My Personal MFA Reading List

I was looking through lots of MFA reading lists, and I noticed that on man of the, there are the books that one should read in order to be well read enough to get into an MFA program.

It had me thinking…is this list selective? Who decides what makes someone well read. The test of time of course is one factor, but there are so many newer great books that have come out in the last few years, that I think should be included.

It is good to learn from the old masters, but I think it is also good, especially if one plans to write contemporary fiction to read contemporary books.

I went through all the books I have read in the past 8 years and came up with my own list.

Some of these books (especially the classics) appear on some MFA lists, others don’t. I would never compile a list such as this and put on it books I haven’t read. We all know War and Peace should be on a list somewhere, but I haven’t read it, so who am I to tell you to read it?

This list is not based on anything other than my thinking they can enhance your skill set. They have helped me.

Classic Fiction
Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
The Good Earth – Pearl S. Buck
Hamlet (play) – William Shakespeare
Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison
Letters to a Young Poet – Rainer Maria Rilke
Passing – Nella Larson
Silas Marner – George Eliot
The Sound and the Fury – William Faulkner
The Stranger – Albert Camus
Stoner – John Williams
The Violent Bear it Away – Flannery O’Connor
Wise Blood – Flannery O’Connor

Modern Fiction
Beasts of New York – Jon Evans
Bodega Dreams – Ernesto Quiñonez
Burial Rites – Hannah Kent
The Color Purple – Alice Walker
The Darkest Child – Delores Phillips
The Destiny of Miro – Julie Rae Rickard
Doubt (play) – John Patrick Shanley
The Exorcist – William Peter Blatty
Girl in Translation – Jean Kwok
May the Road Rise-Up to Meet You – Peter Troy
‘Night Mother (play) – Marsha Norman
Push – Sapphire
The Talk-Funny Girl – Roland Merullo
The Thirteenth Tale – Diane Setterfield
Yellow Crocus – Laila Ibrahim

Short Stories
Drown – Junot Diaz
A Rose for Emily & Other Stories – William Faulkner
The Lottery – Shirley Jackson
A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories – Flannery O’Connor
The Things They Carried – Tim O’Brien

Creative Non-Fiction
The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo – Tom Reiss
Just Kids – Patti Smith
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skoot
In Cold Blood – Truman Capote
Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor Frankl
Me Talk Pretty One Day – David Sedaris
Nigger – Dick Gregory
This Boy’s Life – Tobias Wolff
Triangle: The Fire That Changed America – David von Drehle
Unbroken: A World War II Story or Survival, Resilience, and Redemption – Laura Hillenbrand

Books on the Craft
Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir – William Zissner
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft – Stephen King
Secret Windows: Essays and Fiction on the Craft of Writing – Stephen King
Zen and the Art of Writing – Ray Bradbury
Maybe you’ll find something here that you haven’t read that you might enjoy.

About Liz Kelso
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