Best Books for Writers

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

  • Poetry as Persuasion

    by
    Carl Dennis
    Published in 2001
    by University of Georgia Press

    In Poetry as Persuasion, Carl Dennis, author of numerous poetry collections including the Pulitzer Prize–winning Practical Gods, focuses on the relation of the poet to the reader. Dennis asserts that the “persuasiveness of a poem depends on the presence of a definite speaker with a sharply defined point of view,” and uses examples from the works of poets such as Homer, John Ashbery, and Emily Dickinson to illustrate his theories and poetics. With chapter titles such as “The Voice of Authority,” “Irony,” “Myth,” and “Poetry as Liberation,” Dennis takes readers across all aspects of the steps of writing a poem, offering both inspiration and advice to practicing poets and avid aficionados of the art form. 

    ISBN: 
    978-0820322483
  • The Ecopoetry Anthology

    by
    Ann Fisher-Wirth and Laura-Gray Street, editors
    Published in 2013
    by Trinity University Press

    “As we have been coediting The Ecopoetry Anthology, we’ve become ever more convinced that the environmental crisis is made possible by a profound failure of the imagination,” write editors Ann Fisher-Wirth and Laura-Gray Street in the preface to this anthology compiling the works of writers—including Walt Whitman, H.D., Robert Hayden, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, Elizabeth Bishop, and William Carlos Williams—responding to the “burgeoning environmental crisis.” The book begins with a history of poetry about nature, creating a lineage between eighteenth- and nineteenth-century poetry and the ecopoetics movement of the 1960s, the era in which contemporary ecopoetry bloomed. With an introduction by former U.S. poet laureate Robert Hass, this collection achieves a generous and capacious archive of living in the Anthropocene, offering a road towards hope through profound intelligence and emotional poetry. 

    ISBN: 
    978-1595341464
  • A Braided Heart: Essays on Writing and Form

    by
    Brenda Miller
    Published in 2021
    by University of Michigan Press

    In a series of essays on the craft of writing creative nonfiction, Brenda Miller explores emerging essay forms—such as the short-short, the braided form, and the hermit crab essay—and offers practical advice on how to invigorate one’s writing practice. Miller’s lyrical essays both instruct and mirror the points she investigates, as she uses personal memories and her experience as a professor of creative writing at Western Washington University to craft her lessons. Ranging in subjects from braiding challah bread to ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arrangement, Miller balances relatability with clear instructions on how to challenge and inspire writers of prose. 

    ISBN: 
    978-0472054923
  • Why We Write About Ourselves: Twenty Memoirists on Why They Expose Themselves (and Others) in the Name of Literature

    by
    Meredith Maran, editor
    Published in 2016
    by Plume

    In twenty essays, this anthology edited by author and book critic Meredith Maran gleans the expertise of major memoirists—including Sue Monk Kidd, Cheryl Strayed, Jesmyn Ward, and Edmund White—who are dedicated to the craft of creative nonfiction. Topics range from turning oneself into an authentic character to the art behind exposing difficult personal details, and the practical obstacles that come in the way of writing. Why We Write About Ourselves is an authentic and inspiring read for anybody seeking to tell their truth. 

    ISBN: 
    9780142181973
  • Walking Light: Memoirs and Essays on Poetry

    by
    Stephen Dunn
    Published in 2001
    by BOA Editions

    “We are choreographers of our poems. We intuit, will, pace, digress, suppress, stitch, and arrange—all of which requires a sense of evolving design,” writes the late Stephen Dunn in the introduction to this expanded version of his collection of essays on poetry, originally published by W. W. Norton in 1993. Ranging in topics from the relationship between art and sport, to the role of the imagination and the necessity of surprise when writing poetry, Dunn uses his decades of expertise to make simple the most ineffable quandaries. Displaying not only the Pulitzer Prize winner’s expertise but his commitment to the art of teaching and writing, Walking Light is an entertaining and enlightening read for all those seeking to be inspired. 

    ISBN: 
    978-1929918003
  • Writers On Writing, Volume II: More Collected Essays From the New York Times

    by
    the New York Times
    Published in 2004
    by Times Books

    In this second volume of original essays from the popular New York Times column, Writers on Writing compiles advice from revered authors such as Diane Ackerman, Margaret Atwood, Frank Conroy, Mary Karr, and Amy Tan. With an introduction by Jane Smiley, this collection includes essays that range from thoughtful and serious reflections, to wry and hilarious advice, offering a glimpse into the challenges and rewards of the creative process. “How to read this book?” asks Smiley. “Read it like eavesdropping or like twisting the knob on an old radio and tuning in stations from far and wide. Read it like an explorer, then wander among the authors’ other works.” 

