How Older Women Writers Prove that It's Never Too Late to Gain Success
Updated: Apr 1
We live in a youth-oriented culture focused on the ambition, energy, and potential of twenty and thirty-somethings who strive to make their marks by the age of forty.
Older people are often dismissed as "dinosaurs," "old dogs," and "antiques," people who eat at 4:30 in the afternoon and go to bed at nine, ready to retire and do nothing more than sit around and fart in their rocking chairs for the next twenty years.
What a distorted view of age and experience! Where did the idea that success is achieved early in life come from? Why don't we see that getting where you want to go is not an exclusive sport of the young?
Craftsmanship. Persistence. Drive. Creativity. People skills. Many factors contribute to success. Younger people have the background, the brains, and the balls to succeed, no doubt. But so do the elders of the world who have accumulated life experiences and a wealth of knowledge to accomplish great things.
Older women writers prove it
Right now, older women writers are proving that it's never too late to publish. To get books out to the world. To enhance already large oeuvres. To become best-selling authors.
I'm an older woman writer, so you can probably hear me cheering from where you are, loud, raucous shouts that emanate from the core of my being. While my cartwheel and handspring days are long over, in my mind, I'm turning flips all over this page.
There's hope for me, after all.
Here's the proof that it's never too late to gain success.
A copywriter turned bestselling author
I LOVE it when I find someone with a similar background to mine who makes it big with her writing. (Another sign that I should never give up, because who knows? If it could happen to her, it could happen to me! And you!)
Have you heard about the hot new novel, Lessons in Chemistry?
Lessons in Chemistry is the story of Elizabeth Zott, a brilliant female chemist in the 1960s who fights not just discrimination, but personal tragedy. She must work hard to survive, but while doing so, never forgets her passion. She gets a role on a cooking show that teaches "chemistry," rather than cooking. In the process, she inspires thousands of other women.
The author of Lessons in Chemistry, Bonnie Garmus, 65, was a working copywriter who faced her own misogeny, an experience that inspired the idea of Elizabeth Zott. Like many writers with a "day job," Bonnie Garmus had submitted projects, and, like many of us, had been rejected on at least a hundred different ones...Until an agent took Lessons in Chemistry.
A little tweaking on the manuscript, and as soon as Garmus' British agent submitted it, the bids started rolling in. The novel quickly became a hit all over the world. It's been on the New York Times bestseller list for more than 36 weeks and named as one of the best books of 2022 on multiple lists. The rights have been sold in forty countries, and a television series on Apple TV is planned.
It takes time to travel the world
No matter how much I read, I can't know the works of every author, so I am always surprised and delighted to discover a new author with work in sync with my interests.
I'm doubly delighted when I find that work is written by a "mature" woman close to my age.
Such is the case with Marcia deSanctis, a former television producer and award-winning travel journalist who published her first essay - wildly successful - when she was 50 years old. DeSanctis went on to write the New York Times bestselling travel book, 100 Places in France Every Woman Traveler Should Go, and has kept on writing and traveling.
Now, at the age of 68, deSanctis is publishing a book that is sure to please anyone with a bit of wanderlust in their heart. More than forty years of global travel and self-discovery unfold in gorgeously crafted essays in A Hard Place to Leave: Stories From a Restless Life.
No age limit on creativity
Do you know Barbara Chase-Riboud? While I'm learning more about the world of art every day, there is so much I do not know, including the story of the multi-talented Barbara Chase-Riboud.
When Barbara Chase-Riboud was fifteen years old, she sold a woodcut titled "Reba" to the Museum of Modern Art, and within a few years had earned her MFA from Yale in the late 1950s, the first woman of color ever to do so.
Throughout the 1960s, Chase-Riboud rocked the art world with her sculptures. Then, in the 1970s, she released a book of poetry, From Memphis & Peking, edited by Toni Morrison. Now a recognized poet, and while creating and exhibiting her sculptures in galleries and museums around the world, Chase-Riboud felt called to write about Sally Hemings, the black slave mistress of Thomas Jefferson. The novel, Sally Hemings was published in 1979 and brought acclaim from the literary world to Barbara Chase-Riboud.
After seven creative decades, Chase-Riboud is still producing art in various forms, and in 2022, at the age of 83, Chase-Riboud has written and published another stunning novel, The Great Mrs. Elias: A Novel, a tale of the richest black woman at the turn of the 20th century.
New work at 90+
Hilma Wolitzer is an American novelist best known for her novel, An Available Man, published in 2012. On her website, Wolitzer acknowledges that she was what she considered a late bloomer.
But I was really a late bloomer, publishing my first short story in my 30’s and my first novel, ENDING, when I was 44. For a while I was billed as The Great Middle-Aged Hope.
(I beg to differ, though. I don't view the 30s and 40s as being a late bloomer! I'm thinking 70!)
Wolitzer has written nine novels and 14 books for adults since 1966 with characters that reappear from work to work. She continued to write, and the final story of her new short story is the ending piece for a collection of short stories, Today a Woman Went Mad in the Supermarket. The first piece in the book is the first story she published back in 1966, and the last story in the collection is called "The Great Escape," a story she wrote in 2020 based on her pandemic experiences. (She survived COVID, but her husband did not.)
My dream is to be like Hilma Wolitzer. . . having work to draw from my oeuvre, but continuing to write new stories as long as I have life in me.
Success doesn't come overnight
I doubt that agents and publishers would be interested in a newly written manuscript by an 80 or 90-year-old writer if some previous publication history didn't exist. But the fact that older women are actively creating artistic works is proof that a "real" writer is constantly producing throughout her lifetime, at every age and every stage, believing that at some point along the way her work will triumph.
Jennifer Joel, Bonnie Garmus's American agent, reminded us,
“Part of the reality behind the myth of an overnight success, is that most people have actually been toiling, laboriously and diligently, in an unseen way, for years.”
Hence, the benefits of age.
Here's to all those older women writers out there who are rocking the world with their words - not their rockers - proving that it's never too late to gain success!