In the onslaught of titles published each year, friends of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards can deploy a powerful technique to sift the wheat from the chaff: Find the new work from those writers already in the canon. Here are some gems sitting atop the 2019 pile:

“Black Leopard Red Wolf” by Marlon James

The Jamaican American novelist most celebrated for “A Brief History of Seven Killings” goes genre. Actor Michael B. Jordan bought the film rights to this epic fueled by African mythology even before it published in February. The story — the first installment of a planned trilogy — spools out in beautiful sentences that coil around a hunter named Tracker. In nonlinear flashbacks, Tracker breaks his own rule of always working alone to find a disappeared boy, joining forces with a giant, a buffalo, a witch, a water goddess and a shape-shifting leopard. Following the child’s scent – Tracker “has a nose” – means trekking through forest, across rivers and through magical doors, beset by fantastical creatures. Tracker, we learn, is the red wolf of the title and the facts are murky. (“Truth changes shape as the crocodile eats away at the moon.”) This bloody quest-story is no escapism. As James told the New Yorker: “The African folktale is not your refuge from skepticism. It is not here to make things easy for you, to give you faith so you don’t have to think.”

“Everything Inside: Stories” by Edwidge Danticat

The author of “Clare of the Sea Light” and “Brother, I’m Dying” brought out in August her first short fiction collection in more than a decade. Known for precise, pitch-perfect sentences and a gift for juxtaposition, Danticat weaves eight Haiti-influenced stories of diaspora and longing. She pairs Cindy Jimenez-Vera’s insight — “being born is the first exile” — with Nikki Giovanni’s “We love because it’s the only true adventure” to frame the urgencies of quiet lives. One belongs to Elsie, a Miami home-health care worker, whose decency is no match to the manipulations of her ex-husband and former best friend. Another centers on a New York City teacher who is cheated of a final chance to meet her father before his late-life death. The last story, “Without Inspection,” covers 6.5 seconds as a construction worker falls toward oblivion. He realizes that “whatever he wanted he could have, except what he wanted most of all, which was not to die.”


“The Gilded Auction Block” by Shane McCrae

Following his essential poetry collection “In the Language of My Captors,” McCrae continues his investigation of U.S. freedom and its contradictions. In 23 poems, McCrae addresses the present American moment, and in some pieces responds directly to Donald Trump. The first poem, “The President Visits the Storm” starts with an epigraph from the 45th chief executive: “What a crowd! What a turnout!” — proclaimed to victims of Hurricane Harvey. And McCrae considers how the country has turned out. A poem titled “Black Joe Arpaio” begins “America you wouldn’t pardon me.” In another, McCrae stands up the exact language Carrie Kinsey used in a 1903 letter to Theodore Roosevelt about her brother – wrongly sold into forced labor – and transforms it through ear and syntax into a searing work of art. The poet also circles back to his white supremacist grandmother in Texas “who loved me and hated everybody like me.” She and her black grandson create a knot that grief cannot untie. It is a privilege to read his reckonings now.

“Grand Union” by Zadie Smith

The outlandishly gifted British novelist of “White Teeth” and “On Beauty” published her first short story collection in October. In 19 tales, she wheels through a dizzying constellation of topics, tones and fonts, writing about the future and the past. A reader can enter anywhere, like her bravura “The Lazy River,” an endlessly rotating watery amusement for tourists in Spain. Elsewhere, the writer spills blood in London even as the jaunty “Escape from New York” rifts on the urban legend that Michael Jackson ferried Liz Taylor and Marlon Brando out of the smoking debris of 9/11 in a rental car. And the marvelous “Words and Music” mediates on peak musical experiences as lived by two disputatious sisters. A couple of stories are closer to fragments, but several seem destined to become classics. Smith begins and ends with two mother-daughter stories — the first bristles with alienation, the last, “Grand Union” with the transcendence of generations.

