Art Works Blog

Three Books That Changed My Life

We asked NEA Literature Fellow Tayari Jones—whose novel Silver Sparrow is now part of the Big Read library--to share with us 3 Books that Changed Her Life. Here’s what Tayari had to say:

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison: I was moved by Morrison's slim novel about a little girl whom the world has labeled "ugly" and is at the mercy of everyone around her. Learning how living in a crazy vicious environment can make you crazy and vicious helped me understand society's cruelty, but it also served as a cautionary tale. Be kind. Be brave. Don't believe the lies of the world.

Never Let Me Go by Kasuro Ishiguro: I just read this book last year, but not a day has gone by that I haven't thought about it. Ishiguro's characters live in a dystopia that looks a lot like the real world. The characters who are so human that they haunted my dreams, yet throughout the novel they struggle to have their humanity recognized. When I finished reading this, I stumbled around for nearly a week asking myself, what does it mean to be a person? Not since Frankenstein has any novelist pondered such a fundamental question with such insight and compassion.

Mad at Myles by Pearl Cleage: When I was about 18 years old, I met a writer. She was my teacher, Pearl Cleage. This was before she became an acclaimed playwright and novelist. In those days, she handed me a slim book, Mad at Myles, that she had published herself. I read it and I have never been the same. Part memoir, part fiction, and with a little poetry thrown in--Mad at Myles was a survivor's guide to being black and a woman simultaneously. She took the feminist ideas from women’s studies classes and set them free in my everyday life. It was an encounter group on the page. 

Hear more from Tayari Jones and read an excerpt from Silver Sparrow in the NEA Writer’s Corner

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