The poet and essayist Cathy Park Hong depicts the everyday effects of prejudice in a way readers can’t leave behind.
In writing, originality doesn’t have to mean rejecting traditional forms.
The novelist Jami Attenberg shares a poem that helped her understand her own relationship to isolation.
The novelist Téa Obreht describes how a single surprising image in The Old Man and the Sea sums up the main character's identity.
Chuck Klosterman, the author of Raised in Captivity, believes that art criticism often has very little to do with the work itself.
On a quest to make sense of what was happening to her body, the author Darcey Steinke sought guidance from female killer whales.
When his 2-year-old daughter died, Jayson Greene turned to writing to survive his grief, and to Dante’s Inferno for words to describe it.
An ancient saying he learned from his subjects, the Lamalerans, showed the journalist Doug Bock Clark how to tell the story of a tribe with no recorded history.
What the debut writer Kristen Roupenian learned from a masterful tale that dramatizes the horrors of being a young woman
John Wray describes how a wilderness survival guide taught him to face his fears while completing his most challenging book yet.
Nicole Chung explains how an essay about sailing taught her to embrace her fears as she worked up to writing her memoir, All You Can Ever Know.
Gary Shteyngart dissects one of the “most unexpected” lines in fiction and shares how it influenced his latest novel, Lake Success.
The author Laura van den Berg on what inspired her newest novel, The Third Hotel, and how she accesses the part of the mind that fiction comes from
The author R. O. Kwon reflects on the relationship of rhythm to writing and how she stopped obsessing over the first 20 pages of her new novel, The Incendiaries.
A.M. Homes on the short-story writer’s “For Esmé—With Love and Squalor,” and the lifelong effects of fleeting interactions
The nonfiction author Cutter Wood on how the comedian’s work helped him imbue minor characters with emotional life
The novelist Mary Morris explains how the opening line of One Hundred Years of Solitude shaped her path as a writer.
The author Tayari Jones explains what Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon taught her about the centrality of male protagonists in stories that explore female suffering.
The memoirist Terese Marie Mailhot on how Maggie Nelson’s Bluets taught her to explode the parameters of what a book is supposed to be
The author Martin Puchner on the way advances in paper production helped pave the way for The Tale of Genji
The National Book Award finalist Min Jin Lee on how the story of Joseph, and the idea that goodness can come from suffering, influences her work
The comedian and writer John Hodgman explains what Stephen King’s 1981 horror novel taught him about risking mistakes in storytelling—and fatherhood.
The author Carmen Maria Machado, a finalist for this year’s National Book Award in Fiction, discusses the brilliance of an eerie passage from Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House.
The Little Fires Everywhere novelist Celeste Ng explains how the surprising structure of the classic children’s book informs her work.
The Sour Heart author discusses Roberto Bolaño’s “Dance Card,” humanizing minor characters through irreverence, and homing in on history’s footnotes.
The novelist Scott Spencer on the English author’s short story “The Gardener” and what it reveals about transforming shame into art
The novelist Victor LaValle on how dark material hits hardest when it’s balanced out with wonder
A New York Times editor on the coffee-stained list she’s kept for almost three decades
The Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Elizabeth Strout discusses Louise Glück’s poem “Nostos” and the powerful way literature can harbor recollection.
Hannah Tinti, the author of The Good Thief, explains what she learned about patience and risk from the T.S. Eliot poem "East Coker."
The award-winning author discusses the poetry of Wendell Berry, and the importance of abandoning yourself to mystery.
The memoirist Melissa Febos discusses how an Annie Dillard essay, “Living Like Weasels,” helped refocus her life after overcoming addiction.
Dissecting a line from the author’s story “The Embassy of Cambodia,” Jonathan Lee questions his own myopia as a novelist.
The Lincoln in the Bardo author dissects the Russian writer’s masterful meditations on beauty and sorrow in the short story “Gooseberries,” and explains the importance of questioning your stance while writing.
The veteran author John Rechy discusses the powerful enigma of William Faulkner and the beauty of the unsolved narrative.
Ottessa Moshfegh, the author of the novel Eileen, opens up about coping with depression, how writing saved her life, and finding solace in an overlooked song.
The author Emily Ruskovich discusses the uncanny restraint of Alice Munro and the art of starting a short story.
What the violent suffering in Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot taught the author Laurie Sheck about finding inspiration in torment and illness
The Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon discusses what he learned about empathy from Borges’s “The Aleph.”
Franz Kafka’s work taught the writer Jonathan Lethem about how to incorporate chaos into narratives.
