Essays / Features / Nonfiction

Happy 10th Birthday, Bloom!

by Lisa Peet

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This week, Bloom turns 10. Not a long time in the greater scheme of things, maybe, but in internet years a decade is worth celebrating.

In September 2011, Bloom founding editor Sonya Chung launched “Post-40 Bloomers,” a monthly series at The Millions established to shine a light on “authors—living and deceased, new-on-the-scene and now long-established—whose first books debuted when they were 40 or older.”

The concept was something of a pushback against the rampant, award-friendly admiration for those writers who hit the ground running early in life—the 30 Under 30, the Young Lions, the whippersnappers (thank you for that one, Martha Southgate). For a while there it was, or felt like it was, everywhere in the online cultural commentary. Sonya’s point was that there was much to celebrate about writers who took a bit longer to get where they were going—“people who have lived a whole life, or two, or three.” She added,

I myself am hesitant to use the word “late” (or “older,” for that matter) in reference to writers over 40, which is why the column is not called “Late Bloomers.” Late relative to what and according to whose definition of early or on-time?

The series ran at The Millions for a year. I was honored to contribute a few pieces, and together we covered a range of great authors, including Walker Percy, Giuseppe di Lampedusa, Yvvette Edwards, Isak Dinesen, William Gay, Harriet Doerr, Daniel Orozco, and more. It was a fascinating, energizing lens to examine the writing process through, and in summer 2012, Sonya hit on the idea of creating a stand-alone site.

She assembled a tiny team to tackle the conceptual and web development—big shout out to Erin Ehsani and Wendy Siegelman—and in a few months we hammered out what would become Bloom. My most vivid memory of the lead-up process is sitting at my kitchen table during the week we were without power after Hurricane Sandy, drawing and redrawing the Bloom logo by the light of multiple candles while endless pots of water boiled on the stove behind me in an effort to keep the house warm.

And we did it—Bloom launched on November 12, with Donald Ray Pollock our first featured author. The early lineup featured pieces on Mary Jo Bang, Shannon Cain, Pauline Chen, Kate Chopin, Deborah Eisenberg, George Eliot, Peter Ferry, Penelope Fitzgerald, Joseph Kanon, Karl Marlantes, Samuel Richardson, and Bram Stoker. Talk about hitting the ground running.

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Celebrating youth has been around as long as people have been counting candles, and it hasn’t fallen out of vogue yet. But I see more respect out there for older creators than I did 10 years ago. Maybe it’s just that those of us who took up Internet 2.0 in the early 2000s have stomped out of our 20s and 30s and have redefined what “old” (or “older,” anyway) means.

It’s a surprisingly complicated recalibration. I’m not old—I may be closing in on 60, but I can still happily recall golden afternoons slam dancing at CBGBs matinees with my head half shaved. But during the pandemic I joined an all-ages LP club—like a book club, except we talk about records—and last summer had to scramble to adjust my thinking when a woman in her late 70s joined the discussion on Big Brother and the Holding Company’s Cheap Thrills, moving from my initial “Oh how nice, someone’s mom is sitting in” to total enthrallment with her stories of following Janis Joplin around little clubs in San Francisco. Old, and older, mean something else entirely these days, and I’m deeply pleased with the proliferation of websites and newsletters taking on that paradigm shift, such as Oldster and Revel (just to pick two out of my own inbox).

When we launched this site, I was a Bloomer who had yet to bloom. I was 48, in grad school, with no real idea of where to go from there. The fact that I ended up getting a full-time writing job without a single print clip I attribute largely to the love and devotion I—and our wonderful Bloom team as it has grown and contracted over the years—put into this project. I was fortunate to find a good toehold in the slippery river rocks of an ageist industry. But everyone’s navigating their own path as we speak; the only commonality to figuring it out as we get older is that we can only gain from cheering each other on.

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To that end: Have you published your first book (produced your first film/mounted your first play/landed your first major gallery exhibition), post-40? Switched genres in a major way? Something else we should know about that we haven’t thought of yet? Are you an essayist whose work touches on any of these ideas with a piece you’d like to submit? If so, please drop us a line at bloom.seniorwriter@gmail.com. We’re doing some masthead reshuffling, so if you’ve written and haven’t heard back, please try again. I know, I know, none of us are getting any younger.

But that’s the point. Here’s to another 10 years of Bloom and blooming, for us all.

Bloom Post End

Lisa Peet is the senior news editor at Library Journal and a card-carrying bloomer herself.

4 thoughts on “Happy 10th Birthday, Bloom!

  1. Brava, Sonya & Lisa! I’ve had the pleasure of being published in Bloom during your early years & most recently about Annie Ernaux, a few years before she was acclaimed by the Nobel committee. I’ve remained a regular reader, making frequent discoveries of outstanding Bloomers. Thanks for your continued efforts & here’s to the next ten years.

    • Thank you, Alice! And a good reminder to repost some of the Annie Ernaux content… that may be a good thing to feature next week before the Nobel’s ink dries entirely. We really appreciate you and all our contributors.

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