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The Books That Shaped Me As a Writer

January 12, 2010

• Flaming Iguanas by Erika Lopez

From the second I peeled open the cover I knew I was home. This book was everything I needed to hear at a time when I badly needed to hear it. I was floundering in a fiction workshop where my brand of writing wasn’t appreciated nor understood. I was talking Janowitz and they were thinking Morrison. I needed to read someone who understood and articulated the truths as I experienced them and Lopez most certainly did that. In my undergraduate thesis I wrote bitterly about feeling forced to create fiction which reflected a dominant societal narrative of black females, which didn’t speak to my experiences at all. Struggling to craft fiction that didn’t have to explain Jherri curls or apologize for them – though I certainly feel contrite about my own tween scary curl – felt so dangerous and discouraging. This book freed me.

• Rat Bohemia by Sarah Schulman

This was novel that cemented my desire to study with Sarah Schulman. I wanted my prose to be as flawlessly crafted as hers. I studied every word of Rat Bohemia and deconstructed the craft techniques and applied them to my own work. More than anything else, this book taught me VOICE. It taught me how to own my prose and my voice (though Sarah would loathe seeing “voice” used twice in one passage). When I got the opportunity to work with Sarah it was one of the single most exciting times of my life (despite being horribly depressed and generally unmotivated to write anything) and I worked so hard.

• Another Country by James Baldwin

Another Country found me during yet another period of creative self doubt and writing disillusionment. I read it over the course of two days; barely eating or sleeping. Baldwin’s work always challenges me to tell my truths even if they scare or annoy me.

• Timequake by Kurt Vonnegut

Humor is my thing. When I first started sharing my work I wrote what I thought were hard hitting, earnest truths about my largely Huxtable life only to have these serious literary masterpieces met with howls of laughter. I was terribly offended by this reaction as I figured humor wasn’t literary and I definitely felt myself to be quite the literary goddess. I’ve gotten over myself and very much appreciate how difficult it is to be funny on purpose. This book is filled with great lines and my tattered copy is marked up to hell.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. redlami permalink*
    January 12, 2010 8:47 am

    Vonnegut is one of a few authors who I find truly laugh-out-loud funny, and the one who seems to hold up best over time.

  2. January 13, 2010 2:23 am

    Dag, Snarky, you make me feel like a piker. I’m over here feeling all predictable with Edith Wharton. I need to branch out.

  3. January 13, 2010 9:59 am

    minervakoenig: I love Edith Wharton!!! And honestly, I read a lot. We’re talking 10 to 12 books a week, sometimes more. So I’m constantly on the hunt for edgy prose with interested stylistic choices and I’ll read just about anything.

  4. lucy permalink
    September 1, 2010 10:14 am


    When I grow up, I want to be you. I find your posts about writing really helpful. Thanks!

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