The novelist Nell Zink discusses the psalm that inspired her, and what she learned about the solitary artistic process from her Catholic upbringing.
The poem “Wild Nights! - Wild Nights!” taught the novelist Emma Donoghue about sexuality, ambiguity, and intimacy.
The novelist and poet Alice Mattison discusses finding inspiration in the unconventional short stories of Grace Paley.
For the writer Mark Haddon, Miles Davis’s seminal jazz album Bitches Brew is a reminder of the beauty and power of challenging works.
Despite critics’ dismissal of activist-minded fiction, the author Lydia Millet believes that Dr. Seuss’s classic children’s book is powerful because of its message, not in spite of it.
The writer Kathryn Harrison believes that words flow best when the opaque, unknowable aspects of the mind take over.
Dostoyevsky taught the writer Charles Bock that inventive writing is the most effective way to conjure reality.
Melissa Broder of So Sad Today finds solace in Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death and in her own creative process.
The author Ethan Canin probes the depths of a single sentence in Saul Bellow’s short story “A Silver Dish.”
Philip Roth taught the author Tony Tulathimutte that writers should aim to show all aspects of their subjects—not only the morally upstanding side.
The author of The Queen of the Night describes how a scene by Charlotte Bronte showed him the dramatic stakes of social interaction in fiction.
The author Paul Lisicky describes how Flannery O’Connor pulls her subjects apart to make them stronger.
Highlights from 12 months of interviews with writers about their craft and the authors they love
The writer Kevin Barry believes that the medium’s best hope lies in the mesmerizing power of audio storytelling.
The Paris Review editor discusses why the best stories ask more questions then they answer.
Mary Gaitskill, author of The Mare, explains how a single moment in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina reveals its characters’ hidden selves.
The ex-Granta editor John Freeman on how the author Louise Erdrich perfectly interprets Faulkner
The Fates and Furies author describes how Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse portrays the span of life.
The author and illustrator Brian Selznick discusses how Maurice Sendak showed him the power of picture books.
The novelist Angela Flournoy discusses how Zora Neale Hurston helped her imagine characters and experiences alien to her.
The Egyptian writer and activist Alaa Al Aswany explains how one word in Dostoyevsky’s novel The House of the Dead showed him how literature can help us understand one another.
The author Jesse Ball discusses Lewis Carroll's ‘Jabberwocky’ and how precise prose doesn’t always make for powerful work.
The author Mary-Beth Hughes discusses how Penelope Fitzgerald’s novel The Blue Flower showed her that words can dance.
The author Viet Thanh Nguyen discusses how his novel The Sympathizer is the product of decades of enjoying other works.
Joshua Cohen, the author of Book of Numbers, discusses Dostoyevsky’s The Double, in which the author becomes a presence in the novella.
The nonfiction writer Lucas Mann offers advice for essayists worried about whether they have anything interesting to say.
The novelist and editor Anna North discusses the Odyssey’s timeless lesson about leaving the comforts of home.
Mark Z. Danielewski discusses how the interplay of words and images can open up new ways of perceiving both literature and the world.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Charles Simic discusses the importance of noticing hidden truths—from the horrors of war to the mundane aspects of daily life.
The Norwegian author, known for the multivolume autobiography My Struggle, finds inspiration in the restraint of the tale of Cain and Abel.
The author of The Harder They Come adheres to an organic, spontaneous finale-writing process ruled only by his desire to leave readers with room for interpretation.
The English folk singer-songwriter reveals how an appreciation for humanity's history has informed her art.
The author Tania James shares a lesson she gleaned from a book about a poacher: The best prose comes from experimenting with new perspectives.
The author Yasmina Reza says that Borges taught her fiction, like joy, is borne of mysterious, instinctual processes achieved in an unconscious state.
The author Reif Larsen says Joseph Conrad and Anselm Kiefer taught him how to practice omission without infuriating his readers.
When novelist Harriet Lane received a serious diagnosis, she started telling stories that let her meet anxiety on her own terms.
Author Katherine Heiny describes how the best details in fiction can be ripped from small talk and eavesdropped conversations on the bus.
The writer draws inspiration from Art Spiegelman's Breakdowns, "a toolkit to think about humor using comics."
Writer Thomas Pierce finds inspiration in the concise beauty of Theodore Roethke's notebooks.
The songwriter-producer collaborated with author Michael Chabon on his new album.
Steven Pinker finds insight into the frailty of human nature within Measure for Measure.
Peter Stamm, author of All Days Are Night, says his work became deeper once he shed some delusions of grandeur.
