Best Books for Writers

From the newly published to the invaluable classic, our list of essential books for creative writers.

  • Frantumaglia: A Writer’s Journey

    by
    Elena Ferrante, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein
    Published in 2016
    by Europa Editions

    “I believe that books, once they are written, have no need of their authors. If they have something to say, they will sooner or later find readers; if not, they won’t,” writes the elusive author of The Days of Abandonment and My Brilliant Friend in this collection consisting of over twenty years of personal letters, essays, reflections, and interviews about writing. Organized chronologically, the pieces depict in intimate detail what it is to embody a passion for writing, including the joys and anxieties of composing a story, and the choice to allow books to live autonomously from an author’s identity. Through a revealing self-portrait of Elena Ferrante’s craft, readers and aspiring writers are offered a glimpse of what a life committed to one’s writing looks like. 

    ISBN: 
    978-1609452926
  • How to Read a Poem: And Fall in Love With Poetry

    by
    Edward Hirsch
    Published in 2000
    by Harvest Books

    “Read these poems to yourself in the middle of the night,” advises Edward Hirsch in How to Read a Poem. “These poems have come from a great distance to find you.” With accessible language and encyclopedic knowledge, Hirsch offers a guide on how to enjoy reading poetry, proposing the possibility of forming an intimate relationship with the genre through moving commentary on works by Elizabeth Bishop, Paul Celan, Osip Mandelstam, and Walt Whitman, among others. Throughout these essays, Hirsch places the reader in the shoes of a great adventurer set to embark on a new journey, reminding them of the reason one becomes a reader of literature in the first place: “Reading poetry is an adventure in renewal, a creative act, a perpetual beginning, a rebirth of wonder.” 

    ISBN: 
    978-0156005661
  • Who Says? Mastering Point of View in Fiction

    by
    Lisa Zeidner
    Published in 2021
    by W. W. Norton

    An in-depth examination of one of the most critical choices facing writers of fiction, novelist Lisa Zeidner’s craft manual includes hundreds of examples from both classic and contemporary fiction—from Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights to Lorrie Moore’s “Two Boys”— to explore how plot, characters, descriptions, and even distinctions between literary and commercial fiction are tied to point of view. In chapters devoted to different perspectives, from omniscient and first-person to second-person and child narrators, Zeidner offers the reader a variety of factors to consider before choosing a point of view for their next story or novel. “Deciding about point of view requires an assessment about whether you’re moving toward your subject, or whether you’re moving away,” she writes. “Whether you’re going to encourage the reader to bathe in the character’s view of the world, or offer a complementary or even competing one.” 

    ISBN: 
    978-0393356113
  • A Journey With Two Maps: Becoming a Woman Poet

    by
    Eavan Boland
    Published in 2012
    by Norton

    “This is a book of being and becoming. It is about being a poet. It is also about the long process of becoming one,” writes Eavan Boland in the preface of A Journey With Two Maps: Becoming a Woman Poet. These essays offer a rare view of the intimate and lifelong journey of becoming a poet, a process that “doesn’t stop because the being has been achieved” but that continues and shifts along with the writing. Beginning with personal narratives that offer striking imagery and meditations, Boland places focus on women poets and their work over the last century, including Charlotte Mew and Sylvia Plath, interweaving incisive analysis with testimonies of personal significance. The Irish poet, who died in 2020, pays homage to the craft of poetry and the writers who helped her find her place amongst contemporary literature’s most celebrated poets. 

    ISBN: 
    978-0393342321
  • One Writer’s Beginnings

    by
    Eudora Welty
    Published in 2020
    by Scribner

    In a mix of memoir and exploration on the craft of writing fiction, Eudora Welty reflects on her upbringing in Jackson, Mississippi, and how it shaped her personality as well as writing style. With family anecdotes and vivid descriptions of life during the Jim Crow era, Welty paints the picture of how writing is ultimately a mix of experience, memory, and imagination, allowing the reader to reflect on their own childhood and locate the root to one’s creative beginnings. This updated edition includes a new introduction by former U.S. poet laureate Natasha Trethewey, in which she describes the book as “a kind of primer for being a citizen of the world, for answering our own particular callings and joining the long conversation that is human history.” 

