23 Incredible Books For Beginning Writers

Five years ago, Google told us that there were 129 million different books in the world. Five years ago! This means that, as a fledging writer, you may feel a sensation of acute overwhelmedness when trying to educate yourself. Should you begin with the classics? Knock out a couple old Russian novels over a single summer? What about lyric poetry? The Epic of Gilgamesh? Eastern writers? History's forgotten magic realists? The cute boy who works at your favorite coffee shop and just self-published a novella about his road trip? Where do you even start?

I don't have the answers, but AWP 2015 Minneapolis' publishing peeps do. I asked them, "What book would you give a writer who's just starting out?" and their answers ran the gamut from the obscure to the canonical to the impassioned to the craft-based. If you're flailing about in the muck of poetry and the mire of fiction, consider this your starter reading list. Or be prepared to find your new favorite book, even if you're a seasoned writer.

1. Kien Lam, Indiana University MFA, Poetry

Wind in a Box by Terrance Hayes

2. Leslie Aguilar, Indiana University MFA, Poetry

Kingdom Animalia by Aracelis Girmay

3. Karen Babine, Concordia College

Boundary Waters by Paul Gruchow

4. Brandi Spaethe, Program Assistant, Poets & Writers

After the Quake by Haruki Murakami

5. Kate Koza, Advertising Associate, Poets & Writers

Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson

6. Lisa Mangini, Founding Editor, Paper Nautilus

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

7. Christopher Soto, Lambda Literary

Slow Lightning by Eduardo C. Corral

8. Natasha Marin, Cave Canem

26 by Anastacia Tolbert

9. Anastacia Tolbert, Cave Canem

Milk by Natasha Marin

10. Cynthia Plascencia, University of New Hampshire MFA, Poetry

What the Living Do by Marie Howe

11. Joanna Fuhrman, Teachers & Writers

Sleeping on the Wing by Kenneth Koch, Kate Farrell

12. Nandi Comer, Writing Programs Coordinator, Vermont Studio Center

"Any one of Ross Gay's books."

13. Madeline Hester, Classifieds, and Abigail Dunn, Marketing Manager, New York Review of Books

Speedboat by Renata Adler

14. Major Jackson, poet

Dien Cai Dau by Yusef Komunyakaa

15. Sara Fan, Assistant Managing Editor, and John Dudek, University of Illinois MFA, Ninth Letter

Leadbellyby Tyehimba Jess

16. Douglas Kearney, poet

Recyclopedia by Harryette Mullen

17. Adrian Matejka, poet

Collected Poems by Emily Dickinson

18. Sarah Gerard, author

Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion

19. Kevin Nguyen, Editorial Director, Oyster

On Writing by Steven King

20. Kristen Radtke, Sarabande Books

"Any Joan Didion, ever."

21. Ryan Chapman, Marketing Director, BOMB

Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson

22. Michael Slosek, Assistant Web Editor, Poetry

The Collected Poems of Cesar Vallejo trans. by Clayton Eshleman

23. Sarah Abe, Daybreak Press

Brewing Storms by A.M. Ramzy

Images: Tori Telfer