John Warner

An award-winning editor & leading expert on the teaching of writing

John Warner is a national voice on the teaching of writing, faculty labor, and institutional values, both as a frequent speaker, and a longtime contributor to Inside Higher Ed where his “Just Visiting” column has run weekly over ten years. He is also the author of Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities (Johns Hopkins UP), The Writer’s Practice: Building Confidence in Your Nonfiction Writing (Penguin), and Sustainable. Resilient. Free.: The Future of Public Higher Education (Belt).

A former college instructor with 20 years of experience across multiple institutions (University of Illinois, Virginia Tech, Clemson, College of Charleston), Warner now works as a writer, editor, speaker and consultant. In addition to his work in education, for over a decade he’s been a weekly columnist for the Chicago Tribune, writing about books and the habits of reading as his alter ego, “The Biblioracle.” In 2021 he started an associated Substack newsletter, The Biblioracle Recommends, which was a Substack Featured Publication for 2021.

Warner is the other of five other books, including the Washington Post #1 best seller, My First Presidentiary: A Scrapbook of George W. Bush (Crown, co-authored with Kevin Guilfoile), a parody of writing advice books, Fondling Your Muse: Infallible Advice from a Published Author to the Writerly Aspirant (Writer’s Digest), a novel, The Funny Man (Soho), and a collection of short stories (Tough Day for the Army (LSU Press). His fiction, humor, essays and commentary have been published in dozens of outlets including Slate, The Washington Post, and Salon.

From 2005 until 2009 he was editor of the McSweeney’s website (mcsweeneys.net), winning two Webby awards in the process. He continues an association as an editor-at-large for the site.

Every year he joins his friend Kevin Guilfoile in the commentary booth for The Morning News Tournament of Books, an annual March Madness tournament to find the “best” work of fiction in a given year.

A native of Chicago, Warner lives with his veterinarian wife Kathy in the Charleston, SC area. He is a faculty affiliate at the College of Charleston.

Praise for John Warner

“[Why They Can’t Write] Articulates a set of humanist values that could generate rich new classroom practices and, one hopes, encourage teachers, parents, and policymakers to rethink the whole idea of school and why it matters to a society. Warner is pragmatic, not programmatic, and hopeful without being naïve . . . I hope teachers, parents, and administrators across the United States read his trenchant book. We are the reformers we have been waiting for.”

—Ryan Boyd, LA Review of Books

“John Warner’s Why They Can’t Write offers us a plethora of insights into what has derailed education and provides invaluable suggestions for how we can set it back on track again. Where to start? Get rid of the five-paragraph essay and any other formulaic approaches that train students to be bland, passionless writers and thinkers who score points on college entrance exams through pretention, not clarity. Plethora? Why They Can’t Write is common sense, which is to say it is revolutionary. Read it!”

—Cathy N. Davidson (Author of The New Education: How to Revolutionize the University to Prepare Students for a World in Flux

“John Warner invites you to rethink everything you have learned about education, and writing in particular. Accept that invitation. Anyone who teaches writing will finish this book―written in the author’s characteristically personable prose―with the foundations for a new approach to education, along with plenty of concrete ideas for engaging new writing assignments for their students.”

—James Lang (Author of Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning.

“Unique and thorough, [The Writer’s Practice] could turn any determined reader into a regular Malcolm Gladwell.”

Booklist

“Warner generously offers useful hints for improving nonfiction writing. . . . Warner’s style reads like informal, intelligent conversation founded on a genuine desire to share what he knows, and his helpful book will serve as a trusty companion to writers on their own or in class.”

Publishers Weekly

“An essential guidebook in or outside the classroom for anyone who wants to think, act, and communicate as a writer.”

Library Journal 

“[With Tough Day for the Army] Warner has produced a short story collection that mashes the surreal with the heartfelt to fantastic effect… Like George Saunders and Etgar Keret, Warner plays with conventional mores, turning them on their ear. Also like those authors, Warner successfully layers his satire with rich characters and a general playfulness with form that somehow renders a deep emotional resonance.”

Publishers Weekly (starred review)