“The Color Purple” confirmed that it is all right to tell the truth about your life. This novel gave me the courage to say, “I am a little black girl from North Carolina. My grandmother could not read or write, but I can do it for her.”
— Shelia P. Moses
“The Autobiography of Malcom X” really changed my attitude toward reading for pleasure, something I can’t say I had ever done until I read this book in high school. After finishing it, I was hungry for another joyful reading experience. “Where the Wild Things Are,” by Maurice Sendak has had the greatest influence over my picture book work. It is a visual storytelling masterpiece.
— Kadir Nelson
In recent years, it has been Toni Morrison’s “Beloved.” As I was writing my book “Black Gotham,” “Beloved” greatly influenced my thoughts about the African American historical past, how much of it has been lost to us, and how family memories can help us to retrieve it.
— Carla L. Peterson
Pablo Neruda’s “Odes to Common Things” convinced me early on to explore, as a writer and a songwriter, the utterly ordinary and tease out the beauty therein. Picked it up used at a bookstore in Louisville when I was 19.
— John McCutcheon
“The Once and Future King,” which begins with “The Sword and the Stone” and continues to the imminent death of King Arthur, perhaps was most influential. It showed me that books for adults could be serious, comic, moral, epic, gripping, all at once, without having to give up the things that made children’s books so wonderful: a sense of play, of magic, of the numinous, of consequence.
— Gregory Maguire
Ntozake Shange’s “For Colored Girls . . .” opened the world of literature to me, although I’d always been a reader. I’d read books with interesting characters and literary figures, but it was in Ntozake’s work that I felt the human experience in literature.
— Rita Williams-Garcia
My mother was a living “book” of poems for me — and I grew up swimming in the ocean of poems she knew by heart: Shakespeare, Milton, Tennyson, Dickinson, Longfellow — along with “A Child’s Garden of Verses.” I remember one day in our backyard in St. Paul, Minn., when I was about 3 — my mother pushing me on our red swing and reciting “The Swing,” by Robert Louis Stevenson, as she flung me up into the air, then back. I felt as if I were swinging inside the poem itself, out on the first line, back on the second — the rhythm of the poem exactly in synch with my pendulum flight! “How do you like to go up in a swing?/ Up in the air so blue?/ Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing/ Ever a child can do!” Swinging within that poem, urged forward by my mother’s hands and voice, made me understand the “shape” of poetry or words — their inspiration and safe return to earth.