Best Books for Writers

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

  • Seeking Wisdom: A Spiritual Path to Creative Connection

    by
    Julia Cameron
    Published in 2022
    by St. Martin’s Essentials

    Thirty years after her first book, The Artist ’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity (TarcherPerigree, 1992), changed the way countless writers thought about creativity, Julia Cameron turns her attention to the concept of creative prayer. Starting with a secular appeal to experiment with open-mindedness, Cameron tells the story of how prayer led her forward at a time of personal crisis and helped her develop the creative tools she shared in The Artist’s Way, particularly Morning Pages, Artist Dates, and Walks. In her new book she shares a mindful collection of prayer practices that can open a writer’s “creative soul,” regardless of personal beliefs or religious practices. Through prayers of petition, gratitude, creativity, and others, writers are invited to step more fully into their creative practice. Billed as a “six-week program,” Seeking Wisdom should appeal to any fan of Cameron’s earlier nonfiction. 

    ISBN: 
    978-1250809377
  • Essays Two

    by
    Lydia Davis
    Published in 2021
    by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

    In her 2019 book, Essays One, Lydia Davis offers her insights on craft and the writing life, while this follow-up volume concentrates on her expertise as a translator. Essays include observations on learning foreign languages, translating Proust from the French, and how her travels across the city of Arles in France influenced her writing. “The translation problems that you have struggled with the hardest, perhaps never satisfied with your solutions, will stay with you for a long time—you can count on it,” Davis writes. In eleven unique sections, including “Learning a Foreign Language: Dutch,” “Translating from English into English,” “Translating Michel Leiris,” and “On Translation and Madame Bovary,” Davis lets the reader in on her idiosyncratic way of approaching translation. Her clear and incisive prose carries all those invested in the mysteries and relationships between languages. 

    ISBN: 
    978-0374148867
  • Together in a Sudden Strangeness: America’s Poets Respond to the Pandemic

    by
    Alice Quinn, editor
    Published in 2020
    by Knopf

    “Wherever these poets are writing from, they—and we—are together in this ‘sudden strangeness,’ possibly the most dramatic period most of us have ever known,” writes editor Alice Quinn in the introduction of Together in a Sudden Strangeness: America’s Poets Respond to the Pandemic, a timely anthology of poems, many of which were written in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. The collection includes the work of over one hundred renowned and emerging poets such as Jericho Brown, Ama Codjoe, Fanny Howe, Ada Limón, Vijay Seshadri, and Jenny Xie. From fierce truths to dark humor, readers can share in the experience of being delighted and illuminated through this essential, urgent poetry anthology that addresses the fear, grief, and hope felt in these times. As Quinn writes: “These poems reflect how our poets are reckoning with this unforeseen calamity and reaching out to connect with us, their readers, to share the illumination of life that beckons to all in dark times.”  

    ISBN: 
    978-0593318720
  • Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories From the Twenty-First Century

    by
    Alice Wong, editor
    Published in 2020
    by Vintage Books

    “I grew up seeing very few images that looked like me in books, film, or television. In that absence, how does one realize that something is even missing?” writes Alice Wong, founder and director of the Disability Visibility Project, in the introduction to this powerful collection of essays by disabled people. Writers such as Jen Deerinwater, Ariel Henley, Jamison Hill, and Jillian Weise cover a broad range of topics in this anthology that invites readers to question their own understanding of an ableist society and gives voice to a generation of writers who are often underrepresented in the media and publishing industry. “These stories do not seek to explain the meaning of disability or to inspire or elicit empathy. Rather, they show disabled people simply being in our own words, by our own accounts.” 

    ISBN: 
    978-1984899422
  • The Strategic Poet: Honing the Craft

    by
    Diane Lockward, editor
    Published in 2021
    by Terrapin Books

    “By observing, we see more. By describing what we can see, we understand more, we feel more. We discover something we didn’t know before,” writes Ellen Bass in “Craft Talk: From Detail to Discovery,” which introduces the first section of this comprehensive craft book edited by Diane Lockward, a follow-up to The Practicing Poet: Writing Beyond the Basics and The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop. Each of the thirteen sections in the book is devoted to a specific poetic strategy—such as descriptive detail, diction, imagery—and begins with a craft talk by a renowned poet followed by prompts and sample poems as well as poetic analyses that address practical ways to work on skills. Featuring poems by Traci Brimhall, Ada Limón, Matthew Olzmann, and Frank X Walker, among others, The Strategic Poet: Honing the Craft is a combination of anthology and guide—ideal for any poet seeking to produce dynamic work. 

