Best Books for Writers

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

  • This Art: Poems About Poetry

    Michael Wiegers, editor
    Published in 2003
    by Copper Canyon Press

    In this collection of more than one hundred poems, sixty poets from around the world explore the life and art of poetry, finding mystery, paradox, and fullness through their works. “Often the loudest arguments on behalf of poetry are made in prose. Meanwhile, the more convincing arguments are sung in poems,” writes editor Michael Wiegers in the introduction. Drawing widely from Copper Canyon’s backlist of poetry books, contributors include Kay Boyle, Hayden Carruth, Norman Dubie, Jim Harrison, Carolyn Kizer, W. S. Merwin, Pablo Neruda, and Ruth Stone.  


  • The Long Run: A Creative Inquiry

    Stacey D’Erasmo
    Published in 2024
    by Graywolf Press

    Artistic community is at the core of this new craft book about the artist’s life and work over time by author and critic Stacey D’Erasmo, whose novels include the Lambda Literary Award–winning A Seahorse Year (Harcourt, 2004) and Wonderland (Harcourt, 2014). Shaping her immersive, lyrical essays around conversations with older artists across mediums, including composer Tania Léon, poet and artist Cecilia Vicuña, and landscape architect Darrel Morrison, D’Erasmo produces an insightful tapestry of sustainable artistic practice. Alongside deeply personal observations of cities, lineage, queerness, and life itself, a self-portrait emerges. “Maybe the rectilinear plane on which you have staked your life,” she writes, “is always filled with unnameable stuff that you nevertheless keep beginning with ‘dear friend’ and ending with ‘love.’” The Long Run is at once a record of long, fulfilling careers in the arts and a study of how they can come to be.  

  • The Joy of Syntax: A Simple Guide to All the Grammar You Know You Should Know

    June Casagrande
    Published in 2018
    by Ten Speed Press

    In this guidebook on grammar, language columnist June Casagrande focuses on “sentence mechanics” and how “words line up and change form to make sentences.” Divided into two parts, the first half of the book takes a deep dive into syntax, covering parts of speech, the grammar of phrases and clauses, as well as nouns, pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions, and prepositions. The second half concentrates on usage and propriety, exploring topics such as dangling participles, Oxford commas, language myths, and sentence fragments. Casagrande’s guidance in this book is humorous and straightforward, providing writers with clarification of the ever-evolving nature of words and the confidence to use language more intentionally in their creative work.  

  • The Poem Is You: 60 Contemporary American Poems and How to Read Them

    Stephanie Burt
    Published in 2016
    by Belknap Press

    In this volume, Stephanie Burt selects sixty poems as a small representation of the wide scope of contemporary American poetry, ranging from John Ashbery’s “Paradoxes and Oxymorons” published in 1981, to Ross Gay’s “Weeping” published in 2015. Each poem is accompanied by an essay that details the poem’s technique, sensibility, and context to help readers approach and enjoy the work with a new perspective. “These poems let us imagine someone else’s interior life, almost as if it were or could have been ours,” writes Burt in the introduction. “Each poem presents a way of arranging language, and a question about the culture from which it emerged; each poem is a way for a person to live in the world.”  

  • My Favorite Plant: Writers and Gardeners on the Plants They Love

    Jamaica Kincaid, editor
    Published in 2024
    by Picador

    In this anthology of essays and poems, originally published in 1998, Jamaica Kincaid assembles over thirty writers to contribute pieces on the plants they love. Daniel Hinkley writes about hellebores, Hilton Als considers marigolds, Marina Warner remembers the Guinée rose, Henri Cole reflects on irises and peonies in his poem, and Michael Pox’s essay “My Grandmother and Her Peonies” hits on a repeated theme of how favorite plants are often intertwined with the memories of loved ones. The essays and poems and excerpts from gardeners included in this book are arranged to “give the illusion of a garden,” writes Kincaid in the introduction, “a garden of words and images made of words, and flowers turned into words.”  

  • The Magic Mirror of Literary Translation: Reflections on the Art of Translating Verse

    Eric Sellin
    Published in 2021
    by Syracuse University Press

    In this collection of essays, author and translator Eric Sellin provides a guide to the art and science of translation, including the nuances in translating formal poetry. These personal and insightful essays cover structural challenges as well as linguistic and aesthetic issues while offering practical and theoretical advice from his extensive career as a professor, poet, editor, and translator. “In these essays, my solution to the dilemma of dealing with the many uncertainties involved in literary translation,” writes Sellin, “has been simply to ignore those uncertainties and to concentrate on snagging the brass ring while enjoying the merry-go-round ride of the translation process; and then to focus my attention on the actual translation process…treacherous though it might be.”  

