Recently, at the National Book Awards, Annie Proulx was given the medal for distinguished contribution to American letters. She, of “Brokeback Mountain” and The Shipping News fame, with her Pulitzer, her National Book Award, and many other honors — she said, “We live in a Kafkaesque time … but we keep on trying — because there’s nothing else to do.”
She referenced our broken world and its litany of ills and she spoke of the hope to be found in books.
She also gave those of us toiling past the middle a gift, a string of pearls from one of the highest literary perches for those of us bent and bleeding on our pages, damn the annual torpedoes.
Can we have a hosanna, a chorus of huzzahs! An angel of letters has spoken directly to us, the army of aging artists marinating in this cult of youth, a fresh-faced 30 Under 30 hellscape.
No disrespect to all you upstarts — I read you and I approve. I remain entirely impressed, for instance, that Téa Obreht wrote the magnificent novel, The Tiger’s Wife, when she was barely into her 20s. There is no lack of stunning work from people the age of my children. But, we hear about them all the time. The young are deified and commodified here — they don’t need another angel urging them on.
We, the over-fifty crowd, do. I do.
Somewhere, I have a list of writers who made their mark later in life. I’ve worried it, like a talisman, when the panic rises. When the youth-besotted bacchanal around me becomes shrill and exclusive. Aging out of a creative life is a mad idea, when you look at history, but it is an idea with a lot of currency and some very effective marketing. The list calms me.
I can’t find the list, but when I do, Annie Proulx goes on it.
I remember that Carol Shields, one of Canada’s preeminent writers, was in her forties and had four children when she started writing. Olive Ann Burns published Cold Sassy Tree, her first and only complete novel, when she was 59. Harriet Doerr published Stones for Ibarra when she was 74 and she won the National Book Award for her troubles.
There are more. I don’t remember where I put the list, but I remember that there were more.
So, to all of you — not just the early, the middle, or the late — all of you, every last one of you lovely scribblers out there: there’s time. It’s not too late, never too late. Exercise that creative muscle, write your story, write it all down. Chase those brass rings, if that’s your goal.
Let’s start building that 50 Over 50 list. Annie just won a lifetime achievement award and her creative life didn’t start until she was 58. Think about that.
Now I’m going to look for that list. And then I’m going to write.
As Robert Frost said, “The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected.”
Lisa Renee is a poet and essayist living near a big lake in New York. You can find her writing on Medium, and in Exposition Review, HuffPost Australia, Linden Avenue Literary Journal, and Eastern Iowa Review. She is also managing editor of nonfiction at daCunha.
Editor’s note: The ’50 Over 50′ list is a great idea and we’re putting one together.