    ISBN: 
    978-1982151775
  • The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop: How to Decolonize the Creative Classroom

    by
    Felicia Rose Chavez
    Published in 2021
    by Haymarket Books

    With a mix of memoir and progressive teaching tools, Felicia Rose Chavez calls to create a classroom that exposes the invisible and physical forces of power that have dominated the traditional writing workshop for decades. Inspired by June Jordan’s Poetry for the People: A Revolutionary Blueprint (Routledge, 1995), Chavez offers a step-by-step guide on how to deconstruct biases and build community through a democratic teaching model that fosters “engagement, mindfulness, and generosity.” With chapter titles such as “Owning the Language of Craft,” “Teaching Writers to Workshop,” and “Promoting Camaraderie and Collective Power,” this book can help transform the worldview of how writing should be taught and liberate the minds of reader, writers, and educators. 

    ISBN: 
    978-1642592672
  • Poetics of Relation

    by
    Édouard Glissant, translated from the French by Betsy Wing
    Published in 1997
    by University of Michigan Press

    In Poetics of Relation, author and philosopher Édouard Glissant challenges the traditional thinking behind the craft of writing. Glissant uses the particular history and reality of the Caribbean to argue that the writer, politically and aesthetically, can tap into the unconscious of a people and provide forms of memory capable of transcending “nonhistory.” With concrete examples from James Joyce to Baudelaire, Heraclitus to Creole proverbs, Glissant also encourages writers to imagine new forms of syntax for their sentences. As translator Betsy Wing writes in the introduction to the book, “Glissant's intent, finally, is to realize Relation in concrete terms—in which language is made of rocks and words and in which the future can be made to open for the Antilles by beating a time other than the linear, sequential order of syntax.” 

    ISBN: 
    978-0472066292
  • Suppose a Sentence

    by
    Brian Dillon
    Published in 2020
    by New York Review Books

    “For about twenty-five years I have been copying sentences into the back pages of whatever notebook I happen to be using,” writes Brian Dillon in the introduction to Suppose a Sentence, a meditative collection of essays on sentences in literature that have captivated the critic and author of Essayism. The book follows an addictive format of featuring a single sentence—from authors such as James Baldwin, Joan Didion, John Dunne, and Shakespeare—and then using the essay to mull on aspects about Dillon’s reading experience, each essay short and complex, as well as personal and enriching. Suppose a Sentence satisfies the writer as much as the reader of literature, as Dillon makes a case, again and again, for the moving and lasting power of the sentence.   

    ISBN: 
    978-1681375243
  • Kant’s Little Prussian Head and Other Reasons Why I Write: An Autobiography in Essays

    by
    Claire Messud
    Published in 2020
    by Norton

    “Literary language is a kind of spell, a performative utterance: words conjure worlds out of air,” writes Claire Messud in the introduction to her essay collection, which blends autobiography and criticism into a portrait of a life spent celebrating art and literature. Beginning with a series of personal essays on subjects such as her childhood move from Connecticut to Australia, her relationship with the women in her family, and visiting her father as he’s nearing the end of his life, readers get a glimpse into the life of a gifted storyteller, whose criticism is a window into learning about the transformative qualities of art and literature. Venturing into contemporary classics by writers such as Teju Cole, Rachel Cusk, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Valeria Luiselli, as well as works of art by Marlene Dumas, Sally Mann, and Alice Neel, this book is instructive as much as it is redemptive, an examination of how seeing a work of art can align with seeing one’s own unexpected story play out. 

