Each year on October 16, we celebrate the birthday of Noah Webster, the innovative lexicographer who wrote the most indispensable guidebook for writers: the dictionary. In honor of National Dictionary Day, we asked five creative writing professors for their must-have writing resources.
“My favorites [for teaching] today are Tell It Slant by Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola for creative nonfiction and Writing the Memoir by Judith Barrington for memoir specifically. For myself, I have no go-to resource but keep reading as widely (and critically) as I can, learning from the best of writers, past and present.”
—Nancy Lord, fiction/nonfiction, University of Alaska Anchorage
“I often return to Ursula Le Guin’s Steering the Craft. Rather than marching readers through the usual atomistic descriptions of plot, setting and character, Le Guin focuses on how writers use language to create particular kinds of effects. This book is really in a class by itself.”
—Wendy Rawlings, fiction, University of Alabama
“E. M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel and The Writer’s Craft, edited by John Hersey. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel remains, for me, the most astute guide to the novel as a form that has yet been written. This book is especially useful for story writers making their first foray into novel writing.”
—David Leavitt, fiction, University of Florida
“Lately if I get stuck, I go to Brian Kitely’s The 3 A.M. Epiphany. It is filled with great writing prompts and teaches me to look at subjects differently. Sometimes what a stuck writer needs is to shake things up and look at things from different angles.”
—Jo-Ann Mapson, fiction, University of Alaska Anchorage
“My go-to resource for the craft of writing is great writing—which is sometimes to be found in canonical places, sometimes not. That’s part of the pleasure of the challenge. As Yeats put it, ‘Nor is there singing school but studying/monuments of its own magnificence.’”
—Suzanne Gardinier, poetry, Sarah Lawrence College
Born in 1758 in West Hartford, Conn., Noah Webster was one of the first writers to recognize the cultural independence of language. The word maven mastered 26 languages, wrote a dictionary with more than 65,000 words, revolutionized spelling and recorded American-coined vocabulary such as “skunk,” “squash” and the always popular “chowder.” His textbook A Grammatical Institute of the English Language sold nearly 100 million copies and became one of the most popular books of its time. With these first guidebooks of language, Webster changed the future of American writing.