“I: New and Selected Poems” by Toi Derricotte

The Pittsburgh poet co-founded Cave Canem, whose motto is “a home for black poetry.” This collection serves as a profound home for 30 new pieces as well as those swept from five earlier books across a span of 50 years. The title “I” comes from Derricotte’s son and is perfect for a writer sometimes characterized as a confessional poet, one who has mined the self to grapple with gender, race, identity, sex and spirit. In “Tender” she writes: “The tenderest meat/comes from the houses/where you hear the least/squealing. The secret/is to give a little wine before killing.” The collection, dedicated in part to “the mother and fathers – Galway, Lucille, Ruth and Audre” gestures toward the poetic ancestry of Galway Kinnell, Lucille Clifton (another Anisfield-Wolf recipient), Ruth Stone and Audre Lorde. In her acknowledgements, Derricotte writes, “I am most grateful to the universe for the community of Cave Canem. We imagined a place in which black folks were safe to write the poems they needed to write.” And so she has.

“A Long Petal of the Sea” by Isabel Allende

The beloved novelist, born in Peru, raised in Chile and now a resident of northern California, writes in her acknowledgements: “This book wrote itself, as if it had been dictated to me.” Indeed, this historical fiction contains unmistakable autobiographical notes. It begins with the Republicans loss of Spain and the marriage of convenience between fighters Victor Dalmau and Roser Bruguera in 1938. She is pregnant with the son of his slain brother and can only leave France aboard a ship for wounded fighters if she marries him. The ship sails to Chile and their bond of expediency begins a complicated family saga that crests with the catastrophic 1973 overthrow of the democratically-elected Chilean government, just as it radically altered the author’s life. Allende knows how to spin an engrossing story and to reward her readers with a savory and satisfying surprise for the 80-year-old Victor at the end.

“The Nickel Boys” by Colson Whitehead

The arrival of this latest novel from “The Underground Railroad” writer caused Time Magazine to enshrine him in July as “America’s Storyteller.” Seventeen years earlier, Whitehead picked up an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for “John Henry Days.” The novelist returns to U.S. history for “The Nickel Boys.” It is based on a Florida reform school, the Dozier School for Boys, that warped the lives of thousands of children for 111 years. In the fictional treatment, Elwood Curtis is derailed from his path toward college and pitched into a facility where “all the violent offenders . . . were on the staff.” Turner is wiser to the rigged game and eats soap when forced labor becomes unbearable. Whitehead doesn’t dwell in horror, instead, pervasive racism soaks the novel’s ground, so there is nowhere to stand for either boy. In prose as clear as water, Whitehead traps his reader. Undergirding it all are the unmarked graves of close to 100 Dozier boys unearthed in 2014. Finally made unforgettable.

“Sightseer in This Killing City” by Eugene Gloria

This is Gloria’s first book since the Manila-born Midwestern poet won his Anisfield-Wolf prize for “My Favorite Warlord” in 2013. Known for taking months, and sometimes years, on a single poem, Gloria joins Shane McCrae in pondering the contemporary American moment. Deeply attuned to heritage and displacement, the new poems continue Gloria’s preoccupation with the arrivals and departures of ordinary people. The title poem reverberates from a Dallas hospital. The other 47 in this collection are concise, erudite and plain-spoken in language enriched by Gloria’s reading across continents and centuries. He samples Stevie Wonder and Shakespeare; Baudelaire and Al Green. In “Implicit Body,” the speaker commands “Call me Mr. Gone/who’s done made/some other plans./All that remains is nostalgia/and this aching torso of blue.”

“The Tradition” by Jericho Brown 

Named to several best-of-the-year lists, this stunning collection grapples with the black body, especially the queer black body, in poems that combine bright music and “everything cut down.” Brown follows his “The New Testament,” which won an Anisfield-Wolf prize, with a meditation over 51 poems on masculinity, desire, violence and tradition: in poetry, in racism, even in the impulse to plant gardens. In the musical, compressed lines of “Dark,” Brown writes “I’m sick/of your hurting. I see that/you’re blue. You may be ugly/but that ain’t new.” The poet comes up with a new form, “the duplex,” which he designed to gut the sonnet. “The Tradition” is suffused with prickling self-knowledge, of a sense of this poet coming into his own. He addresses his own persona in “The Rabbits”: “I am tired/Of claiming beauty where/There is only truth.”

“Even in death the boys were trouble.”

Those seven words open “The Nickel Boys,” the latest novel from Colson Whitehead, who won an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in 2004 for “John Henry Days,” a time-traveling story that John Updike declared “refreshes our sense of the world.”

In the books that followed, Whitehead, now 49, has consistently delivered on Updike’s phrase – culminating in 2016’s “The Underground Railroad,” in which he places an actual time-traveling railroad beneath the country’s soil to wend its way from the days of slavery through the nation’s tortured history.

