Step Into the Mind of Your Favorite Iconic Author

Angela Davis annotated If They Come In the Morning

Image from PEN American Center’s First Edition/Second Thoughts Auction catalog.

What if you could step into the mind of your favorite author while they wrote your favorite book? What if you could find out not only how they crafted that brilliant prose, but what inspired them in the first place? And what if you could find out how they would write the book differently if they wrote it today?

Guess what! Now you can. Well, if you have enough money.

Today, the PEN American Center’s First Edition/Second Thoughts auction takes place. If you don’t happen to be in New York, you can bid online or by phone.

More than 75 famous authors and artists annotated their most iconic work, including notes in the margins, whole essays, pictures, doodles, and in one case of a photographer, a whole new set of images added to the book. Participating authors include Alice Walker, Billy Collins, Tony Morrison, Jane Smiley, Amy Tan, Joyce Carol Oates and many, many more.

If not limited by funds, which book on the list would you bid on and why?

I’m torn between Barbara Kingsolver’s Poison Wood Bible, Sue Grafton’s A is For Alibi, and Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club. Each of those books showed me something new about reading, writing, and about myself. They are also books that have stayed with me longer–because of their characters, or story line, or plot twists–than some of the more established and more part-of-the-cannon literary works that I have read.

Here’s the PEN American center’s promotional video for the auction. It includes some of the writers reflecting back on what it was like revisiting their work.



  • Melissa says:

    Some of these look so, so interesting to me! I’d be most excited about the annotations by Toni Morrison, Patti Smith, Rita Dove, and Tobias Wolff.

    I’d be afraid that the notes on Housekeeping would ruin the book for me. And with a couple of the other authors on that list, I’m certain their notes would confirm my already-existing dislike of their work, haha.

  • Pete says:

    Lots of great choices, but I’d have to go with DeLillo’s “Underworld.” It would be fascinating to see the inner workings of a huge, sprawling, mountain of a novel like that.

    • I’d like to know the authors level of faith in the work through a huge novel like that. Did they ever despair they wouldn’t finish at any point? Did they write themselves and the characters into a corner?

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