One Book Authors


One author, One book

daya dissanayake

Some authors write only one book in their life time. Some of them shoot to stardom with that one book. The first author that comes to mind is one of those short listed for the first ever Swarna Pusthaka Award in 2007. The book was 'Kindura Gosin Vatunai Pura Madulle. The author was Karunadheera Alwis. Since the award committee failed to pick one of the five short-listed novels Alwis could consider himself as a co-winner as the prize money was shared among all five.

He has not written another novel, while most of the others who were short-listed have kept on writing, some of them facing an accusation that they are writing with the Swarna Pusthaka award in mind.

All over the world we find this phenomenon of one-book authors. Some of them are all-time greats, their works listed among the best novels in the world. Reasons for not continuing with their writing could be many and varied, and sometimes we would never know.

Our closest neighbour is the eternal Thiruvalluwar, the sage from South India who wrote the Sacred Kural or Thirukkural over one thousand years ago. He wrote only one book, and that book is revered for ever, shining above thousands of books written by other poets.

Going back further into the past and further north, we meet Valmiki, and his one-and-only Ramayana with the 24,000 verses still sung today and grew into over 400 different versions of the Rama legend.

In China, Wu Chengen wrote 'Journey to the West' during the 16th century, a fictional account of a legendary Buddhist monk Tsuangzang who travels to India in search of Buddha Dhamma.

'To Kill a Mockingbird' won the Pulitzer and has been read by millions of readers around the world. Harper Lee is believed to have been working on another novel, the 'Long Goodbye', and a book about a serial murderer, which never came out in print. She published her only novel in 1960, when she was 34 years old, at 86 today, she had not published another novel.

Yet the tragedy of most one-book authors was that their lives were cut short in mid-stride, so we would never know what they would have created, had they lived for a few years more.

Among them, perhaps the most tragic is the fate of Margaret Mitchell, who wrote the immortal book, 'Gone with the Wind', published in 1936. She had written it in secret and had only sent it to a publisher when a colleague had mocked her about her talent for writing. The book went on to win the Pulitzer. Unfortunately she was knocked down by a car and died when she was only 49. She had written a novella, 'Lost Laysen' when she was 15, and given to a boyfriend. She would never have wanted it published. Nearly 50 years after her death the novella was published. As a teenager she had also written another 400 page novel, 'The Big Four', which is said to be lost, but probably she had destroyed it herself. Mitchell had also written another novella 'Rope Carmagin', which had been submitted to the same publisher along with Gone with the Wind, but had been rejected. That is how she ended up being a one-book author in her lifetime

Emily Bronte published 'Wuthering Heights' in 1847, when she was 29. She fell ill soon after and died just one year later, when she was only 30 years old. A tragedy not only for her family, but to the entire literary world.

One of the earliest stories, about animals, and humane treatment of animals, was written by Anna Sewell. Black Beauty, is an all time best seller. Sewell died just five months after publishing Black Beauty. It is open to argument if she would have been happy with the response to her book, because with all the millions of readers who have read her book, there is still very little love and kindness on earth, especially when it comes to animals. For she said in her book , ".... there is no religion without love, and people may talk as much as they like about their religion, but if it does not teach them to be good and kind to man and beast, it is all a sham...."—Black Beauty, Chapter 13, last paragraph.

Sylvia Plath committed suicide one month after publishing her only novel, 'The Bell Jar'. She was only 30 years old.

John Kennedy Toole committed suicide, from depression, five years after he had completed his novel 'Dunces' in 1964, because he had failed in all his attempts to get a publisher interested in the novel. His mother had continued looking for a publisher, and finally in 1980 Luisiana State University Press published the first draft of the book, which went on to win the Pulitzer.

John Okada was a Japanese American immigrant, who wrote 'No No Boy' in 1957, dealing with the internment of Japanese-Americans during the World War II. He died in 1971, without publishing any more novels.

The Russian philosopher who proposed Time as the fourth dimension, wrote one novel, in addition to all his other books and papers. The novel was 'Strange Life of Ivan Osokin'

Arundhati Roy is our closest neighbour to have written only one book, 'The God of Small Things', which was published in 1996, and won the Booker Prize in 1997. She had announced in 2007 of a new novel she had started to work on, but so far she has been silent about it.

Perhaps some authors know when to say enough.

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