40 Writer’s Writers Whomst Readers Should Read
(But what about all the writer's writer's writer's writer's?)
Earlier this week, National Book Foundation Executive Director Lisa Lucas asked Twitter: “Who do you think is widely considered a writer’s writer?” The question inspired no little discussion online, as well as in the Literary Hub office, and so this list—in which I have collected quotes from respectable sources who have doled out the term—was born.
But first, just what is a “writer’s writer”? For me, the term suggests a writer who is doing something unusual or extra impressive with their chosen form—something another writer in particular would marvel at, because they would understand firsthand how hard it is. Often this means that said writer is obscure to to general public, but not always. Maybe it’s more mercenary than that, and a writer’s writer is just someone other writers mention to one another whenever they want to sound impressive. Or maybe it’s just as simple as it sounds: a writer that only (or mostly) other writers read. (Which begs the question: do non-writers still buy books at all? Whence the pure reader, sans intention?)
Cynthia Ozick described the phrase “a synonym for obscurity. Every writer understands exactly what that fearful possessive hints at: a modicum of professional admiration accompanied—or subverted—by dim public recognition and even dimmer sales. Yet the writer’s writer is said to write not in hope of fame but out of quiet passion, and is thereby accorded a purity not granted to the household name.”
Or, as Anna Fitzpatrick would have it, “To call someone a “writer’s writer” sounds obnoxious, as in, “This book isn’t for civilian eyes. You have to be one of us to get it.” I know a better word for people who think this way: assholes.”
Now, fair warning that “writer’s writers”—at least as declared by critics on the internet in places where I could find them—tend to be white men. Shocking! This of course is due to the hegemonic praise structure that still exists in the literary world (though I dare say it’s getting slowly better) and the fact that—at least according to one known male in the Literary Hub office—educated white men often have a strange need to brag about being their high/obscure taste levels. Why they couldn’t brag about reading obscure books by women of color, who knows.
So now, for whatever it’s worth, and for whatever it means, I present 40 “writer’s writers” for your consideration—and a few more as a bonus from us to you at the end.
According to Boris Kachka in Vulture:
Jim Shepard is one of the best writers you’ve never heard of. . . . Yet Shepard describes himself as “semi-obscure,” a “writer’s writer,” which he takes as a sort of consolation prize: “It used to mean, ‘writers like him, anyway.’” He is not happy with his place in literary culture; nor should he be, since his commercial timing has always been a little off.
According to Christopher Borrelli in the Chicago Tribune:
Other Men’s Daughters was just reissued by New York Review of Books with an introduction by Philip Roth, who writes that the novel is a “microscope” on its place in time, illustrating “a decisive turning point in American mores . . . when the vast assault upon convention, propriety and entrenched belief began to challenge authority, high and low, and of the wreckage that caused.” He also quotes from his own 1973 review, that Stern’s book “is as if Chekhov had written ‘Lolita.’”
Yet, success didn’t take for Stern.
Despite many more novels and essay collections, a medal from the Academy of Arts and Letters (and a 1995 Heartland Prize from the Tribune), Stern had long settled into a dreaded backhanded reputation: He became a writer’s writer. Meaning, he remained obscure to the public and didn’t sell many books but he had important admirers (among them Norman Mailer, Joan Didion and Anthony Burgess) who delivered hosannas that didn’t sell books, either. His career became somewhat of a literary equivalent to that famous line about the Velvet Underground, that they sold only a few thousand records but every person who bought one started a band.
According to David Lodge in The New York Review of Books:
Henry Green occupies a special but somewhat puzzling place in the history of modern English fiction. That his real name was Henry Yorke is symbolic of the general elusiveness of his literary identity. He seems to stand to one side of his fictional oeuvre, smiling enigmatically and challenging us to put a label, and a value, on it. He has been called a “writer’s writer,” and even, according to Terry Southern, “a writer’s-writer’s writer.” W. H. Auden, Eudora Welty, V. S. Pritchett, Rebecca West, and John Updike have all described him, at various times, and in various ways, as the finest novelist of his generation, yet he never enjoyed either the commercial success or the literary fame of contemporaries such as Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, and Christopher Isherwood.
