30 books to celebrate 30 years of Writers & Company
The year 2020 marks the 30th anniversary season of Writers & Company with Eleanor Wachtel. To celebrate, the Writers & Company team has curated a list of 30 outstanding books the show has covered since 1990.
The 10 stories in Friend of My Youth explore the nuances of familial relationships, from a daughter dreaming of her dead mother to a widow in search of her husband's past. Through its troubled and curious characters, this collection touches upon the mysteries of the human condition.
Friend of My Youth was nominated for the Governor General's Literary Award for fiction in 1990.
Alice Munro has published 16 collections over her illustrious career. Her work has won the Nobel Prize in Literature, two Scotiabank Giller Prizes, three Governor General's Literary Awards and the Man Booker International Prize. Her first book, Dance of the Happy Shades, was released in 1968, and she continued to write stories until retiring in 2013.
Wachtel has spoken to Munro on Writers & Company three times: in 1990, 1999 and 2004.
1991: Omeros by Derek Walcott
Omeros is an epic poem divided into seven books. Set on the island of St. Lucia, it loosely references Homer's Iliad and follows fishermen Achille and Hector, retired English officer Major Plunkett and his wife Maud, the housemaid Helen and the blind man Seven Seas. Derek Walcott inserts his own voice and commentary — becoming another character within the poem.
Walcott was a poet from St. Lucia in the Caribbean. He was the first Caribbean writer to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature, which he was awarded in 1992. He died in 2017, at the age of 87.
Walcott spoke to Wachtel on Writers & Company in 1991 and 2006.
1992: Jazz by Toni Morrison
Jazz is a historical novel set in Harlem during the 1920s. It tells the story of Joe Trace, a middle-aged door-to-door salesman of Cleopatra beauty products, who shoots and kills his lover. It is a passionate story of love and obsession, exploring the realities of Black urban life.
- Remembering Toni Morrison: the iconic author reflects on family, race and coping with personal tragedy
Toni Morrison was the first Black woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, which she received in 1993. Her novel Beloved won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1988. Morrison's writing explored the dynamic between society and the individual from a Black American perspective, bringing to light the cruel legacy of slavery. She died on Aug. 5, 2019 at the age of 88.
Morrison was on Writers & Company three times: in 1992, 2003 and 2012.
The Stone Diaries follows the life trajectory of Daisy Goodwill. Through childhood, marriage, widowhood, remarriage, motherhood and old age, Daisy attempts to understand her role in a novel that explores the limitations of autobiography.
The Stone Diaries won the Governor General's Literary Award for fiction in 1993 and the Pulitzer Prize in 1995.
Carol Shields was born in Oak Park, Ill., in 1935. After graduating with a degree in history and education, she married a Canadian and moved to Canada. Shields had been writing for almost 20 years before her first big success, The Stone Diaries, in 1993. In 2019, her 10th novel, Unless, was named by the BBC as one of the 100 novels that shaped our world. Shields died in 2003 at the age of 68.
Wachtel interviewed Shields eight times on Writers & Company: in 1991, 1992, 1993, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002.
Divided into two novels, Reading Turgenev and My House in Umbria, Two Lives follows two women who retreat further into the realm of the imagination until the boundaries between what is real and what is not become blurred.
Reading Turgenev was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1991.
Born in Ireland in 1928, William Trevor didn't see his writing career take off until 1964, when his early novel The Old Boys won the Hawthornden Prize, Britain's oldest literary prize. He has won three Whitbread Book of the Year awards and has received various lifetime achievement honours, including a knighthood. He died on Nov. 20, 2016.
Trevor appeared on Writers & Company in 1994.
In an Antique Land is a book written in narrative form that revolves around author Amitav Ghosh's trip to Egypt. Through historical research and imagination, Ghosh tells the story of a 12th century Indian slave and his master, a Jewish merchant, while also sharing his own modern-day experiences visiting two Egyptian villages.
Ghosh was born in Calcutta and grew up in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India. He is the author of five nonfiction books and eight acclaimed novels. In 2011, he won the Blue Metropolis International Literary Grand Prix.
Ghosh has been on Writers & Company three times. Wachtel interviewed him in 1995 and 2008; in 2011, he was on a panel about writers from India.
The novel The Autobiography of My Mother follows the life of Xuela Claudette Richardson, the daughter of a Carib mother and a half-Scottish, half-African father. When her mother dies while giving birth to her, Xuela must find her own way. The story is told by Xuela, who is now in her later years, looking back on her journey from childhood through marriage.