    ISBN: 
    978-0805075885
  • Our Endless and Proper Work: Starting (and Sticking to) Your Writing Practice

    by
    Ron Hogan
    Published in 2021
    by Belt Publishing

    Emerging from a newsletter the author launched in 2018 called “Destroy Your Safe and Happy Lives” and taking its title from a line in a Mary Oliver poem (“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work”), this inspiring volume helps readers not only to develop an ongoing writing practice but also to consider that practice as a worthy goal rather than a means to publication. Hogan writes, “What if we thought about writing as a personal process of self-discovery, a way of gravitating towards stories and themes you feel passionately about and learning more about those passions as you go along—and learning how to share that passion with others?” Organized in chapters with titles such as “Reclaiming Your Time for Writing,” “Finding Your Groove,” and “Preparing Yourself for the Long Haul,” and punctuated with illustrations by Emm Roy, Our Endless and Proper Work offers a powerful realignment of priorities for the creative writer. 

    ISBN: 
    978-1948742948
  • Toward the Open Field: Poets on the Art of Poetry, 1800–1950

    by
    Melissa Kwasny, editor
    Published in 2004
    by Wesleyan University Press

    “This anthology intends to trace a movement from conventional form to exploratory field, and to do so, not by presenting the work of literary historians but by collecting some of the important prose works of poets themselves,” writes Michelle Kwasny in the introduction to this 2004 anthology of manifestos, prefaces, craft essays, and letters from poets writing between 1802 and 1950. Organized into three sections—“Form as Proceeding,” “Crise de Vers,” and “The Poem as a Field of Action”—with introductions to each prose work by Kwasny, readers can track the development of literary styles and thought across the nineteenth and twentieth centuries by the most influential European and American poets, such as Aimé Césaire, Mina Loy, Charles Olson, and William Wordsworth. Expertly arranged and researched, this seminal anthology is one worth keeping on the shelf for any writer looking to expand their understanding of what literary writing has done across time and can still do. 

    ISBN: 
    978-0819566072
  • The Writing Life

    by
    Annie Dillard
    Published in 2013
    by Harper Perennial

    “When you write, you lay out a line of words. The line of words is a miner’s pick, a woodcarver’s gouge, a surgeon’s probe. You wield it, and it digs a path you follow,” writes Annie Dillard in this reissue of the 1989 classic The Writing Life, which tracks, step by step, the writing process of the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and the emotional landscape a writer can undergo when writing something new. With an intimate and direct second-person point of view, these essays invite the reader into the mindset of a writer encountering inspiration every day and looking for ways to practically apply those observations to the writing of a book. For newcomers and experienced writers alike, this book welcomes all to participate in the creative process and outlines how to do so in the most practical and inspiring ways. 

    ISBN: 
    978-0060919887
  • Coin of the Realm: Essays on the Life and Art of Poetry

    by
    Carl Phillips
    Published in 2004
    by Graywolf Press

    “Beauty, at least when it is referred to by that name—suffers the same treatment by too many contemporary poets (and students of poetry) as does authority in poetry,” writes Carl Phillips, recipient of the 2021 Jackson Poetry Prize, in “The Case for Beauty,” an essay included in Coin of the Realm. “It gets dismissed as naïve, or irrelevant, or somehow on the wrong side of the field on whose other side we are all assumed to have happily set up camp together.” In these incisive and imaginative essays, Phillips wrestles with topics such as authority, identity, consciousness, and beauty, and how these subjects relate to writing poetry. With examples ranging from ancient Greek to contemporary poetry, Phillips shows writers what it is to be a rigorous thinker in and outside the work one writes. 

    ISBN: 
    978-1555974015
  • Book Wars: The Digital Revolution in Publishing

    by
    John B. Thompson
    Published in 2021
    by Polity

    The author of the highly accessible and comprehensive Merchants of Culture: The Publishing Business in the Twenty-First Century (Polity, 2010) returns with an in-depth account of the turbulent decade in which publishing was thrown into disarray by the digital revolution. Thompson relates how the industry was transformed as new opportunities opened up for individuals and organizations while tech giants like Google and Amazon moved in to capitalize in a new publishing environment. More than a study of the faltering rise of e-books, Book Wars explores the ways in which the digital revolution altered traditional publishing as well as self-publishing, audiobooks, bookselling, and the broader ways in which we communicate and share writing, information, and “content.” Read an excerpt from the book’s introduction in our online exclusive.  