He was neither shrewd nor lucky in the development of his literary career. After a precocious and promising debut, Blindness (1926), begun while he was still at school, he wrote a brilliant novel about working-class life, Living (1929), several years before such subject matter became fashionable, and then took ten years to write his next, Party Going (1939)—a work whose concern with a group of narcissistic socialites setting off on a Continental holiday seemed rather frivolous in the encroaching shadows of World War II. In the 1940s he became more productive, and more widely read (Loving  even appeared briefly on the US best-seller lists), but just as he was beginning to attract serious critical attention, interest was diverted by a new wave of British writers, the so-called Angry Young Men, with whose coarse, iconoclastic energies he had little affinity. Whether by coincidence or cause and effect, his creativity seemed to suddenly dry up at this time. The latter part of his life, from the publication of his last novel, Doting, in 1952, to his death in 1973, was a sad story of increasing reclusiveness, alcoholism, and melancholia. His novels went out of print, and his name virtually disappeared from the canon of modern British fiction.
According to Daniel Saldaña París in Literary Hub:
Pitol is one of those authors whom one never leaves. There is always a corner of his work that can be read under a new lens. It is not for nothing, it seems to me, that he is held as a clear example of a “writer’s writer” in recent Latin American narrative. The fact that authors such as Enrique Vila-Matas and Mario Bellatin have turned him into a character in their own fiction only confirms what any reader senses upon reading him: that Pitol is unfathomable; it could almost be said that he is a literature entire of himself.
According to Tim Kreider in The New Yorker:
In one of those few gratifying instances of belated artistic justice, John Williams’s “Stoner” has become an unexpected bestseller in Europe after being translated and championed by the French writer Anna Gavalda. Once every decade or so, someone like me tries to do the same service for it in the U.S., writing an essay arguing that “Stoner” is a great, chronically underappreciated American novel. (The latest of these, which also lists several previous such essays, is Morris Dickstein’s for the Times.) And yet it goes on being largely undiscovered in its own country, passed around and praised only among a bookish cognoscenti, and its author, John Williams, consigned to that unenviable category inhabited by such august company as Richard Yates and James Salter: the writer’s writer.
According to Jonathan Franzen in an interview with PBS:
[Fox] may be more of a writer’s writer, at least in her adult novels. After getting a late start– after an utterly chaotic childhood, two early marriages, and child-rearing– she was very prolific, but much of her output was YA literature (a term she disliked, preferring “books for children”). And for most of the time she was writing, she lived in a male-dominated literary world. Contrast all this with Updike, who came out of Harvard, burst on the scene in his twenties, wrote about the melancholies and sex lives of affluent American suburbanites, and fit the pattern of a male writer having a full and long career. I don’t care for lists myself, so I won’t make a long one here, but I think in general great writing by women is more often overlooked than its male counterparts. I wonder if you’ve read Jessica Anderson’s Tirra Lirra by the River, or Christina Stead’s The Man Who Loved Children, or the stories and novels and essays of Joy Williams. If you haven’t, you should!
According to Terry McDonnell in Literary Hub:
The immense depth of that was in his descriptions of the intimacies of love and the details of disappointment and loss and regret, and it made reading him an ecstatic experience. You read to see what would happen, sure, but you read every word to savor the meaning and balance of each sentence—it was a way to look at life as it passed.
Perhaps that’s why critics called him a “writer’s writer,” a label that annoyed him and, I suspect, everyone else. Jim’s friend, Bruce Jay Friedman, told a story about a weekly writers’ lunch he was part of in the Hamptons that included Mario Puzo (The Godfather), Joe Heller (Catch-22) and Mel Brooks (The Producers). The group was looking for a new member to liven things up but decided not to ask Salter because, as Puzo put it, Jim was “too good of a writer.”