Jamaica Kincaid is a Caribbean American writer. She is known for her evocative portrayals of family relationships and her native Antigua. She teaches in the English, African and African American Studies department at Harvard University. Her other novels include Lucy, See Now Then and Mr. Potter.
Kincaid has been interviewed by Wachtel for Writers & Company three times: in 1993, 1996 and 2002.
Regeneration is a historical, anti-war novel that explores the experience of British soldiers as they were being treated for shell shock during World War I at Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh. It is the first book in the Regeneration trilogy.
English novelist Pat Barker was born in 1943. She is the author of the prize-winning Regeneration trilogy. The last book in the series, The Ghost Road, won the Booker Prize in 1995. Her latest novel, The Silence of the Girls, was shortlisted for the 2019 Women's Prize for Fiction.
Barker has been on Writers & Company three times: in 1997, 2015 and 2018.
In The Emigrants, the narrator follows the lives of four Jewish emigrants to France, England or the U.S. — characters struggling with the events of their past, unable to find peace.
The Emigrants won the Berlin Literature Prize, the Literatur Nord Prize and the Johannes Bobrowski Medal.
Sebald was on Writers & Company in 1998.
When a group of upper-class elderly friends starts receiving an eerie phone call informing them that their death is inevitable, old secrets begin to come to light. In Memento Mori, the characters are forced to reflect on their life choices and reckon with their own mortality.
Muriel Spark was a British writer, poet and essayist. Her novels include Memento Mori, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and The Ballad of Peckham Rye. She died in 2006 at the age of 88.
Spark was on Writers & Company in 1999.
2000: Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee
Disgrace tells the story of David Lurie, a middle-aged, twice divorced poetry professor who has an impulsive affair with a student. Once the affair ends and Lurie faces an inquiry, he retreats to his daughter's isolated farm.
Disgrace won the Booker Prize and the Commonwealth Prize.
J.M. Coetzee is a South African novelist. His books include Life & Times of Michael K, Waiting for the Barbarians and The Master of Petersburg. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2003 and has won the Booker Prize twice. He lives in Australia.
Wachtel has interviewed the reclusive author twice for Writers & Company, in 1991 and 2000.
In his memoir Uncle Tungsten, Oliver Sacks reflects on his childhood. From his evacuation from London at the onset of the Second World War to the subsequent time he spent away from his family and in school, Sacks recounts how his passion for science and love of hands-on learning blossomed.
Sacks was a British-born author and neurologist. His best-known works were 1985's The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, and 1995's An Anthropologist on Mars, a collection of case studies of people whose brains suffered gross perception problems, who had Tourette's syndrome or had lost memories. He died in 2015 at the age of 82.
Sacks was on Writers & Company four times: in 1994, 1997, 2001 and 2008.
2002: Atonement by Ian McEwan
Atonement is the story of 13-year-old Briony Tallis, who witnesses her older sister Cecilia and the servant's son Robbie one afternoon in an intimate encounter. Briony's reporting of the incident leads to consequences that will profoundly alter the paths taken by all three.
Atonement was made into an Oscar-winning film in 2007, starring Keira Knightley and James McAvoy.
Ian McEwan is a British novelist and screenwriter. He won the Booker Prize for his 1998 novel Amsterdam. He is the author of many critically acclaimed books including The Child in Time, On Chesil Beach and Sweet Tooth.
McEwan has been on Writers & Company six times. Wachtel interviewed him in 1993, 1998, 2002, 2007 and 2012; he was on a panel about love in 2001.
In her autobiographical novel Jigsaw, Sybille Bedford reflects on the events and people of her youth. She writes about the pain of her adolescence, caring for her morphine-addicted mother, in the south of France, and how her friendship with Aldous and Maria Huxley helped her become a great writer.
Jigsaw was shortlisted for the 1989 Booker Prize.
Bedford was a German-born English writer and journalist. She was the author of 10 books, including a biography of Aldous Huxley, and four novels, which fictionalized her life. She was a recipient of the Golden PEN Award in 1993. Bedford died in 2006 at the age of 94.
Bedford was on Writers & Company in 2003.
In Cloud Atlas, six interconnected narratives unfold across time and space, from a reluctant voyager crossing the Pacific in 1850 to an enslaved clone living in a futuristic society. The novel is a meditation on humanity's desire for power.
Cloud Atlas won the British Book Awards Literary Fiction Award and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, the Nebula Award for Best Novel and the Arthur C. Clarke Award.
