Should Writers Worry About Age Discrimination?

I’ve never been one of those people who hid my age, but lately in my writing and music business, I keep the number to myself. I’m not even telling you here on this blog. It’s not vanity. I am fairly accepting of my wrinkles. If you look closely at my photo, you’ll see I don’t dye my hair. I’m proud of all that I have experienced and learned over the years.

So why hide my age? Writing is something you can do until you die, as long as your brain keeps working. Singing gets harder, but my hero Pete Seeger went on into his 90s, and look at Tony Bennett, still amazing in his 80s. Cellist/conductor Pablo Casals was still working at 97. Notice that they were all men. Somehow female singers and musicians are supposed to be not only talented but young and “hot,” able to fit into slinky dresses and walk in ridiculously high shoes. Long flowing hair, no wrinkles, no fat. Postmenopausal women at the top of the charts? If they weren’t already famous a long time ago, forget about it.

One of the things I like about living in this small town on the Oregon coast is that half the population is retired, and most of them are older than I am, so I can still feel like a kid. But that’s not true everywhere.

As a writer, I don’t volunteer to share my age. Nor do I make a lot of noise about when I graduated from high school or college because that would tip people off. If they knew I had my first newspaper job in 19–, they’d think, damn, she’s old. People can figure it out, but I’m not offering that information because it gives one more reason my work might be rejected.

Rejected? Why? Here’s the ugly truth: Young people, including editors and agents young enough to be my grandchildren, have this idea of what people my age are like. They assume they’re OLD. They’re physically disabled, technologically challenged, and clueless as to how young people think. They’re stuck in the past. They’re landlines in a smart-phone world. We might be just as fit, tech-smart and aware as they are, more so in fact because we have lived longer, but they don’t see that. They see OLD. They see someone they can’t promote. They see someone who won’t make them money by producing one book after another. They see someone who can only write about OLD people. They see a stereotype.

Like many stereotypes, it’s inaccurate. Inside, old folks are the same as young ones. My 92-year-old father (there’s a clue!) has told me many times that he doesn’t feel any different inside than he did when he was a kid. I don’t either. I’m always surprised to realize I don’t belong with the 20-somethings anymore.

Of course we all stereotype. I think about the grad student who might be screening manuscripts or the 30-year-old agent to whom I submit my book and assume they are too young to appreciate my writing. I should know better. When I was a young reporter in my 20s, I often found myself trying to convince people that yes, I knew what I was doing, yes I was an adult, married, graduated from college, and good at my job. They saw a kid.

It shouldn’t matter. We writers face the same challenges, the same blank page or screen as our younger counterparts. Those of us who started writing early in life have had more practice, but whatever age we are, I say just write our stories and don’t worry about age. When we’re getting ready to revise, it wouldn’t hurt to have people of various ages read it to make sure we get the details right. But if we write well, who cares how old we are?

Here’s a good article on the subject, “Gray Matter: Reading into Ageism” by Lisa Peet on the subject.

And this one, “Publish Your First Book After 50” from Writer’s Digest will make you think (and make me change my bio ASAP)

Consider the ages at which these authors published their famous books:

Anna Sewell, Black Beauty, 57

Karen Blixen as Isak Dinesen, Out of Africa, 50

Richard Adams, Watership Down, 52

Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House on the Prairie series, 64

Frank McCourt, Angela’s Ashes, 66

Karl Marlantes, Matterhorn, 60s

Harriet Doerr, Stones for Ibarra, 73

I’d love to know your thoughts on this. Have you seen age discrimination in the writing business? Do you know or care how old an author is? Do you think writers should just write about people their own age? I look forward to your comments.

Let’s go write.





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s