Bloomers At Large / Features

BLOOMERS AT LARGE: “What the Greats Have in Common”

by Vicraj Gill

At the New York Times, Julie Bosman writes about the latest novel from Chris Pavone, who debuted at 43 with The Expats (2012). The Accident is a thriller set in the publishing world—an environment that, as Bosman notes, isn’t often described with words like “sensational.” Pavone is also noted for writing women quite well.

Essayist and memoirist Emily Fox Gordon has a new piece in The American Scholar, “At Sixty-Five.” The full piece is unfortunately available only to subscribers. However, Gordon, a writer who got her start late in life, has perspectives on her age and career that’ll resonate with Bloom readers. As she wrote in Book of Days (2010), “there are people . . . like me . . . who seem to stay latent until a suppressed vocation gene is switched on by the attainment of some appropriate life stage. I remember registering the following thought: now that I’ve waited out the lived part of my life, my real work can finally begin.”

You might get similar sentiments from “Under the Sign of the Moon,” a short story by Bloomer Tessa Hadley that appeared last month in The New Yorker. Hadley also talks with The New Yorker’s Deborah Treisman about the piece, explaining that “Moon” is an attempt to reveal the history of its protagonist, Greta, “from [the] vantage point of late middle age”—a point at which Greta thinks her life is largely over, until the events of the story show that “[l]ife starts up again, with all its effort, its vanity and hunger and absurdity.” For more Hadley, check out Meg Wolitzer’s take on the author’s latest novel, Clever Girl (2013).

Sometimes age brings us to more somber truths. At Slate, a reprint of “My Dementia,” Gerda Saunders’s brave account of life and writing after her recent dementia diagnosis. Saunders describes her decision, at 40, to give up a career in the corporate world and pursue a PhD in English. She also writes honestly and bravely about the way her literary output has been affected by the condition.

Back in January, our founding editor Sonya Chung wrote about Paul Chowder, the post-40 poet protagonist of Nicholson Baker’s Traveling Sprinkler (2013). Over at Public Books, David Henkin also takes a look at Chowder and what motivates his “midlife pivot from poetry to music”: the need “to say everything that needs to be said in three or four minutes.” It’s something that both Chowder and his creator are interested in doing.

Eudora Welty isn’t a Bloomer, though you might be forgiven for thinking so. The Pulitzer Prizewinning novel The Optimist’s Daughter (1972), for which she’s best known, came out when she was 64; and, as Danny Heitman notes, she “endures in national memory . . . as a silver-haired elder of American letters.” Heitman’s piece about his first meeting with the author in 1994 also establishes that while Welty had what might seem the perfect life to shape her as a writer—a mother who was a heavy reader, and an environment that proved to be good training for her artistic eye—literary success was still a struggle. But Welty filled the years before she published her writing with art of another kind: photographs that have since been collected in books like One Time, One Place: Mississippi in the Depression (1996).

“Ms. Welty was dope,” says Bloomer Kiese Laymon in “Hey Mama,” a conversation between Laymon and his mother (who was instrumental in his development as an author). But the statement merits some context. It’s in response to Laymon’s mother’s suspicion that Welty may have gotten “the better end of the royalties and national attention” compared to her contemporary, poet and novelist Margaret Walker Alexander, “because she was white.” It’s worth reading the rest of “Hey Mama,” too—it’s a fascinating, perhaps polarizing conversation.

When he first started writing fiction, Bill Cotter remembers thinking, “Oh my god, what have I been missing? I’ve wasted twenty years of my life by not doing this.” Cotter, who published his first novel, Fever Chart (2010), at 46—and who just came out with his latest, The Parallel Apartments (2014)—also tells The Rumpus’s Sean Carman that other later-life writers inspire him. One is José Saramago, whom we wrote about last year.

We’re not the only ones who write about Bloomers. Sometimes they write about each other. At The Daily Beast, a reprint of “The Old Man and the River,” a 1981 piece that Pete Dexter (featured here last year) wrote about Norman Maclean. In it, Dexter describes his first encounter with Maclean’s A River Runs Through It (1976), which Maclean published at 73. “Holy shit,” Dexter asks his brother Tom. “Who is this guy?” “I had him for Shakespeare,” Tom replies. (Maclean was a longtime professor at the University of Chicago.) Dexter’s response: “The fucker is Shakespeare.”

With all the recent excitement about young adult fiction series like Veronica Roth’s Divergent and Bloomer Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games, it’s interesting to read Michelle Dean’s argument that many of the classics in children’s and teen literature—like The Giver (1993) or A Wrinkle in Time (1962)—have “been written . . . by the comparatively elderly. . . . Age is what the greats have in common.”

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Homepage photo credit: Model of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, 1936 via The U.S. National Archives

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