Now Whitehead arrives at a new milestone. He is the first writer since August 2010 to grace the cover of Time magazine, profiled by novelist Mitchell S. Jackson under the headline “America’s Storyteller.” The profile is timed to the publication of “The Nickel Boys” July 16.

Nine years ago, the Time cover headline was “Great American Novelist,” printed across the left shoulder of Jonathan Franzen.

In the laudatory new magazine profile, Whitehead is quoted saying that he followed his first novel, “The Intuitionist,” about a Manhattan elevator inspector, with “John Henry Days” wanting this second book “to be more expansive and have many different voices, a big American chorus. ‘John Henry Days’ is very unruly, like the country itself.”

Jesmyn Ward, who won her Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for “Sing, Unburied, Sing,” was a juror for the National Book Awards in 2016 when it selected “The Underground Railroad” as the novel of the year.

“I had never read anything with an enslaved person as its main character where I really felt that sense of dread, claustrophobia and the narrowing of choices,” Ward told Time. “I felt the book could be a breakthrough experience for some people.”

One month after the book’s publication, Whitehead read from its pages in Cleveland at the Maltz Center as part of the Skirball Writer’s Center Stage series. As the author flipped seamlessly from Brooklyn hipster patter to pulling sentences directly from the novel, some listeners were audibly shocked.

Whitehead – who was called “Chipp” as a kid – switched over to Colson when he was 21. Time reports that “he learned only a few years ago that Colson, the name of his maternal grandfather, was also the name of an enslaved Virginia ancestor who purchased his and his daughter’s freedom.”

The writer’s resonance with history extends to his everyday conduct. While visiting the Langston Hughes House in Harlem, Whitehead carefully hung his coat in the hallway before the program director’s tour. “I didn’t want to disrespect Langston’s house,” he told Mitchell Jackson later.

The new novel, “The Nickel Boys,” was “inspired by the story of the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida,” Whitehead writes in his acknowledgments. He credits reporter Ben Montgomery’s series in the Tampa Bay Times and University of South Florida’s Dr. Erin Kimmerle’s forensic studies of the school’s unmarked graves. And he directs readers to their websites.

Whitehead told Time that this new book is “about places with no accountability. That dynamic between the powerful and the helpless, where our worst impulses can be let loose.”

The school, notorious for its abuses, closed only in 2011. Jackson writes that “The Nickel Boys,” set in the 1960s, presents an honest story “about the human capacity to outlast the terrors of injustice.”

The subhead on the Time Magazine cover is “By Mining the Past, Colson Whitehead Takes Readers Into An Uneasy Present.”

This month, Adam Sockel and Jill Grunenwald, hosts of the “Professional Book Nerds” podcast, snagged a few moments with Colson Whitehead to discuss his Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Underground Railroad.  Their conversation covered the origins of his book, how Whitehead views his book in relation to the incredible success it has achieved, race relations throughout American history and a dive into the music he listens to while writing.

Whitehead, who won the 2002 Anisfield-Wolf prize for John Henry Days, is coming off one of his most successful years. The Underground Railroad was also selected as the winner of the National Book Award and Carnegie Medal. Oprah named it her book club pick for 2016 and “Moonlight” director Barry Jenkins is pursuing an adaptation for Amazon.

The podcast is a production of OverDrive, the leading app for eBooks and audiobooks available through public libraries and schools, headquartered in Cleveland. In the weekly podcast, hosts Sockel and Grunenwald chat about the best books they’ve read, give personalized recommendations, and share about upcoming releases across genres.

Dive in to their 30-minute conversation with Whitehead, here below.

Late at night and through eight grueling years, literature helped sustain the outgoing president of the United States.
In a wide-ranging interview with New York Times chief book critic Michiko Kakutani, Barack Obama reflected on the centrality of reading and the titles that have given him insight and solace, particularly in fiction.  He mentions just completing Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad” and putting Maxine Hong Kingston‘s “The Woman Warrior” on the Kindle of his older daughter Malia.
The conversation shows a deeply reflective man in the midst of shaping his second act. At 55, he leaves the White House a relatively young man, and he is eager to return to writing. Composing a memoir, drawn from journals Obama kept during his two terms as Commander-in-Chief, will be his first order of business.
Before transitioning into private citizen, Obama invited five novelists to break bread — Colson Whitehead, Zadie Smith and Junot Diaz (all three Anisfield-Wolf award winners) along with Barbara Kingsolver and Dave Eggers — to hear their perspectives on the craft and compare notes on culture and storytelling.
“I figured after all my criticism of his policies I wouldn’t be high on his list for anything but clearly there’s room at his lunch table for dissent,” Diaz wrote on Facebook. “He burned with optimism and faith invincible.”
Much like Edith Anisfield Wolf, Obama believes in the power of the written word to better us:  “When so much of our politics is trying to manage this clash of cultures brought about by globalization and technology and migration, the role of stories to unify — as opposed to divide, to engage rather than to marginalize — is more important than ever.”