  • Ancestors

    Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Ed Pavlić, and Ivelisse Rodriguez, editors
    Published in 2021
    by Boston Review

    In Ancestors, part of the Boston Review’s Arts in Society anthology series, contributing writers respond to the question posed by guest editors Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Ed Pavlić, and Ivelisse Rodriguez: “What does it look like if you summon the presence of the ancestors into your art?” Divided into three sections, “Origins,” “Ruptures & Transformations,” and “Onward,” the poems and stories in this collection reflect what it means to be human, from our beginnings, to what events shape us, to how we carry our ancestors with us into the future. Contributors include a range of authors from across the globe, such as Bennet Bergman, Duana Fullwiley, José B. González, Terrance Hayes, Tyehimba Jess, Cheswayo Mphanza, Sonia Sanchez, Izumi Suzuki, Ocean Vuong, and Binyavanga Wainaina. “We feel certain that readers will take from the book an enriched sense of what it means to be human living in a time, among other times, and to be part of a lineage, among other lineages, to have questions inherited from the past—as well as other ‘beyonds’—that shape our lives and will, no doubt, continue to shape the future on which we leave our impress,” write the editors. 

  • Creative Nonfiction: Researching and Crafting Stories of Real Life, Revised Edition

    Philip Gerard
    Published in 2004
    by Waveland Press, Inc.

    In this practical guidebook, Philip Gerard, author and founder of the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s MFA program in creative writing, walks through the genre of creative nonfiction—how it came to be defined and what it takes to craft a compelling, true story. Gerard combines journalistic skills with the art of storytelling in the eleven chapters covering subjects such as research, interviewing, mystery and structure, law and ethics, and revision. Writers will learn the challenges and steps to mastering the craft of creative nonfiction with Gerard’s generous instruction and advice. “The hardest part of writing creative nonfiction is that you’re stuck with what really happened—you can’t make it up,” writes Gerard. “You can be as artful as you want in the presentation, draw profound meanings out of your subject matter, but you are stuck with real people and real events. You’re stuck with stories that don’t always turn out the way you wish they had turned out.”  

  • Four Lectures

    Lisa Jarnot
    Published in 2024
    by Wave Books

    In this seventh book in the Bagley Wright Lecture Series, Lisa Jarnot examines what it means to be a woman in a male-centered experimental tradition, to have white privilege, and live a life in poetry. Through these earnest, autobiographical essays, Jarnot investigates traditional and experimental forms of poetry and questions about the power of poetry to unite communities while acknowledging systemic racism and American exceptionalism. Jarnot considers poetry as a prophetic art and explores the writers that led her to her calling. “It seems to me that the inspiration behind poems is often a feeling that something is desperately wrong, or that something is desperately right, and out of one or the other of these emergencies, something must be said,” writes Jarnot. 

  • Storycraft: The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Nonfiction, second edition

    Jack Hart
    Published in 2021
    by University of Chicago Press

    In this thorough guide first published in 2011, Jack Hart, former managing editor of the Oregonian, walks readers through the methods and mechanics of crafting narrative nonfiction. Hart covers what writers in this genre need to know, from understanding story theory and structure, to mastering point of view and such basic elements as scene, action, and character, to drafting, revising, and editing work for publication. This second edition includes more recent and expansive forms, such as explanatory narratives, vignettes, narrative essays, and podcasts, as well as insights from new research about storytelling and the brain. Throughout the lessons, Hart emphasizes that “the common ingredient in all great storytelling is the love of story itself.”  

  • Technicians of the Sacred, Third Edition: A Range of Poetries from Africa, America, Asia, Europe, and Oceania

    Jerome Rothenberg, editor
    Published in 2017
    by University of California Press

    First published in 1967, this revised and expanded third edition of Jerome Rothenberg’s groundbreaking anthology includes newly gathered and translated texts, further expanding this collection of global poetry. The over four hundred poems move across time and continents, from “primitive” and archaic spiritual works to avant-garde and experimental poetry. Over the decades, the book continues to inspire generations of poets, artists, musicians, and readers. Anne Waldman calls the volume “a seminal world wisdom text, a vibrating compendium of poetry and exegesis that reanimates poetry’s efficacy in the world.” In the preface to this edition, Rothenberg addresses the current divisions in the world and emphasizes the vital importance of preserving these texts and languages so that they are not lost. He writes, “To confront this implicit, sometimes rampant ethnic cleansing, even genocide, there is the need for a kind of omnipoetics that test the range of our threatened humanities wherever found & looks toward an ever greater assemblage of words & thoughts as a singular buttress against those forces that would divide & diminish us.” 