    ISBN: 
    978-1324006756
  • The Poetics of Space

    by
    Gaston Bachelard, translated from the French by Maria Jolas
    Published in 2014
    by Penguin Books

    First published in 1958, Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space asks readers to consider the emergence of the poetic image and its metaphorical relationship to the intimate spaces of the home. Guided by lyrical and philosophical arguments, this examination on art, poetry, and consciousness itself challenges readers to think back to the domestic spaces that shape one’s dreams and memories: rooms, cellars, drawers, chests, wardrobes, corners, and nests, among other places. Sure to unlock imagination and encourage examination, this book is a guide full of inspiration for any writer. As Bachelard writes, “We are never real historians, but always near poets, and our emotion is perhaps nothing but an expression of a poetry that was lost.” 

    ISBN: 
    978-0143107521
  • Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination

    by
    Toni Morrison
    Published in 1992
    by Harvard University Press

    “I intend to outline an attractive, fruitful, and provocative critical project, unencumbered by dreams of subversion or rallying gestures at fortress walls,” declares Toni Morrison in the first of three essays included in this iconic critical text dissecting the “Africanist” presence that exists throughout classic American literature. Morrison’s examinations argue that the themes of individualism and freedom in the works of authors such as Cather, Hemingway, Melville, and Poe would not be possible without the enslavement of African Americans, dispelling preconceived notions about literary tradition and encouraging readers to think and read beyond the confines of American literature. Morrison creates an instant classic that sets out to sharpen the imagination and toolset for anyone to carry into the act of reading, writing, and living. 

    ISBN: 
    978-0674673779
  • At the Center of All Beauty: Solitude and the Creative Life

    by
    Fenton Johnson
    Published in 2020
    by Norton

    Although it was written prior to COVID-19 and published just as the pandemic was spreading around the globe, Fenton Johnson’s meditation on accepting and celebrating one’s solitude is a timely look at the lives and works of eleven writers and artists he calls “solitaries,” a term borrowed from Trappist monk and mystic Thomas Merton. In chapters devoted to Emily Dickinson, Zora Neale Hurston, Henry James, Henry David Thoreau, Eudora Welty, Walt Whitman, and others, Johnson, an emeritus professor of creative writing at the University of Arizona who serves on the faculty of Spalding University’s low-residency MFA program, explores the alchemy that transforms isolation and loneliness into creative solitude. 

    ISBN: 
    978-0393608298
  • The Work of Revision

    by
    Hannah Sullivan
    Published in 2013
    by Harvard University Press

    In The Work of Revision, Hannah Sullivan argues that the history of revision is a relatively new trend inherited from the avant-garde experiments of the modernists, a badge of honor for writers anxious to justify the difficulty of their work. Dating back to how Alexandrian editors surveyed Homer’s works, Sullivan considers the virtues of redrafting and examines changes made in manuscripts and proofs by T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and others, illustrating how the impulse to keep rewriting can sometimes go too far. Both craft writing manual and historical analysis, this book will shed light on practices writers have come to understand as commonplace, sharpening the praxis of prose writers and poets alike. 

    ISBN: 
    9780674073128
  • A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life

    by
    George Saunders
    Published in 2021
    by Random House

    Based on a class he has taught for years at Syracuse University, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain is George Saunders at his best: funny, frank, rigorous yet accessible, and most of all humane. Paired with the full text of the author’s favorite stories by Anton Chekhov, Ivan Turgenev, Leo Tolstoy, and Nikolai Gogol, these essays explore not only how fiction works and why fiction written up to 185 years ago (in the case of Gogol’s “The Nose”) is as relevant now as it has ever been, but also how writing can change a reader’s life and become a fundamental part of one’s moral and ethical beliefs. As Saunders writes: “The part of the mind that reads a story is also the part of the mind that reads the world; it can deceive us, but it can also be trained to accuracy; it can fall into disuse and make us more susceptible to lazy, violent, materialistic forces, but it can also be urged back to life, transforming us into more active, curious, alert readers of reality.” 

    ISBN: 
    978-1984856029
  • The Lie That Tells a Truth: A Guide to Writing Fiction

    by
    John Dufresne
    Published in 2003
    by Norton

    Drawing inspiration from the principles of method acting, John Dufresne’s The Lie That Tells a Truth demystifies the writing process and covers the basics of the craft, including how to invent characters, develop a voice, and revise work. Through literary analysis of the works of Anton Chekhov, Frank O’Connor, Eudora Welty, and others, as well as sets of writing exercises for each chapter, Dufresne creates a practical and comprehensive guide with steps on how to become a confident storyteller. As Dufresne writes in the introduction, “No one else can or will give you permission to write, so don’t even ask.” 

