Today, I’d like to share my list of influential authors that have affected my writing style and imagination in some way. It was a long list, but I managed to narrow it down to the top ten.
1. Virginia Hamilton – The first book I recall reading outside of a class assignment was Plain City, a coming-of-age novel about twelve-year-old Buhlaire Sims who is ready for answers about herself and her family. The character struggled with her light complexion, relationships with family members and peers, and feelings of being an outsider in her community; some of these issues mirrored a few of my own growing up a proper-speaking girl in a rural area. Eventually, I heard about (but never read) Hamilton’s A White Romance, a story about Talley, a black girl, who befriends a white girl at her inner-city magnet school and becomes romantically involved with a white drug dealer. I was immediately drawn to Hamilton’s modern writing about adolescence, self-identity, love, addiction, and sex, which clearly targeted African-American youth.
2. C. S. Lewis — My brother’s copy of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe made me fall in love with high fantasy. Although it was the only book in The Chronicles of Narnia series that I successfully read (I made an attempt at Prince Caspian), I’ll never forget discovering the magic, adventure, mythology, and strong Christian parallels of this wonderful classic.
3. Mark Twain — The southern mastermind behind Adventures of Huckleberry Finn who once said “You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus,” knew the meaning of satire. Reading Twain’s short works in school, I thoroughly enjoyed his rendition of life in the South, humorous verse, and strong narrative.
4. Nathaniel Hawthorne — I’m not a big fan of 19th century Romantic literature, but The Scarlett Letter turned my attitude from dislike to slightly intrigued. An after school review session helped me understand underlining themes and, eventually, I grew to love this classic about a young woman found guilty of adultery and forced to wear a scarlet “A” on her dress.
5. Jacques Roumain — I was first introduced to this Haitian writer the summer of my senior year in college by my Caribbean and African history professor, Dr. Bernard Moitt. Masters of the Dew forever changed how I viewed Caribbean life and I embraced it with delight. There was something hypnotically beautiful and profound about how Roumain expressed the frustration and rage of the oppressed island people. The novel moved me in such a way that I bought it twice!
6. Darynda Jones — Two years ago, I was skimming through my MSN Wonderwall feed and came across a PR promotion for First Grave on the Right, a witty and sassy adventure about a PI who can see and communicate with dead people. Since then, Jones has captivated me with all things life, death, and sex.
7. Alice Walker/Toni Morrison — Both ladies are Pulitzer Prize winners, African-American, and my literary idols. After seeing the movie, at age 15, I attempted to read The Color Purple, but due to its explicit nature, I didn’t finish. However, I appreciated the soul of Walker’s best-known work. Morrison is famous for Beloved and Song of Solomon, and won a Nobel Prize in literature to boot. Her novel Love is on my reading wish list. Be sure to check out the PBS profile on Ms. Walker.
8. Alexandre Dumas — If you’ve heard of The Three Musketeers or The Count of Monte Cristo then you should know the French brains behind them. While I’ve never hunkered down and read any of his work, I’m thankful for the hundreds of films that were adapted from his repertoire. And also, Dumas was black, which is a plus in my book.
9. William Shakespeare — playwright of Romeo & Juliet, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello…need I say more?
10. Nikki Giovanni — Although more widely renowned for her poetry, Ms. Giovanni is one of my all-time favorite writers who has encouraged me to hone my poetry craft. I became a fan after listening to her recite poems and proclaim a reverence for rapper Tupac Shakur—proudly displaying her “Thug Life” tattooed forearm at a VCU forum. For me, she’s a living, strong voice of the Black community and a reminder that the power of one can make a difference in the lives of others. Specifically, her book Love Poems is my personal favorite.
There you have it folks! The list of authors who inspire(d) me to be the wordsmith that I am today.
Follow Anita on Twitter: @Emranija