5 Female Authors Who Wrote Great Books in Their 20s

On Wednesday, Eleanor Catton won the 2013 Man Booker Prize for her novel The Luminaries. At 28, she’s the youngest writer to snag the honor. In celebration of her victory, her youth, and the tangible evidence that 20-somethings contribute something valuable to society — pause for a smug party — here are a few more of our favorite female authors who also wrote notable works while in their 20s.

Ian Gavan/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

On Wednesday, Eleanor Catton won the 2013 Man Booker Prize for her novel The Luminaries. At 28, she’s the youngest writer to snag the honor. In celebration of her victory, her youth, and the tangible evidence that 20-somethings contribute something valuable to society — pause for a smug party — here are a few more of our favorite female authors who also wrote notable works while in their 20s.

Zadie Smith

Chris Jackson/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

The literary world’s wunderkind Zadie Smith started writing White Teeth when she was still an undergrad at Cambridge. Published when she was 24, it instantly won acclaim from critics and solidified her a spot as a talent to watch. Spanning 150 years of history, traipsing through several continents, and tacking topics such as immigrant identity, the novel was an ambitious debut that delivered. Apparently, Smith refused to read White Teeth for a long time. She claims that she was too horrified by all of its flaws. Now with a couple of bestselling books under her belt and some perspective, she says, “it's okay for a 22-year-old.” Well, that’s one way to put it.

Emily Brontë

The reclusive Brontë sister wrote Wuthering Heights when she was 29. Filled with passion, violence, and the savage Heathcliff, it would later become an English classic and a favorite of bookish romantic teenage girls everywhere. At the time, however, the book received mixed reviews. Sadly, Brontë would never know of the book's subsequent fame. She died when she was 30 from tuberculosis, just a year after her book was published.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Lorrie Moore

Lorrie Moore started her fiction career at 19, winning Seventeen magazine's fiction contest. After graduating from college she worked as a paralegal for two years before enrolling in Cornell University’s M.F.A program. Then out came Self Help, the must-read short story collection that is a veritable Bible for most creative writers, composed primarily of stories from her master's thesis. Published when she was 28, Self Help solidified her as a significant voice in the landscape of contemporary writers.

Image: Lindy Nylind

Mary Shelley

Shelley anonymously published Frankenstein when she was 21 years old in 1818. It was an instant success. She wrote the novel during a summer trip to Switzerland with her husband in 1816, which she later described as period "when I first stepped out from childhood into life."

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Téa Obreht

Obreht was given a spot on the New Yorker’s 20 under 40 list in 2010. At 25, she was the youngest writer on the list and not too well-known at the time. Flash forward to 2011 when her debut novel, The Tiger’s Wife, was one of the most highly anticipated debuts of the year. She subsequently won the Orange Prize for the book, and, at 26, became the youngest writer to be awarded the prize to date. So what was it like to be called a young genius? Obreht said it was surreal but that the idea of herself as a writer has long been in her head. "I’ve spent a lot of time in the act of writing, she said in an interview with The Rumpus. So while this feels sudden to me that all this happened, it’s not sudden because I started writing suddenly, and then suddenly all this happened."

Image: Beowulf Sheehan