    ISBN: 
    978-1509546787
  • Victims of a Map: A Bilingual Anthology of Arabic Poetry

    by
    Adonis, Mahmud Darwish, Samih al-Qasim, translated from the Arabic by Abdullah al-Udhari
    Published in 2005
    by Saqi Books

    “Modern Arab poetry has evolved against the background of the turmoil of the Arab world,” writes translator Abdullah al-Udhari in the introduction to this bilingual anthology of Arabic poetry featuring Adonis, Mahmud Darwish, and Samih al-Qasim, first published in 1984 by Saqi Books. “This collection is meant to provide English-speaking readers with a sense of the frontiers of Arab poetry today.” With the original Arabic and the English translations side-by-side, this anthology renders in song the intimate experiences of poets who have used their work to resist victimization and express their aspirations as contemporary writers. The work of these three poets, as al-Udhari writes, “led to the breakdown of classical Arab poetic conventions and redrew the map of Arab poetry.” Featuring detailed biographical notes and historical context to the works, this collection will help broaden the language of any writer seeking to express the urgent and ineffable. 

    ISBN: 
    978-0863565243
  • Aiiieeeee!: An Anthology of Asian American Writers

    by
    Frank Chin, Jeffery Paul Chan, Lawson Fusao Inada, and Shawn Wong, editors
    Published in 2019
    by University of Washington Press

    “A lot has changed since the publication of Aiiieeeee!” writes literary scholar Tara Fickle in the foreword of the third edition of this historic anthology edited by Frank Chin, Jeffery Paul Chan, Lawson Fusao Inada, and Shawn Wong. “But we could also say that a lot has changed because of Aiiieeeee!; or that Aiiieeeee! presciently anticipated these changes, not least by highlighting the vibrant diversity of Asian American experience in the literature.” Forty-five years after its original publication in 1974, this reissue carries the anthology into a contemporary discussion about American literary traditions, featuring fourteen works by authors such as Momoko Iko, Wallace Lin, Toshio Mori, John Okada, and Sam Tagatac. This classic and inspiring collection is a reminder of the essential place Asian American writers hold in the American literary canon. 

    ISBN: 
    978-0295746487
  • Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches

    by
    Audre Lorde
    Published in 2020
    by Penguin Classics

    “These collected writings, passed down to each of us, hold the power of information. Each of us holds to our chest what solidifies our understanding of our place in this world. What can a body do with such an understanding?” writes Mahogany Browne in the foreword to this collection of writings by Audre Lorde, reissued for Penguin Classics as a part of the Penguin Vitae series. Known for her groundbreaking writings on race, gender, and sexuality, the fifteen essays and speeches in this book, including “Poetry Is Not a Luxury,” “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power,” and “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House,” do the difficult work of connecting one’s written work to the intersections of identity and social change. This influential text is not only a must-have for any writer for its incisive and lyrical prose but an essential text for anyone seeking to connect with another. 

    ISBN: 
    978-0143134442
  • The Poet’s Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry

    by
    Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux
    Published in 1997
    by Norton

    “Within these pages you’ll find not only a guide to the nuts and bolts of how poems are made, but discussions ranging from how to tackle your subjects to how to cope with rejection and self-doubt,” write Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux in the preface to this 1997 book on the craft of poetry, which features essays and curates poems on a range of topics such as imagery, the music of the line, voice and style, writing the erotic, and the energy of revision. Throughout the guide, the two renowned poets encourage and challenge writers of all levels to write about one’s own life and to be unafraid of taking risks, equipping each chapter with writing prompts and tips on how to begin a poem. Readers will be led through the ins and outs of what it is like to be a poet, emphasizing the power of imagination and language. 

    ISBN: 
    978-0393316544
  • The Art of Syntax: Rhythm of Thought, Rhythm of Song

    by
    Ellen Bryant Voigt
    Published in 2009
    by Graywolf Press

    “This structure—this architecture—is the essential drama of the poem’s composition,” argues Ellen Bryant Voigt about syntax in this timeless installment from The Art Of series published by Graywolf Press and edited by Charles Baxter. “With poetry as with music, the first step toward mastery is recognition.” With thorough discussions of prosody and syntax, Voigt parses out line by line the music of poetic language in works by Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Frost, Stanley Kunitz, and others, examining what it is they deploy technically that allows meaning to come together. At times overwhelming with detail, this influential craft book carries a glossary in the back with key prosody terms, making it an indispensable book for all writers to return to, again and again, as they hone the music of their language. 

    ISBN: 
    978-1555975319
  • The Hatred of Poetry

    by
    Ben Lerner
    Published in 2016
    by FSG Originals

    “Many more people agree they hate poetry than can agree what poetry is,” writes Ben Lerner in this book-length essay that denounces and defends the art form by tracking the history of the public’s perception of the genre, beginning with its hatred by Greek philosophers and following through with close reading of poets such as Emily Dickinson, John Keats, Marianne Moore, and Walt Whitman. Through this personal and inventive examination, Lerner identifies and elucidates what drives readers to hate poetry and what it is that makes the genre transcendent. “All I ask the haters—and I, too, am one—is that they strive to perfect their contempt,” writes Lerner. “Even consider bringing it to bear on poems, where it will be deepened, not dispelled, and where, by creating a place for possibility and present absences (like unheard melodies), it might come to resemble love.” 