How does one structure a year in reading?

The New York Times published the answers of 47 writers and artists who reflected on the books they chose over the past year. Their responses create a fascinating skein of reading and thinking, and include essays from four Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards recipients. The entire conversation, which weaves from basketball hall-of-famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to filmmaker Ava DuVernay to former House speaker Newt Gingrich to author Maxine Hong Kingston, is enlivening, a hopeful way to face into a new year.

Praise for “The Underground Railroad,” the stupendous fall novel from Anisfield-Wolf winner Colson Whitehead, threads through these reflections. Salman Rushdie read it; so did the YA-writer John Green, Anne Tyler and Judd Apatow.

Maxine Hong Kingston, who won a 1978 Anisfield-Wolf prize for “The Woman Warrior,” came up with the longest and the widest-ranging list. She sampled Charles Darwin and Nora Ephron and Andrew Solomon’s “The Noonday Demon: An Atlas on Depression.”  He won an Anisfield-Wolf prize for “Far from the Tree,” another landmark, luminous work of nonfiction.

Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust expended her entire essay praising “March,” the three-book graphic memoir by Congressman John Lewis recounting his formation in the crucible of Civil Rights. These books in turn are based on “Walking with the Wind,” Lewis’ classic accounting of his life, which won an Anisfield-Wolf award in 1999.

Another graphic work attracted the praise of Junot Diaz, who kicks off the New York Times compilation recommending “Ghetto Brother,” a history of a multiracial Bronx, drawn and created by Julian Voloy and Claudia Ahlering. Diaz, who won an Anisfield-Wolf for his novel “The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” also highlighted another nonfiction title: Wesley Lowery’s “They Can’t Kill Us All.”  Diaz writes that “Lowery more or less pulls the sheet off America” in a book subtitled “Ferguson, Baltimore and a New Era in America’s Racial Justice Movement.”

James McBride, whose 1997 memoir “The Color of Water” is still taught widely in universities, strikes a bluesy note in an essay that divides books “into categories like saxophone players.” He read “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,” and then — to shake off some of its disturbing currents – turned to the manuscript for “Two and Two,” a forthcoming memoir from Rafe Bartholomew. McBride highly recommends this portrait of New York’s oldest saloon.

Samantha Power, who won both a Pulitzer and an Anisfield-Wolf award for “A Problem of Hell,” read books last year that illuminated her work as the United States ambassador to the United Nations: Madeline Albright’s “Madame Secretary” and Clark Clifford’s “Counsel to the President.”

The list from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was flavored by two Anisfield-Wolf winning authors: “The Warmth of Other Suns” by Isabel Wilkerson, and “Charcoal Joe,” the latest detective novel from Walter Mosley. The basketball legend also read poetry, specifically “Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth” by Warsan Shire, a Kenyan-born Somali poet. Meanwhile sublime novelist Colm Toibin read 2013 Anisfield-Wolf honoree “My Promised Land.” Toibin described Ari Shavit’s nonfiction work as giving him “an increased sense of the complexity of Israeli heritage.”

Back in the United States, filmmaker Jill Soloway thought about making a pilot as she read “You Can’t Touch My Hair” by Phoebe Robinson.  And Jacqueline Woodson recently held up her copy on PBS’s “News Hour” as a galvanizing book from 2016.

However one navigates a year, it is bettered by the company of a good book. The selections in this compilation are a bracing place to start.

the underground railroad colson whiteheadby Charles Ellenbogen

With all of the recent discussion about the changing faces on U.S. currency, some controversy emerged over a seemingly safe and definitely popular choice – Harriet Tubman. How many people, some asked, did she really lead to freedom? Do we really want the story of slavery memorialized on money? And, most persuasively, would Tubman herself have wanted this honor?

