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The New Yorker has released the anticipated list of top 20 fiction writers under 40, kicking off their summer fiction issue. It’s been eleven years now since the last list.

I’ve no trouble with the number 20, but I admit the number 40 does pose a problem.  If these figures represent the ‘defining voices’ of contemporary fiction, the stars to watch, is there still a future for those who by chance happen to be on the other side of that magic number?

Why should age be a demarkation when it comes to creative writing?  And, why 40? Why not 32 or 46?  It sounds arbitrary doesn’t it.  I know, we’re a lists-obsessed people.  Even the New Yorker editors admit that.  It’s funny that they seem to justify their act by citing The Ten Commandments, the twelve disciples, the seven deadly sins, the Fantastic Four.  Wow, do we ever need to elevate literary stardom to epic proportion… we have fierce competitions in 3-D movies, ‘Dancing with the Stars” and interactive video games, just to name a few.

Writers on their previous list include Jonathan Franzen, Jhumpa Lahiri, Michael Chabon and David Foster Wallace.  So, it’s a highly anticipated star roster.   As well, other magazines have published similar recognition.  Granta has its “Top 21 Under 35” twice a few years ago.  Sounds like a well-established marketing strategy.

Fine.  That is certainly understandable in a time when so many alternatives are competing with reading a short story or a novel. But still, the number 40 troubles me.  My sympathy goes to those who are no less promising but alas, have shot further than the 40 mark.  Without being recognized as ‘young’ anymore, will they still have a future?  Further, is there hope for those who might choose to pursue a passion that comes late in life?  I can see the futility if that dream is to be a concert pianist if one hadn’t taken up the instrument by the ripe old age of 12.  But, what about writing?  Is starting at 40, or 50, or even 60 too late?  Is the term ‘late bloomer’ a misguided notion offering false hope?

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Oh… the promise and glamour of youth.  And woe to us who are beyond rescue in a society that’s obsessed with popularity and rankings, youthful looks and prodigious fame.

To soothe the wounded spirit, and keep the creative fire burning, Ripple Effects would like to propose the following iconoclastic list in this day ruled by ageism:

  • Top 50 over 53:  To honor the best 50 unpublished writers over 53
  • Top 100 under 67:  To seek out the best 100 blog writers under 67 in lieu of being published in the real world.  Why 100?  I’m sure this is just a minuscule sample of the tens of thousands possible candidates out there in the blogosphere.
  • Top 15 over 74:  To encourage the best 15 yet-to-be literary stars over 74, just to give hope to those still pursuing their life-long dream.
  • Top 3 over 82:  To celebrate the late-bloomers who have finally made it, actually publishing their debut novel after 82.  Why 3?  That’s obvious.

Sour grape?  No, that would be immature.  Let’s just say, virtual tasting of the elusive grape.  Never underestimate the power of hope and the freedom of casting aside the burden of age.

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You can still see the ripples at eventide.   — Arti

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Photo taken by Arti at The Inside Passage to Alaska,  September, 2009.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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