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.
“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.”
In Powers of Two, Shenk unpacks the social foundations of creativity with a deep dive into cultural history, social psychology, and neuroscience. He 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.
Shenk’s first book, Lincoln’s Melancholy, was named a best book of the year 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 others.
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).
A founding adviser to The Moth, Shenk served on the organization’s board of directors, where he played a lead role in developing The Moth Radio Hour. His MainStage story, “You Can Come Back,” is included in The Moth’s book Occasional Magic. He is also the editor-in-chief of The Believer, a five-time National Magazine Award finalist. He also created and directs The Believer Festival at the Beverly Rogers, Carol C. Harter Black Mountain Institute, where he is artistic and executive director.
Shenk is the Executive and Artistic Director of the Beverly Rogers, Carol C. Harter Black Mountain Institute at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He has taught creative writing and literary nonfiction at the New School, New York University, Washington College (where he directed 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. He was also a nonfiction fellow at the New York Foundation for the Arts.
Shenk splits his time between Las Vegas and the Silverlake neighborhood of Los Angeles. He is working on a new book.