  • Best Literary Translations 2024

    Jane Hirshfield, Noh Anothai, Wendy Call, Öykü Tekten, and Kọ́lá Túbọ̀sún, editors
    Published in 2024
    by Deep Vellum

    In this inaugural anthology, contemporary and historical poetry and prose originally written in nineteen languages are translated into English by thirty-eight translators. Coeditors Noh Anothai, Wendy Call, Öykü Tekten, and Kọ́lá Túbọ̀sún, along with guest editor Jane Hirshfield, selected the poems, short stories, essays, and hybrid pieces included which were all published in U.S. literary journals during 2023. The anthology series aims to celebrate world literature, and honor the brilliant work of translators and the literary journals that publish this work. “Best Literary Translations exists thanks to the work of translators who tirelessly search for the most unique, engaging, and necessary literary voices from around the world—both those working today and those from other eras,” write the coeditors in the introduction. Hirshfield highlights the capaciousness of the anthology in her introduction: “The translations found in this volume…hold specific experiences, yes, to be tasted and walked inside of, but carry also translation’s fundamental increase of perspective, perception, and possibility, of what can be said, and how.” 

  • Poetry Unbound: 50 Poems to Open Your World

    Pádraig Ó Tuama, editor
    Published in 2022
    by Norton

    This poetry anthology is an expansion of the Poetry Unbound podcast hosted by Pádraig Ó Tuama, in which each episode is a close examination of a single poem. Fifty poems from contemporary poets, including Margaret Atwood, Reginald Dwayne Betts, Ilya Kaminsky, Ada Limón, Layli Long Soldier, and Ocean Vuong, have been chosen for the way they speak about the human experience and reckon with self-acceptance, history, independence, parenthood, identity, joy, and resilience. Each poem is introduced with a short essay about why the poem was chosen, and an essay following the poem reflects on the poet’s craft and choice of language and form. “I chose these fifty poems because together they help us to see what can happen when we pay attention to our lives,” writes Ó Tuama in the introduction. “When a poem lands in your life, it really lands, adding new richness and texture to your world.” 

  • The House of Being

    Natasha Trethewey
    Published in 2024
    by Yale University Press

    In The House of Being, part of the Why I Write series based on Yale University’s Windham-Campbell Lectures, former U.S. poet laureate Natasha Trethewey revisits the places that informed her beginnings as a reader and a writer, reflecting on her childhood in Gulfport, Mississippi, as the daughter of a Black mother and a white father. Through these intimate essays, Trethewey looks back to the origins of her writing life and considers writing as reclamation. “My need to make meaning from the geography of my past is not unlike the ancients looking to the sky at the assortment of stars and drawing connections between them,” she writes. “I’ve needed to create the narrative of my life—its abiding metaphors—so that my story would not be determined for me.” Watch Trethewey’s 2022 Windham-Campbell Lecture in our Poets & Writers Theater. 

  • Truth Is the Arrow, Mercy Is the Bow: A DIY Manual for the Construction of Stories

    Steve Almond
    Published in 2024
    by Zando

    Three decades of writing and teaching culminate in this new craft book by Steve Almond, the author of a dozen books of fiction and nonfiction, including All the Secrets of the World (Zando, 2022) and the New York Times best-seller Against Football: One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto (Melville House, 2014). With chapters dedicated to the basics—plot, character, chronology—the book makes space to interrogate “the comic impulse” and “obsession” as well as the more personal, intangible aspects of writing. Which feeling is stronger: your urge to tell the truth or your fear of the consequences? How can you write “egoless prose”? To answer questions like these, Almond layers anecdotes from his childhood alongside his experiences with writer’s block and his observations of students. In his candid, non-moralizing style, Almond examines writing from all angles, breathing new life into truisms about the writing process and the interior life of the storyteller. Read an excerpt from the book here.  