    ISBN: 
    978-1947896482
  • The Best American Essays 2021

    by
    Kathryn Schulz, editor
    Published in 2021
    by Mariner Books

    “The world is abundant even in bad times; it is lush with interestingness, and always, somewhere, offering up consolation or beauty or humor or happiness, or at least the hope of future happiness,” writes guest editor Kathryn Schulz in the introduction to The Best American Essays 2021. Featuring essays by Elizabeth Alexander, Molly McCully Brown, Dawn Lundy Martin, and Wesley Morris, to name a few, this installment of the annual anthology captures writers at work during a historic year of grief and tumult. From an intimate account of nursing a loved one during the pandemic to an exploration of the political and aesthetic history of a mustache, this collection demonstrates what it is to be writing during an unprecedented time, offering readers and writers solace and inspiration through rigorous prose.  

    ISBN: 
    978-0358381754
  • Intimations: Six Essays

    by
    Zadie Smith
    Published in 2020
    by Penguin Books

    “We try to adapt, to learn, to accommodate, sometimes resisting, other times submitting to, whatever confronts us. But writers go further: they take this largely shapeless bewilderment and pour it into a mold of their own devising. Writing is all resistance,” writes Zadie Smith in “Peonies,” the first essay in Intimations: Six Essays, a collection released at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic with reflections on creativity and isolation. In these brief, intimate, and thought-provoking essays, Smith explores ideas and questions sparked by an unprecedented moment, such as the relationship between time and work, and the misery and suffering endured by each individual: “The writer learns how not to write. The actor not to act. The painter how never to see her studio and so on.” Less than one hundred pages, this slim volume can be carried around by any reader or writer seeking their daily dose of clarity and inspiration.

     

    ISBN: 
    978-0593297612
  • The Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction: 50 North American Stories Since 1970

    by
    Lex Williford and Michael Martone, editors
    Published in 2007
    by Scribner

    “Like democracy, when it works, the most compelling fiction often responds to the deeper implications of world events slowly, sometimes taking years to articulate the incomprehensible, the unsaid—perhaps even the unsayable,” writes editor Lex Williford in the foreword of the second edition of this short story anthology. The first edition published in 1999 captures the world at the end of a millennium, while this 2007 edition includes voices that “have just begun to articulate the new questions arising from the first decade of this new millennium.” Featuring the work of writers such as Amy Bloom, Robert Olen Butler, Sandra Cisneros, Edward P. Jones, Jamaica Kincaid, and Leslie Marmon Silko, this excellent range of fifty stories was selected from a survey of more than five hundred English professors, short story writers, and novelists, making this an essential anthology for all readers and writers of contemporary fiction. 

    ISBN: 
    978-1416532279
  • Poetry and the Language of Oppression: Essays on Politics and Poetics

    by
    Carmen Bugan
    Published in 2021
    by Oxford University Press

    “This book is not about poetic freedom in the sense of claiming freedom for poetry, freeing poetry from internal or state censorship,” writes Carmen Bugan in the introduction of Poetry and the Language of Oppression: Essays on Politics and Poetics. “Rather, the following chapters are about the nature of poetry as a form of salvation—from political oppression.” Through five probing chapters with titles such as “Sounding the Deeps of Nature,” “The ‘Lyric I,’” and “Writing in Turbulent Times,” Bugan incorporates pieces from her life and writing as well as the work of other writers, including Meena Alexander, Jorge Luis Borges, and Wole Soyinka, to consider how poetry acts as a healing language in times of public duress. In this powerful and personal book, Bugan brings up questions about literary testimony and the meaning of freedom in current times, while confronting the power of language. “We are born into language and words shape how we understand the world and our place in it,” she writes.  

