The Ages of 101 Famous Writers at First Publication [Infographic]

Famous writers ages infographic featured image

If you’re anything like us, you constantly think about the lives of some of the world’s most famous writers.

How did they get started with writing? And when?

Looking back on a a now-famous author’s life work, I always catch myself thinking, “That author was a genius! I’m sure she had no problem getting work published.” Or, “Yeah, it must have been super easy for him; he’s obviously talented.”

In reality, though, even the most popular authors often struggle for a long time before finally getting published. Many published authors have a family or a day job (or both) and don’t even really start writing until around mid-life.

And even when famous writers did get published, that didn’t always translate into critical or commercial success. Many authors who we consider among The Greats actually died penniless or in debt.

…but that’s another blog post altogether.

They were how old?

While thinking about our favorite authors’ lives and their sometimes-meandering struggle to produce art, we began to look into how old our favorite authors actually were when they were first published.

Were they successful young writers? Or late bloomers?

All that research led to the interesting author infographic below, which reveals how old 101 of the world’s most famous writers were when they published their first major work. (You’ll find the full list of famous authors and their first major publications below the infographic.)

Author and book infographic - the ages of 101 authors when they published their first major work

The first major publications of 101 famous writers

Wondering what works these authors actually published first?

Read the full list of famous authors, and their first major publications (marked with an *), below.

Authors Who First Published at 17 years old

  • Vladimir Nabokov – Stikhi (1916), poetry collection

Authors Who First Published at 19 years old

  • Langston Hughes – “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” (1921), poem
  • Pablo Neruda – Crepusculario (1923), poetry collection

Authors Who First Published at 20 years old

  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Decisions (1997), poetry collection
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez – Eyes of a Blue Dog (1947), short story collection

Authors Who First Published at 21 years old

  • Victor Hugo – Han d’Islande (1823), novel
  • CS Lewis – Spirits in Bondage (1919), poetry collection
  • Mary Shelley – Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818), novel
  • Bret Easton Ellis – Less Than Zero (1985), novel

Authors Who First Published at 22 years old

  • Margaret Atwood – Double Persephone (1961), poetry collection
  • Ray Bradbury – Dark Carnival (1942), short story collection
  • Henrik Ibsen – Catilina (1850), play
  • James Joyce – “The Holy Office” (1904), poem

Authors Who First Published at 23 years old

  • Carson McCullers – The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1940), novel
  • VS Naipaul – The Mystic Masseur (1955), novel
  • Roberto Bolaño – Reinventar el amor (1976), poetry collection

Authors Who First Published at 24 years old

  • Jorge Luis Borges – Fervor de Buenos Aires (1923), poetry collection
  • Charles Bukowski – “Aftermath of a Lengthy Rejection Slip” (1944), short story
  • Truman Capote – Other Voices, Other Rooms (1948), novel
  • Charles Dickens – The Pickwick Papers (1836), novel published in installments
  • Fitzgerald F. Scott – This Side of Paradise (1920), novel
  • Ernest Hemingway – Three Stories and Ten Poems (1923), short story and poetry collection
  • Jack London – The Son of the Wolf (1900), novel
  • Edgar Allan Poe – “Manuscript Found in a Bottle” (1833), short story
  • Leo Tolstoy – Childhood (1852), novel
  • Voltaire – Oedipus (1718), play
  • Julio Cortazar – Presencia (1938), poetry collection

Authors Who First Published at 25 years old

  • Fyodor Dostoevsky – Poor Folk (1846), novel
  • Norman Mailer – The Naked and the Dead (1948), novel
  • Zadie Smith – White Teeth (2000), novel
  • Bram Stoker – “The Crystal Cup” (1872), short story
  • David Foster Wallace – The Broom of the System (1987), novel
  • Joyce Carol Oates – By the North Gate (1963), short story collection

Authors Who First Published at 26 years old

  • EM Forster – Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905), novel
  • HP Lovecraft – “The Alchemist” (1916), short story
  • Thomas Pynchon – V. (1963), novel
  • William Shakespeare – Richard III (1590), play
  • John Updike – The Carpentered Hen (1958), poetry collection
  • Alice Walker – The Third Life of Grange Copeland (1970), novel
  • Chris Ware – Acme Novelty Library (1993), comic book
  • Roald Dahl – “A Piece of Cake” (1942), short story

Authors Who First Published at 27 years old

  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – A Study in Scarlet (1886), novel
  • Alexandre Dumas – “Henry III and His Courts” (1829), play
  • Aldous Huxley – Crome Yellow (1921), novel
  • Ken Kesey – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1962), novel
  • Herman Melville – Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life (1846), novel
  • Flannery O’Connor – Wise Blood (1952), novel
  • Mario Vargas Llosa – La ciudad y los perros (1963), novel