    ISBN: 
    978-0393325812
  • American Journal: Fifty Poems for Our Time

    by
    Tracy K. Smith, Editor
    Published in 2018
    by Graywolf Press

    In American Journal, published by Graywolf Press in association with the Library of Congress, former U.S. poet laureate Tracy K. Smith selects and introduces fifty poems that examine and pay tribute to the diversity of experiences that make up the United States—stories from rural and urban communities, the grief and losses of war, the triumph of immigrants, and lessons learned from history. Taking its title from a poem by Robert Hayden, the first African American appointed as consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress, this anthology includes the work of Jericho Brown, Natalie Diaz, Aracelis Girmay, Joy Harjo, Marie Howe, Layli Long Soldier, and Natasha Trethewey, among others. This timely anthology welcomes readers to connect to poetry through storytelling, as Smith states in the introduction: “This is why I love poems: they invite me to sit down and listen to a voice speaking thoughtfully and passionately about what it feels like to be alive.” 

    ISBN: 
    978-1555978389
  • A Feast in the Mirror: Stories by Contemporary Iranian Women

    by
    Mohammad Mehdi Khorrami and Shouleh Vatanabadi, editors
    Published in 2000
    by Lynne Rienner Publishers

    Edited and translated by Mohammad Mehdi Khorrami and Shouleh Vatanabadi, this anthology of twenty-one short stories explores new literary styles and forms, and provides a glimpse into the lives of women in contemporary Iranian society. Beginning with an introduction by the editors, the collection includes Tahereh Alavi’s story of a woman who sees a picture of herself in the missing persons column of a newspaper, Manusureh Sharifzadeh’s fictional exposé of workplace politics, and stories by writers such as Farkhondeh Aqai, Parvin Fadavi, Nahid Tabatabai, and Fariba Vafi. 

    ISBN: 
    978-0894108648
  • Follow the Story: How to Write Successful Nonfiction

    by
    James B. Stewart
    Published in 1998
    by Simon & Schuster

    In Follow the Story, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist James B. Stewart lays out techniques on writing nonfiction from conception to publication, covering wide-ranging topics such as research, structure, description, dialogue, humor, and endings that can be used for a variety of genres, including fiction and narrative nonfiction. Lauded by many in the literary community, this book on the craft of nonfiction guides writers through every aspect of telling a compelling story and offers a reminder that writing, as Stewart says, “may be absorbing, satisfying, even exhilarating, but it is hard work.”

    ISBN: 
    978-0684850672
  • The Heart of a Stranger: An Anthology of Exile Literature

    by
    André Naffis-Sahely, editor
    Published in 2020
    by Pushkin Press

    Poet and translator André Naffis-Sahely edits an anthology of literature from writers who have been forced to leave their homes, ranging from activist and writer Emma Goldman during the Red Scare in the early twentieth century, to Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani, and contemporary Eritrean writer Ribka Sibhatu. This anthology of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction with contributors drawn from twenty-four languages and six continents is a journey through themes both ancient and contemporary. 

    ISBN: 
    978-1782274261
  • ECODEVIANCE: (Soma)tics for the Future Wilderness

    by
    CAConrad
    Published in 2014
    by Wave Books

    ECODEVIANCE: (Soma)tics for the Future Wilderness, winner of the 2014 Believer Poetry Award, collects twenty-three writing exercises and their resulting poems that involve rituals with the senses that push the attention of writers to the political and ecological effects of the body. Writers are brought out of the quotidian and encouraged to sharpen their senses and connect to the world around them with pointed reminders: “As much as 80 percent of human communication is nonverbal, remember this detail.” Through this book, CAConrad, who teaches workshops on (Soma)tic poetry and ecopoetics, inspires and encourages risk and imagination. “Take the quiet with you to write your poem.”