    ISBN: 
    978-0198868323
  • Alien Nation: 36 True Tales of Immigration

    by
    Sofija Stefanovic, editor
    Published in 2021
    by Harper Via

    “New York City is famously packed with immigrants, with stories that span the world,” writes Sofija Stefanovic in the introduction to Alien Nation: 36 True Tales of Immigration. “But being new—in New York or any other place—is complicated. Immigrant stories, like the waters Lady Liberty watches, are deep and complex.” Adapted from the live storytelling series “This Alien Nation,” created and hosted by Stefanovic, this anthology features extraordinary stories told by contributors from varying backgrounds, including authors André Aciman, Alexander Chee, and Siri Hustvedt, as well as actress Laura Gómez and activist Tatenda Ngwaru, among others. Arranged into a rich tapestry of true stories celebrating and exploring the experiences of immigrants in the United States, Alien Nation combines unique perspectives with engaging storytelling. 

    ISBN: 
    978-0063062047
  • The Ecco Anthology of International Poetry

    by
    Ilya Kaminsky and Susan Harris, editors
    Published in 2010
    by Ecco

    “Reading an anthology of world poetry gives one a chance to overhear similarities, of what Anna Akhmatova once called ‘correspondences in the air,’” writes Ilya Kaminsky in the introduction to The Ecco Anthology of International Poetry. “That is, moments when authors of different geographical and historical circumstances, languages, and traditions, seem to address each other in their works.” Edited by Kaminsky and Susan Harris, editorial director of Words Without Borders, this book collects the work of international writers such as Muhammad al-Maghut, Constantine P. Cavafy, Rubén Darío, Mitsuharu Kaneko, Adélia Prado, and Marina Tsvetaeva, some of whom had not previously had their work translated into English. Reading this extensive selection of poems offers an understanding of the history of the written word, blurring the borders of the world through the sensibilities of language. 

    ISBN: 
    978-0061583247
  • The Art of Revision: The Last Word

    by
    Peter Ho Davies
    Published in 2021
    by Graywolf Press

    The fifteenth and final volume in Graywolf’s preeminent Art of series is a long-overdue and deeply satisfying exploration of a frequently discussed yet widely misunderstood and underestimated aspect of every writer’s working life. Peter Ho Davies, the author of three novels, including A Lie Someone Told You About Yourself (Mariner Books, 2021), and two story collections, begins his careful study of revision by addressing its invisibility, with the majority of readers and writers seeing only the final draft. Davies uses examples from his own books as well as from the work of other writers, including Raymond Carver, Carmen Maria Machado, and Flannery O’Connor, to illustrate his points. By turns deeply personal and intellectually rigorous, The Art of Revision: The Last Word is a moving appeal to writers on the importance of reflecting not only on their process, but also on their lives. 

    Read an excerpt from The Art of Revision here.

    ISBN: 
    978-1644450390
  • Memory Into Memoir: A Writer’s Handbook

    by
    Laura Kalpakian
    Published in 2021
    by University of New Mexico Press

    “The memoir is not the story of what you know, it’s the story of how you learned it,” writes Laura Kalpakian in Memory Into Memoir. “As a genre, the memoir is narrow enough to focus on a single summer in the life of the writer, and broad enough to encompass experience before that writer was born.” In this step-by-step guide, the award-winning novelist and memoirist walks experienced and new writers alike through the challenges of writing a memoir, offering practical advice, unique prompts, and thorough discussions that highlight how the genre differs from others. With chapter titles such as “The Past Meets the Page,” “Developing Character,” and “Revising the Memoir,” Kalpakian encourages writers to trust their instincts and embrace “not just the way things happened, but the way the writer thinks they happened.” 

