Are Writers Late Bloomers?
It took more than three decades for Pakistani writer and retired civil-servant Jamil Ahmad to get published at the age of sevety-eight. The first draft of what became The Wandering Falcon thirty years later was written in his spare time in the 1970 and completed in 1974. His wife had suggested that instead of writing bad poetry, he should focus on writing about the tribal areas, where they had spent more than a decade of their lives. The manuscript gathered dust for close to three decades until 2008 when it found its way to Penguin UK. The Wandering Falcon was published earlier this year in India and is due out in the United States next month. This week, it also won the Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize 2011 in India, which counts Mohammed Hanif amongst its winners.
Jamil Ahmad is, however, not the only one to be published so late in late, though he may be the oldest. Are writers late bloomers? Many writers have published their first major work late in life. There are examples galore. Mary Wesley, one of Britain’s most successful novelists with over three million copies of her books sold, published her first adult novel in 1983 when she was seventy-one. American author Harriet Doerr published her first novel Stones for Ibarra at seventy-four and also won that year’s National Book Award for first work of fiction. Irish-American writer Frank McCourt published his Pulitzer Prize winning first book Angela’s Ashes at sixty-six. Mary Alice Fontenot wrote her first Clovis Crawfish book at fifty-one and wrote almost thirty additional books continuing till her nineties. Richard Adams’s first novel Watership Down was published in his fifties. The Marquis de Sade published his first novel Justine at fifty-one. Indian writer Nirad C. Chaudhuri wrote The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian when he was fifty-four. He wrote a sequel to it Thy Hand, Great Anarch! at ninety, and published his next and final work Three Horsemen of the New Apocalypse at the age of ninety-nine.
So is talent precocious or are a majority of writers late bloomers? Is age no barrier to a literary career late in life? Can literary talent be quantified? David Galenson of the University of Chicago after a study of forty-seven major poetry anthologies published since 1980 concluded that while some poets do their best work at the beginning of their careers, others do their best work decades later, which meant age has no influence! Late bloomers are a difficult, persevering species, and their talent every bit as precocious as that of a young prodigy. They have acquired the gloss of experience and added the halo of forbearance, for if they can write, their writing will surely reflect their life, and who can ignore wisdom that comes with experience.