Are older writers really washed up?
Are older writers really washed up? I am usually a fan of Sam Tanenhaus, but concerning his recent essay about the New Yorker “20 under 40” list, I beg to differ. And maybe it is because I am a woman. Or maybe it is just because of the notable absence of women in his essay (NYT book review, 6/20/10). Mr. Tanenhaus argued that most writers peak when they are under forty years of age. He believes it is erroneous to refer to the New Yorker writers as ‘up and coming’ since they are likely to have already came and went. He presents an historical list of authors who wrote their masterworks while in their twenties as evidence. You can guess who they are. From Flaubert, to Kafka. And the American writers include Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Faulkner. He even argues for post-war writers citing Roth, Updike and Pynchon. Almost as an afterthought he included Joyce Carol Oates. Because, oh yeah, she hasn’t written anything noteworthy since then when she was 31. Really? This argument makes no sense to me. Especially when I consider of the vast majority of great writers who only get better with age. Especially the women, who are disgracefully absent from the Tanenhaus list of washed up young greats. I have to wonder how much biology plays into the theory. Men do tend to shoot their wad early – after all they have to sow their oats while they are studs. Women, of course, have historically gotten their writing on after the kids have moved out. And this is often still the case. We have just begun to write! So, Mr. Tanenhaus, if you want to make your argument about young male writers being finished, that is your prerogative, but please, leave me out of it. As well as the ten women included in the New Yorkers list. (Ahem , exactly half? Oops, that is another blog post.) For an alternate list of writers to watch, while in no way discounting the fabulous writers in the New Yorker list, see http://emergingwriters.typepad.com/dzanc_books/2010/06/20-writers-to-watch-an-alternate-list.html

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