    ISBN: 
    978-0826363114
  • Writing Tools: 55 Essential Strategies for Every Writer

    by
    Roy Peter Clark
    Published in 2008
    by Little, Brown Spark

    “If you feel left behind, this book invites you to imagine the act of writing less as a special talent and more as a purposeful craft,” writes Roy Peter Clark in the introduction of the tenth anniversary edition of Writing Tools: 55 Essential Strategies for Every Writer. “Think of writing as carpentry, and consider this book your toolbox.” Gleaned from a career as a journalist and teacher, Clark writes fifty-five short essays on ways to confront writing and its challenges, accompanying them with examples from the work of over two hundred writers, including Albert Camus, Diane Ackerman, and Amy Tan. With chapter titles such as “Fear not the long sentence,” “Give key words their space,” and “Break long projects into parts,” Clark offers practical advice to help writers reach fluency in their craft. 

    ISBN: 
    978-0316014991
  • The Knowledge: Where Poems Come From and How to Write Them

    by
    David Kirby
    Published in 2021
    by Flip Learning

    “My job isn’t to make you a poet. You’re a poet already. My job is to show you a slew of techniques and tricks and processes that will make you the best poet you can possibly be,” writes poet and critic David Kirby in The Knowledge: Where Poems Come From and How to Write Them, a playful and comprehensive craft book that walks readers through the stages of writing a poem, as well as what it is to build a life around the art form. With engaging chapter titles such as “Accidents Will Happen,” “Cruelty, or Readers Like Pleasure but They Adore Pain,” and “Furbelows, Lozenges, and Doohickeys,” the award-winning professor of English at Florida State University invites writers of all stages to craft poems the way Jimi Hendrix talked about making music: “Learn everything, forget it, and play.” As much a craft book as an anthology, the work of writers such as Joy Harjo, Terrance Hayes, Franny Choi, and Natalie Diaz are included with astute analysis, along with unique prompts for any writer seeking to liven up their skills along the way. 

    ISBN: 
    978-1735594026
  • Tolstoy Together: 85 Days of War and Peace

    by
    Yiyun Li
    Published in 2021
    by A Public Space Books

    “I’ve found that the more uncertain life is, the more solidity and structure War and Peace provides,” writes Yiyun Li in Tolstoy Together, which encapsulates the virtual book club the author began in 2020 inviting readers around the world to discuss Tolstoy’s epic novel with her. The book includes Li’s daily reading journal that comments on craft and technique, historical context, and character studies, as well as contributions from writers such as Garth Greenwell, Carl Phillips, and Alexandra Schwartz, among hundreds of other readers. Featuring a schedule and framework for following along, Tolstoy Together is both a guide and motivating companion that illustrates the power of reading together. 

    ISBN: 
    978-1734590760
  • Why Translation Matters

    by
    Edith Grossman
    Published in 2010
    by Yale University Press

    “Translation always helps us to know, to see from a different angle, to attribute new value to what once may have been unfamiliar,” writes Edith Grossman in the preface of this fourth installment of the Why X Matters series published by Yale University Press. “As nations and as individuals, we have a critical need for that kind of understanding and insight. The alternative is unthinkable.” The celebrated translator of writers such as Miguel de Cervantes and Gabriel Garcia Marquez argues for the cultural importance of translation, and an appreciation for the translator’s role, in the hope to “stimulate a new consideration of an area of literature that is too often ignored, misunderstood, or misrepresented.” With chapter titles such as “Translating Cervantes” and “Translating Poetry,” and “A Personal List of Important Translations,” Grossman inspires new ways to think about and discuss translation. 

    ISBN: 
    978-0300171303
  • Best Debut Short Stories 2021: The PEN America Dau Prize

    by
    Yuka Igarashi and Sarah Lyn Rogers, editors
    Published in 2021
    by Catapult

    Best Debut Short Stories 2021: The PEN American Dau Prize is an anthology published by Catapult highlighting twelve fiction writers whose outstanding debut short stories were published in a literary magazine, journal, or cultural website and selected by the award’s judges: Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Kali Fajardo-Anstine, and Beth Piatote. Ranging from speculative fiction to realist stories about immigration by writers such as Heather Aruffo, Lindsay Ferguson, Khaddafina Mbabazi, and Alberto Reyes Morgan, each piece comes with an introduction by each publication’s editor, whose insight provide a view into the selection process as well as the future of literary publishing. Now in its fifth edition, this anthology is perfect for any reader or writer seeking to be introduced to the year’s most exciting literary magazines and emerging fiction writers.

