’s Beginnings)
Edith Wharton – 75 (The Buccaneers published the year after her death)
Iris Murdoch – 76 (Jackson’s Dilemma)
Philip Roth – 77 (Nemesis)
Colette – 77 (En Pays Connu)
Gabriel García Márquez – 77 (Memories of My Melancholy Whores)
J.G. Ballard – 77 (Miracles of Life)
Amiri Baraka – 79 (Most Dangerous Man in America (W. E. B. Du Bois))
Gwendolyn Brooks – 79 (Report from Part Two)
Adrienne Rich – 80 (Tonight No Poetry Will Serve)
Leo Tolstoy – 82 (The Devil published the year after his death)
Chinua Achebe – 82 (There Was a Country)
Kurt Vonnegut – 83 (A Man Without a Country)
Norman Mailer – 84 (The Castle in the Forest)
Tove Jansson – 84 (Messages. Selected stories 1971–1997)
Agatha Christie – 85 (Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case)
Maya Angelou – 85 (Mom & Me & Mom)
Jorge Luis Borges – 86 (Los conjurados)
Ray Bradbury – 86 (Farewell Summer)
Tom Wolfe – 86 (The Kingdom of Speech)
Ursula K. Le Guin – 87 (No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters)
Jean Rhys – 88 (Smile, Please: An Unfinished Autobiography)
Henry Miller – 88 (The World of Lawrence: A Passionate Appreciation)
Doris Lessing – 89 (Alfred and Emily)
Djuna Barnes – 90 (Creatures in an Alphabet)

Length of Career

The average career length for men was 37 years; the average for women was 32 years. The average length overall was 34.8 years.

Jorge Luis Borges – 62 years
Norman Mailer – 59 years
Ray Bradbury – 59 years
Vladimir Nabokov – 58 years
Doris Lessing – 58 years
Adrienne Rich – 58 years
Leo Tolstoy – 58 years
Agatha Christie – 55 years
Djuna Barnes – 54 years
Chinua Achebe – 54 years
Kurt Vonnegut – 53 years
Tove Jansson – 53 years
Amiri Baraka – 52 years
Philip Roth – 51 years
Jean Rhys – 51 years
Gwendolyn Brooks – 51 years
Tom Wolfe – 51 years
Ursula K. Le Guin – 50 years
Colette – 50 years
Pablo Neruda – 50 years
Gabriel García Márquez – 49 years
J.G. Ballard – 46 years
Patricia Highsmith – 45 years
Henry Miller – 45 years
Herman Melville – 45 years
Kobo Abe – 44 years
Julio Cortázar – 44 years
Maya Angelou – 44 years
Rachel Ingalls – 43 years
Eudora Welty – 43 years
Iris Murdoch – 41 years
Langston Hughes – 40 years
Edith Wharton – 40 years
Lucille Clifton – 39 years
Marion Zimmer Bradley – 38 years
Gertrude Stein – 37 years
John Steinbeck – 37 years
Italo Calvino – 36 years
Bram Stoker – 36 years
Chester Himes – 35 years
William Faulkner – 35 years
Fyodor Dostoyevsky – 34 years
Clarice Lispector – 33 years
Denis Johnson – 33 years
Evelyn Waugh – 33 years
Alexandre Dumas – 33 years
Charles Dickens – 33 years
James Baldwin – 32 years
Truman Capote – 32 years
Octavia Butler – 29 years
Frank Herbert – 29 years
James Welch – 29 years
Claude McKay – 28 years
Ernest Hemingway – 27 years
Philip K. Dick – 27 years
Virginia Woolf – 26 years
Yukio Mishima – 26 years
Marcel Proust – 26 years
Angela Carter – 25 years
Audre Lorde – 24 years
Kathy Acker – 24 years
Richard Wright – 22 years
Carson McCullers – 21 years
Paula Gunn Allen – 21 years
James Joyce – 20 years
F. Scott Fitzgerald – 20 years
Andrea Levy – 20 years
D.H. Lawrence – 18 years
Jack Kerouac – 18 years
George Eliot – 17 years
Shirley Jackson – 14 years
Zora Neale Hurston – 14 years
J.D. Salinger – 12 years
Flannery O’Connor – 12 years
Roberto Bolaño – 10 years
Toni Cade Bambara – 8 years
Jane Austen – 6 years
Charlotte Brontë – 6 years
Sylvia Plath – 2 years
Nella Larsen – 1 year

https://lithub.com/when-80-famous-writers-published-their-first-and-last-books/


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