By not bringing up her name in his breathtakingly great new book, The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead, winner of the 2002 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for John Henry Days continues this conversation. Like most movements, the Railroad was made up of both the heroic conductors such as Tubman and the many nameless others who aided escaping slaves. Cora, Whitehead’s protagonist, and Caesar, who inspires Cora to run, make use of the Railroad on their escape.

But this is not Tubman’s railroad. Whitehead has, instead, imagined an actual train that runs underground. This is in keeping with Whitehead’s fictional moves elsewhere – he takes reality and winds it even more tightly to create a hybrid. This is not magical realism; this is Whitehead’s world. It is life intensified.

As with many journey stories, there are echoes of the Odyssey here. Indeed, Whitehead even has named a 10-year old former slave Homer. He drives a carriage for Ridgeway, a kind of Inspector Javert of slave hunters. Having failed to catch Cora’s mother, Mabel, Ridgeway is obsessed with capturing Cora, who is escaping from Georgia. Homer, having been freed, stays with Ridgeway; he has nowhere else to go. In fact, “Each night with meticulous care, Homer opened his satchel and removed a set of manacles. He locked himself to the driver’s seat, put the key in his pocket, and closed his eyes. Ridgeway caught Cora looking. ‘He says it’s the only way he can sleep.’” The soul aches. Absolutely.

While he does not shy away from the intricate details of suffering (you’ll want to look away, but you won’t), Whitehead’s language is both spartan and evocative. Near the novel’s beginning, Whitehead recounts the story of Ajarry, Cora’s grandmother being captured and sold. He explains that two “yellow-haired sailors rowed Ajarry out to the ship, humming. White skin like bone.” The language evokes the bones of the Middle Passage that Ajarry is about to take. We register the harshness – humming while taking someone to be sold – and the abruptness of the word ‘bone.’ The sailors, having lost their humanity, have become skeletons of human beings. When it comes to Whitehead’s writing, less is definitely more. Much more.

In the end, though, The Underground Railroad is not just Cora’s story. Or even the story of her family. It is a story about stories – the stories we tell each other, the stories we tell ourselves, the stories our documents give us, the stories we find in libraries and museums and on money, the stories that are forbidden to us, the stories of America. “Truth was a changing display in a shop window,” Whitehead writes, “manipulated by hands when you weren’t looking, alluring and ever out of reach.”

In Lies My Teacher Told Me, James Loewen offers a test of this premise. He suggests choosing one element in American history to track how it is treated in different sources over time. I chose John Brown. In some textbooks, he was absent or limited to a brief mention as a lunatic. In other texts, he earned several paragraphs and was depicted as a hero. “Cora blamed the people who wrote it down. People always got things wrong, on purpose as much as by accident,” Whitehead writes. This happens in textbooks. Novels too. Whitehead has gotten the Underground Railroad wrong, deliberately wrong, but to fault him is to miss the point. We must look, and we cannot look away. Whether we read, see an exhibit or watch a movie, we should do both and we should ask ourselves why we need to do both.

Whitehead is already racking up acclaim for this novel. Oprah chose it for her book club. The New York Times chose excerpts from it for its first broadsheet. There are, I am sure, more prizes in his future.

And I am happy for Whitehead’s success. It is time to move past considering him as a one or two-hit wonder — he wrote Zone One and Sag Harbor — and to start considering his work as a whole. If you haven’t read any of his work, The Underground Railroad is a great place to start. Some reviewers have noted how the novel resonates with today’s headlines. While this is true, such comments diminish the book. This novel will outlast headlines. It speaks to the truths underneath them. I read The Underground Railroad and was moved. Things I thought I knew shifted, sometimes slightly and sometimes violently. I was spectator, bystander, and, as hard as it is to admit it, participant. The novel is a journey, from captivity to freedom, from south to north, from past to present. It’s quite a ride.

Charles Ellenbogen teaches English at John F. Kennedy – Eagle Academy in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. 

Colson Whitehead will be 45 this year, and his latest book invites readers along on a midlife road trip, “The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky and Death.” It’s a jaunty, discursive ride from a man whose first novel triumphantly, improbably featured elevator inspectors (“The Intuitionists”) and his second (“John Henry Days”) snagged an Anisfield-Wolf award in 2002.