    ISBN: 
    978-1646220793
  • 100 Poems to Break Your Heart

    by
    Edward Hirsch
    Published in 2021
    by Mariner Books

    “Our superficial, materialistic, media-driven culture often seems uncomfortable with the true depths of feeling,” writes Edward Hirsch in the introduction to 100 Poems to Break Your Heart. “It’s as if the culture as a whole has become increasingly intolerant of that acute sorrow, that intense mental anguish and remorse that can be defined as grief. We want to medicate such sorrow away.” In this anthology, Hirsch collects one hundred poems from the past two hundred years that contend with grief and loneliness—from poets such as William Wordsworth, César Vallejo, Gwendolyn Brooks, Louise Glück, and Victoria Chang—and accompanies each poem with an essay discussing use of language and literary devices, as well as historical context. The celebrated poet and critic uses his years of expertise to break down each poem’s lasting impact, allowing for any reader to learn as well as relish the pleasure of an emotional education in this expertly arranged collection. 

    ISBN: 
    978-0544931886
  • What About the Baby? Some Thoughts on the Art of Fiction

    by
    Alice McDermott
    Published in 2021
    by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

    The author of eight novels, three of which were named Pulitzer Prize finalists, including Charming Billy, which won the 1988 National Book Award, McDermott turns for the first time to nonfiction in this collection of essays, lectures, and observations on the art of writing fiction. “I expect fiction to be about the pain and sweetness of life,” she writes in a chapter titled “What I Expect,” in which she shares passages by Mark Helprin, Toni Morrison, John Cheever, Philip Roth, Eudora Welty, Virginia Woolf, William Faulkner, and others to illustrate the reasons we turn to fiction to learn life’s lessons. “I expect fictional narrators to stand naked, talking into the dark, so that the words they choose are neither self-conscious or self-serving nor—worse yet—author-conscious or author-serving but direct and honest and as true as they can make them.” A book as meaningful for readers of fiction as it is for writers, What About the Baby? is filled with wisdom acquired over decades of writing and teaching. 

    ISBN: 
    978-0374130626
  • A Poet’s Craft: A Comprehensive Guide to Making and Sharing Your Poetry

    by
    Annie Finch
    Published in 2012
    by University of Michigan Press

    “The alchemy of poetry transmutes the intimate chatter of our lives into something deeper and more powerful,” writes Annie Finch in the introduction to A Poet’s Craft, a guide to the entire process of writing a poem from inspiration to publication. With chapters on metaphor, rhyme, syntax, and more, this complete volume includes hundreds of classic and contemporary poems demonstrating examples of form and technique by poets such as Mahmoud Darwish, Brenda Hillman, Li-Young Lee, and Gwendolyn Brooks. Teaching guide, anthology, and craft book all rolled into one, this is a necessary book for any reader or writer of poetry seeking to further their understanding of the written word. 

    ISBN: 
    978-0472033645
  • Outside the Lines: Talking With Contemporary Gay Poets

    by
    Christopher Hennessy
    Published in 2005
    by University of Michigan Press

    In twelve intimate and craft-focused interviews, Christopher Hennessy probes some of contemporary poetry’s most celebrated poets, including Frank Bidart, Rafael Campo, Timothy Liu, and Carl Phillips. Each interview explores the poets’ complete work up until the book’s publication in 2005, illuminating the evolution of their work, as well as the connections between form and identity. “One may be tempted to argue that the fact that all are gay is simply a happy coincidence,” writes Hennessy in the introduction. “But to pretend that their sexuality doesn’t matter would be to squander an opportunity (one of many this book offers) to learn about how identity shapes a poet’s work, as it must.” Closing with a prescient list of emerging poets—Mark Bibbins, Randall Mann, Richard Siken, and Mark Wunderlich, among others—Outside the Lines makes the case that the lineage of gay poets is an essential one which “includes some of the most visionary, masterful writers of the past hundred years.” 

    ISBN: 
    978-0472068739
  • 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

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