Julie Perkins, a writer friend of mine, recently challenged me to list on Facebook ten books that influenced me. I decided that, since she only asked for ten, I couldn’t list all of Toni Morrison’s novels (that was my first inclination). But here is my list:
1. The Bible by God
2. A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle
3. Beloved by Toni Morrison
4. The Godfather by Mario Puzo
5. The Ways of White Folks by Langston Hughes
6. The Weary Blues by Langston Hughes
7. Jazz by Toni Morrison
8. Marvin K. Mooney, Will You Please Go Home! by Dr. Seuss
9. The Levee by Julie Perkins
10. The Alluring Temptress: Stories from Africa by Ron Trigg
My friend was shocked that I included her unpublished novel about a prostitute in early 20th century Chicago as my #9. I felt so privileged when she allowed me to read the completed manuscript. I included it because, by the time I read it, I hadn’t finished my own first manuscript and didn’t think I ever would. I wasn’t even writing short stories, blogging, tweeting or anything at that time. The thought of creating 80K+ words that someone other than myself would find interesting seemed as plausible as me becoming an astronaut. But Julie had actually finished a novel– a whole novel! That was the motivation I needed to be about the business of finishing mine.
And then there’s my #10, another writer friend of mine. I was excited when Ron decided to release his African memoir into the world– and self-publish it, at that! I admire the resolve and dedication it took for him to decide, “This is it. I’m gonna do it.” What’s great is that this is a someone I know, someone whose brain I can pick on a regular basis. Someone whose writing and publishing process I can actively study in real time because we’re members of the same critique group.
My friends’ works wound up on my list because, as a new writer, I wanted to celebrate the achievements of my fellow writers, not feel bummed because they did it before I did. Steve Almond’s article, “The Problem of Entitlement” in the Sept/Oct 2014 issue of Poets and Writers, sums up my sentiment nicely:
“You don’t grow as a writer by writing off other people’s efforts. You grow as a writer by respecting the process.”