Age Cannot Wither Some Writers

You might have heard of Herman Wouk, the 97-year-old novelist. Or maybe you’ve heard of works adapted from his novels: The Caine Mutiny, Marjorie Morningstar, The Winds of War.

He’s got a new novel out.

It’s called The Lawgiver, and it’s an epistolary novel about the making of a movie about Moses. I’m delighted that Wouk is still active, and according to a profile in The New York Times, still sharp as ever.

We live in a world that worships youth, perhaps because it’s so fleeting. Advertisers target 18-29-year-olds, thinking, erroneously, that they’ll be lifelong brand loyalists. Hollywood makes movies for teenagers and adults who refuse to grow up. Literary magazines run articles and fiction by the “best under 40″ or “best under 35″ or some such cutoff to tout writers who are just getting started. As if we should be delighted and in awe of someone who shows promise. Get back to us when you’ve got a track record.

They should have literary articles about “best over 50″ or, for Wouk, “best over 95.” Now, that’s something to crow about.

The English novelist Joanna Trollope once told me that she didn’t think people should write novels until they were in their mid-30s. They haven’t lived enough until then. And, as most readers who’ve sampled first novels know, most of those early efforts have a startling, and tedious, similarity: coming-of-age dreariness with some comic misadventure. Get back to us when you’ve lived a bit longer.

And Wouk, according to the profile, despite his advanced years, is up-to-date on technology. No need to cue the tired jokes about having children set the DVR or try to explain Skype. The nonagenarian already knows how. Sure, Philip Roth has decided not to write any more fiction (some might say he should have decided to stop a decade ago), after a long and remarkable career of strong literary output. But others can continue to be productive for a long time.

I don’t believe Wouk has a platform of his own, unless it’s his lifelong reputation. And his longevity. He may be au courant when it comes to social media, but you need to be more than that. For longevity – I’m talking about your career, not your time on earth – you need to keep developing your platform so that you continue to engage with your audience and actually have a conversation with people who care what you have to say.

Whatever your age – your message, thanks to your involvement with your tribe, may be longer-lasting than a lot of the literary output of those young whippersnappers. Long live Wouk.

Bob Hughes
Author: Bob Hughes
Robert J. Hughes ("Bob") was a staff reporter for The Wall Street Journal for over a decade, specializing in culture reporting. He was the paper's theater reporter, wrote on publishing, the art and auction markets, television, music, film and philanthropy, and reviewed books.
  • Anonymous

    This is AWESOME!!! What an inspiration. Love it. I’m going to be like Mr. Wouk.