On Twitter, I am primarily a spectator—I often have difficulty articulating my thoughts at all, let alone in 140 or fewer characters. Indeed, the tweet is a literary form unto itself, a form that forces the writer to pair a maximum degree of emotional, intellectual, or comic impact with a limited number of words.
It should come as no surprise then, that most of my Twitter endeavors are also literary ones. Writers who can use the platform’s constraints to their advantage often produce entertaining and thought-provoking tweets, and I take great pleasure in watching their lives, work, and opinions unfold online. I have found it to be incredibly useful for keeping up with the literary world as a whole, and am constantly finding new publishers and literary magazines to follow. Here are the literary Twitter feeds I found particularly compelling last year:
Joyce Carol Oates (@JoyceCarolOates) As an American author, Joyce Carol Oates is perhaps best known for her prolificacy, having published dozens of novels and short story collections during her long career. Now, she is also a prolific tweeter. Her tweets display a remarkable mastery and flexibility of form, ranging from sharply witty to deeply poignant and tackling subjects as diverse as Oates’s recent trip to the Galápagos Islands and the linguistic origins of “bitch.” Whether she is critiquing social institutions (“Great American writers — Faulkner, Fitizgerald, Whitman, Dickinson, Poe et al. — would surely be rejected by “top” universities today”) or lampooning American culture (“Santa Claus’ image offensive for flaunting obesity, reddened cheeks obvious sign of alcoholism, gout-swollen feet, abuse of reindeer”), Oates’s voice is always lively, authoritative, and deeply engaging.
The Paris Review (@parisreview) Following the Paris Review, one of America’s premier literary magazines, is a must for aspiring writers and publishers. On Twitter, this publication has a knack for both staying current and making use of its considerable archives, tweeting and retweeting about contemporary literary issues and also posting excerpts from the collection of thought-provoking interviews the magazine has conducted with some of the most gifted writers and artists of our time. I find it especially satisfying to scroll through the Paris Review’s Twitter feed when I have writer’s block; a pithy quote from Louise Erdrich or Lorrie Moore never fails to inspire and motivate.
Bret Easton Ellis (@BretEastonEllis) I am always entertained (and often frustrated) by Bret Easton Ellis’ Twitter feed. Although the American Psycho author has an annoying habit of riling up LGBTQ community (“As a gay man I’m appalled by certain bullying members of the gay community who distorted the Alec Baldwin case into a hate-speech narrative,” he tweeted after the actor allegedly hurled a gay slur at a photographer), some of his statements are so utterly ridiculous and obviously attention-seeking that they hold a kind of grim amusement. Take, for example, his potshot at Alice Munro’s Nobel Prize win, complete with a dramatic concluding ellipsis: “Alice Munro was always an overrated writer and now that she’s won The Nobel she always will be. The Nobel is a joke and has been for ages.” To be fair though, Ellis does sometimes hit the mark, producing insightful tweets like his evaluation of John Williams’s long-forgotten 1965 novel Stoner: “It isn’t about drugs but it’s about everything else.” Valid criticisms aside, Ellis’ recommendations can be surprisingly helpful if one is looking for something new to read.
Stephen King (@StephenKing) Stephen King’s taking to Twitter in early December was one of last year’s pleasant literary surprises. King’s second tweet wasn’t exactly an ambitious start (“On Twitter at last, and can’t think of a thing to say. Some writer I turned out to be”), but over the past two months, his dry humor, conversational tone, and no-nonsense sensibility have turned him into a formidable force in the Twittersphere. Here’s one gem: “Could a woman of Chris Christie’s size be taken seriously as a presidential candidate? Just asking, although I think I know the answer.”
Tin House (@Tin_House) Tin House is another of America’s most important literary magazines, and reading their Twitter feed regularly goes a long way toward keeping yourself up-to-date on American publishing. The magazine follows a host of publishing houses and is always retweeting news of book releases, critics’ best-of lists, author appearances, and other industry ephemerae. Tin House also has a vested interest in the backbone of contemporary literature—that is, writers—and often retweets the wisdom of established authors and offers advice to aspiring ones.