Current Novelists Published for Many Years

Who are some living authors with the longest novel-writing careers, dating back to the 1970s or earlier?

I contemplated that this past week as I read In One Person, John Irving’s quirky and compelling 2012 book about sexual identity (among other things). It was his 13th novel since his first, Setting Free the Bears, was published a whopping 51 years ago — in 1968.

Starting her novel career around the same time was the now-as-popular-as-ever Margaret Atwood, whose initial fiction book (The Edible Woman) was released exactly a half-century ago — in 1969. The Handmaid’s Tale and many other novels followed.

A year later, The Color Purple author Alice Walker came out with her first novel: The Third Life of Grange Copeland. Also in 1970, Beloved writer Toni Morrison entered the novel realm with The Bluest Eye. And in 1971, Underworld author Don DeLillo’s first novel (Americana) appeared.

Stephen King? His debut novel Carrie was published in 1974, the same year A Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin produced his first novel: A Song for Lya. Salman Rushdie of Midnight’s Children fame and Russell Banks of Continental Drift fame? Their respective debut novels Grimus and Family Life were published in 1975. Anne Rice? She started big with 1976’s Interview with the Vampire. And Atonement author Ian McEwan? His debut novel The Cement Garden arrived in 1978.

Going back further, Lonesome Dove author Larry McMurtry earned his first novel credit in 1961 with Horseman, Pass By. Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter author Mario Vargas Llosa’s first novel (The Time of the Hero) reached print in 1963 — the same year Joan Didion and Margaret Drabble entered the novel realm with Run, River and A Summer Bird-Cage, respectively. Drabble’s sister, Possession writer A.S. Byatt, saw her first novel The Shadow of the Sun released in 1964 — the same year as Joyce Carol Oates’ With Shuddering Fall debut. Cormac McCarthy started walking “The Road” of novel-writing in 1965, courtesy of The Orchard Keeper.

Who are your favorite living authors with long novel careers?

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest weekly piece — which has a Revolutionary War airports theme 🙂 — is here.

57 thoughts on “Current Novelists Published for Many Years

  1. Andrea Camilleri qualified until just this week, but he up and died on me!

    Camilleri is (now was) the author of the Inspector Montalbano series of detective mysteries. Set in Sicily, they share with Donna Leon, whose books are set in Venice, a very Italian sense of locale and local corruption, which when thwarted close at hand, can be relied on to flourish at large and greater magnitude elsewhere in the country, free thanks to the the unstoppable influence of money and power, and the cooperating weakness of officialdom.

    Camilleri was a latecomer to detective fiction, his first Montalbano published when he was nearly 70. I’ve read him, about once every 18 months, over the last 2 decades. I’ve got 3 unread on a stack right now. Of course, there are a great many stacks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, some authors who would have been in my post unfortunately died recently or relatively recently. 😦

      I’ve never read Andrea Camilleri, whose work sounds really interesting from your evocative description. And that is indeed a relatively late-in-life start for detective fiction!

      Like

  2. Hi Dave,

    Stephen King was definitely the first author I thought of. I didn’t realise that George Martin had been writing for as long, if not as prolifically. Though I must admit, I haven’t read anything of Martin’s except the incredibly popular A Song of Ice and Fire series.

    Sadly, I’ve only read one John Irving (“A Prayer for Owen Meany”), and one Ian McEwan (“Atonement”). I’m hoping to remedy this in the near future.

    I’m actually feeling a bit left behind this week as so many authors have been mentioned who I haven’t even heard of! I guess there are worse problems to have than too many books; but sometimes I really wish I had more time.

    A bit of a side note, I noticed that Almost Iowa had managed to italicise the book titles mentioned. So I’m going to try and travel back to my uni course to see if I can remember how to write that code. So feel free to ignore anything that looks a bit weird 🙂

    Sue

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hi Sue, I was also surprised that George R.R. Martin had been writing novels for so long; I guess he was a lot less known before starting “The Song of Fire and Ice” books.

      I’ve also read just one Ian McEwan novel — the same “Atonement.”

      None of us have heard of every author. 🙂

      As for putting italics in comments, I don’t know how to do that. But you figured it out!

      Liked by 1 person

      • So far as I know, I have read not a word from Martin, but a night or so ago, I noticed, as I was flipping elsewhere, that the revived Twilight Zone (1985-89) has at least one episode that credits him as a writer.

        It’s probably what gave him the financial freedom to buy that hat.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Ha ha, jhNY! 🙂 That IS quite a distinctive hat (and look) George R.R. Martin has. Nice that he had an ’80s “Twilight Zone” credit!

          I’ve read only the first book of Martin’s “Song of Fire and Ice” series. Took a while for me to get into it, but I was ultimately impressed.

