10 Women Authors You Should Read Who Published After Age 40

A good reminder the lit world isn't just wunderkinds.

It's not uncommon for those with creative aspirations to feel like whatever they're doing is being done too late.

It's nearly impossible, when you're spending lonely nights typing away at your first novel or receiving rejection after rejection from literary mags, not to compare oneself to the other authors and poets the same age -- or worse, younger -- who are actually getting their names in print. Especially now, when a writer's online presence is considered nearly as critical as the quality of his or her writing, when casually pretty author photos and Instagrams from last night's big book launch abound, it is exceedingly easy to fall into a trap of word-count FOMO and decide that since you didn't publish your great oeuvre at 18 (or 21, 25, 30, 35 ... ), you might as well swear off words for life.

Thankfully, these 10 women -- and countless other authors -- didn't listen to that judgy inner voice and embarked on their literary careers later in life (in most cases, after many years of first drafts, ditched ideas and killed darlings). Aside from holding some darn good writing, each book is a comforting reminder that there's always time to see your name on the page.

Katherine Heiny

This author, aside from being a badass storyteller, has a career with two valuable lessons for today’s writer. The first comes when we learn her story, “How to Give the Wrong Impression,” was rejected 31 times before, at the age of 25, she submitted it to The New Yorker -- and it was published. While this seems to foretell literary greatness, Heiny went generally unpublished for the next decade or so, writing YA novels under a pen name until the recent release of Single, Carefree, Mellow, a collection of short stories that includes the one that first put her name on the map. Heiny was 47 when Knopf published the collection. (And that’s the second lesson -- there’s no expiration date for your first book, so long as you keep trying.)

Claire Fuller
Tin House Books

Fuller, who wrote 2015’s Our Endless Numbered Days, is one author who isn’t afraid to admit she’s not going to make any “40 under 40” lists, even pairing up with fellow over-40 debut novelist Antonia Honeywell to create Prime Writers, a group that supports the work of first-time authors who aren’t fresh out of undergrad. “I like to think that all my life experience -- children, jobs, travel, love affairs, divorce (not necessarily in that order) -- has composted down into a kind of fertile history I can delve into,” Fuller wrote of her authorial perspective in The Guardian.

Mira Jacob
Random House

In 2014, Mira Jacob released her debut, The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing, a sprawling epic about a family split between the past and present, between India and New Mexico, told with equal strokes of humor and heartache. Jacob spent 10 years working on the book before she saw it published at 41. “No one ever celebrates that story,” she told Kirkus Review. “But those things that you’re doing in your room alone on weekends when you could be out being social or at least not worrying if you’re actually a writer, those things actually can amount to something. You’re not the next wunderkind, you’re just yourself. It takes a while, and that’s OK.”

Elizabeth Strout

You may know Strout as the cool recipient of a minor prize in literature known as the Pulitzer, which she received in 2009 for her book of interconnected stories, Olive Kitteridge. This acclaim came just under a decade after her first novel, Amy and Isabelle, which was released when Strout was 42. “When you’re a writer you live with such a private sense of alienation. And then I would just go to the library where they had them all lined up, and it was sort of like going to a bakery,” Strout said to Fifth Wednesday journal. “You find out there are other people living like that.”

Carola Dibbell
Two Dollar Radio

For years, New York native Dibbell was better known for her rock criticism in The Village Voice. “In this fledgling and disreputable form, you could be vulgar, personal, amateurish and formally ambitious all at once and actually be read,” she said in an interview with Black Clock in 2013. “It gave me a chance to do things with the voice and tone and disorder I was already exploring in fiction that was not actually read.” This style takes its full form in Dibbell’s first novel, The Only Ones, published in 2015, one month before her 70th birthday. “It is a life-changing event to have work I’ve put so much into about to head out in the world ...” she told Two Dollar Radio, her publisher, in a Q&A. “I think about the shape of a life with this late-breaking twist. It is very, very sweet. It also would have been sweet at 60. Even 50.”

Robin Black
Random House

The author of Life Drawing and If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This (published when Black was 52 and 48, respectively) took issue with age-based literary honors in The New York Times. “Emerging writers are emerging writers,” she wrote. “While I very much doubt that I would have been picked for any of those illustrious awards had I been eligible, it has frustrated me endlessly that I could not even lose on the merits of my work.” She explains that there’s an inherent privilege that comes with being able to publish young -- it requires a lifestyle that affords you the time to write, a luxury some creatives can’t fully access until they’ve established themselves.

Lydia Netzer
St. Martin's Press

Netzer said this of her writing process on her blog: “I can work my way through to a full draft, but it might take years to get that kind of traction. [...] I keep a notebook of ideas, character quotes, concepts for scenes, etc. So I don't lose track of my thoughts if I go for years between drafts. With Shine Shine Shine, it took 10 years to get to a point where I could show it to an agent and feel done.” The book she references is her first novel, published in 2012 when Netzer was in her early 40s, that covers the topics of robots, romance and trying to assimilate in a world that’s not your own. It picked up a New York Times Notable Book mention and led to Netzer’s next two books: Everybody’s Baby and How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky.

Rachel Cantor
Melville House

It was with 2014’s A Highly Unlikely Scenario: or, a Neetsa Pizza Employee’s Guide to Saving the World that Cantor became a debut novelist. Her story follows Leonard, an employee of Neetsa Pizza whose job it is to handle customer complaints but who gets wrapped up in questions of time, space and society when he gets Marco Polo on the line. Another writer who emerged after 40, Cantor noted in an interview, "I knew from the age of eight that I wanted to be a writer; still, I didn’t start writing seriously until I was 35." She credited influential writing seminars and teachers with helping to find her voice, and the work paid off: Cantor's first novel received high reviews from outlets like The New York Times, and her second, Good on Paper, is forthcoming in January 2016.

Marian Palaia
Simon and Schuster

Palaia's bio is proof that it can take many years, and different locales, to gain the experience needed to write one's first book. The author, who completed her MFA at 50, has called California, D.C., Montana, Hong Kong, Nepal and Ho Chi Minh City home. “Everywhere you go and everything you do adds to a well of experience you draw on as you write,” she said in an interview with Bloom. “If I’m doing it right, not all of my characters are different versions of me, or of the relatively small group of familiars that have surrounded me all my life.” Perfect words to keep with you during that ill-fitting day job or bizarre trip -- at least you’re getting some good stories.

Jo Ann Beard
Back Bay Books

Beard was in her mid-40s when her memoir The Boys of My Youth, a series of narratives about defining moments in her childhood, came out in 1999. It came off the buzz surrounding an excerpt, "The Fourth State of Matter," in The New Yorker, in which Beard details her experience during a mass shooting at the University of Iowa. This highly detailed, cutting writer originally began her creative pursuits in a different sphere -- painting. In an interview with BOMB magazine, she explained, “I took a writing class and realized there was another way I could express myself that would work out better for me.”

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