'12 Tribes of Hattie' Scribe Talks Oprah

First-time novelist Ayana Mathis tells us what it's like to be selected for Winfrey's book club and more.

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TR: Are you concerned about finding common ground, and connecting with audiences not so familiar with black history?

AM: I always write from character. When I started this book, I wasn't like, I'm going to write a book about the Great Migration. I was like, I'm going to write a story about these people ... Good fiction is grounded in the specificity of details of that particular short story or novel, but there is a universality. That's why we can all read Tolstoy and Dostoevsky and ... Dickens. It's accessible because it's about humans.

TR: I read that you started out writing poetry. How has that helped your fiction writing?

AM: Poetry is all about ear. Some people would disagree, like some "page poets." But it's so much about ear and language. [The] biggest [thing] I learned from poetry is sound. Prose, in a different way, has a rhythm. I tend to read sentences and paragraphs out loud so that I can hear them, and that's how I hear often when something is wrong with the sentence.

You don't have time in poetry to be messing around, using wrong words ... The awesome power of poetry is how it uses language in deeply powerful and succinct ways. You learn power, economy and efficiency.

Brett Johnson is The Root's associate editor.

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Ayana Mathis' 8 Favorite Books

From Rita Dove's poetry to James Baldwin's essays, this author picks the titles that most inspire her.