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Monday, October 14, 2019

Late bloomers


I don’t want to come across as an ageist, but one of the most striking and disturbing phenomena about writing that is unique to Canada is the late age when authors begin to write and get published. I know many authors who are my contemporaries and who have published their first work at an age when it is assumed that creativity peaks or has begun its downward trajectory.

I don’t have empirical evidence, but I believe that the perception that creativity (especially among authors) is at its best during the twenties and thirties, and the best work an author produces is during that period.

In Canada, I have met many authors who began late – in some case three or four decades later, when according to traditional beliefs, authors are past their peak. My first novel Belief was published when I was in my mid-50s. ‘Late bloomer’ is a term often used to describe someone like me; it is imperfect and does not fully encapsulate their achievements. But I don’t want to be detained by semantics at this stage.

Joyce Wayne, Ian Thomas Shaw, Tahir Gora, Veena Gokhale, Dawn Promislow are among my friends and acquaintances who have produced works that are of extraordinary brilliance, relatively late in life. There are many such examples of authors or for that matter artists engaged in a creative pursuit of some kind, who have begun late and not let that hamper their creative process.

Joyce Wayne’s second novel Last Night of the World is a masterpiece that has not received the recognition it deserves. And that is perhaps because its subject and theme are part of Canadian history that most Canadians would like to forget. Ian Thomas Shaw’s Quill of the Dove was a major success, translated into multiple languages, with a movie in the pipeline.

Anubha Mehta’s Peacock in the snow, Aparna Kaji Shah’s The Scent of the Mogra and other stories, Mariam Pirbhai’s Outside People and other stories, Veena Gokhale’s Land for Fatimah are among the countless examples that come to my mind of authors who started late.

I suppose a reason some authors begin late in Canada is that nearly all of them are immigrants and most of them have no choice but to devote a number of years to settle in Canada. Economic pursuits dominate the lives of all immigrants. The Canadian system while professing multiculturalism and welcoming newcomers with open arms, falls short when it comes to economically integrating newcomers.

Most immigrants must do two jobs to make ends meet. Hence, creativity is a luxury that not everyone can afford, and by the time it becomes affordable, it’s a bit late.

The other reason – again applicable to newcomers – is the intense urge to record (either in form of a memoir or fiction) the phenomenon of displacement and the resultant upheaval that immigration wreaks on their lives.

In the case of non-immigrants (such as Joyce Wayne and Ian Thomas Shaw), the reason for starting late could well be preoccupation with an extremely engaging career, which did not leave them time to do what they had always wanted to do, but didn't have the time - write. 

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