          Like

  3. Admittedly, John McPhee is a non-fiction writer, not a novelist – but I would say, without a doubt, he is the best American writer still at his craft.

    He first appeared in the New Yorker in 1965 and published A Sense of Where You Are the same year.

    Basin and Range is so compelling, you would think it is a novel.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It always amazes me that even after all these years, authors like that are still able to pump out incredible works! 🙂 It’s nice to know that writing river never has to stop flowing. It’s hard for me to pick a favorite long-time author, there’s so many good ones! I do like Ian McEwan a lot – I didn’t realize his career went so far back! “Atonement” is probably one of my favorite novels ever, and the movie is so good too. I used to read Stephen King a lot when I was younger, but I’ve veered away from the horror genre. However, I will always respect him for both his amazing writing career and his outlook on writing in general, voiced so well in “On Writing.”

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, M.B.! Yes, it IS impressive when authors turn out excellent novels, time and again, over several decades (with perhaps the occasional clunker. 🙂 ). “…that writing river never has to stop flowing” — very nice turn of phrase!

      I agree that Stephen King is an author very much deserving of respect, though he’s also not one of my very favorite writers.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Joyce Carole Oates. I started to read her in the 80’s with “Because Its Bitter Because Its My Heart.” and am going through her short stories in “Black Dahlia ” now which came out in 2012.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Michele! Her work goes back a LONG way, and she’s so prolific! The only Joyce Carol Oates novel I’ve read is “Solstice,” which I thought was very well done.

      Like

      • Just this year, I read her short story collection “Haunted” sub-titled “Tales of the Grotesque”. I think, to be fair to readers, that the sub-title should have read “Tales of the Repulsive”– which is more accurate, but not nearly so attractive to prospective readers. Bodily fluids are the thematic undercurrent, though occasionally, they’re right on the surface.

        And yet— the book is worth a long look, if not a cover-to-cover read. There are a few memorable things therein, the title story, “Haunted”, being one. “Thanksgiving” is another, a thoroughly disquieting account of social unraveling in a little town– the grocery is mostly a wreck, but here and there parts remain open, though the fare is well past the sell-by dates, and folks grab what they can while it lasts…

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thank you, jhNY! From what I gather (again not having read much of Joyce Carol Oates), she is an incredibly versatile writer — trying various genres and categories over her long career. The “haunting” collection you describe sounds like one memorable example of that.

          Like

  6. I love John Irving – this newest novel sounds like another winner that I need to check out. One of my favorite living authors is Richard Russo (as you know!) He published Mohawk in 1986 and his latest full length novel Everybody’s Fool in 2016 with 9 books in between (not all novels). He’s published another book of stories in 2017 and a book on writing in 2018 – both of which I haven’t read and realize I need to get them asap! Enjoyed the post as always, Dave.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Molly! I agree that John Irving is a great writer, and one of the more offbeat writers among famous contemporary novelists.

      I also love Richard Russo’s novels — partly due to your recommendations 🙂 — and 33 years so far is an impressive run! His “Empire Falls” is one of the best novels I’ve read in recent years.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Neil!

      The only James Baldwin novel I’ve read is his semi-autobiographical “Go Tell It On the Mountain” — excellent. I should read more — including “Giovanni’s Room,” which I’ve heard was groundbreaking for its time as a gay-themed novel. Hope you like it.

      I’ve also read some of Baldwin’s superb nonfiction writing. Essays and such rather than his nonfiction books.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I was all set to mention the Soviet/Russian dissident writer Vladimir Voinovich, who published his first novel back in 1969, but it turns out he passed away almost exactly a year ago. So I guess I’ll mention a couple of my favorite fantasy authors. Terry Brooks came out with “The Sword of Shannara” in 1977 and is still going strong at the age of 75. C.J. Cherryh had her first novel, “Gate of Ivrel,” come out in 1976 (thank you Wikipedia) and has since published something like 80 more works.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Elena! Wikipedia is really helpful for something like this. 🙂

      Impressively long careers for those two fantasy authors!

      Thanks for the mention of Vladimir Voinovich. There are definitely some excellent longtime writers who died relatively recently — also including (mentioned elsewhere in this comments section) Herman Wouk, Rosamunde Pilcher, and V.S. Naipaul.

      Liked by 1 person

    • If Terry Brooks is still going strong, who am I thinking of who passed away in the last year or two? No worries if asking you to read my mind is too much, but I don’t think even Google will know what I mean if I ask who does Terry Brooks remind me of!

      Liked by 2 people

        • Oh, Terry Pratchett! I guess he’s not the same as Terry Brooks. I’ve read a little of each, but yes, I get them confused in my brain. So thanks 🙂

          If I’m remembering correctly, Pratchett’s unpublished stuff was buried with him? He didn’t want it to see the light of day, and I think Neil Gaiman was the person who made that happen?

