A determined writer can get published at any age, from 6 to 66. These 7 precocious authors earned book deals—and some rave reviews—before their 15th birthdays.
- Mattie J.T. Stepanek
Image courtesy of the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation
Born with a rare and fatal type of muscular dystrophy, Matthew “Mattie” Stepanek began writing poetry at age 3 to cope with the death of his older brother from the same illness. Stepanek called his poems Heartsongs, and at age 11 saw his first volume published. That work, along with six subsequent volumes, would all appear on the New York Times Best Seller List, leading to widespread publicity and an appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show. He died in 2004 at age 13, after a lifetime spent as a peace advocate and motivational speaker.
- Dorothy Straight
Image courtesy of Our Platform
In 1964, 6-year-old Dorothy Straight became one of the youngest published authors ever when her picture book How the World Began was published by Pantheon Books. Straight wrote the book at age 4 after her mother insisted she answer the question “Who made the world?” Drawing inspiration from her pre-K’s production of the children’s opera Noye’s Flodde, over the course of a single night, the little girl created a work about God’s efforts to bring nature and animal life into being.
- Minou Drouet
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Young Minou had to face a string of doubters before her prodigious writing talent was validated. Though by age 8 her work was already being read by the wider French literary community, accusations that her mother was the one actually writing the poems were not put to rest until she composed poems in front of witnesses proving that her genius was for real. She went on to publish the well-received book Arbre, mon ami at age 10, and toured as an author and musician throughout her teens.
- William Cullen Bryant
Image courtesy of National Academy Museum
In 1807, Bryant, the 13-year-old son of a pro-British physician, wrote the satirical poem “the Embargo” in response to President Thomas Jefferson’s controversial support of the perceived pro-French Embargo Act. Bryant, encouraged by his dad, penned fiery verses calling Jefferson “the scorn of every patriot name, / The country’s ruin, and her council’s shame” and even trash-talked the president’s relationship with his slave, Sally Hemings. The poem’s subject matter and the poet’s tender age enabled “the Embargo” to go the 1807 version of viral, selling out its first printing and prompting Cullen to release a second edition of his poem in 1809.
- Anaya Lee Willabus
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Willabus’s first book, The Day Mohan Found His Confidence, was published by an independent imprint when she was 8-years-old. Raised in Brooklyn by her Guyanese family, Willabus has won 5 awards for her work, including the New York State Assembly Resolution Award and the Guyana Cultural Society award; she was also nominated for the Coretta Scott King award. Her follow-up to Mohan, A Bully’s Disguise, was published when she was 9.
6. Nancy Yi Fan
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Nancy Yi Fan was born in Beijing in 1993 and moved to Syracuse, New York at age 7. Upon finishing her epic Swordbird at age 12, Fan decided to go for broke and emailed the manuscript to Jane Friedman, the CEO of HarperCollins. The strategy worked: HarperCollins published the Swordbird in 2007, and it soon became a New York Times bestseller. Fan later continued her fantasy world in Sword Quest and Sword Mountain. Her work has been praised by the likes of Oprah Winfrey and action star Jackie Chan—a dream-come-true for the martial arts-loving girl.
7. Alec Greven
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While the rest of the writers on this list made their names as poets and/or novelists, Greven became an overnight sensation when, at 9-years-old, his self-help book How to Talk to Girls landed on the New York Times Bestseller List. Greven was inspired to write the book after watching fellow third-grade boys get rejected by girls; the book doles out kernels of wisdom such as “Comb your hair and don’t wear sweats” and “Don’t act desperate.” Publisher HarperCollins had Greven parlay the success of Girls into four sequels: How to Talk to Moms, How to Talk to Dads, How to Talk to Santa, and Rules for School.
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