7 Great Writers You Didn’t Know Lived in DC

While the presence of the nation’s capital certainly characterizes Washington, DC, culture, there’s more to the city than that: Several great writers have made their homes here over the years. In New York, writers will tell you that there’s a sense of competition—writers at all levels scrambling for a piece of the spotlight. By contrast, in DC’s smaller but still-vibrant literary community, writers of all levels are able to carve a space for themselves.


DC is a great place to be a writer. These seven accomplished talents prove it:

Walt_Whitman_-_Brady-Handy_restored 1. Walt Whitman lived for a time in Washington, DC, where he worked during the Civil War in the army paymaster’s office and volunteered as a nurse in the army hospitals. He used to watch President Lincoln ride up and down 16th street, and his experiences engaging with soldiers and observing the President were instrumental to his writing. He was profoundly impacted by Lincoln’s death and wrote several poems inspired by Lincoln.


MacArthur Foundation and Pulitzer prize winning author Edward Jones in Washington D.C. Tuesday Sept. 21, 2004. (AP Photo/ Matt Houston) 2. Edward P. Jones is one of the literary treasures of our time. He is the Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Known World, and he has collected a range of awards including the PEN/Hemingway award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the PEN/Malamud Award, and the MacArthur Fellowship. His short story collections, Lost in the City and All Aunt Hagar’s Children explore the experience of African Americans in DC. He told the Rumpus about how the opening of his story “A Butterfly on the F Street” came to him: while he was standing on the street, in transit around DC. The Washington Post says of Jones, “The bar he has set for himself, to more or less to do for black Washington what James Joyce did for Dublin, is in the literary stratosphere.” For Edward P. Jones’ presence alone, DC’s literary community is worth belonging to.


walter isaacson 3. Walter Isaacson leverages DC’s political landscape to forge his career as President and CEO of the Aspen Institute, a nonpartisan educational and policy studies institute, as well as to feed his writing. His most recent book is The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution, and he is best known as the author of Steve Jobs. His other works include Einstein: His Life and Universe (2007), Benjamin Franklin: An American Life (2003), and Kissinger: A Biography (1992).


Ta-Nehisi_Coates 4. Ta-Nehisi Coates currently lives in Harlem, but he has made his stamp on the DC literary landscape—and he often reads and speaks here. Coates is the author, most recently, of #1 New York Times Bestseller Between the World and Me, and he is also an Atlantic National Correspondent and has written important pieces including the acclaimed article “The Case for Reparations.” Coates lived in DC and attended Howard University.


colbert king 5. Colbert I. King is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Washington Post whose DC roots run deep. He was born in DC and earned his bachelor of arts degree in government from Howard University. Before taking his role at the Washington Post, King served in many public service roles, including working for the State Department and serving as US executive director to the World Bank—again demonstrating how rewarding government positions coexist with the writing life in DC.


Sandra Beasley 6. Sandra Beasley is a poet and nonfiction writer, and an AU MFA alumna who has made her home in DC. She won the 2009 Barnard Women Poets Prize for her collection I Was the Jukebox. Her first collection, Theories of Falling, won the 2007 New Issues Poetry Prize. Her work appears in distinguished magazines including Ploughshares, Tin House, AGNI, Virginia Quarterly Review, Poetry, and The Believer, and she remains active in the DC literary community, coordinating events for the Arts Club of Washington.


Marita Golden 7. Marita Golden, an AU graduate, is the author of 14 works of fiction and nonfiction, and an integral part of the DC writing community. Golden grew up in DC and has held teaching appointments at schools including George Mason University and here at AU. She has also served as Writer in Residence at the University of the District of Columbia, and co-founded the in 1990, which presents the nation’s only national fiction award for college writers of African descent.



 The Only MFA Program in the District

From historical literary giants to prize-winning journalists to early-career MFA graduates, writers have found DC to be a place where their work can thrive. Would you like to be part of this community?

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