The creator of a new documentary outlines how closely farmworkers' lives are connected to what's on grocery-store shelves
American Interior author and rock musician Gruff Rhys learned a lot by following in footsteps of a gullible pioneer.
Reading Lolita in Tehran author Azar Nafisi says the best books are "republics of imagination" erasing national and historic boundaries.
According to science fiction writer William Gibson, a book's opening should be an inviting enigma to the reader—and a motivational benchmark for the writer.
A panicked moment reciting William Butler Yeats in an MRI convinced the former poet laureate Billy Collins that oration is poetry's last, most enlightened defense.
Ernest Hemingway's matter-of-fact style taught author Vikram Chandra to find sublime in the ordinary, and depth in deceptively flat prose.
Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jane Smiley looks to Our Mutual Friend for inspiration on how to harness the spontaneous, liberating energy that comes from writing imagery.
A crisis of quality in literary criticism led Robert Silvers to found The New York Review of Books—and he believes the crisis continues today, online.
The Cloud Atlas author keeps a James Wright poem as a reminder to live in the now.
The Wilco singer says Daniel Johnston epitomizes his mostly instinctual creative process.
Novelist Edan Lepucki looks to the subversive metaphors in Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale for lessons in channeling characters' weird, rebellious spirits.
Using the guard-turned-vandal in The Heart So White as his guide, author Ben Lerner writes books in which characters interact with art, and occasionally try to set it on fire.
Author Stephan Eirik Clark returns to Don DeLillo's White Noise for lessons in interrogating American culture.
Memoirist Sean Wilsey says he knows he's finished with a story when it makes him laugh.
A Midsummer Night's Dream got it right, Richard Bausch says: Authors must find a way to turn nothing into something.
Author Lev Grossman says C.S. Lewis taught him that in fiction, stepping into magical realms means encountering earthly concerns in transfigured form.
Hot Chip singer Alexis Taylor explains why he tries to forget critics—and his own self-consciousness—when creating.
William T. Vollmann, author of Last Stories and Other Stories, explains why he works by an assassin's credo: "Nothing is true; all is permissible."
Author Joshua Ferris used to believe in 'art for art's sake.' Then he read The Human Stain.
Author Tom Perrotta, co-creator of a much-hyped new HBO drama, says Thornton Wilder's play taught him to write about finding meaning in the banal.
Songwriting lessons from the King, as told by indie-rock singer Hamilton Leithauser
Author Stuart Dybek talks about how to layer meaning into works of "flash fiction."
Author Rupert Thomson says a Yevgeny Yevtushenko poem taught him the value of risk.
The UnAmericans author Molly Antopol learned from Grace Paley how to inhabit characters that represent political sentiments but don't preach to readers.
Yes, that John Muir. His observations on nature's interconnected systems deeply influenced award-winning chef Dan Barber's new book, The Third Plate.
Gay, author of An Untamed State and the forthcoming Bad Feminist, sees her own questions of multi-ethnic and multi-national identity reflected in Smith's NW.
Stefan Zweig, the obscure Austrian writer whose life and work inspired The Grand Budapest Hotel, believed imagination could help propel society toward universal tolerance and accord.
Author Mona Simpson talks about Chekhov's "Three Years," which plays on rom-com tropes to convey just how grand a story of two people learning to appreciate each other can be.
Author Linn Ulmann makes the case for the importance of here in "Something happened here."
Marcus Burke, author of Team Seven and a former college athlete, learned from Carter G. Woodson that teaching yourself is just as important as being taught in the classroom.
Maggie Shipstead, author of Astonish Me, looks to Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse as an example of how to speed up and slow down fiction narratives effectively.
The Empathy Exams author Leslie Jamison felt ashamed of writing about the physical form until a Virginia Woolf essay vindicated her interest in the fluids and muscles that make us human.
As author Ted Thompson learned from John Cheever, a redemptive resolution doesn't erase the darkness of a story, but instead finds the light within it.
The author of The Woman Upstairs says that writing preserves the worlds we inhabit—even if so much of them dies with us.
John Steinbeck’s To a God Unknown showed author Alexai Galaviz-Budziszewski that great work can happen when you write without knowing where you're going.
Author Dinaw Mengestu says good books help you to recognize yourself in the unfamiliar.
Author Yiyun Li doesn't just study people on the subway—she studies her characters, unflinchingly imagining their gaze until she understands them fully.
Thirty Girls author Susan Minot says great writing—like T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"—is a source of nourishment readers turn to again and again.
The Nobel Prize winner is a role model for writers looking to bridge the personal, domestic details of the short story with the global forces of history, author Kyle Minor says.
