INSPIRATION HQ: Elissa Bassist on What Inspires Her to Make--and Remake!--the Book (Prompt 7 #swinspires)

This is the seventh prompt for #swinspires, the Gift of Inspiration campaign hosted by She Writes. Between December 13 and 24, ten She Writers who inspire *us* will share a writing prompt. (For past prompts, click here.)


Author: Elissa Bassist

Prompt: What inspires you to…make a book?


I could also title this post: “What inspires you to . . . put together an anthology of personal essays by your favorite living women writers?”


In August 2010, Julie Greicius, senior literary editor at, called me and instead of asking, “How are you?” she asked, “Do you think we can edit and contribute our own writing to a book in three weeks and then publish it?” My answer: “That is crazy. Of course let’s do that.”


If you ever want to test a friendship, make a book together in three weeks.


It began with a list. Julie and I wrote a list of our favorite women writers. We emailed many of them asking them to contribute a personal essay they had sitting in a drawer or stewing in their brains and hearts and could quickly move to their fingertips--most of them said yes.


Our deadline was our only constriction. gave us the platform and footed the bill. Our contributors were free to write what they wanted and keep it to any word count they liked. The authors—their words, confessions, and timeliness—would shape the book.


For anyone who couldn’t make the deadline or whose piece didn’t fit in the collection, we purposefully titled the book Rumpus Women, Volume I.

We wanted to make an edgy, honest, and literary book including the kind of writing that women contribute to week after week. We called upon women who inspired our own writing and life choices (often connected). The women in this collection, Kathleen Alcott, Jami Attenberg, Elissa Bassist (me), Justine Hope Blau, Nell Boeschenstein, Lisa Brown, Gabrielle Calvocoressi, Antonia Crane, Camile Dungy, Julie Greicius, Marie Myung-Ok Lee, Michelle Orange, Carol Queen, Diana Spechler, Cheryl Strayed, Sugar ( advice columnist), Michelle Tea, Padma Viswanathan, Sarah Fran Wisby, and Rachel Yoder responded to our mission and wrote something exquisite. Talking to these women, reading their work, and offering edits and encouragement—each writer inspired our every step forward in making a book of our own. Rumpus Women, Volume I is not a collection by perfect women, but real women, whose experiences, tragedies, and reflections drive their art and influence a community.


Julie and I thought making the book was stressful but rewarding—it was mostly fun and illuminating. But it doesn’t end there. With the help of contributors, we began the Rumpus Women Road Show and gave readings in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Brooklyn, and Manhattan. We had our “East Coast” book launch last week (we called it Ladies’ Night), where Jami, Justine, Nell, Marie, Diana, Michelle Orange, and I read at the BookCourt bookstore (pictured above). The reading was awe-inspiring: smart, funny, charming, sad, honest, brave. It was almost nearly a comedy night—not only were these Rumpus Women, they were Funny Women (see the She Writes Funny Women group and the Funny Women humor column at


The place was packed (standing room only and at the way back of the store); people were buying two books; I signed books!


In between introducing readers, I felt inspired to talk about how we made the book and how an Internet website published a book, reversing the demise of publishing using the vehicle that perpetuated its destruction. This book is a combination of these two different forces of publishing, and what we've come away with is a collection of essays that connect, are immediate, and will endure.


When the first reader, Justine Blau, read, I said, "Justine, the last time I read your piece was as a Microsoft Word document. Now it's in a book, a book you're reading aloud, to an audience in this bookstore. It just goes to show how anyone's Microsoft Word documents could be potential books." People’s faces changed in an instant—that’s what hope will do—I’ll never forget those looks. Would it be going too far to call this all "spiritual"?


After Jami Attenberg read, I emoted to the audience, “I almost forgot how much I loved going to readings! You read one thing that makes you cry, and when the author reads it aloud, it makes you laugh.” The dimension, the aliveness, the human voice to something that's as human as it gets.


The night was a symphony of women’s voices. We gave to readers what we all love when we read, write, and talk to each other: connection.


As a side note, there was no open wine bar at this event. Yes, we pulled off a reading with zero alcohol in either the readers or the audience. It was truly a remarkable success.


WHAT ABOUT YOU?  What inspires you to make a book?  (Bonus question, if it speaks to you: How do current narratives about "the future of the book" impact your creativity, your inspiration, your desire to make a book? How might you--and we!--make a book differently?)


Elissa Bassist edits and occasionally writes for column Funny Women, an ever-widening place for ladies to submit original humor pieces (please e-mail to submit). She and Julie Greicius co-edited Rumpus Women, Volume I, an anthology of powerhouse personal essays by women and the first and most extraordinary book ever published by (on The Rumpus Paper Internets imprint). Peruse for more literary, feminist, and personal criticism.


Interviews with Rumpus Women, reviews, links to purchase upcoming events, and a general compendium of book extras can be found here: Rumpus Women.


Feeling inspired to SHARE?  Tweet this post:


Push-button anthology publishing? So inspired by how Rumpus Women Vol 1 & @Elissa.Bassist remade the book #swinspires


What makes us want to write books? And can collections of personal essays still come alive? @Elissa.Bassist #swinspires


If you could publish the book you most want to read, what would it be?  Join @Elissa.Bassist at She Writes #swinspires




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Comment by Deborah Siegel on December 22, 2010 at 2:31pm
SO MANY great posts off of this prompt-- I had a tough time figuring out which to feature!  Thank you to everyone who wrote a post -- it's been heartening to read everyone's words!
Comment by Donna Hill on December 22, 2010 at 8:46am
Often what inspires me to "make a book" is something as simple as a name.  I may hear it or read it or meet someone with a unique name. For example, years ago I was in a doctor's office waiting to be seen.  And daughter was with me.  So as I was waiting I looked up on this poster of all the children who'd been born recently and one name jumped out at me. Reese.  It stuck with me for months.  And all during that time, just like a seed being planted, Reese began to materialize and ultimately became Reese Delaware.  The last name came from one of my favorite characters Alex Delaware via author Jonathan Kellerman.  She emerged as my main character for my novel Intimate Betrayal, which ultimately became a movie for television!  Who knew!!

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