The last few months have been an exciting time in the world of publishing, not only for the litany of debut novel and short story collection releases, but also for the publication of two long gestating, highly anticipated projects by Cormac McCarthy and Katherine Dunn. The 89-year old’s first book since 2006’s Pulitzer Prize winning The Road, November saw the release of Cormac McCarthy’s The Passenger, which follows a salvage diver haunted by his father’s contributions to the invention of the atomic bomb (a companion novel, Stella Maris, was released in December). Meanwhile, Katherine Dunn’s posthumous novel, Toad, explores the grotesque, brooding reflections of an isolated woman who has purposefully cut herself off from the rest of the world, and represents the author’s first release since 1989’s cult-sensation Geek Love.
The long gap between publication dates for these two beloved authors is a far cry from the output of, say, a more prolific author like Stephen King (who, since the publication of his 1974 debut, Carrie, has published an average of 1.6 books a year!). From poetry to novels to short story collections, below are eight other literary works that serve as long-awaited follow-ups to their beloved predecessors, organized in descending order from the longest to shortest gaps between releases.
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee (55-year gap)
Published fifty-five years after Harper Lee’s first novel, the author’s ostensible To Kill a Mockingbird sequel, Go Set a Watchman, is the product of the largest gap between publication dates on this list. The novel was besmirched by controversy even before its 2015 release, with questions surrounding the authenticity of its alleged status as a stand-alone novel (and not, say, an unedited early draft of To Kill a Mockingbird itself) as well as the ethics behind HarperCollins’ decision to publish the novel in the first place, given the uncertainty around Harper Lee’s ability to give informed consent for the book’s publication. Critics and fans alike were largely disappointed in the long-awaited return to Maycomb, which found a now adult Jean Louise “Scout” Finch reckoning with her beloved father’s racism.
Exhalation by Ted Chiang (17-year gap)
Published in 2002, Ted Chiang’s Stories of Your Life and Others has risen to the pantheon of great short fiction collections, appearing on The Guardian’s List of 100 Best Books of the 21st Century, and inspiring the Best Picture nominated 2016 film, Arrival, directed by future Dune director Denis Villeneuve. Fans were understandably anxious for the release of Chiang’s follow-up collection, 2019’s Exhalation, which was included on Barack Obama’s Summer Reading List and named a top ten book of the year by The New York Times. “I think my interests have remained fairly consistent over time,” Chiang told GQ, regarding how his thematic concerns had evolved in the seventeen years since the release of his first collection. “Themes like free will and the relationship between language and thought were visible in my first collection, and they’re visible in Exhalation as well.”
Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminski (15-year gap)
“When [my first poetry collection] Dancing in Odessa was published, I had already been living in the United States for eleven years,” Ilya Kaminski told The White Review in a 2019 interview. “I had to ask myself: what am I going to do next?” Published fifteen years after his debut poetry collection, the Ukrainian-born poet’s follow-up, Deaf Republic—a stunning collection of lyric poems formatted as a two-act play—took many different forms, both finished and unfinished, in the drafting stage before the final version. “Some of it felt too American, some too Ukrainian. But I love the border between the two, so to speak,” Kaminski explained. “So I knew the book wasn’t done until it felt honest to both sides of this experience.”
Shadow and Act by Ralph Elison (14-year gap)
The second of only three books published within his lifetime, Ralph Elison’s essay collection, Shadow and Act, was published fourteen years after his novel, Invisible Man, established him as an essential and celebrated author. The essays included in this collection explore literature, music, politics, journalism, and cityscapes, transforming, as Elision notes in the introduction, “some of the themes, the problems, the enigmas, the contradictions of character and culture native to my predicament, into what André Malraux has described as ‘conscious thought’… these efforts are a witness of that which I have known and that which I have tried and am still trying to confront. They mark a change of role, a course, and a slow precarious growth of consciousness.”
Mortals by Norman Rush (12-year gap)
It took Norman Rush over a decade to write Mortals, his 2003 follow-up to his 1991 National Book Award winning novel, Mating. The book—which concerns an American anthropology student living in Botswana who believes his wife of having an affair on him—took so long to complete, in fact, that Rush promised his wife that his next book would be no longer than 180 pages and would be completed within two years. “I completely betrayed her,” Rush told The New York Times, shortly after the publication of his next book, 2013’s Subtle Bodies (which clocks in, it should be noted, at 241 pages). “My debt to her, in art and in life, grows however much I put against it.”
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (11-year gap)
Clocking in even longer than the gap between her previous two books, The Secret History (1992) and The Little Friend (2002), Donna Tart took eleven years to publish her coming of age novel, The Goldfinch, which follows a teenager who survives a terrorist bombing at an art museum. In the decade plus leading up to The Goldfinch’s publication, speculation swirled that Tartt was suffering from writer’s block, and even that, in her creative frustration, she had taken to living alone on a desert island. “I couldn’t have written this book any faster,” Tartt told Harpers Bazaar shortly after The Goldfish’s publication. “For the last three or four years I was working at a breakneck pace…Really, I wasn’t writing a few lines before lunch and drifting off to do something else.”
The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (10-year gap)
Ten years after Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro at last released his follow-up, The Buried Giant, a fantasy novel set in post-Arthurian England, in a society in which individuals do not possess a long-term memory. The book took Ishiguro significantly longer to write than he had anticipated, as his wife’s rejection of the original manuscript set him back to the drawing board. “She looked at it and said, ‘This will not do,’” Ishiguro told The New York Times. “’I don’t mean you need to tweak it; you need to start from scratch. None of this can be seen by anybody.” Ishiguro took her advice, shelving the project for six years before starting over from the beginning.