  • Writing That Gets Noticed: Find Your Voice, Become a Better Storyteller, Get Published

    Estelle Erasmus
    Published in 2023
    by New World Library

    In Writing That Gets Noticed, journalist and writing coach Estelle Erasmus shares experiences from her life editing magazines and helping writers develop their voices to guide those looking for ways to get started and how to pitch their stories and essays to be published. Each chapter includes short paragraphs with straightforward headlines of important topics from finding and honing your voice to best practices for pitching. Throughout the book are helpful strategies, writing exercises, resources, and tips, such as journaling and trying a six-word memoir as ways to warm up. Erasmus includes examples from her own essays and pitches, as well as examples of drafts from her students. There is also a chapter on writing personal essays in various formats, including narrative essays, hybrid essays, braided essays, and hermit crab essays. Along with advice, Erasmus offers words of encouragement when it comes to rejection and persistence: “It’s about consistently showing up after everyone else has given up.” 

  • The Next Draft: Inspiring Craft Talks From the Rainier Writing Workshop

    Brenda Miller, editor
    Published in 2024
    by University of Michigan Press

    For over twenty years, student writers have been gathering at the Rainier Writing Workshop, Pacific Lutheran University’s low-residency MFA program in Tacoma, Washington, to learn from faculty such as Barrie Jean Borich, Geffrey Davis, and Oliver de la Paz, who deliver craft lectures on inspiring, innovative approaches to writing in the school’s Xavier Hall. In The Next Draft, fellow faculty member Brenda Miller collects nineteen of these “morning talks” by Jenny Johnson, Kent Meyers, Lia Purpura, and others. Together they explore everything from imagism and Jewish textual analysis to the long tradition of writing as an art and the unique position of the writer in the twenty-first century. “These talks often become the touchstone for our conversations throughout the residency,” writes Miller in the introduction. “We emerge from Xavier Hall excited about how to read literature differently and how to bring our own writing to a new level.” 

  • How to Reread a Novel

    Matthew Clark
    Published in 2023
    by Louisiana State University Press

    In How to Reread a Novel, professor and scholar Matthew Clark looks at the ways in which reading fiction is a complex experience of perception, cognition, and emotion. Through narrative techniques, writers create a unique experience for the reader and in rereading books, one can discover new pleasures about the mechanisms within the stories. The six chapters in this book explore these techniques, looking into the physicality of language in style and rhetorical figures; the relationship between storyteller and story listener; rhetorical prose in the work of Charles Dickens, Anne Bronte, and Toni Morrison; and tropes, such as metaphors and similes, in the work of Homer, Raymond Chandler, and Henry James. With this book, Clark aims to train readers to become better readers and enjoy more fully what makes reading fiction so unique. “Every novel has the potential to reveal something new,” writes Clark. 


  • Orpheus in the Bronx: Essays on Identity, Politics, and the Freedom of Poetry

    Reginald Shepherd
    Published in 2007
    by University of Michigan Press

    In this collection of essays, the late poet and editor Reginald Shepherd explores the transformative power of poetry in a selection of autobiographical essays and those that focus on the work of other writers, including Alvin Feinman, Jorie Graham, Samuel R. Delany, and Linda Gregg. Shepherd invites readers into his childhood and formation as a writer in a way that provides context for his critical and analytical writings. His achievements, both artistically and intellectually, are sure to impact any devotee of literature. “The essays gathered here range in topic from the autobiographical to the exegetical to the theoretical, in style from the narrative to the lyrical to the analytical,” writes Shepherd in the introduction. “What unifies them is a resolute defense of poetry’s autonomy, and a celebration of the liberatory and utopian possibilities such autonomy offers.” 


  • Mythmaking: Self-Discovery and the Timeless Art of Memoir

    Maureen Murdock
    Published in 2024
    by Shambhala

    In Mythmaking, psychotherapist and writing teacher Maureen Murdock explores the memoir genre through the lens of ancient myths and archetypes. Murdock offers close examinations of contemporary memoirs—including Terry Tempest Williams’s Refuge, Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, and David Carr’s The Night of the Gun—for an understanding of the rich scope of the genre and their thematic connections with ancient myths. The first part of the book encourages readers to explore their own personal mythology asking questions that are central to memoir, such as, “Who am I?” and “What is my journey?” The second part of the book considers common themes in one’s life to reflect upon, such as home and homecoming, loss, and spirituality. At the end of each chapter are writing prompts to help writers get started on their journey, along with more prompts and a bibliography of exemplary memoirs in the appendix. “Memoirs help us find meaning in our lives by showing us how our lives fit into a larger mythic pattern,” writes Murdock. “The essence of memoir is to participate in the writer’s struggle to achieve some understanding of the events, traumas, and triumphs of their personal recollection.”  

