Madison Smartt Bell

Influentialbooks

December 02, 2007

Born and raised in Tennessee, Madison Smartt Bell has lived in New York and in London and now lives in Baltimore. The author of 12 novels, including All Souls Rising, a National Book Award finalist in 1995, Bell is a professor of English and director of the Kratz Center for Creative Writing at Goucher College, where his wife, the poet Elizabeth Spires, also teaches. Last week, Bell received a $250,000 Strauss Living award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. The award, largest of the academy's literature prizes, is intended to provide the financial means to permit recipients to devote their time to writing for a period of five years.

"The Possessed" / by Fyodor Dostoevsky / Modern Library / 736 pages / $16

Sometimes translated as "The Devils," but I like the other title because of the book's interesting treatment of the idea of possession. All Dostoevsky's major novels have been a big influence on me from the beginning.

"The Succession" / by George Garrett / Harvest Books / 552 pages / $27

I was George's student when he was finishing this book. He is still a good friend. His work and his teaching have taught me most of what I know about how to write historical fiction. I would also recommend the other two volumes of his Elizabethan trilogy, "Death of the Fox" and "Entered from the Sun."

"Dans La Splendeur d'un Apres-Midi De L'Histore" / Publication information unavailable This book was written by the late Gerard Barthelemy, another old friend whom I miss a lot. He gave me tremendous insight into Haiti then and now.

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