According to a study published in the Journal of Death Studies
, the answer is yes. (See this Reuters article
for the full story). Many news sources reported this story with what seemed to me to be unseemly glee, but no matter. Statistically, it's hard to say whether this study proves anything. Correlation, we all know, is not causation. Thus there are many possible explanations for the correlation. The one that I think is the most interesting was suggested by James Kaufman
, the author of the study:
"Poets produce twice as much of their lifetime output in their twenties as novelists do," he said.
So when a budding novelist dies young, few people may notice.
"A great novelist or nonfiction writer who dies at 28 may not have yet produced her or his magnum opus."
Kaufman said poets should not worry, but should perhaps look after their health.
"The fact that a Sylvia Plath ... may die young does not necessarily mean an Introduction to Poetry class should carry a warning that poems may be hazardous to one's health," he said.
Good. Now we can go back to worrying about real health threats, like SARS and the environmental policies of George Bush.