The new book is nonfiction, the outgrowth of a Grantland assignment. An editor staked Whitehead in the 2011 World Series of Poker after learning that the virtuoso writer enjoyed a regular poker game in Brooklyn. The online magazine, part of the ESPN empire, paid Whitehead’s entry fee of almost $10,000 and assured him that he could keep any winnings. Rodrigo Corral’s jacket design for “The Noble Hustle”—the King of Hearts plunging a bloody knife into his own neck—hints that it didn’t go well.

So does Whitehead’s first sentence: “I have a good poker face because I am half dead inside.” He is still in the same paragraph when he dispatches the cliché that hangs over every card game: “You make the best of the hand you’re dealt.” On the next page, Whitehead informs us that he was newly divorced when Grantland called, but he doesn’t linger. Crisply, our beleaguered memoirist writes that “one of the overlooked benefits of joint custody is that you’re going to go max thirty-six hours until someone discovers your decomposing body. ‘Anyone seen him? He was supposed to pick her up after school.’”

We seem to be in an era of humiliation humor—Gary Shteyngart, Sam Lipsyte, Louis C.K.—but Whitehead borrows the mantle lightly. A lot of chortling awaits the reader of this dispatch from the “Leisure Industrial Complex.”  Whitehead takes the Greyhound from NYC to Atlantic City to limber up his amateur game.

During his first, low-stakes tournament, Whitehead makes it to the final table, where “the other castaway was an elderly white man who bent over his chips, squinting through a magnifying attachment that barnacled on his thick specs like a jeweler’s loupe. He pondered before acting, as if reviewing a lifetime of hands and confrontations, or fighting off a nap. Sometimes you have to accept a casino trip for what it really is: an opportunity to see old people.”

The author preps for his Las Vegas days with a stack of poker books, a coach, a yoga instructor—the breathing exercises turn out to be clutch. He buys a red track suit, which he customizes with lightning bolts and the nebbish-y, Woody Allen-like script “Republic of Anhedonia.” He defines the word for readers before chapter one: the inability to experience pleasure. (“I was a skinny guy but I was morbidly obese with doom.”) He selects the sunglasses he will wear indoors.

Our warrior had hit Vegas before, in 1991—as a newly minted Harvard graduate on a cross-country trek with a couple of buddies. They crashed in a “grim box” of a hotel, without a proper casino, but Whitehead dropped his nickel into a slot machine anyway and won $2:  “In a dank utility room deep in the subbasements of my personality, a little man whipped his hands on his overalls and pulled a switch: More.”

With one amusing sentence, Whitehead has conjured the stirrings of addiction. In his own life, and in “The Noble Hustle,” he doesn’t take it much farther.  We do get a glimpse of a hyped-up stranger struggling to get back to the tables, calling out for a wheelchair, and Whitehead himself ponders the siren call of a stint on the circuit.  But mostly we get jokes. And fine word-craft.  And the agreeable ping of Whitehead’s observational abilities, bouncing off the felt in nimble, free association.

“The Noble Hustle” is fizzy, with just enough bite in its cultural acumen for us to shrug off the empty calories. The book won’t be the most important in the Whitehead oeuvre, but if it sends a batch of new readers to “The Intuitionists” and “Zone One” and “John Henry Days,” then that bloody King of Hearts will have done its work.

We love it. We absolutely love it. When we read Colson Whitehead’s “How To Write,” we doubled over in laughter. Finally, a writer who gets it and has fun with the process.

Writing is a mysterious endeavor. Those who don’t write don’t quite get what we do or how we do it or why we do it. But it’s an exercise in exploration. Every word, every paragraph, every page, every book — it’s all exploration. Whitehead doesn’t take himself too seriously. He knows the writer’s life well.

For example, in rule #2 (“Let Your Subject Find You”), his description of a compelling subject will sound…familiar. And funny:

Once your subject finds you, it’s like falling in love. It will be your constant companion. Shadowing you, peeping in your windows, calling you at all hours to leave messages like, “Only you understand me.” Your ideal subject should be like a stalker with limitless resources, living off the inheritance he received after the suspiciously sudden death of his father. He’s in your apartment pawing your stuff when you’re not around, using your toothbrush and cutting out all the really good synonyms from the thesaurus. Don’t be afraid: you have a best seller on your hands.

Read the entire article here. You won’t regret it!