Trivia

Hard

Famous Authors In Which Genre Live The Longest?

Fiction
Poetry
Non-Fiction
Playwriting
A quill and piece of parchment.
UNE Photos/Flickr

Answer: Non-Fiction

In 2004, Dr. James Kaufman of California State University did an interesting analysis no one before him had undertaken. He compiled a list of nearly 2,000 famous authors from all over the world and then cross-indexed their primary genre against their age of death to generate a life expectancy table based on their genre.

What he learned from the exercise shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone with a more than passing familiarity with the personal lives of famous authors. Authors made famous for their non-fiction works had an average life expectancy of 68 years, the longest of any genre. Novelists averaged 66 years. Playwrights averaged 63 years. Poets, on the other hand, only averaged 62 years and among the most notable, living long enough to collect retirement benefits was rare.

Two primary factors, according to Kaufman, play into why the life expectancy is lower among poets. First, there was a higher incidence of mental health problems among the famous poets in his sample than among the other genres (especially among female poets). Second, poets tend to be very prolific in their early years and gain fame earlier than writers in other genres. While a young novelist who hasn’t achieved fame yet might die unnoticed, young poets have often already written their best known pieces in their twenties (and as a result, their early demise skews the life expectancy results of famous poets).

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