The Atlantic

Why More Writers Should Talk About Money

A new collection of essays and interviews breaks one of the biggest taboos of the literary world.
Source: WIkimedia Commons

Money makes people anxious—perhaps even more so with writers. The relationship between commerce and writing is commonly sketched out in caricatures: the starving artist, the hapless student, the privileged few who “make it.” More often, it’s not addressed at all.

In the past few years, some writers have begun to more openly approach questions of class. The internet has seen a profusion of such pieces: A writer who is “sponsored” by her husband calls on other writers to be more transparent about where their money comes from. Another outlines the clear advantages that being born rich, connected, and able to attend expensive schools furnishes to becoming a successful writer. In another case, a woman who wrote a well-received debut novel details how she went broke after a single advance.

A new book of essays and interviews with writers on the topic of money, released earlier this month, aims to dig even deeper. Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living, edited by Manjula Martin, includes hard truths and thoughtful meditations on class and capitalism while also functioning as a survival guide. In one essay, Roxane Gay (Bad Feminist, Difficult Women) speaks frankly about her student debt, annual income, and past day jobs. In another, Martin herself explains the kind of code-switching by which writers conceal their class background in talking about their careers.

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