Books that Made You Brave

In the "Books that Made You" series, we're taking a look at the books that made us who we are. Bravery is on our minds in the wake of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford's courageous testimonywhere it comes from, how it surges and supports us, the doors it opens. Bravery can be contagious, and we need it now in order to speak up, to defend ourselves and others, and to move forward together into a better future. Here at GrubStreet, we are strong believers in the power of literature to inspire, educate, and embolden. To that end, for this edition of our "Books That Made You Series," we asked you what book made you brave. After scrutinizing our highly scientific social media poll, we present to you this non-exhaustive list of books that inspire bravery in us.


Grub Instructor Kelly Dalke says, "Julie Orringer's collection, How to Breathe Underwater, made me feel brave enough to write adult literary fiction with a child or adolescent protagonist!"


YAWP Intern Connor Hager describes Nightshade by Andrea Cremer as "the first book that I ever read with LGBT+ characters, and the first book that showed me how I could combine my love for animals and writing."


"Reading The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson made me brave during a time when I was about to pursue being a future stepmom and a wife—roles I never really imagined inhabiting," says Grub Development Manager Alyssa Mazzarella. "Nelson's own story, and the ideas she wove with them as she searched for understanding herself, made me feel like I could have a family and a partner without having to feel shamed or constricted by the many images and expectations I had gathered over the years about creating a heteronormative, biologically-bound nuclear family. The Argonauts allowed me to expand my heart and my life to make room for loves and joys I couldn't have imagined."


"Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic was a light when I read it," says Grub Instructor Anneli Matheson. "Her perspective on fear is so refreshing—I am quoting a version of her approach in my YAWP classes right now."


"Completely maddening but pure art!" says Grub Instructor Colwill Brown of Samuel Beckett's Molloy. "Made me brave enough to experiment in my own work and gave me a sense of what is possible in fiction."


GrubStreet Marketing Intern Mariana Cabral recommends Like The Flowing River, a collection of reflection by Paulo Coelho. "At the time [I read this], I was struggling with anxiety. I wasn't giving myself, my work, and my accomplishments any credit. Coelho's essays really helped me snap out of this negative thought process because he highlights the beauty of even the most minuscule moments in our lives. He tackles life with such gratitude and courage, which made me more present than I had been in a long time. I find myself referring to his reflections again whenever I'm feeling less brave."


Novel Generator student Cameron Dryden was spurred on by The Terrible Hours by Peter Maas. "How Navy Engineer Swede Momsen single-handedly invented most modern diving equipment to rescue trapped submariners inspired me as an engineer."


GrubWrites Blog Intern Sarah Sturman says, "Jack Finney's short story The Other Wife (or, The Coin Collector) was one of the first works of literature I analyzed on a craft level. The process made me realize that there was a method behind those smooth words that made me so emotional. Knowing that the mystery of good literature could be broken down into parts gave me the courage to study writing at a higher level."


"Lucy Grealy's memoir, Autobiography of a Face, about her childhood experience with cancer of the jaw, showed me the bravery that comes from exposing vulnerability on the page," says Literary Cultural District Director Alysia Abbott. "I also had the opportunity to work with Lucy when I was pursuing my MFA in creative nonfiction at the New School. Her high expectations of me and other students pushed me to go deeper in my writing, to try and write the unwriteable and not "wimp out" when the story got difficult. During the course of our year in class together I saw her face transform week to week as she had different surgeries to graft skin on onto her jawline to shape her face into a form that was more socially acceptable. Throughout all of this she kept teaching, kept pushing us to be the best writers we could be. I thought she was so strong but she struggled too. Six months before we graduated from the program she took her life. I still feel her influence."




Missed our last post? Never fear! Check out the whole "Books that Made You" series here.

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About the Author

Colwill is an instructor and manuscript consultant at GrubStreet, an associate editor at Bat City Review, and an MFA candidate at the University of Texas at Austin. After graduating a scholarship awardee of GrubStreet’s Novel Incubator program, Colwill found representation for her first novel, Before We Tear Our Selves Apart, with Robert Guinsler of Sterling Lord Literistic, which is currently on submission to publishing houses. She is the recipient of the Wellspring House Emerging Writer Fellowship, the Henry Blackwell Essay Prize, and a Crawley-Garwood Research Grant, and has received fellowships and support from Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, The University of Texas at Austin, Boston College, Kansas State University, the Anderson Center for Disciplinary Studies, and GrubStreet. She was a finalist for the 2019 Tennessee Williams Fiction Prize, the 2019 Reynolds Price Award, the 2019 Far Horizons Fiction Award, the 2019 Disquiet International Literary Prize, and the 2019 Lit Fest Emerging Writer Fellowship. Colwill’s fiction is forthcoming in Granta and is anthologized in Everywhere Stories: Short Fiction from a Small Planet (Press 53). She has served on the editorial team for Post Road magazine, The Conium Review,  Solstice Literary Magazine, and Pangyrus magazine. Colwill is a founding member of the  Back Porch Collective, a Boston-based group of writers. With members connected to Cuba, India, Albania, Atlanta, Bosnia, Miami, Jamaica, and the UK, they bonded over a common passion for global narratives and literature’s potential to create empathy and understanding across all geographical, political, and cultural borders. Hailing from Yorkshire, in the north of England, Colwill is determined to introduce the word “sozzard” to the American vernacular. For a full list of publications, projects, and services, please visit

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