The lesson author Dorthe Nors took from Ingmar Bergman: It's not drugs, poverty, or wild lovers that make a great writer. It's discipline and time alone.
Rebecca Mead, New Yorker staff writer and author of My Life in Middlemarch, shares what Eliot's Middlemarch taught her about love, marriage, and journalism.
Author and journalist Jennifer Percy was a committed physics major until a Lawrence Sargent Hall story showed her a more satisfying way to approach life's complexities.
Author Ben Marcus says the beautiful but sorrowful strangeness of Kafka's "A Message from the Emperor" make it a perfect piece of writing.
The veteran author says Theodore Roethke's poetry is a reminder that sometimes you're hot, sometimes you're not.
Highlights from 12 months of interviews with writers about their craft and the authors they love
Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself" helps remind the Joy Luck Club author to capture the "microscopic" details that make her characters unique.
Committing the words of Wallace Stevens to memory unlocked an emotional and physical magic within her, Bender says.
Author Paul Auster says Beckett shows how important laughter is in writing.
Russell Banks's biggest inspiration isn't another author—it's a gravestone inscription lurking near his desk.
The Eat, Pray, Love author celebrates the late Jack Gilbert, whose works challenge readers to find joy within suffering.
Bob Shacochis confronts the tension between exploring the everyday "frivolity" of our private worlds and making broad statements about the one we share.
Young-adult novelist Robin Wasserman says the famous horror writer empowered her as a teen reader by capturing the uneasy teenage phase between childhood and adulthood.
Alexie never thought he could leave his reservation to pursue a writing career—but a line written by Adrian C. Louis taught him to venture outside the "reservation of his mind."
Andre Dubus III, author of Dirty Love and The House of Sand and Fog, explains why the best work happens when you "back the fuck off."
His new book translates works by Karl Kraus, whose misgivings toward progress mirror Franzen's belief that technology can be "very harmful" to artistic production.
Author Ron Carlson was an unassuming, baseball-playing college student until a Fitzgerald story turned him into an impassioned English-major library vandal.
Novelist Paul Harding explains what Cheever's short story "The Jewels of the Cabots" taught him about portraying humans' contradictory impulses.
In 1972, Daniel Woodrell traded part of his lunch for a copy of Ernest Hemingway's posthumous novel. After he read it, he became determined to be a writer.
Edwidge Danticat, author of Claire of the Sea Light, believes that "re-creating your entire life is a form of reinvention on par with the greatest works of literature."
Jonathan Franzen, Margaret Atwood, David Gilbert, Roxane Gay, and other writers share their thoughts on what makes an inviting and memorable opening sentence.
The author of horror classics like The Shining and its 2013 sequel Doctor Sleep says the best writers hook their readers with voice, not just action.
The radio host accompanied his friend and collaborator to a dance-company show five months before his death in 2012—and inspired a passage in Rakoff's newly published book.
Hanan al-Shaykh, author of The Story of Zahra and Beirut Blues, puts new emphasis on the lessons about compassion in Shahrazad's—or Scheherazade's—famous stories.
Cotton Tenants, the long-lost magazine story that led to And Now Let Us Praise Famous Men, finally sees publication—at a time when its message seems more urgent than ever.
The author of All the Dead Yale Men doesn't just tweak when he rewrites—he tries on entirely new points of view and genre styles to learn more about the story he's telling.
Author Peter Orner pays tribute to of one of the past century's great character builders.
Author Jessica Francis Kane explains how the Roman emperor's words about perseverance have helped her career.
The author of The Kite Runner and And the Mountains Echoed touts the introduction of Stephen King's "The Body" as a poignant encapsulation of an author's limitations.
Benjamin Percy, author of Red Moon, makes the case.
Author Anthony Marra read new meaning into a line from Denis Johnson's Jesus' Son, years after that line had altered the way Marra thought about writing.
For Pollan, "eating is an agricultural act" offers more insight into how food relates to the world than Thoreau or Emerson's words ever could.
Fiona Maazel, the author of Woke Up Lonely and Last Last Chance, shares her favorite passage from her former teacher Jim Shepard.
Author Aatish Taseer, a chronicler of young Muslims, shares his favorite Naipaul passage.
Novelist Jim Crace, whose prose has been analyzed by mathematicians for its rhythm, learned his technique from the childhood counting game 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor.'
Author Steven Barthelme shares how he came to appreciate 'Lady With Lapdog.'
'Drinking With Men' author Rosie Schaap found this poem when she needed it most.
The 'Twelve Tribes of Hattie' author shares her thoughts on a 1937 work by Osip Mandelstam. Plus: a song!