Kafka makes the list but he was an old man just shy of forty-one. It is a wonder that all these writers have made such an impact on their culture, and continue so to do.
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7 Writers Who Died Young
by Gabe Habas
Though death and authors is a well-covered topic on PWxyz (see here and here), we haven’t given due attention to the writers that left an enduring mark on literature without living a full life. In the cases where the writers knew of their impending deaths, it’s worth considering how much that knowledge informed their work, while in the cases of an unexpected death, we can only wonder how much more these writers could’ve accomplished with a longer life.
Thomas Chatterton (age 17)
Before succumbing to arsenic poisoning, English poet Thomas Chatterton never achieved the renown he found after death. Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, and John Keats, who dedicated Endymion to him, all praised Chatterton posthumously. But during his short life, Chatterton was ignored by publishers and was so poor he couldn’t eat (though he also refused charity his friends offered). Nonetheless, his legacy has lived on: the writings of Thomas Rowley, Chatterton’s fictitious 15th-century monk, was published seven years after his death. More recently, there’s a song about him, a collection of “Chattertoniana” in the British Museum, and, in 1987, Peter Ackroyd wrote Chatterton, a literary re-telling of his life.
John Keats (age 25)
Like Chatterton, Keats’s reputation became what it was after his death. When he died in 1821, he’d only been writing for six years (his first piece of poetry, “O Solitude,” appeared in print in 1816) and copies of his work had supposedly only totaled around 200 copies. Some biographers cite Keats’s exposure to his brother’s sickness in 1818 as the origin of the tuberculosis that would eventually take his life. In his last years, as his condition worsened, he was convinced he’d made no mark on the literary world. Still, even as his health waned, he was productive, making the final revisions to “Bright Star” the year before his death.