5 Books for Women Artists/Writers, or 5 Books That Changed Everything

August 29, 2011 0 Comments

If You Want to Write, Brenda Ueland

At 17, although I knew I loved writing, I had a hard time getting words on paper. I remember struggling with one assignment in particular, visiting a professor one day to finally ask for help. She recommended this book to me, which was the most helpful thing she could do. Ueland cracked me open, I finished the damn assignment, and writing became easier and easier from there. This book is a good one to re-read every few years. It’s about writing, but really it’s about risk-taking, loosening up, and having faith in one’s self. It’s a quick read and kind of like WD-40 for the soul.


Voice Lessons: On Becoming a (Woman) Writer, Nancy Mairs

I read and loved Mairs’s book of essays, Plaintext, long before picking this up in the used books section of Harvard Bookstore on a whim sometime in 2005. This one is also quick read, but it will forever change your relationship to writing and to literature. Who knew sex/sexuality had so much to do with how narrative is constructed, how stories are told?! This bit of the book (let Mairs explain more) pretty much blew my mind. Also worth reading once every couple of years, especially whenever you’re wondering why most mainstream blockbuster movies don’t appeal to you.

What Is Found There: Notebooks on Poetry and Politics, Adrienne Rich

I’m still absorbing this one. Let me put it this way: Adrienne Rich has a poem (and collection of poems), published in 1973, called “Diving Into the Wreck”–diving into the wreck is what I think Rich does best and what I am most grateful to her for. She isn’t afraid to examine and write about the most difficult, complex aspects of our lives as human beings and as women. This one isn’t an easy read, but there’s something powerful and life-saving about it. I’ll have more eloquent things to say about it in a few years.



The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It For Life, Twyla Tharp

This book challenges you to think about art in ways you might not expect. Dancer/choreographer Tharp makes art because she loves it, sure, but like most dancers/athletes (and I suppose many writers), because it’s just something she does every day. The daily practice of dancing then is more important to her than the dance. This is a book about art, but it’s also about constructing a life, inhabiting the world through one’s body (not just one’s head), discipline, listening, and change.


Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D.

I first learned about this book maybe eight months ago, bought it two months ago, and have been thoroughly absorbed by it ever since. The first two times I came across it, I decided to leave it on the shelf. I thought myself foolish for being drawn to such a title. Once I got past my judgment–not even my own, not really–I fell in love with this book. This little dance I did with buying the book might as well have been reason enough to read it. Estes writes about why it’s so important to come to know, respect, and take care of our creative selves. She writes about women’s unique intelligence and intuition, reminds us of human beings’ very real connection to the earth, and helps us understand ourselves as women (and people) at this time in history. Like Ueland’s If You Want To Write, it also serves as a good kick in the ass to get going and do the work you feel called to do, challenging as it can be sometimes.


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