The novel was made into a movie in 2012, directed by Tom Tykwer, Lana Wachowski and Lilly Wachowski, starring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry and Hugh Grant.
David Mitchell is an English novelist and screenwriter. His other novels include The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, Black Swan Green, Number9Dream, Ghostwritten and The Bone Clocks.
Mitchell has been on Writers & Company twice: in 2004 and 2010.
When Henry Townsend, a former slave and the proprietor of his own plantation, dies, his widow succumbs to grief and things at the plantation begin to fall apart. Switching between the past, present and future, The Known World examines the enduring effects of slavery.
The Known World won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2004 and the International Dublin Literary Award in 2005.
Edward P. Jones is an award-winning American author and short story writer. His first short story collection, Lost in the City, won the PEN/Hemingway Award and was shortlisted for the National Book Award. His second collection, All Aunt Hagar's Children, was a finalist for the Pen/Faulkner Award. He was awarded a MacArthur "genius" grant fellowship in 2005.
Jones was on Writers & Company in 2005.
The Inheritance of Loss follows the interconnected lives of an orphan living illegally in the United States and an embittered judge who wants to retire in peace. The characters face choices that highlight the effects of colonialism and explore how the loss of identity can pass down through generations.
Kiran Desai, daughter of novelist Anita Desai, is an Indian-born bestselling author. Her first novel, Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard, received the Betty Trask Prize from the British Society of Authors in 1998. When she won the Booker Prize for The Inheritance of Loss, she became the youngest female writer to win the award.
Kiran Desai was on Writers & Company in 2006.
Mister Pip tells the story of Matilda, a young girl living on a tropical island shattered by civil war. When a white man named Mr. Watts cleans up the ruined schoolhouse, Matilda — and eventually the entire village — comes to listen to Mr. Watts read from his battered copy of Great Expectations.
Mister Pip was a finalist for the Booker Prize and it won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for best book in Southeast Asia and the South Pacific.
Lloyd Jones is a New Zealand author and journalist. His books include The Book of Fame, winner of numerous literary awards, Biografi, a New York Times Notable Book, Here at the End of the World We Learn to Dance, Paint Your Wife and The Cage.
Jones was on Writers & Company in 2007.
In the short story collection From the Fifteenth District, Mavis Gallant's characters are people whose lives have been displaced by war and political turmoil. Set in the aftermath of the Second World War, the nine stories in this collection capture the nuances and complexity of human relationships.
Born in Montreal, Gallant was an internationally celebrated Canadian short story writer who lived and worked for most of her life in Paris, France. She was appointed an officer of the Order of Canada in 1981 and in 1993 was elevated to companion, the order's highest level. Her collection Home Truths: Selected Canadian Stories won the Governor General's Literary Award for fiction in 1981.
2009: The Vagrants by Yiyun Li
Set in China during the 1970s, The Vagrants centres on Gu Shan, a young woman who renounces her faith in communism and becomes a political prisoner to be executed for her dissent.
The Vagrants was shortlisted for the 2011 International Dublin Literary Award.
Chinese American author Yiyun Li's novels and story collections include Kinder Than Solitude, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers and Where Reasons End. She is also the author of the memoir Dear Friend, From My Life I Write To You in Your Life, which describes her struggle with depression.
Li has been on Writers & Company three times: in 2009, 2014 and 2019.
In his memoir A Tale of Love and Darkness, Amos Oz documents his childhood and adolescence living in war-torn Jerusalem through the 1940s and 1950s. He discusses his mother's struggle with depression leading her to suicide when he was a boy. Oz also explores his family's history and his relationship with his Eastern European roots.
Oz was a writer and journalist whose work has been translated into over forty languages. His last novel, Judas, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2017 and won the Yasnaya Polyana Foreign Fiction Award. He received several international awards, including the Prix Femina, the Israel Prize, the Goethe Prize, the Frankfurt Peace Prize and the 2013 Franz Kafka Prize. He died in 2018 at the age of 79.
Oz was interviewed by Wachtel for Writers & Company three times: in 1991, 1998 and 2010.
The Hare With Amber Eyes is a memoir that traces Edmund de Waal's family history through 264 objects. After de Waal inherited a collection of tiny Japanese wood and ivory carvings, called netsuke, he wanted to know who had touched and held them, and how the collection had managed to survive.
The Hare With Amber Eyes won the Costa Biography Award in 2010.