If you’re an editor there is no such thing, but the implied problem with being a writer’s writer is that it goes with semi-obscurity and lack of commercial success. Not that Jim didn’t do fine; it was just so obvious that his talent outweighed his notoriety and his paydays. Of course Jim never talked about any of this. Then, in late 2012, with the novel All That Is, he was poised for the hit his talent had been promising for so many years.
According to Deidra McAfee in New York:
Fully American and fully literary as few are, he is a writer’s writer—but also a reader’s writer who deserves a wider audience.
According to The Millions:
Maggie Nelson is known best for her non-fiction. Often described as some combination of “lyrical” and “philosophical,” Nelson’s five book-length works of nonfiction have won her a steadfast following. She might be described as a “writer’s writer.” The evidence is in how often her books are named by other writers in our annual Year in Reading series. Bluets, a meditation on the color blue, won praise from David Shields (“utterly brilliant”), Stephen Elliott (“excellent”), Haley Mlotek (“I read Bluets twice in the same plane ride.”), Leslie Jamison, Jaquira Díaz, and Margaret Eby. Meaghan O’Connell wrote of Nelson, “She is one of those people for me, writers who I want to cross all boundaries with, writers from whom I ask too much. She makes me want more than, as a reader, I deserve. She already gives us more than we deserve. It isn’t fair.” Many of the above writers also praised Nelson’s more recent The Argonauts, “a genre-bending memoir,” as did Bijan Stephen, Olivia Laing (“It thinks deeply and with immense nuance and grace”), Karolina Waclawiak (“I found myself underlining on nearly every page”), and Parul Sehgal. Nelson herself appeared in our Year in Reading last year, shining light on books by Eileen Myles and Ellen Miller, among others.
According to Ali Smith in The Guardian:
In the UK at least, until the 2010 publication of her Collected Stories (Penguin), it was quite hard to track down copies of her four collections: Break It Down (1986), Almost No Memory (1997), Samuel Johnson Is Indignant (2001) and Varieties of Disturbance (2007), though a couple of these and a lone novel, The End of the Story (1995), were published in the 90s by Serpent’s Tail. She was hard to find, but held in such regard among those who read her that from the beginning she had the reputation of being a writer’s writer.
But she’s such a reader’s writer, this daring, excitingly intelligent and often wildly comic writer who reminds you, in a world that likes to bandy its words about, what words such as economy, precision and originality really mean. It’s all about how you read and about the reflorescence of what and how things mean with Davis, who works in an understated, concentrated way and in a form that usually slips under the mainstream radar. So look again, because this is a writer as mighty as Kafka, as subtle as Flaubert and as epoch-making, in her own way, as Proust. As a translator, she has recently produced magnificent English versions of classics by the latter two, but it’s the short-story form that she’s made her own, and even changed the potential of, over three decades of honing a style whose discipline is a perfect means of release of hilarity, myth, merciless sharpness, and, most of all, of a celebration of the thinking, vital, fertile mind.
According to Corey Messler in Popmatters:
David Markson is a national treasure. He is championed by many, including young turks like David Foster Wallace. It is often said he is a writer’s writer. The implication is that he might be the one of the best unread writers in America, even though early in his career one of his books was made into a big Hollywood movie (Dingus Magee) and Ann Beattie said of him, “Markson is as precise and dazzling as Joyce.”
According to Gabrielle Bellot in Literary Hub:
The prose of Eimear McBride’s brilliant first novel, A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing, recalled many a Modernist writer, from Gertrude Stein to James Joyce—so much so that she’s tired of being compared to Joyce. And her success story is also one both old and new: her novel took nearly a decade to be picked up and acknowledged, at which point it won both the Bailey’s and Goldsmiths Prizes. Her next novel, The Lesser Bohemians, moves to London in the 1990s, featuring a tempestuous love story between a young Irish girl studying drama and an older actor. It “nearly killed” her to write, McBride told the Guardian in August. McBride is the kind of writer’s writer who I’m always excited to read more from.