Authors Who First Published at 28 years old

  • Anton Chekhov – “Steppe” (1888), short story
  • Junot Diaz – Drown (1996), short story collection
  • William Faulkner – Soldiers’ Pay (1925), novel
  • Kazuo Ishiguro – A Pale View of the Hills (1982), novel
  • Jack Kerouac – The Town and the City (1950), novel
  • Salman Rushdie – Grimus (1975), novel

Authors Who First Published at 29 years old

  • TS Eliot – Prufrock and Other Observations (1917), poetry collection
  • Jonathan Franzen – The Twenty-Seventh City (1988), novel
  • JD Salinger – “A Perfect Day for a Bananafish” (1948), short story
  • Art Spiegelman – Breakdowns (1977), collected comic strips
  • Donna Tartt – The Secret History (1992), novel
  • HG Wells – The Time Machine (1895), novella

Authors Who First Published at 30 years old

  • Agatha Christie – The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920), novel
  • Carlos Fuentes – La región más transparente (1958), novel
  • George Orwell – Down and Out in Paris and London (1933), memoir
  • JRR Tolkien – A Middle English Vocabulary (1922), reference book
  • Mark Twain – “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” (1865), short story
  • Kurt Vonnegut – Player Piano (1952), novel
  • Richard Wright – Uncle Tom’s Children (1938), short story collection
  • Haruki Murakami – Hear the Wind Sing (1979), novel

Authors Who First Published at 31 years old

  • Charlotte Bronte – Jane Eyre (1847), novel
  • Geoffrey Chaucer – “The Book of the Duchess” (1374), elegy
  • Ernest Gaines – Catherine Carmier (1964), novel
  • Doris Lessig – The Grass is Singing (1950), novel
  • Marjane Satrapi – Persepolis (2000), graphic novel

Authors Who First Published at 32 years old

  • Willa Cather – The Troll Garden (1905), short story collection
  • Cormac McCarthy – The Orchard Keeper (1965), novel
  • JK Rowling – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997), novel

Authors Who First Published at 33 years old

  • Ralph Waldo Emerson – “Nature” (1836), essay
  • Virginia Woolf – The Way Out (1915), novel
  • Barbara Kingsolver – The Bean Trees (1988), novel

Authors Who First Published at 34 years old

  • JM Coetzee – Dusklands (1974), novel
  • Harper Lee – To Kill a Mockingbird (1960), novel

Authors Who First Published at 35 years old

  • Jules Verne – Five Weeks in a Balloon (1863), novel
  • Edith Wharton – The Decoration of Houses (1897), interior design manual

Authors Who First Published at 36 years old

  • Jane Austen – Sense and Sensibility (1811), novel

Authors Who First Published at 37 years old

  • Amy Tan – The Joy Luck Club (1989), novel

Authors Who First Published at 38 years old

  • Saul Bellow – The Adventures of Augie March (1953), novel
  • Miguel de Cervantes – La Galatea (1585), novel
  • Ralph Ellison – Invisible Man (1952), novel
  • Wallace Stevens – Harmonium (1917), poetry collection

Authors Who First Published at 39 years old

  • Anthony Burgess – Time for a Tiger (1956), novel
  • William S. Burroughs – Junkie (1953), novel
  • Toni Morrison – The Bluest Eye (1970), novel
  • Jean Rhys – Quartet (1929), novel

Authors Who First Published at 40 years old

  • EL Doctorow – The Book of Daniel (1971), novel
  • George Eliot – Adam Bede (1859), novel

Authors Who First Published at 41 years old

  • Maya Angelou – I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), autobiography

Posthumous publication

  • Emily Dickenson – Poems (1890), poetry collection
  • Steig Larsson – The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2005), novel

What do we define as a “major work?”

To determine the first publications for this list of famous authors, we first had to define what we mean by “major work.” In general, we’ve chosen to define “major work” as a play, novel, short story collection, or poetry collection. Many of these famous writers actually published smaller works earlier, perhaps a short story or two; or a news article or journalistic work; or some copy for an advertising or marketing firm; or unpaid/not-credited works for fanzines or literary magazines run by their personal friends.

We didn’t count these smaller endeavors unless that work brought the author particular acclaim. Langston Hughes, for example, gained immediate fame for his very first single poem published by the NAACP, and JD Salinger similarly walked into the public eye with a single short story published in The New Yorker.

We also chose “major work” as our defining feature since so many authors wrote with pen names in obscure newspapers and journals, which are notoriously difficult to track. So, like everything else in life and history, there’s some wiggle room here.

101 writers closing questions

So, there you have it! 101 An exhaustive list of 101 writers and their ages at their first date of publication.

Which of these authors’ ages surprised you the most? Were there any other writers that we missed? Let us know in the comments below!

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[…] Plenty of writers have found debut success at plenty of ages.  (Look, JK Rowling didn’t publish her debut novel until she was 32!) […]

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