Are you too old to write?

by Les

All of us are getting older at the same rate, but some of us started earlier. Today I’d like to mention a few people who continued writing well beyond what many would consider retirement age.

For example, the Greek philosopher Democritus supposedly worked until his death, which was somewhere between the ages of 90 and 109. Whether he was actually writing up to his death is unknown.

Marcus Porcius Cato (Cato the Elder) apparently wrote his manual of farm life (De Agri Cultura) in 160 B.C. when he was about 74 years old.

Christian tradition often puts the Gospel of John being written around 95 A.D., when the presumed author was about 90 years old.

But these are examples from days before the introduction of birth certificates and publication dates, so we don’t know whether these traditions are accurate.

More precise is the case of the philosopher Thomas Hobbes: he published English translations of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey in 1675 at the age of 87.

In slightly more modern times, Benjamin Franklin was still writing (his unfinished autobiography) when he died in 1790 at the age of  84.

Patrick O’Brian was still writing (his 21st novel in the Aubrey-Maturin series) when he died in 2000 at the age of 85.

Perhaps the person who breaks all records for writing into old age is Francis B. Cooke, who had an article published in Yachting Monthly a few months before his death at 102.

But now there is someone else who can be added to the list: Mona Leeson Vanek has published (at age 80) a revised version of the first volume of her book Behind these Mountains, first published in 1986. It appears the republishing project was prompted by repeated queries about finding a copy of the original (now decades out of print) and the astronomical prices used copies were fetching. The new version is, so far, only available as an ebook.

Congratulations, Mona.

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