  • The Hidden Machinery: Essays on Writing

    Margot Livesey
    Published in 2017
    by Tin House

    In The Hidden Machinery, award-winning novelist Margot Livesey looks to the authors and the works that have inspired her own writing. Each of the ten essays in this book is rooted in close readings of authors such as Jane Austen, Toni Morrison, Tom Stoppard, and Virginia Woolf, from whom Livesey draws invaluable lessons about rhythm in dialogue, the pitfalls of research, creating indelible characters, and much more about the inner workings of fiction. Within the essays are helpful prompts and tips on how to develop characters and sustain a narrative. “Read everything that is good for the good of your soul. Then learn to read as a writer, to search out that hidden machinery, which it is the business of art to conceal and the business of the apprentice to comprehend,” writes Livesey.  

  • Several Short Sentences About Writing

    Verlyn Klinkenborg
    Published in 2012
    by Knopf

    Verlyn Klinkenborg draws from his years of experience as a writer and teacher of writing to offer fresh pieces of wisdom about the writing process in this insightful book on writing. Written in short prose bursts, Several Short Sentences About Writing provides tried-and-tested starting points, ideas, and experiments for writers at any level. Practical and inspirational, the lessons in this book focus on the structure and intention of a sentence and how each impacts a story. “Imagine it this way,” writes Klinkenborg. “One by one, each sentence takes the stage. It says the very thing it comes into existence to say. Then it leaves the stage.”  

  • In the Tempered Dark: Contemporary Poets Transcending Elegy

    Lisa Fay Coutley, editor
    Published in 2024
    by Black Lawrence Press

    In this anthology examining the connection between bodies in grief and bodies of poems edited by Lisa Fay Coutley, over seventy contemporary poets share their elegiac work alongside a micro-essay on their corresponding grief. A wide range of contributors working in a variety of styles and forms are included, such as Ruth Awad, Sandra Beasley, Victoria Chang, torrin a. greathouse, Jay Hopler, Ilya Kaminsky, Diane Seuss, Lynne Thompson, Eric Tran, and Phillip B. Williams. Rather than instruct on how to craft grief poems, this expansive collection seeks to explore the ways in which poets give voice to what is difficult to put into words, and how to grieve and heal through poetry. 

  • Black Love Letters

    Cole Brown and Natalie Johnson, editors
    Published in 2023
    by Get Lifted Books/Zando

    “We reserve this space for our humanity in all of its fond, ironic, elated, grief-stricken, confused glory. In the following pages you will find letters crafted by activists, statesmen, acclaimed and upcoming writers, artists, poets, and creators—all reflecting on what it means to be Black, to love, and to be loved in America,” write editors Cole Brown and Natalie Johnson in the introduction to this illustrated anthology of letters by a wide range of Black leaders and writers. Contributors include Mahogany Browne, Ben Crump, Morgan Jerkins, Douglas Kearney, Nadia Owusu, Imani Perry, Al Sharpton, Danez Smith, and Jamila Woods. The five sections of the book cover an array of ways love is expressed with the titles: Care, Awe, Loss, Ambivalence, and Transformation. Filled with intimate and powerful testaments, the editors have created “a site for our people to come together on the deepest, strongest emotion we share” and “a space for healing, together.” 

  • Experiences in Translation

    Umberto Eco
    Published in 2001
    by University of Toronto Press

    In Experiences in Translation, translated from the Italian by Alastair McEwen, novelist and scholar Umberto Eco argues that translation is about interpretation and connotation, and a shift between cultures. Based on a series of lectures on translation given by Eco in 1998, the first half of the book reflects on his personal experiences translating literature as well as having his work translated by others. Eco demonstrates how a translation can express a deep understanding of a text while violating both lexical and referential faithfulness, and how translation can be thought of as a semiotic task, using examples from translations of his own and other novels, translations of the dialogue of American films into Italian, and versions of the Bible. The second half of the book dives into translation theories proposed by Roman Jakobson, C. S. Pierce, George Steiner, and others. Anyone interested in language and literary translation will appreciate Eco’s approachable and thoughtful discussion.