    ISBN: 
    978-1940696010
  • Just Us: An American Conversation

    by
    Claudia Rankine
    Published in 2020
    by Graywolf Press

    In essays, poems, and images—from screenshots of social media to archival photographs—Claudia Rankine searches for new pathways into conversations about race and racism. Recalling encounters with white men at airports, personal memories from college, conversations with her white husband, and various other American scenes, she maps how whiteness and white privilege infiltrate and poison everyday life. Rankine looks closely at the moments of tension, of both quiet and obvious violence, always questioning and complicating her own certainties. Inviting readers to sit down at a common table, she models how to pose questions and listen in the pursuit of justice and empathy. 

    ISBN: 
    978-1644450215
  • Exercises in Style

    by
    Raymond Queneau, translated from the French by Barbara Wright
    Published in 2013
    by New Directions

    In this updated and illustrated edition of Raymond Queneau’s 1947 modernist masterpiece, translated from the French by Barbara Wright, an ordinary story of an encounter on a Parisian bus is retold in ninety-nine different ways in the tradition of the Oulipean literary group. From a metaphorical retelling to an “abusive” retelling, where the events are condemned, to a sonnet and a tanka, this anniversary edition includes new exercises by Jonathan Lethem, Ben Marcus, and Lynne Tillman, adding to Queneau’s innovative and instructive exploration of language’s possibilities.

    ISBN: 
    978-0811220354
  • How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays

    by
    Alexander Chee
    Published in 2018
    by Mariner Books

    “The story of your life, described, will not describe how you came to think about your life or yourself, nor describe any of what you learned. This is what fiction can do—I think it is even what fiction is for.” In his first collection of essays, Alexander Chee writes a book that examines his life’s entanglement with writing fiction. With personal essays that span from his time as an MFA student at Iowa Writers’ Workshop to becoming an AIDS activist with ACT UP in San Francisco to the events of 9/11, each entertains, inspires, and instructs writers on how to combine living a full life with knowing how to observe and write it. Widely lauded for its searing arguments and wise reflections, this collection is a testament to art’s ability to help process the events of one’s life. 

    ISBN: 
    978-1328764522
  • Writing Creative Nonfiction: Instruction and Insights From the Teachers of the Associated Writing Programs

    by
    Carolyn Forché and Philip Gerard, editors
    Published in 2001
    by Writer’s Digest Books

    “It’s a fascinating enterprise, this business of trying to tell the truth about the world through writing that is at once factual and literary,” write editors Carolyn Forché and Philip Gerard in the introduction to this book focused on the wide-ranging genre of creative nonfiction. With over thirty essays and an accompanying reader, Writing Creative Nonfiction collects insight on vital elements of writing craft from esteemed writers, including Annie Dillard, Martín Espada, Phillip Lopate, Brenda Miller, and Judith Ortiz Cofer. Forms from the critical essay to the lyric essay, and the academic biography to journalism are covered, and there are prompts and exercises to engage anyone interested in learning more about the genre. 

    ISBN: 
    978-1884910500
  • When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through: A Norton Anthology of Native Nations Poetry

    by
    Joy Harjo, executive editor
    Published in 2020
    by Norton

    “It is poetry that holds the songs of becoming, of change, of dreaming, and it is poetry we turn to when we travel those places of transformation, like birth, coming of age, marriage, accomplishments, and death,” writes U.S. poet laureate Joy Harjo in the introduction to this landmark anthology celebrating indigenous poets spanning four centuries. Harjo—along with LeAnn Howe, Jennifer Elise Foerster, and a lineup of contributing editors and regional advisors—gathers the work of more than 160 poets representing nearly one hundred indigenous nations such as Eleazar, a seventeenth-century Native student at Harvard; Natalie Diaz; Jake Skeets; Layli Long Soldier; Luci Tapahanso; and Ray Young Bear. With work ranging from traditional oral literatures to contemporary poetry, this anthology is historic and essential reading.

    ISBN: 
    978-0393356809

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