Best Books for Writers

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

by Jane Hirshfield

Published in 2015 by Knopf

In the ten essays comprising this collection, Jane Hirshfield explores a wide range of elements that give poetry its transformative power. From examinations of work by poets including Bashō, Elizabeth Bishop, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Czeslaw Miłosz, to investigations of paradox and surprise in poetry, Hirshfield demonstrates the ability of poetry to gift its readers with "new possibilities of perceiving."

by Mary Karr

Published in 2015 by Harper

The author of the memoirs The Liars’ Club (Viking, 1995), Cherry (Viking, 2000), and Lit (Harper, 2009) draws from decades of experience as a writer, reader, and teacher to spotlight this complex and powerful form of storytelling. “Memoir done right is an art, a made thing,” she writes in the preface. Including unique insights and examples of the author’s personal favorites in the genre, The Art of Memoir provides a humorously candid examination of the literary form Karr has influenced over the past twenty years.

by John Drury

Published in 2006 by Writer's Digest Books

John Drury’s Creating Poetry is a straightforward, comprehensive guide to writing verse. In sections such as “Preparing,” “Sight,” “Movement,” and “Sources of Inspiration,” Drury walks readers through his taxonomy of poetry and process from inspiration to completion, with plenty of examples, prompts, and challenges along the way.

by Patricia Hampl

Published in 1999 by Norton

“A writer is, first and last, a reader." Patricia Hampl's collection of essays explores the depths of writing created from the most personal memories—in works by Anne Frank, Czeslaw Milosz, Sylvia Plath, Walt Whitman, and others—and provides insightful reflections on her own writing life as a memoirist.

by Natasha Sajé

Published in 2014 by University of Michigan Press

"I wrote the book I wished I had had in my poetry writing classes," Natasha Sajé writes in the preface. Her nine essays serve as an insightful guide to reading and writing poetry in a way that takes into consideration critical theory, as well as the politics and ideology of poetic language. The included works of contemporary poets provide examples for inspiring writing prompts for poets at all levels.

by Carolyn See

Published in 2003 by Ballantine Books

​"This book... is intended to cover the writing process from the first moment you decide, or dream, that you want to write, on through to the third month after publication of your first novel." Author, teacher, and critic Carolyn See​ guides writers through everything from the basic elements of writing a story, to how to behave around friends and family when you first get published, and emphasizes the importance of sending a daily “charming note.”

by Ursula K. Le Guin

Published in 2015 by Mariner Books

"The judgment that a work is complete... can be made rightly only by a writer who's learned to read her own work." In this new update of Ursula K. Le Guin's 1998 handbook, serious writers will learn how to read and revise their own work following a discussion of the basic components of prose. The ten chapters cover everything from punctuation to point of view​, and are interspersed with examples from classic works of literature and writing exercises that put into practice Le Guin's tips on craft.

by Larry W. Phillips, editor

Published in 1999 by Scribner

​"All my life I've looked at words as though I were seeing them for the first time​." This book is a collection of Ernest Hemingway's comments on writing and reflections about his own process, gathered from his stories, essays, letters, and interviews. Hemingway's insights offer helpful advice to writers on the craft of writing, work habits, and the writing life.

by Dinty W. Moore

Published in 2015 by Ten Speed Press

In Dear Mister Essay Writer Guy, Dinty W. Moore answers a collection of questions about essay writing from essayists such as Roxane Gay, Phillip Lopate, David Shields, and Cheryl Strayed. Moore expands on topics ranging from larger themes of privacy to the minute particularities of the em dash with humorous and insightful advice, illustrative examples, and writing prompts.

by Claudia Rankine, Beth Loffreda, and Max King Cap, editors

Published in 2015 by Fence Books

"This collection is founded on the idea that it's worth trying to write about race, again—in particular that something valuable happens when an individual writer reflects on race in the making of creative work." In 2011 Claudia Rankine created Open Letter, an online forum about race and the art of writing that elicited responses from a diverse group of artists and writers. In this anthology, authors such as Simone White, Francisco Aragón, Bhanu Kapil, Dawn Lundy Martin, and many others offer their responses, filled with their own experiences, questions, and convictions. The result is a vital conversation on a range of topics including depictions of social and racial identity; race, feminism, and creative spaces; and "the white imaginary."