Best Books for Writers

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

by ​Stephen Koch

Published in 2003 by Modern Library

Stephen Koch, former chair of Columbia University’s graduate creative writing program, presents indispensable advice covering all the basics of craft in this comprehensive volume. Starting from the moment of inspiration, to writing a first draft, to techniques for character development and plot, this book offers insight and guidance for writers at every stage.

by Frank Conroy

Published in 1999 by William Morrow

In this wide-ranging anthology of essays, former Iowa Writers' Workshop director Frank Conroy has compiled twenty-three pieces written by faculty about the craft of writing. Authors such as Deborah Eisenberg, Francine Prose, and Abraham Verghese share their insights and tips on the writing and revision processes.

by The Paris Review

Published in 2006 by Picador

For more than fifty years, the Paris Review has conducted interviews with some of the world's most notable writers of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama. This first volume collects sixteen interviews which are full of insight about the writing lives of authors such as Elizabeth Bishop, Ernest Hemingway, and Rebecca West.

by Judith Barrington

Published in 2002 by Eight Mountain Press

Teacher and memoirist Judith Barrington offers practical advice drawn from years of personal experience on how to overcome difficulties, and take risks when writing your own memoir. The guide covers everything from questions about truth and ethics to craft, and each chapter concludes with writing exercises.

by Steve Kowit

Published in 1995 by Tilbury House

Poet and teacher Steve Kowit provides guidance for aspiring poets on crafting modern poetry, as well as for more practiced poets looking to hone their technical skills. The book reads like a lecture with more than a hundred poems and excerpts to illustrate his discussions.

by Vivian Gornick

Published in 2002 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Vivian Gornick presents readers with examples of some of the best essays and memoirs of the past century, analyzing how the idea of the self has changed. Gornick explores the truth speaker in works by Edmund Gosse, Joan Didion, and Oscar Wilde, and discusses how to recognize truth in your own work.

by Mary Norris

Published in 2015 by Norton

Veteran “prose goddess” Mary Norris brings to the desk over three decades of experience in the New Yorker’s copy department. In her first book, Norris addresses the most common slipups in spelling, punctuation, and usage and provides anecdotal musings on the rules we write by, with examples from Moby-Dick to The Simpsons.

by Clive James

Published in 2015 by Liveright

Clive James examines the poems and legacies of twentieth-century poets, from Hart Crane to Ezra Pound, and offers guidance on how to read and appreciate modern poetry. James also discusses his favorites (Yeats, Frost, Auden, Wilbur, and Larkin) and champions the opinion that poetry is for everyone, not just poets.

by Lizzie Skurnick

Published in 2015 by Workman Publishing

This book collects 244 of the wordplays and neologisms featured in Lizzie Skurnick's "That Should Be a Word" column in the New York Times Magazine. The terms, including twiticule, to mock someone in 140 characters, and brattle, to discuss one's children at great length, poke fun at life in the twenty-first century.

by David Biespiel

Published in 2015 by Antilever Press

In this volume of collected essays, poet and critic David Biespiel offers profound and entertaining analyses of the mysteries of poetry and the role poetry plays in American life. Biespiel discusses the work of nearly one hundred poets from ancient times to the present, in English and in translation.