According to Michael Bible in Literary Hub:
Barry’s status as a writer’s writer bothered him, I think. He always wanted to have Kurt Vonnegut numbers. But I’m glad he never reached that level in his life. Fame is a disease that infects all those who encounter it. From the outside it seems like the pinnacle of a career, the end goal of creative work. But the writing world is littered with those whose fame overshadowed their work and destroyed them from the inside out. People like Harper Lee and J.D. Salinger, who are thought of as eccentric for shunning the public. But in retrospect retreat from fame looks to be the more sane route. I think often of Carson McCullers typing out the Ballad of the Sad Cafe with one finger after a series of strokes. She was famous at the age of 22 and died at 50.
According to Nadja Spiegelman in The New York Times:
The day Lucia Berlin was born, in Juneau, Alaska, in 1936, an avalanche wiped out a third of the town, or so she later wrote. Mythic stories gravitated to her, and in death she acquired one more: that of a writer who died too young and went unrecognized in her lifetime. In truth, when she died, at 68 in 2004, she had published 76 stories and six collections, for which she received several prizes. And yet, just as in her writing, the myth is truer than the truth. She should have written more. She should have been more celebrated. In 2015 Farrar, Straus & Giroux published A Manual for Cleaning Women, a 400-page volume of her re-collected tales. It was rapturously received: Here was a writer’s writer who, at the same time, had tremendous popular appeal. The book made the New York Times best-seller list. She was canonized alongside Richard Yates and Raymond Carver, and her own heroes, William Carlos Williams and Chekhov.
According to Claire Burgess in The Rumpus:
After ten long years without a new story collection from Joy Williams, we are finally rewarded this week with The Visiting Privilege, containing thirteen new stories and thirty-three stories collected from across Williams’s career. Williams is a writer’s writer, a storysmith of the highest caliber whose creations are studied and beloved by the greatest in her field. The back of Visiting Privilege bears acclaim from the likes of Raymond Carver, George Plimpton, and James Salter. A wonderful profile of Williams in the New York Times Magazine last week contains George Saunders praising her comedy, Karen Russell calling her a “visionary,” and Ann Beattie exclaiming over her use of exclamation points. A reviewer at NPR called her “quite possibly America’s best living writer of short stories.” And the stories in Visiting Privilege are worth every inch of the praise.
According to Beth Kephart in Literary Hub:
Horgan died within days of my mailing that letter. Cardiac arrest. He was 91 years old—“the writer’s writer, the biographer’s biographer,” in the words of David McCullough; “that rarest of birds,” said Walker Percy; the story finder and teller often compared to Henry James, Leo Tolstoy, and Thomas Hardy. In memoriam, I filled my library with more Paul Horgan. I searched for others with whom I might light the Horgan flame.
According to Don Lee in Electric Literature:
When I bleat into this kind of self-pitying state, though, I think about a writer who was probably the most miserable person I have ever met: Richard Yates. His work is familiar to quite a few readers now, thanks to a retrospective by Stewart O’Nan in The Boston Review in 1999, Blake Bailey’s biography, A Tragic Honesty, in 2003, and the film adaptation of Yates’s first novel, Revolutionary Road, in 2008, but at the time of his death in 1992, he was largely forgotten, and all his books quickly fell out of print.
Even within his lifetime, he was a writer’s writer, meaning he had a small following among literati but otherwise was almost completely unknown. I came across his work by pure chance in my early twenties. I was in Burbank, California, living in my parents’ condo, which was sitting empty at the time, working odd jobs, and waiting for grad school in Boston to begin. I spent a lot of weekends in a vast used bookstore in downtown Burbank, roaming the aisles and picking out battered paperbacks, almost at random, for fifty cents a pop. I happened to buy Yates’s first collection, Eleven Kinds of Loneliness (how could I resist that title?), got hooked, and read everything else I could find by him.
