10 of the Most Precocious Authors in Literary History

The 150th anniversary of Edith Wharton’s birth has brought all sorts of fun biographical information to our attention. For example, we recently learned about her favorite childhood game “Making Up,” a strange combination of chanting, pacing, and inventing stories. This vile behavior of course concerned Edith’s blue-blood parents, but as we all know, it was only a precursor to the genius that was to come. Which got us thinking: what were other famously precocious authors doing as kids? (Hint: Stephen King was the coolest.) Click through to see what we found and be sure to add those we missed!

Susan Sontag (1933-2004)

Sontag famously called childhood a “terrible waste of time” and spent most of it reading everything from Poe and the Brontës to Schopenhauer. As she said in a 1995 Paris Review interview, “I got through my childhood in a delirium of literary exaltations.” In the same interview, Sontag said she started to self-publish at the age of nine, writing a four-page monthly newspaper which featured her stories, poems, and plays. She hectographed each copy and sold to neighbors at five cents a pop — a businesswoman, too! Color us impressed.

From her diary, written at age 14:

I believe:

(a) That there is no personal god or life after death

(b) That the most desirable thing in the world is freedom to be true to oneself, i.e. Honesty

(c) That the only difference between human beings is intelligence

(d) That the only criterion of an action is its ultimate effect on making the individual happy or unhappy

(e) That it is wrong to deprive any man of life

[entries “f” and “g” are missing]

(h) I believe, furthermore, that an ideal state (besides “g”) should be a strong centralized one with government control of public utilities, banks, mines + transportation and subsidy of the arts, a comfortable minimum wage, support of disabled and age. State care of pregnant women with no distrinction such as legitimate and illegitimate children.