The term one-hit wonder doesn’t apply to this list of talented authors who, for a number of reasons, completed only one novel in their lifetime. These one-novel authors are Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winners, authors of timeless classic novels and creators of some of the most memorable characters in literature. Here is our list of seven famous authors who only wrote one novel in the lifetime.
Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
Winner of the 1961 Pulitzer Prize, Harper Lee quit her job as a ticket agent and wrote the classic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird which was published in 1960 just after her 34th birthday. It was an immediate bestseller and was named the Best Novel of the Century in a poll by the Library Journal. Though Lee helped Truman Capote research his groundbreaking In Cold Blood, she remained out of the spotlight, quietly working on her second novel The Long Goodbye before shelving it unfinished. In a 2011 interview with Lee’s close friend Dr. Thomas Lane Butts, Lee told him why she never wrote a second book: “One, I wouldn’t go through the pressure and publicity I went through with To Kill A Mockingbird for any amount of money. Second, I have said what I wanted to say and I will not say it again.”
Margaret Mitchell, Gone With the Wind
Atlanta native Margaret Mitchell began her writing career as a reporter for the Atlanta Journal Sunday Magazine. She published hundreds of feature articles and news stories before quitting her job and becoming a full-time wife in 1925. Mitchell began writing the classic novel, Gone With the Wind in secret and after sharing it with an editor had it published in 1936. The bestseller won the Pulitzer Prize and was adapted to film, winning 10 Academy Awards. Before Mitchell could write another book she was killed by a speeding automobile at the age of 49.
Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights
A classic of English literature, Wuthering Heights is the only novel Emily Bronte authored in her short life. Wuthering Heights received mixed reviews when it was released in 1847 but gained acclaim and is generally considered a classic novel today. Bronte didn’t live long enough to her fame, succumbing to tuberculosis in 1848.
J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
Notorious recluse J.D. Salinger published a number of books containing short stories and novellas, but his only full novel was the critically acclaimed The Catcher in the Rye with its infamous protagonist Holden Caulfield. The Catcher in the Rye was published in 1951 and continues to be a staple of English curriculum everywhere, selling more than 250,000 copies each year. Salinger followed up his masterpiece with short stories and novellas, the last of which was published in The New Yorker in 1965. Salinger passed away at the age of 91 in 2010.
Anna Sewell, Black Beauty
Though her mother was a successful author of children’s books, Anna Sewell didn’t produce any of her own work until the age of 57 when she sold her first and only novel Black Beauty in 1877. Sewell suffered from a number of health problems throughout her life and took six years to write and dictate Black Beauty as condition declined. Sewell died five months after her novel was published, but not before she enjoyed its initial success.
Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
Troubled poet and short story writer Sylvia Plath authored a single novel, The Bell Jar, a semi-autobiographical work published one month before her death in 1963. Originally released under the pen name Victoria Lucas, The Bell Jar was released to critical indifference before being republished under Plath’s name for the first time in 1967. Though The Bell Jar is regarded as a classic example of the semi-autobiographical novel, Plath is best known for her poetry and became the first poet to win a Pulitzer Prize posthumously.
Boris Pasternak, Dr. Zhivago
One of the greatest Russian writers of the 20th century, Boris Pasternak was dogged by political pressure his entire life and was pressured into declining the Nobel Prize for Literature awarded to him for his bestselling novel Doctor Zhivago. Banned in the Soviet Union for rejecting socialist realism, Pasternak smuggled his manuscript to Milan and it was published in 1957 to near-worldwide acclaim. Despite political pressure, Pasternak continued to write regularly but fell ill with lung cancer in 1958. Pasternak passed away the following year without completing a second novel.
Can you think of other great one-novel authors who only wrote one novel? Leave your comments below and let’s get the conversation going.