Joshua Wolf Shenk is a curator, essayist, and author, most recently of Powers of Two: How Relationships Drive Creativity. Praised by The New York Times as “a natural storyteller,” Shenk is fascinated by the intersections of creativity, collaboration, and psychology.
In Powers of Two, Shenk unpacks the social foundations of creativity with a deep dive into cultural history, social psychology, and neuroscience. Shenk uncovers the fascinating dynamics of cooperation and conflict that animate successful pairs, from Marie and Pierre Curie to Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, and makes the case that collaboration, not solitude, is the best recipe for creative success.
“This is a book about magic, about the Beatles, about the chemistry between people, about neuroscience, and about the buddy system; it examines love and hate, harmony and dissonance, and everything in between. The result is wise, funny, surprising, and completely engrossing.”
Shenk’s first book, Lincoln’s Melancholy, was named a best book of 2005 by The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Atlanta-Journal Constitution, and won awards from the Abraham Lincoln Institute, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, and the National Mental Health Association. Walter Isaacson, president and CEO of the Aspen Institute, pinpointed what sets Shenk’s book apart from other Lincoln biographies, writing, “Lincoln not only coped with his depression, he harnessed it. Joshua Wolf Shenk [explains how] masterfully and memorably.” CBS’s Mike Wallace called Lincoln’s Melancholy “an extraordinary story, for the depth of its scholarship and the lure of its style.”
“A profoundly human and psychologically important examination of the melancholy that so pervaded Lincoln’s life… Remarkable.”
—Kay Redfield Jamison, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and author of An Unquiet Mind
With Harold Holzer, Shenk also coedited In Lincoln’s Hand, an anthology of original manuscripts written by the president and accompanied by new essays by John Updike, Toni Morrison, Tony Kushner, Bill Clinton, and many more.
A founding advisor to The Moth, Shenk served on the organization’s board of directors, where he played a lead role in developing The Moth Radio Hour, now on nearly 400 stations worldwide. He created and directs the Erikson Prize for Mental Health Media and the Arts in Mind conversation series on the intersection of creative arts and psychology, cohosted by the New School in New York City. He also serves on the board of PEN Center USA.
Shenk’s cover stories for The Atlantic include “What Makes Us Happy?”, about the psychiatrist George Vaillant and the Harvard happiness study. His writing has been published in Harper’s, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Slate, GQ, The Nation, Riverteeth, and the anthology Unholy Ghost: Writers on Depression (edited by Nell Casey). He is also the editor of the acclaimed magazine The Believer.
Shenk is the executive director and writer-in-residence of the Beverly Rogers, Carol C. Harter Black Mountain Institute at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He has taught creative writing, especially literary nonfiction, at the New School, New York University, Washington College (where he was director of the Rose O’Neill Literary House), the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, and the Power of Narrative Conference at Boston University.
His honors include residencies at Yaddo, MacDowell, the Blue Mountain Center, and the Norman Mailer Center; a Rosalynn Carter fellowship in mental health journalism at the Carter Center; a Japan Society Media Fellowship; and the Frank Whiting scholarship at the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference. Josh was also a nonfiction fellow at the New York Foundation for the Arts.
He splits his time between Las Vegas and the Silverlake neighborhood of Los Angeles. For more information on Joshua Wolf Shenk, please visit shenk.net.