January/February 2016

Our annual Inspiration Issue features essays on the origins of storytelling, historical fiction as an invitation to wonder, the challenges of facing difficult material on the page, taking risks in creative nonfiction, and our eleventh annual look at the year’s best debut poets; plus writing prompts for the new year, daring to discover your dangerous writing, the art of biography, questioning self-promotion, interviews with Kay Ryan and Saeed Jones, and more.

Special Section

A Beginning: The Origins of Storytelling

by Barry Lopez
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According to National Book Award winner Barry Lopez, storytelling is the most indispensable art. In an excerpt from his keynote speech at October’s Poets & Writers Live event in Portland, Oregon, Lopez gives us an answer to why we tell stories. 

Project Empathy: Facing Difficult Material

by Lee Martin
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An accomplished novelist and memoirist offers advice on how to write creative nonfiction with empathy and respect. 

Sitting on Plutarch's Throne: Taking Risks in the Essay

by John D'Agata
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An American writer and editor details the importance and emotional necessity of taking risks in the essay by way of an adventure to Greece to find Plutarch’s writing chair.

The Missing Locket: An Invitation to Wonder

by Jeannine Atkins
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When writing historical fiction, the novelist must become an archaeologist—combining research and imagination to excavate relics of the past, confront ghosts, and make old stories new again.

Futuristic Writing Desk: A Special Form of History

by David Searcy
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Recounting a harrowing trek up Texas’s Enchanted Rock with his wife, a writer details the particularly difficult task of placing yourself in time, and then learning to let time go.

The Aha! Moment: Poet Kay Ryan

by Michael Bourne
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Poet Kay Ryan discusses her poem “Tree Heart/True Heart,” which she wrote following the death of her partner, Carol Adair, in early 2009—and how a scientific discovery led her to withdraw the poem from her latest collection, Erratic Facts (...

News and Trends

Page One: Where New and Noteworthy Books Begin

by Staff

With so many good books being published every month, some literary titles worth exploring can get lost in the stacks. Page One offers the first lines of a dozen recently released books, including Sunil Yapa’s debut novel, Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist and Mira Ptacin’s debut memoir, Poor Your Soul, as the starting point for a closer look at these new and noteworthy titles.

Calling Ishmael

by Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum

With an app, a website, and a fleet of rotary-style pay phones, the new interactive project Call Me Ishmael allows readers and book lovers to call the fabled sailor and leave him personal messages about their favorite books.  

Literary MagNet

by Travis Kurowski

Literary MagNet chronicles the start-ups and closures, successes and failures, anniversaries and accolades, changes of editorship and special issues—in short, the news and trends—of literary magazines in America. This issue’s MagNet features the Freeman’s, Verse, Masters Review, and Ploughshares.

The Practical Writer

The Literary Life

Teeth Marks: The Translator's Dilemma

by Chigozie Obioma
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A Nigerian-born author and professor provides an in-depth look at two versions of the same text, one in the original Yoruba, and an English translation by Nobel Prize–winning author and translator Wole Soyinka. In his comparison of the two, Obioma...

The Art of Biography: Falling In and Out of Love

by Terese Svoboda
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An author and Guggenheim fellow details her journey in writing a biography of radical poet Lola Ridge.

Dangerous Writing: Go to Your Battlefield

by Tom Spanbauer
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“By forcing the writer to look at an event that changed her life, she has to come to terms with something that is intimate.” A prolific author and teacher explores the process of facing the deepest, heaviest, and saddest parts of ourselves in order...

The Time Is Now: Writing Prompts and Exercises

by Staff
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Experiment with myth, reinvent your relationships, and give love a bad name—three prompts to ignite the creative process.