Bloomers At Large / Features

Bloomers at Large: Keeping the Light On

by Vicraj Gill

The past month’s been a good one for Bloomers on the award circuit. Edie Parsons won the very first Karen and Philip Cushman Late Bloomer Award, given to authors making their children’s fiction debut after the age of fifty. The award was begun only this year; it’s named in honor of Karen Cushman, who was 53 when she published her own children’s fiction debut, The Midwife’s Apprentice, and is now among the best-known writers in the genre.

Bloomer Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being earned a spot on the longlist for the 2013 Man Booker Prize. Also on the list is Harvest by Jim Crace, who began publishing novels in his forties after a series of short stories and radio plays; and Donal Ryan’s The Spinning Heart, rejected some 47 times before a Lilliput Press intern brought it to her boss’s attention. These authors join Jhumpa Lahiri, Eleanor Catton, and NoViolet Bulawayo on what is perhaps “the most diverse longlist in Man Booker history.”

David Constantine took home the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award for Tea at the Midland and Other Stories (2013). The 69-year-old Constantine published his first book of poetry, 1983’s Watching for the Dolphins, at 39. And, though a flood of novels, poetry and short story collections, translations, and criticism has followed over the years, he tells the Guardian’s Liz Bury that he still thinks of himself as a poet “on the periphery” who spends much of his spare time, as Bury puts it, “at a bolt-hole in the Scilly Isles.”

In his interview with Bury, Constantine calls himself “a poet who also writes prose.” In the case of David Rakoff we have a prose writer who also wrote poetry. Well-known as a humorist, Rakoff’s first novel, Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish—which happens to consist entirely of lines of rhyming iambic pentameter—was published posthumously this month. It was the last work that Rakoff, who died of cancer last year at the age of 47, ever wrote, and he labored mightily and bravely to complete it; the Times of Israel’s Renee Ghert-Zand gives us the riveting account. (Read an exclusive excerpt of the novel at Salon, where Rakoff was a frequent contributor.)

Several other writers received posthumous recognition in PolicyMic’s list of the “6 Most Influential Women Writers You’ve Never Heard Of.” Among the names on the list is Ann Petry. Petry wrote her first novel, The Street, while working as a pharmacist, to pay tribute to the Black community of her native Harlem; she published it in 1946, when she was 38. The Sioux writer Zitkala-Sa, author of powerful political works against assimilation, is also on PolicyMic’s list; she published her best-known work, 1921’s American Indian Stories, at the age of 55.

Of course, one’s 50s can be a remarkably productive age—we here at Bloom know that well. Take for example Kathryn Bigelow, who was 57 when 2009’s The Hurt Locker made her a household name, and who is one of the folks on BuzzFeed’s recent list of “19 Late-Blooming Artists.” Others include Wayne Coyne of the band The Flaming Lips, George Eliot and Mark Twain, Junot Díaz, Toni Morrison, Dorothy Allison, and R&B singer Bettye LaVette.

Over at The Nervous Breakdown, Sandie Friedman considers the question of the art that goes unmade, and the life that goes unlived, in the essay “Warhol’s Last Starlet: Notes on the Unlived Life.” It’s a fascinating piece that’s part review of Adam Phillips’s latest, Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life (2013), and part reflection on Friedman’s own dreams of writing a novel about Communist theater in the 1930s and becoming the next Edie Sedgwick. And Friedman finally settles its central question with some help from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden (1845). “[H]appiness, for Thoreau,” as Friedman notes, “was really … about developing the capacity to see ordinary, lived life as marvelous.”

Today Health spotlights a recent study at the journal Neurology which concludes that “[b]eing a bookworm boosts your brain power into old age.” The study echoes what Dr. Francine Toder found in her work with over-60s who found their mental stimulation through the fine arts (we published two excerpts of Toder’s book The Vintage Years: Finding Your Inner Artist After 60 back in April and May). Similar sentiments were espoused by Richard A. Friedman, a clinical psychologist whose New York Times op-ed “Fast Time and the Aging Mind” tells readers that “if you want time to slow down, become a student again…. And take your sweet time about it.”

To end the roundup with a little levity: if you enjoyed Elizabeth Cohen’s account of the stories she found and wrote while on sites like okCupid and match.com, you’ll like Chrissy Loader’s take on “Dating in Your 40s” in The Bold Italic. Loader recounts her experiences reentering the dating world after the end of her eight-year marriage. Interestingly, the path she takes from doubt to peace is rather similar to the trajectories of many of the writers we’ve covered here at Bloom. And the insight to which she arrives is one that Bloomers of all stripes can relate to: “[I]f I were to write a letter to my younger self, I’d tell her to keep the light on, even when it feels like the last bus has left the station.”

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Homepage photo credit: Jason A. Samfield via photopin cc

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