55 Year-Old Publishes First Novel After Years of Rejections

I always enjoy these stories because they are, one so American–it is never too late to start; two give one hope that eventually you may get published; and three dispense with that tired notion of the best author under x. While I may never read his book, it is a nice success story, as is that of his teacher who got her PhD at 56.

Then, a few years ago, he tagged along to a college class with his daughter Katie (who wants to be  a writer, too) and enjoyed it so much that he decided to go back to school himself, and enrolled in an MFA program at Manhattanville College in Purchase, N.Y., not far from where he lives. “I didn’t care about the degree,” he says, “but I wanted to get some feedback on my writing other than, ‘Thanks, not for us.’ ” For an assignment in a novel-writing course, a character he based on a crotchety older neighbor gradually grew into Bill Warrington, who, when he realizes he’s losing his faculties, takes his 15-year-old granddaughter on a cross-country trip he hopes will force a family reconciliation before he loses the ability to remember it.

Sometimes, he recalls, when it felt like his dream would never be any more than that, he’d think about the dear friend we had in common — our college writing teacher, Elizabeth Christman, who when she was 52 quit her day job and went back to school to get her doctorate and begin a teaching career. She died this winter, at 96, and at her funeral in St. Louis, I learned that when she’d arrived at the University of Notre Dame, she was the same age as the professor whose retirement had created the opening she was filling.