    ISBN: 
    978-0865478206
  • Unfinished Business: Notes of a Chronic Re-reader

    by
    Vivian Gornick
    Published in 2020
    by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

    “I sometimes think I was born reading,” writes Vivian Gornick in Unfinished Business: Notes of a Chronic Re-reader, a collection of essays that tracks the books the critic and memoirist has read over and over again, helping to shape her storied life and prolific writing career. Through incisive and intimate writing, Gornick finds herself identifying with opposing characters in D. H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers, and considering the veracity of memory through Marguerite Duras’s The Lover, as well as discussing the prose of writers such as Elizabeth Bowen, Natalia Ginzburg, and Doris Lessing. Part memoir and literary criticism, Gornick’s book is a reminder of the importance of reading for a writer’s life and how it helps one “feel the power of Life with a capital L.” 

    ISBN: 
    978-0374282158
  • Appropriate: A Provocation

    by
    Paisley Rekdal
    Published in 2021
    by Norton

    Paisley Rekdal’s collection of essays Appropriate: A Provocation includes six letters on the subject of cultural appropriation. In the first letter titled “An Invitation,” Rekdal addresses a student from a writing workshop whose poem is written in the voice of a Black nurse working in their white grandmother’s home in Georgia. Rekdal recounts how the discussion never devolves into open hostility, but “didn’t make anyone feel better for having participated in it,” prompting her to ask a central question: “When we write in the voice of people unlike ourselves, what do we risk besides the possibility of getting certain facts, histories, and perspectives wrong?” In a timely work that outlines how the idea of cultural appropriation has evolved over time, Rekdal discusses authors from William Styron to Peter Ho Davies to Jeanine Cummins, introducing a framework to one of the most polemical subjects in contemporary literature. 

    ISBN: 
    978-1324003588
  • Short: An International Anthology of Five Centuries of Short-Short Stories, Prose Poems, Brief Essays, and Other Short Prose Forms

    by
    Alan Ziegler
    Published in 2014
    by Persea Books

    Composed of short form pieces from the sixteenth century to the present, this anthology edited by Alan Ziegler gives readers a sense of the long tradition of the form and how authors across generations continue to influence one another. Arranged chronologically by the year of each author’s birth, there are prose poems, short-short stories, brief essays, fragments, and more from writers such as Louise-Sébastien Mercier, William Blake, Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Baudelaire, Oscar Wilde, Gertrude Stein, Octavio Paz, Lydia Davis, Kimiko Hahn, and Claudia Rankine. Ziegler, who instituted a Short Prose Forms class at Columbia University in 1989, encourages writers to think past genre: “Perhaps space constriction lends itself to work that subverts expectations, or maybe when writers work in a renegade form they feel free to throw caution to the winds of imagination.” 

    ISBN: 
    978-0892554324
  • Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry

    by
    Jane Hirshfield
    Published in 1998
    by Harper Perennial

    “For most members of a community, the liminal is a point of transition, entered briefly,” writes Jane Hirshfield in this collection of essays on creativity and storytelling. “For some, though, the liminal becomes their only dwelling-place—becomes home. A writer must invent for himself how to live in this way.” In these nine essays, Hirshfield delves into the roots of poetic craft by examining what she calls “the mind of concentration,” expanding upon what the writer’s role is in a community, the origins of poetry in oral memory, and the nature of perception and self-expression. Written to serve the general reader as well as the working writer, Nine Gates offers strategies for language and thought that allow meaning to be developed and emotion to be expressed with clarity. 

    ISBN: 
    9780060929480
  • The Book of Forms: A Handbook of Poetics, Fifth Edition

    by
    Lewis Turco
    Published in 2020
    by University of New Mexico Press

    “It should go without saying that the more one knows how to do, the more one can do,” writes Lewis Turco in this fifth edition of The Book of Forms: A Handbook of Poetics. This go-to reference guide has been revised to aid the contemporary reader and writer, and includes classic rules of scansion, a Form-Finder index, and new examples and terms for all forms of poetry and verse. Heralded for Turco’s engaging style, this companion, sometimes referred to as “the poet’s bible,” defines, explains, and contextualizes basic concepts so any writer looking to challenge their writing can step up to the task. 

    ISBN: 
    978-0826361882
  • 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

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