According to CrimeReads:
Elmore Leonard was “the Dickens of Detroit,” “the poet laureate of wild assholes with revolvers,” and above all a master craftsman. Ever a writer’s writer, Leonard honed his craft meticulously over a career that spanned sixty years and nearly as many books, from westerns to era-defining crime novels like Get Shorty and Out of Sight to short story collections that still infuse the pop and mystery culture to this day. Leonard’s “Ten Rules of Writing,” published in the New York Times in 2001, has become gospel for many a writer, including such timeless gems as “[t]ry to leave out the part that readers tend to skip” and, most famously, “[i]f it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” Leonard was also renowned for his opening lines. (In his “Rules,” he warns writers to skip prologues and never to start by describing the weather.) Rightly, he’s now remembered as one of the greatest lead writers in the history of crime fiction, able to engage a reader, capture a mood, and establish a world in a few brief words.
According to Gail Godwin in The New York Times:
Ward Just is both a writer’s writer and an astute tracker of human souls under duplicity and duress. He writes incisively, with striking imagery and with deep knowledge of how people in power behave, from ambassadors coping with the world’s hot spots to Midwestern community leaders suppressing a local crime. Like many distinguished novelists, Just was a journalist first, covering Washington, London and Saigon before the release of his first novel in 1970. American Romantic, his 18th, is one of his finest. It has all the qualities Just’s regular readers look forward to, yet it’s an equally good place to be introduced to his work.
According to Mary Rourke in Los Angeles Times:
He was often referred to as a “writer’s writer,” and his work was compared to that of such literary masters as Raymond Carver and John Cheever. Busch received a number of prestigious awards, including the American Academy of Arts and Letters fiction award in 1986 and the PEN/Malamud prize in 1991. Busch once said his goal was to be “a really honest, minor writer of the 20th century.”
According to Hillary Kelly in Vulture:
Critics, especially those who are also novelists, have always liked her work: “If we’re lucky, [Person of Interest] may turn out to be a prototypical 21st-century novel,” Francine Prose wrote in the New York Times. Of her most recent novel, My Education, Meg Wolitzer wrote, “I felt like I was in an obsessive relationship with it. I wanted to read it all the time.” Jennifer Egan, the Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist, first came to Choi’s work while reviewing American Woman. The two are now friends and neighbors in Fort Greene. “She’s really an original,” Egan says. “She’s following an internal rudder to territory that’s always fascinating.”
Which is to say, Choi is a writer’s writer: “A lot of people that I have a high opinion of have a high opinion of her,” says another friend, the author Sigrid Nunez. But the public has never quite sunk its teeth into Choi’s work, and she knows this. “By the time American Woman was getting critical accolades,” she says “it was underperforming already.”
According to Roxane Gay in The Nation:
Paul Yoon’s slender novel Snow Hunters is exquisitely written—the kind of book that makes you think, this is the work of a writer’s writer.
According to Emily Bobrow in 1843:
Why aren’t more people familiar with the work of Sigrid Nunez? At 66, she seems doomed to be a writer’s writer, beloved by a loyal few for her clear, incisive prose, but regrettably overlooked by almost everyone else. Perhaps The Friend – her seventh novel – will change this. The book is an intimate, beautiful thing, deceptively slight at around 200 pages, but humming with insight. After the unexpected suicide of her best friend, a woman becomes the caretaker of the hulking, melancholic Great Dane he left behind. In another writer’s hands this might seem too slim a premise, but Nunez has made her book into an artfully discursive meditation on friendship, love, death, solitude, canine companionship and the life of an aging writer in New York. Far from being heavy going, this novel, written as a letter to the late friend, is peppered with wry observations, particularly those of a writer stuck teaching undergraduates. (Why, for example, do students always describe characters by their eye and hair color, “as if a story is a piece of ID like a driver’s license”?) Like a magpie, Nunez’s heroine plucks wisdom from writers, philosophers and films to weave a story about the search for meaning in dark times.
