11 Literary Late Bloomers

These authors redefine the golden age.

laura ingalls wilder c 1885
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  • Photo Credit: Laura Ingalls Wilder, Public Domain

Like wine and cheese, literature gets better with age. To prove our point, here are 11 authors who found publishing success well into middle age and beyond.

Walker Percy

This spring chicken was only 45 when he published his first novel, The Moviegoer. But it’s a good thing he took his time, because it won the National Book Award and made Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels of the Twentieth Century.


Charles Bukowski

Though the author dabbled in poetry and wrote a newspaper column, he was 51 when he his first novel, Post Office, hit shelves in 1971.


Raymond Chandler

Chandler didn’t even consider writing until he lost his oil executive job at age 44, during the Great Depression. Seeking economic security through writing, he churned out a short story and found publishing success with his detective novel, The Big Sleep, which was published when he was 51.

Related: 10 Forgotten Mystery Masterpieces


Anna Sewell

Sewell was from a literary family (her mother wrote children’s books), but she did not write herself until she was in her 50s and battling illness. She achieved lasting success through her debut and only novel, Black Beauty, published when she was 57, a year before her death.


Laura Ingalls Wilder

This spunky gal from the prairie didn’t get her famous Little House series published until 1931, when Little House in the Big Woods was released. And she was already 64!


Frank McCourt

McCourt’s famous memoir, Angela’s Ashes, was published in 1996—when he was 66. He kept himself busy before that working odd jobs, immigrating to and from America, serving in the Korean War, getting an education at NYU, and working as a teacher for around 30 years. His post-retirement project earned him a Pulitzer Prize and a new literary career.


Mary Wesley

British author Mary Wesley wrote a few children’s books in her 50s but did not achieve her commercial success until she made the jump to adult books at the age of 71 with Jumping the Queue. From there she went on to become one of Britain’s best-selling novelists, writing 10 best sellers in 20 years before her death at 90.


Katherine Anne Porter

Katherine Anne Porter was a celebrated writer of short stories, but wanted to try her hand at something longer. She got a publishing deal to write Ship of Fools. And 22 years later at age 71, she turned it in. She went on the win a Pulitzer and the National Book Award for her collection of short stories at 75.


Harriet Doerr

After Doerr was widowed in her 60s, she decided to move on rather than dwell. She got her bachelor’s at Stanford in her late 60s, snagged a writing fellowship, and published her first novel, Stones for Ibarra, at the age of 74. Stones won the National Book Award for that year.


Millard Kaufman

Kaufman got an even later start, publishing his first novel at age 90. Kaufman spent his life as a screenwriter for television and film, but got the hankering to write Bowl of Cherries when he was already an octogenarian!


Toyo Shibata

Ninety-two-year-old Japanese grandmother Toyo Shibata loved Japanese dance, but back troubles caused her to turn to poetry as a new artistic outlet. Fast-forward seven years to 2009, when at 99, she sold a shocking 1.58 million copies of her first collection: Kujikenaide (or Don’t Lose Heart).