Ayana Mathis’ 8 Favorite Books

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

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    Beloved, by Toni Morrison

    “From language to content to the way time is manipulated to the sheer breadth and genius of it, it’s kind of impossible not to return to it. It changed dialogue about how black people were writing, black women specifically. One of things that amazes me [about Beloved] is that it’s a highly literary novel but that’s not elitist and accessible [to wide audiences].”

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    As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner

    “I’m rereading The Sound and the Fury, but As I Lay Dying is a huge, shockingly stunning book.”

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    Thomas and Beulah, by Rita Dove

    “This is amazing. Rita won the Pulitzer [for this poetry collection] in 1987. The book is about her own grandparents’ migration from Tennessee to Ohio.”

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    Magic City, by Yusef Komunyakaa

    Magic City is a towering act of astuteness and imagination. The magic city is childhood, and it’s this exploration of his upbringing in a small town in Louisiana pre-civil rights. So certainly there’s the specter of the Klan and other dreadful things, but it’s also a boy’s coming-of-age, burgeoning sexuality. It’s so mysterious and so beautiful.”

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    Rilke's Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, by Anita Barrows

    “[His poetry is] just amazing.”

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    The Children's Hospital, by Chris Adrian

    “It’s a lesser-known book I encountered recently. It marries all kinds of odd obsessions I have — theologically themed thoughts that I have. Essentially, God sends a second flood, and everyone is killed. The only survivors are in this hospital for children, which breaks off and floats like the ark. It’s a wide and profound act of imagination. Adrian did go to divinity school, and he’s also a pediatric oncologist, which is insane, and a writer … This book [includes] all of those things since many of the kids are that ill.”

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    The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty

    “I love Eudora Welty and have for a really long time. I have her collected stories, and I read her a lot randomly.”

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    The Fire Next Time, by James Baldwin

    “James Baldwin’s essays [are great]. Particularly the work in The Fire Next Time, and particularly Down at the Cross, which is a staggering feat of essay-ness.”