Karl Ove Knausgaard
According to Hermione Hoby in The Guardian:
[Zadie] Smith also wrote: “Everywhere I’ve gone this past year the talk, amongst bookish people, has been of this Norwegian.” And Knausgaard does indeed seem to have reached a “writer’s writer” status, like that of Marcel Proust, to whom he is most often compared. (Knausgaard has said: “I not only read À la recherche du temps perdu, but virtually imbibed it.”)
According to Sarah Nicole Prickett in Bookforum:
One afternoon I was in the office of a psychoanalyst I know, scanning the alphabetical shelves for a book by Melanie Klein on envy and gratitude, when I glimpsed old copies of Janet Malcolm’s Psychoanalysis (1981) and In the Freud Archives (1984) and saw a chance to get some perspective. Malcolm is a magazine writer’s writer: No journalist of her stature is so frequently discussed among people I know who write “pieces” while being undiscussed by people I know who don’t.
W. G. Sebald
According to Arthur Lubow in The New York Times:
When The Emigrants, his first book to be translated into English, came out in 1996, it won the critical esteem he already enjoyed in German and established him in the English-speaking world as a writer’s writer. Susan Sontag called it “an astonishing masterpiece” that “seems perfect while being unlike any book one has ever read.” In his next book, The Rings of Saturn, he composed a phantasmagoric travelogue across southeastern England. The biographer Richard Holmes, who lives in Norwich and is the author of Footsteps, itself a hybrid of biography and travel writing, calls The Rings of Saturn “a brilliant book and very, very original, with this almost deadpan humor and these wonderful shifts—it’s rather magic.”
According to Rebecca Makkai in an interview with BOMB:
He is indeed a Southern Gentleman, one of the best. And a writer’s writer. When I find another writer who loves David Huddle, we tend to embrace on the spot.
According to Joyce Carol Oates in The New Yorker:
A wonderful writer, whom I first began reading in the nineteen-sixties, when I lived in Ontario, Canada. Alice Munro has always been, among her other attributes, “a writer’s writer”—it is just a pleasure to read her work. And how encouraging to those of us who love short stories that this master of the realistic, “Chekhovian” short story is so honored. In a world so frantically politicized and partisan, the achievement of Alice Munro is truly exceptional.
According to Chris Power in The Guardian:
No living author seems to me less deserving of the term “writer’s writer” and its implication of remote obscurity than Mavis Gallant. In Michael Ondaatje’s words, “among writers she is a shared and loved and daunting secret”, and it seems a telling detail that while she remains too little known, those who read her tend to move, as I did, from ignorance to devotion with uncommon haste.
Breece D’J Pancake
According to Jon Michaud in The New Yorker:
It’s not hard to see why Pancake has become a sort of secular saint for some writers. Writing is an act of faith. Writers face endless rejection, constant self-doubt. For many writers, practicing their art requires a vow of poverty or, at the very least, a vow of doing without. Pancake suffered through all of this and more, and yet he was delivered to the afterlife of publication and acclaim.
Nevertheless, Pancake deserves to be more than a writer’s writer. In his stories, objects are constantly being unearthed: fossils and coal from the earth, skeletons and arrowheads from Indian burial grounds. The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake is a sharp, flinty object, an arrowhead left behind by a talented and tragic young author. It would be easy to allow his one collection of stories to be buried under the landslide of books published every year. But it’s worth doing a little excavating to dig it up. The past few years have seen late-in-the-day and posthumous revivals of interest in writers such as Renata Adler, Elena Ferrante, and John Williams. Get out your pickaxes. It’s high time for a Pancake revival.
