Episode 183: The Power of Words — Interview with Joe Fassler

by Gabriela Pereira
published in Podcast

Hey there word nerds!

Today I am delighted to have author and editor Joe Fassler on the show!

Joe earned his MFA from the University of Iowa Writing Program and is a senior editor at The New Food Economy. His writing has appeared in many journals including The Boston Review, Electric Literature, and Creative Nonfiction, but he’s probably most well-known for the author interviews he conducts as part of The Atlantic’s “By Heart” series.

Joe’s latest work, Light the Dark: Writers on Creativity, Inspiration, and the Artistic Process, is a compilation of numerous authors’ answers to one simple but profound question: What inspires you?

Light the Dark is available now. I’ve been reading it and all I can say is if you’re a writer, you must put this book on your To-Be-Read list for 2018!

Listen in as we chat about this amazing book, and some of the best ways to keep inspired and motivated to write.

In this episode Joe and I discuss:

  • Learning to the draw the line, how to find your catch-all creative time.
  • Why you need to celebrate your zero moment.
  • Balancing what publicists want and what writers want in an interview.
  • Techniques to help find that quiet place of creativity in your mind.
  • The importance of the written word and the transformative power of books.

Plus, Joe’s #1 tip for writers.

About Joe Fassler

Joe Fassler is a graduate of the University of Iowa MFA program, and his writing has appeared in Electric Literature, The Boston Review, Creative Nonfiction, and other journals. He also regularly interviews authors for The Atlantic’s “By Heart” series.

In 2011, Joe’s reporting for TheAtlantic.com was a finalist for a James Beard Foundation Award in Journalism. He also covers the politics and economics of the American food system as a senior editor for The New Food Economy, and is currently an 11th Hour Food and Farming Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley.

Joe is the editor of the book Light the Dark: Writers on Creativity, Inspiration, and the Artistic Process, which is available now.

To connect with Joe check out his website at joefassler.net and check out his “By Heart” author interview series at https://www.theatlantic.com/projects/by-heart/.

And check out the DIY MFA Radio episode about embracing your zero moment mentioned in this interview at DIYMFA.com/82.


Light the Dark: Writers on Creativity, Inspiration, and the Artistic Process

What inspires you? That’s the simple, but profound question posed to forty-six renowned writers in Light the Dark: Writers on Creativity, Inspiration, and the Artistic Process.

In this book, each author reveals what gets them started and what keeps them going with the creative work they love. We often think of writers as uniquely gifted visionaries with the ability to say what has never been said before. But every great work has a precursor—as Mark Twain once said, “all ideas are second hand.” In Joe Fassler’s Light the Dark, leading writers take that concept one step further, sharing the lines that inspired them, altered their creative DNA, and shaped the way they work and think.

Each writer begins with a favorite passage—from a novel, a song, a poem. From there, incredible lessons and stories of life-changing encounters with art emerge, like how sneaking a volume of Stephen King stories into his job as a night security guard helped Khaled Hosseini learn that nothing he creates will ever be truly finished. Or how Junot Diaz learned that great art can be a friend to help us feel less alone in the world when he discovered Toni Morrison in college.

Fassler collects the best of The Atlantic’s much-acclaimed “By Heart” series and adds brand new pieces from writers like Marilynne Robinson and Junot Diaz, each one paired with a striking illustration by longtime collaborator Doug McLean. This is a guide to creative living and writing in the vein of Daily Rituals, Bird by Bird, and Big Magic for anyone who wants to learn how great writers find inspiration and how to find some of your own.

Light the Dark features contributions from: Aimee Bender, Sherman Alexie, Elizabeth Gilbert, Stephen King, Amy Tan, Junot Díaz, William Gibson, Khaled Hosseini, Andre Dubus III, Mary Gaitskill, Michael Chabon, Walter Mosley, Jim Crace, Edwidge Danticat, Billy Collins, Kathryn Harrison, David Mitchell, Roxane Gay, Tom Perrotta, Ayana Mathis, Jim Shepard, Karl Ove Knausgaard, Leslie Jamison, Jonathan Lethem, Jessie Ball, Angela Flournoy, Lev Grossman, Yiyun Li, Maggie Shipstead, Jeff Tweedy, Nell Zink, Charles Simic, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Emma Donoghue, Claire Messud, Jane Smiley, Jonathan Franzen, Hanya Yanagihara, Ben Marcus, Mark Haddon, Azar Nafisi, T. C. Boyle, Ethan Canin, Eileen Myles,  Marilynne Robinson, and Neil Gaiman.

Light the Dark is about where ideas come from, how inspiration works, and how working artists turn inspiration into reality. These are lessons that go well beyond writing advice, and can help us learn how to live a more creative and fulfilling life.


If you decide to check out the book, we hope you’ll do so via this Amazon affiliate link, where if you choose to purchase via the link DIY MFA gets a referral fee at no cost to you. As always, thank you for supporting DIY MFA!


Link to Episode 183

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