20 Who Died Under 40

I decided to make a list of 20 writers whose lives were cut short, but who managed to make a big impact in the literary world nonetheless. Unlike the New Yorker’s “20 Under 40,” this list includes poets. Something I learned researching and putting this together: if you’re a writer beware of the tuberculosis, it takes out at least as many writers as alcohol does. Anyhow, the list isn’t in any particular order and the reasons for inclusion are various. People like Poe, Keats, or Dylan Thomas are included because they were important and influential. Others, like Breece D’J Pancake, just because they were great writers. Others, like Marlowe, Dowson, Welch, or Alain-Fournier, because they died young and had a great impact on other writers. And some, like John Kennedy Toole, because their thwarted output is the definition of lost potential.

1. Edgar Allen Poe, aged 40 (1849; potentially died from alcohol, brain congestion, cholera, drugs, heart disease, rabies, suicide, tuberculosis, or something else)
2. Stephen Crane, aged 28 (1900; tuberculosis)
3. Breece D’J Pancake, aged 26 (1979; suicide)
4. Lionel Johnson, aged 35 (1902; died of a fall, possibly due to his love of absinthe)
5. Arthur Rimbaud, aged 37 (1891; cancer)
6. John Keats, aged 25 (1821; tuberculosis)
7. Lord Byron, aged 36 (1824; possibly sepsis from bleeding due to chronic illness)
8. Percy Bysshe Shelley, aged 29 (1822; drowned after his ship sank in a storm)
9. Wilfred Owen, aged 26 (1918; KIA during WWI)
10. Sylvia Plath, aged 30 (1963; suicide)
11. Emily Brontë, aged 30 (1848; tuberculosis)
12. Jack London, aged 40 (1916; uremia, though some speculate suicide)
12. Dylan Thomas, aged 39 (1953; alcohol poisoning)
13. Denton Welch, aged 33 (1948; tuberculosis)
14. John Kennedy Toole, aged 31 (1969; suicide)
15. Alain-Fournier, aged 27 (1914; KIA in WWI)
16. J. Slauerhoff, aged 38 (1936; malaria and tuberculosis)
17. Christopher Marlowe, aged 29 (1593; stabbed to death)
18. Anne Brontë, aged 29 (1849; tuberculosis)
19. Donald Evans, aged 37 (1921; suspected suicide)
20. Ernest Dowson, aged 33 (1900; tuberculosis, alcohol-related)


Dustin Nelson Dustin Luke Nelson

Dustin Luke Nelson is the author of the forthcoming collection "in the office hours of the polar vortex" (Robocup, 2015) and the chapbook "Abraham Lincoln" (Mondo Bummer, 2013). His 90-minute performance film "STRIKE TWO" debuted with Gauss PDF in April and his performance piece "Applause" debuted at the Walker Art Center's Open Field in June. His poems have or will appear in the Greying Ghost Pamphlet Series, Fence Magazine, Paper Darts, Opium, 3:AM, the Nervous Breakdown, and elsewhere. His digital self is housed at dustinlukenelson.com.

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