by Vicraj Gill
Last month, 64-year-old swimmer Diana Nyad completed a journey she’d attempted four times since 1978—the 110-mile swim from Havana Cuba to Key West, Florida. She swam without a wet suit, fins, or a shark cage, and braved scores of jellyfish to get to her goal. Coming out of the water, she had this to say to reporters: “You are never too old to chase your dreams.”
The Bloomers we’ve brought you can attest to writing as one of those dreams. A poignant reflection on the subject comes from Brian Vandyke at The Millions, in the essay “Chasing the Light: On Not Quitting the Writing Life.” Vandyke, who recently published his first short story, writes honestly and sagely about writing pursued in middle age. “You see, at my age, after the youth burns out, and the long sweet middle years lie ahead, what happens after the writing is done simply does not matter. The point is the chemical burn itself, the molecular exchange, not what is produced or left behind. The point is being, not having done.”
The editors of the Paris Review recently held a Reddit AMA [Ask Me Anything] in which the subject of the post-50 writer came up. Asked whether they would ever consider a “best over 50” issue, they responded that while they didn’t believe that honoring older writers simply for their age was the answer to the excessive focus on youth and talent in contemporary literature, “[w]e don’t care how old our writers are as long as we like what they write.”
Similar sentiments were espoused by Marilynne Robinson in an interview with Thessaly La Force for Vice Magazine. La Force asks her about several of her students, like Bloomers Ayana Mathis and Paul Harding (recently profiled here by yet another Bloomer, Joseph M. Schuster). She also asks Robinson for advice for writers. Robinson’s reply: believe in the possibility of genius. “The idea that you might do something radically brilliant—that assumption is very empowering and it has given the world a lot of really interesting things to look at.”
Louis Begley, who published his debut Wartime Lies (1991) at the age of 57 and appeared as part of our showcase of Bloomers’ manuscripts earlier this month, sat down for an interview with The Daily Beast’s Noah Charney. While Begley’s advice for aspiring writers diverges sharply from Robinson—“Do something else!”—it’s an inspiring and very funny conversation.
Yet another Bloomer, Tessa Hadley, recently published the short story “Bad Dreams” in The New Yorker, along with a companion interview for the magazine’s “This Week in Fiction” series. Over at the Huffington Post, their list of the “9 Most Overlooked Novels of 2013 (So Far)” includes Bloomer Thomas Van Essen’s The Center of the World, which they call a “terrific debut novel about the mystical and erotic power of art.” See what our own Lisa Peet had to say about it back in July.
Finally, at McSweeney’s, check out “The 49ers: Oral Histories of Americans Facing 50,” a column that Rob Trucks, then 49, began writing last year in honor of his own 50th birthday. In it, Trucks asks writers like David Leavitt and Kathryn Harrison, and people he knows personally, like a friend of a friend named James Walter, about their experiences of turning 50. Many of Leavitt’s statements mirror ones Lisa Peet made in last month’s excellent “The Middle of the Road.” Both writers point to their mothers as inspiration for living happily and fashionably in their 50s, and both observe that as one enters middle age, the pressure to maintain a certain lifestyle diminishes.
Harrison too concurs: “[A]s I’ve gotten older, life has gotten better . . . I’ve gotten nicer to myself as I’ve gotten older. Without apology. Which is not something I could’ve done when I was in my 20s or 30s.” And Harrison’s reflections on her writing life in middle age echo Brian Vandyke’s, bringing this roundup full circle: “I remind myself,” she says, “that the thing that I love about writing is writing.”