A monthly roundup of writers past and present that we just can’t read enough of.
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Welcome to our monthly blog series in which we share some of our favorite writers, past and present. The Writers of the Month we feature are those writers who we always return to and no matter how many times we read them they make us feel something new. The ones who, when they announce a new book, we go straight to the preorder page. The writers whose Instagram stories we always watch and whose tweets we always retweet. The writers who feel almost like a real friend.
This series is not meant to determine the Best Writer, but rather to highlight the writers each of us at the American Writers Museum are particularly fond of in a given month, a day, a moment. We hope to introduce you to writers you’re unfamiliar with or inspire you to revisit a writer you haven’t read in a while. Perhaps you’ll see your favorite writer on one of our lists!
So, without further ado here are February’s Writers of the Month.
Edited by Nate King
No one can deny the genius of James Baldwin as a writer. His use of language to elicit visceral and deeply emotional responses from his reader are amazing. My amazement at Baldwin’s talent started young, and was an example of how much effect a writers words can have on someone. I was 19 in the early 80’s, working in a bookstore, when someone gave me Another Country to read. I was overwhelmed by the power of the book. I started diving into more of his writing, and conveniently there was a brand new collection of his essays that had come out, and I could stop and read one every day on my break, and I continued to marvel at his skill and power.
Because this was before the internet, I had no ability to imagine what Mr. Baldwin looked like, because there were no pictures of him on the books I was looking at, so I imagined a huge man, with a deep and powerful voice. And then, out of the blue one day, there was a scramble up front as his publicist called the store. Baldwin was in town for a radio interview and wanted to swing by and sign copies of the new book. My friend who had given me the book was afraid to meet her hero, and they needed someone who knew his work to stand there and help him sign the piles of books, so I was recruited. You can imagine my surprise when this very small man with an ascot and high voice was escorted in and introduced to me. It was my first lesson in the amazing power of the writer, whose words transcend the limits of the physical. He was wonderful and gracious to an inept kid trying to make conversation, and so he will always be one of the most important writers in the world to me, for what he wrote and who he was as a person.
In February 2020, we hosted historian and author Nicholas Buccola who discussed his recent book The Fire Is Upon Us: James Baldwin, William F. Buckley, Jr. and the Debate Over Race in America, about the iconic 1965 debate between Baldwin and Buckley that still reverberates today. Watch the full program on YouTube or listen to a condensed version on the AWM Author Talks podcast.
Keah Brown visited the AWM in 2019, and was just delightful. Her essays are insightful even (or maybe especially) when they touch on uncomfortable subjects. Her comments on race, accessibility, gender and sexuality, and more make me take a step back to reflect. I consider this an important thing for me to do when it feels like the entire world has been running non-stop for the last year or so. You can read a selection of her essays on her website.
—Ari, Data Operations Coordinator
This man really does it all. I first heard of Donald Glover when I was in college through his YouTube sketch group Derrick Comedy and their feature-length film Mystery Team (which I highly recommend). He was then hired at the old age of 23 by Tina Fey to write for 30 Rock (see above). But it’s his show Atlanta, which he created and stars in, that has solidified Glover as more than just a funny guy. Don’t get me wrong, Atlanta is still full of hilarious moments, but it also uses that humor to critique economic and racial disparity in this country and make you question your role in it. It’s that beautiful kind of writing that makes you laugh one moment but then you realize the joke is on you and you are actually part of the problem. Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Donald’s brother Stephen Glover, who has written a lot of the episodes, and the rest of the Atlanta writing staff.
Oh yeah, and if that wasn’t enough Donald Glover is also one of the biggest names in music as Childish Gambino. Seeing his progression from his early mixtapes, which I also first heard in college, to where he is at now musically is impressive and a testament to how writers grow and change overtime by trying new things. From what I’ve heard new seasons of Atlanta are coming soon and they are, unsurprisingly, very good. Plus, he hinted at new music on the way too, so this is looking like a good year to be a fan of Donald Glover’s work!
—Nate, Content & Communications Coordinator
N. K. Jemisin
I read The Fifth Season quite a bit later than everyone else it seems, since I heard about it when she won the Hugo Award in 2016 and then for reasons unknown didn’t actually read it until 2018. Since then I’ve read her short story collection, her first novel, and the sequel to The Fifth Season. I realized while reading The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms that she was now one of my favorite writers.
Literally every chapter I want to gush about the writing and the superior storytelling and her impeccable worlds that are so well thought out. I particularly love that women, LGBTQ+ people, and BIPOC are central to her stories and that the diversity of the real world is reflected in her imagined ones. If you love Jemisin, I would also recommend Octavia Butler and Nnedi Okorafor.
—Ari, Data Operations Coordinator
Joyce Carol Oates
Joyce Carol Oates feels like a friend (or at least a teacher) that I never met. Her voice is distinctive right from the first sentence, her characters are specific and alive, her stories are suspenseful and sometimes creepy — remember “Where are You Going, Where Have You Been?” She is one of the most prolific authors in America with over 70 novels. She was born to write, and she writes and writes and writes. Some of my favorites are Blonde, Black Water, Zombie, and The Sacrifice. I love her dialogue, and her use of exclamation points.
—Linda, Director of Development
Edited by Nate King. Nate is the Content & Communications Coordinator for the American Writers Museum. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2014 with a B.A. in Journalism and a penchant for American literature. For three years he waited tables while developing a healthy writing habit, during which time he became a regular blogger for the AWM blog. Originally from the mountains of New Hampshire, Nate moved to Chicago in 2015.