For some writers, teetering on the edge, feeling vanquished and desperate for the fate of their unknown, repressed worlds, there is relief! It comes in the form of the comeback – Jack Dempsey climbing back into the ring after being knocked through the ropes into the front-row seats by Luis Firpo, the Wild Bull of the Pampas: the repeatedly rejected writers, masters of sad returns via the SASE, who didn’t quit, but kept on fighting on behalf of the missing piece of the world that came from them; guardians of precious pages, bearers of their own inner torch. [1] And it comes in the form of late bloomers – the failures, or the simply silent ones, who aged past the probability of success, then beat the odds, late in life, with works that took years of sorrow to condense into acts of repute, like drops of drinkable water recovered from the sea.

Foremost in our inventory, we have the case of Miguel Cervantes (1547-1616), illustrious author of Don Quixote, who for many years was a fading aristocrat, struggling to ward off the collapse of his family, and a hard-luck adventurer; a man with a great mind and literary aspirations, but only the most frail of success, wielding his pen without distinction, seemingly destined for invisibility. Along the way to nowhere, Cervantes lost the use of his left hand as the result of a gunshot wound suffered in the Battle of Lepanto; he was later captured, on his voyage back to Spain, by the notorious Barbary pirates, and sold into slavery in North Africa, which it took him five years to escape from, with the help of a late-arriving ransom. These adventures were followed by the economic struggle to keep his family’s head above water, then by two stints in prison due to probably unjust accusations of theft, for allegedly withholding monies collected for the Spanish Crown as a tax collector and procurer for the Armada. It was a life that would have broken many, and it whittled away the years of Cervantes’ existence in struggles far from the pages that were crying out to be filled with things that the world had no idea lay within him. But these struggles that slowed down Cervantes’ pen, ultimately seeped into his creative psyche with an amazing tale that could never have found its way into the voice of a dawn riser; it was the rightful fruit of a painful maturity, a fitting reward of the noble twilight.

At the age of 58, after a life of hardship and only meager attention, Cervantes finally erupted into the history of world literature with the first part of Don Quixote, one of the greatest novels of all time. Years later, at the age of 68, the second part of Don Quixote was published. Cervantes is not only an author of enduring merit, but also an inspiration to any and all who have not yet achieved their creative dream, and who seem to have been relegated to defeat by the "biological time clock" of success.

While Cervantes may, perhaps, be the most convincing example of a creative late bloomer, possibly no one beats Anna Mary Moses, aka "Grandma Moses" (1860-1961), in terms of late-age achievement. This beloved American folk artist actually did not even take up painting until she was in her seventies! In 1939, her work was almost accidentally discovered, and soon became the object of intense demand, as collectors from all over the world found something irresistible in her simple but engaging style. From that time on, until her death at the age of 101, "Grandma Moses" was a staple of the art world.

Certainly, I wish all of you, my dear colleagues in art, long and fruitful years of success and recognition, youths filled with the joy of your inner love requited. But for those of you whose sacred heart is still bound in the chains of obscurity, whose work is persecuted by deafness, and marred by others’ heavy-handed judgments and lack of aesthetic vigilance, or else by its own slow progress towards the sky, by the experiences you do not have or the inspiration lost time has not yet given you, I remind you of this hope manifested by others who were also "nobodies." The most beautiful colors often come into the sky just before the sun sets. While you love your art, it lives. Time is cruel, but it is vulnerable to the voice of the autumn and to the snows of winter; sometimes, the unbroken climate of defeat falls to a sudden storm, to a heart that will not go quietly. A last will and testament, turned into an act of creation, stamps doom with a soul that will not be stopped from giving.

Persevere, my friends! Persevere! Others have blazed the way, so that you may retain your hope!


[1] Examples of famous writers and famous books rejected by the publishing industry are both legion, and legendary. They constitute proof that the writer who is spurned need not surrender to the judgment of others, and walk away from his dream. If he loves his work, he should not go down easily. While being open to the possibility of improving it, he should never abandon it. Talent must always be backed by will. According to sources available on the Internet, The Good Earth by Pearl Buck was rejected 14 times before finally finding a publisher; The Naked And The Dead by Norman Mailer was rejected 12 times. Jonathon Livingston Seagull, a huge bestseller by Richard Bach, was rejected 20 times, and Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 was rejected 22 times. Robert Persig’s Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance was rejected many more times than this, or so it is reported, while the famous publishing company of Alfred A. Knopf rejected The Diary of Anne Frank, the poetry of Sylvia Plath, George Orwell’s Animal Farm, and the work of Jack Kerouac, finding grievous fault with all of them. Jack London, an American icon and the author of The Call Of The Wild, needed to push past 60 rejections before he finally got his first story published. Rejection is less a negative reflection on quality, than it is a reflection on the subjective opinion of one reader, who happens to be in a position of power; and a reflection on the business-driven editorial structure of the publishing industry (which may under-represent new writers and fresh voices in order to ride the backs of established authors and stick to proven formulas which it trusts). The writer who lets this system convince him that he lacks talent will crumble like dust before eyes that do not really see him. The writer who believes in himself, without negating the value of self-improvement, will have the emotional foundation to persist; the strength to wade through a river of rejection slips to the shore of his soul’s greatest aspiration.

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