The Gift of Lewis Hyde’s ‘The Gift’

Margaret Atwood at The Paris Review:

The Gift has never been out of print; it moves like an underground current among artists of all kinds, through word of mouth and bestowal. It is the one book I recommend without fail to aspiring writers and painters and musicians, for it is not a how-to book—there are many of these—but a book about the core nature of what it is that artists do, and also about the relation of these activities to our overwhelmingly commercial society. If you want to write, paint, sing, compose, act, or make films, read The Gift. It will help to keep you sane.

I doubt that Lewis Hyde knew while he was writing it that he was composing such an essential work. Perhaps he felt he was merely exploring a subject of interest to him—in its short form, why poets in our society are seldom rich—and enjoying the many tributaries he was uncovering through his exploration without realizing that he had hit on a wellspring. When asked by his original editor who his presumed audience was, he couldn’t really pinpoint it but settled for “poets.” “That’s not what most editors want to hear,” as he says in his preface to the 2007 edition.

more here.