De Waal is an internationally acclaimed ceramicist known for his large-scale porcelain installations. In 2015, de Waal was awarded the Windham-Campbell Prize for nonfiction. His writing explores the connection between physical objects and memory.
De Waal was on Writers & Company in 2011.
A sequel to the Booker Prize-winning novel Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies explores the downfall of Anne Boleyn. The story centres on Thomas Cromwell, the powerful intimate and fixer to King Henry VIII. Bring Up the Bodies also won the Booker Prize in 2012.
Hilary Mantel is a U.K.-born historical fiction writer and is one of the few authors to have won the Booker Prize twice. She is the author of 14 books, including A Place of Greater Safety, Beyond Black and the memoir Giving Up the Ghost.
Mantel has been on Writers & Company seven times. She was interviewed in 1994, 1998, 2003, 2005, 2012 and 2020 and was on a panel in 1997.
Life After Life traces the alternate possible lives of main character Ursula Todd, from her birth in England in 1910 to her experiences of the Second World War.
Life After Life won the Costa Novel Award in 2013 and was shortlisted for the 2013 Women's Prize for Fiction.
Kate Atkinson is an English novelist and playwright. Her bestselling novels featuring former detective Jackson Brodie were adapted for the BBC television series Case Histories, starring Jason Isaacs. She has won the Costa Novel Award twice, for Life After Life and for her subsequent novel, A God in Ruins.
Atkinson has been on Writers & Company twice: in 1997 and 2013.
Nora Webster is a novel inspired by Colm Tóibín's mother, about a woman who was widowed at 40 with four children and little money. Overcome with sorrow, she eventually begins to find solace within herself and, surprisingly, through singing. Nora Webster is considered one of contemporary fiction's most memorable female characters.
Tóibín is one of Ireland's most admired and prolific writers. He is the author of the novel Brooklyn, which won the Costa Best Novel Award and was made into a movie starring Saoirse Ronan. In 2006, he won the International Dublin Literary Award for The Master, an imaginative re-creation of five years in the life of Henry James.
Tóibín has been on Writers & Company six times. He was interviewed solo in 1994, 2007, and 2013; with Marilynne Robinson in 2014; and appeared on panels in 2002 and 2008.
The End of Days consists of five stories, each leading to a different death of the female protagonist. Spanning the 20th century, the novel is a philosophical exploration of human existence and history.
The End of Days won the 2015 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and the Netherlands' European Literature Award.
Jenny Erpenbeck is a German novelist, playwright and director. Her books include Visitation, The End of Days and Go, Went, Gone.
Erpenbeck was on Writers & Company in 2015.
The Sellout is a satirical novel that explores race and racism in North America. A Los Angeles resident, who goes by his childhood nickname of Bonbon, wants to reintroduce segregation and attempts to keep a slave, resulting in the Supreme Court Case Me Vs. The United States of America.
The Sellout won the 2016 Booker Prize and 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction.
Paul Beatty is an American poet and novelist. His other books include the novels The White Boy Shuffle, Tuff and Slumberland and the poetry collections Big Bank Take Little Bank and Joker, Joker, Deuce. When The Sellout won the Booker Prize, Paul Beatty was the first American writer to receive the award.
Beatty was on Writers & Company in 2016.
The Idiot, which borrows its name from the Russian classic by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, is a coming-of-age tale that dives deep into an adolescent's college experience, touching upon issues of identity, communication and heartbreak.
The Idiot was a finalist for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
Elif Batuman is an American journalist and writer. She is also the author of the memoir The Possessed. The Idiot is her first novel.
Batuman was on Writers & Company in 2017.
American poet Terrance Hayes responds to the 2016 election of Donald Trump and tensions in the current social climate in the United States in his poetry collection American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin. The book is a powerful examination of race, politics and masculinity.
American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin was a finalist for the 2018 National Book Award for poetry and the T.S. Eliot Prize.
Terrance Hayes is an American poet and teacher. He won the National Book Award for poetry for his 2010 collection Lighthead and was a recipient of a MacArthur "genius" grant fellowship in 2014.
Hayes was on Writers & Company in 2018.
The Life to Come weaves together five stories, exploring race, class, migration and the art of writing itself.
Michelle de Kretser is an Australian writer. She is a two-time winner of the Miles Franklin Prize, Australia's most important literary award. Her other novels include The Hamilton Case, The Lost Dog, Questions of Travel and Springtime.
De Kretser has been on Writers & Company twice. She was featured in the special series about Australian writers in 2004 and was interviewed again in 2019.