According to Jennifer Brice in Ploughshares:
Although her work is widely read, Patricia Hampl is also a writer’s writer—lyric, cerebral, a boon companion at any stage of the writer’s journey. The arc of her career parallels the rise of personal writing in America in the past half-century. It may be that the genre most closely associated with memory—“that captivating mystery,” she calls it—chose her, not the other way around. Indeed, she uses the language of surrender to describe her writing process. “I conscripted myself to be the protagonist of these books,” she told National Public Radio’s Diane Rehm in 2007. “As memoir began gaining ground, I realized I was riding this strange tiger.”
According to Amy Hempel in an interview with Antenna:
That talk that Gary Lutz gave a couple of years ago is every bit as important as Diane said. Gary has been an extraordinary “writer’s writer” for years, and as more people read and listen to him, his influence grows. Gary Lutz sounds like nobody else. He is one of the most precise and daring writers I can think of. There are no half-measures in his stance regarding fiction. You can set a course by some of the things he said in that talk, which I think was also published in the Believer. He is always worth reading, and re-reading!
According to Joe Winkler in Vol. 1 Brooklyn:
There’s something of the writer’s writer status in Robert Walser. Read by few since his death, but adored by the right people (Franz Kafka, Walter Benjamin, Giorgio Agamben, W.G. Sebald, Susan Sontag, J.M. Coetzee and, more recently, Ben Lerner, Rivka Galchen and Benjamin Kunkel) there’s something of an in-the-know feel about reading Walser. As his writings become almost completely translated, more and more writers discover this often meek, playful, and secretive artist and feel in the presence of found genius.This status of a writer’s writer speak not only to the act of discovery, the gift of stumbling upon this unknown brilliant person, but also to the nature of the enjoyment. Walser, like other writer’s writers can do so much in one sentence as to floor anybody who values words, sentences, and the basic building blocks of literature.
According to Benjamin Percy in Esquire:
Woodrell has long been considered a world class prose stylist and storyteller: a writer’s writer. Yet despite his acclaimed novels—among them, the darkly brilliant The Death of Sweet Mister (about a deeply troubled mother and son living in a graveyard) and the PEN West–winning Tomato Red (about an out-of-control criminal who tries to make right but always ends up wrong)—he has somehow remained one of American literature’s best-kept secrets. It was not until Winter’s Bone, published in 2006, was adapted into the 2010 Oscar-nominated film about the poor, desperate, and unforgettable Ree Dolly on a mission to save her family and find her meth-cooking father that Woodrell received widespread attention.
Donald E. Westlake
According to Scott Bradfield in the Los Angeles Review of Books:
When the final volley of bullets arrives in The Comedy is Finished, one of the kidnappers tells Koo: “It sounds like the critics found you.” And while it is likely that critics might not have found or appreciated a novel this good even had it been published back in the time it was written, Westlake clearly didn’t care too much about being taken “seriously,” continuing to produce serious-even-when-funny great books in a remarkable career that never ended until he died. Over several decades of calm, passionate literary production, he never wrote a bad sentence or a bad scene, and he produced so many good books that he needed a filing cabinet of pseudonyms just to keep up. Which, come to think of it, may qualify him as that rarest beast of all: the writer’s writer’s writer. There was always too much of him to go around—which means the rest of us have plenty of time to catch up.
According to Alexander Helmintoller in Zyzzyva:
Lerner, who is first and foremost a poet, is a writer’s writer. His first novel, Leaving the Atocha Station, came out to great acclaim in 2011. He is constantly experimenting with form and the limits of plausibility—and breaks these literary conventions by fictionalizing nonfiction—frequently employing apostrophe to blend fiction and nonfiction and to reveal the mechanisms at the writer’s disposal. It is as if we have been invited into a space much more intimate than the writer’s studio: In 10:04, we observe his relationships, his travel to shameful fertility appointments in which he must provide a “sample” for testing in order that his best friend Alex be able to move forward with intrauterine insemination. We are with the writer as he washes his hands again and again after worrying that his pants (which have touched the D-line train seats) and the remote used to navigate the clinic’s digital library of “visual stimuli” will contaminate his sample. We pass through his life in New York, his residency in Texas, back in time to meet his mentors, and even leap forward into multiple projected futures. So while the novel is largely defined by its lack of unity of plot, the scenes, however far removed they are from each other, stand alone, and are striking in their humor and wit.