          Liked by 2 people

        • The only Robert Jordan I know was a Hemingway character…

          Here’s a fictitious title I made up for a joke that should tell you where he appears:
          “It’s For You”, by Isabel Tolling

          So is the author Robert Jordan someone you could recommend? Which book(s)?

          Liked by 1 person

          • Haha, very droll!

            The Robert Jordan I was referring to was the author of the massive Wheel of Time epic fantasy series. It was wildly popular, but I personally only ever sort of enjoyed it. The worldbuilding was good, and there was plenty of intrigue and adventure, but some of it was a bit icky in my mind. It’s set in a world where women control magic, and there are some rather dubious scenes in which women are stripped or whipped or otherwise disempowered in a way that’s rather kinky and sexual, and not in a good way. If you’re going to indulge in that kind of thing, read Jacqueline Carey’s “Kushiel” series, which is awesome epic fantasy + BDSM in a way that is conscious and consciously empowering to women, to use some current jargon.

            That being said, I appear to be the only person who thinks that about Robert Jordan’s books. Most epic fantasy fans love the series with a mad passion, and it does have a lot of good points.

            Liked by 2 people

              • I guess it depends on how it’s done. I personally didn’t have a problem with the Jordan books, but I have only read four. Being that there are 14 books at around a thousand pages each, I found the sheer length of it to be off-putting. And once I decided that I was never going to finish them, I skipped ahead to find out what happens. It seems that although the series started strong, the quality drops in the middle part, and doesn’t get better again until the last few books that were partly written, and published after Jordan’s death. That’s at least 8,000 pages of mediocrity in the middle! Plus I wasn’t too happy with the endings that were given to some of the characters. Having said all that, Jordan was a great writer, and I found the first two books really enjoyable.

                Liked by 2 people

            • Sincere thanks for taking the time to inform me!

              I’ll probably pass.

              My science fiction tastes are mostly undeveloped, though, if he counts, I will read Lovecraft’s otherworldly offerings in that vein. And last year I read Angela Carter’s “The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffmann”(1972)– can’t say I grasped all its aspects, but such as I did, I was fascinated.

              Liked by 2 people

  8. A feminist novelist who I was quite fond of in the ’70s and ’80s is Marge Piercy. Her first novel was published in 1969 and her last one in 2005. Ones that I’ve read include “Small Changes,” “Vida,” and “Braided Lives.” She is still living and continues to publish poetry, short stories, and memoirs. Alas, I’ve not read “Woman on the Edge of Time,” which I know you have, Dave, and is considered one of her classic novels.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Kat Lit! Great mention of Marge Piercy! The sci-fi-ish “Woman on the Edge of Time” is a really interesting novel. As you note, Piercy’s work is feminist and socially conscious — one of the things I like about it. Glad she’s still writing, even if no longer writing novels.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve been checking about books on B&N this morning and came across a book by Dave Barry, called “Lessons from Lucy,” written about life lessons he’s learned from his old, very happy rescue dog named Lucy. After a summer of very depressing news filled with horrible people like Trump, Epstein, Acosta, etc, and the migrants being held in such terrible conditions on the border, I needed something to laugh at. Barry certainly fills the bill, as well as saying some rather profound comments on living one’s life as an old(er) person. Plus, I love everything having to do with dogs. I just finished reading about things he found fun, including the Lawn Mowers, which appeared in parades with a toilet brush attached to the lawn mower, along with his band The Remainders that included many famous writers including Steven King, Barbara Kingsolver, Amy Tan, and others too mumerous to mention. I’m in a glare spot right so sorry for any typos!

        Liked by 3 people

  9. Jamaica Kincaid and Michael Anthony are both Caribbean authors I enjoyed reading from childhood. V.S Naipaul too but he doesn’t match the criteria of living.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Jackie! Excellent mentions! Wikipedia says Michael Anthony (who I unfortunately haven’t read) wrote his first novel way back in 1963. And Jamaica Kincaid has had a long novel run dating to 1985.

      Yes, if V.S. Naipaul hadn’t died less than a year ago, he would have been part of this blog post. 🙂

      Like

  10. Rosamund Pilcher, “The Shell Seekers” could have fit into this category until February of this year (when she died). Fannie Flagg can with her prolific 32 year career.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, lulabelle! You mentioned two fantastic authors whose work I love!

      My artificial cutoff for the post was the 1970s — meaning Fannie Flagg came SO close, with her first novel published in 1981.

      And, yes, Ms. Pilcher would have been in the post if she (like Herman Wouk and some other long-term novelists) hadn’t died fairly recently. 😦

      Like

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