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Better to be a late-bloomer or a wunderkind?

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As soon as I began reading Malcolm Gladwell's piece "Late Bloomers"  the Oct. 20 New Yorker, I thought of Mr. Moskowitz, my high school French teacher, and his theory that some of France's greatest writers had been slow to develop as children.

I don't remember now the biographical details he shared or even which writers served as proof of his ideas. What did stay with me, however, was Mr. Moskowitz's scorn for the idea of the child genius. (He was a Brooklynite who'd learned his French at NYU, but somewhere along the way Mr. Moskowitz became fully convinced of the superiority of all things Gallic. For him, the idea of the child genius was just another proof of American immaturity.)

Writers who develop more slowly, develop better, he believed. Hence the superiority of French literature.

Gladwell seems to share Mr. Moskowitz's admiration for the late-bloomer – but not his scorn for the wunderkind. In this article, Gladwell proposes the notion that there are two basic types of creators: the experimental innovator, who works his way toward greatness later in life, and the youthful genius, whose gift seems to spring fully formed from nowhere.

As an example of the slow-boil talent, he chooses Ben Fountain (author of "Brief Encounters with Che Guevera"). As an example of the prodigy, he goes with Jonathan Safran Foer who wrote the bestselling “Everything Is Illuminated" when he was only 19.

Gladwell doesn't favor one form of genius over the other. But he does point out that late-bloomers need patrons to support them while they learn their craft. In the case of Fountain, it was his wife who believed in him and brought in their household income while he perfected his art.

Late-bloomers? There's hope for some of us yet!


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