According to Charles McGrath in the New York Times:
Thanks in large part to Charles Bukowski, who rediscovered Fante in the late ’70s and helped get him back in print, Bandini’s transparent neediness as a writer has endeared him to generations of younger authors, who turned Ask the Dust into a cult book—a writer’s writer’s novel—though it sold no more than a couple of thousand copies when it first came out.
According to Michelle Dean in The New Republic:
it must have been very hard to actually be Elizabeth Hardwick. Her marriage to Robert Lowell in 1949 brought her both transcendent passion and abject disaster. She spent many years playing his nursemaid, as he was repeatedly committed to mental institutions, and bearing his infidelities as a function of his madness. Perhaps worse, she was in her professional life that double-edged thing, a writer’s writer. She lived in a welter of literary gossip, surrounded by people who managed, by most measures the world cared about, to do more than she did: to write more books, win more awards, attract more readers. Mary McCarthy, Joan Didion, and Susan Sontag all counted as her friends, though she did not become as famous as they did. She managed, somehow, to present her secondary status as evidence of more seriousness. There is always something slightly vulgar, to intellectuals, about worldly success, and Hardwick benefited from the idea that the best fiction, the best criticism truly thrive at a slight remove from the masses.
According to Jonathon Sturgeon in Flavorwire:
The quintessential American writer’s writer, or critic’s writer, or whatever, Steven Millhauser has long excelled at the three major forms of fiction. In 1997 he won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel Martin Dressler, a chimerical 19th century study that discovers Modernist ennui under the turtle shell of the American dream. He has been praised, too, for his novellas, by Jim Shepard and others, who rightly imply that he has more or less mastered the American incarnation of the form—even if, as Millhauser wryly explains it, the novella isn’t a form but a length.
According to Christian Lorentzen (sort of) in Vulture:
A tempting answer to the question of what happened to Fuckhead is that he became his author, who died on May 24, 2017, at age 67, of liver cancer. Sometimes the biographical fallacy isn’t a fallacy, and we know that Johnson spent a lot of his 20s in a haze of alcohol, heroin, and whatever else came his way. He quit drinking in 1978, at age 29, and his first novel, Angels, appeared in 1983. By the time of his death, he was the author of 19 books of fiction, plays, poetry, and reportage—one of which, the Vietnam War novel Tree of Smoke, won the National Book Award in 2007. He’s called a writer’s writer, but his audience is in fact legion. There are people walking around who know his books by heart. You probably know somebody like that.
And since, as we’ve established, the definition of “writer’s writer” is subjective at best, here are still more suggestions from Lucas’s Twitter thread and the writers and readers of the Literary Hub office:
Clarice Lispector, Bruno Schulz, Marie NDaiye, Rachel Cusk, John Keene, Penelope Fitzgerald, Annie Dillard, Marguerite Duras, Marguerite Yourcenar, Violette Leduc, Roberto Bolaño, Carole Maso, William Maxwell, Angela Carter, Oakley Hall, Chester Himes, Elizabeth Tallent, Mary Robison, Tom McCarthy, Lidia Yuknavitch, Vasily Grossman, Sara Gran, Ryu Murakami, Charles Baxter, Andre Dubus, Joseph Roth, James Lasdun, Alexander Chee, Toni Cade Bambara, Georges Perec, Fernando Pessoa, Gayl Jones, Anna Kavan, Kathryn Davis, Kiese Laymon, Amy Hempel, Donald Antrim, Renee Gladman, Anne Carson, Helen DeWitt, James Alan McPherson, George Saunders, Gene Wolfe, Stephen Dixon, Geoff Dyer, Eileen Chang, Muriel Spark, etc. etc. etc.