American poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou once said, “Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.” She repeated this sentiment throughout her meaningful and generous life, encouraging “everybody to read everything.” And her work – chock full of cutting honesty, vulnerability and strength of spirit – has heartened and helped the millions who cherish her voice.

In the words of Alice Walker, Angelou was “a kind of General of Compassion, offering an army of words of encouragement. She was special, she was rare, she was more beautiful than perhaps even she realised, because she was, among other things, such an artist, that she could not only create worlds on paper, or in a listener’s imagination, but she also managed, over and over again in her long life, to create and recreate herself.”

Read on for a selection of recommended reading by Maya Angelou, and complement with The Books Alice Walker Championed.

The Bible (also rec’d by Carl SaganJane GoodallMartin Luther King Jr. & Neil deGrasse Tyson)

“I love the melodies in the Old Testament, how preachers highlight them when they read from the Scripture. But I was influenced forever by the New Testament. I love the Beatitudes, informing us that the meek shall inherit the earth.” -MA

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (also rec’d by Gloria SteinemJohn LennonPatti Smith & Shonda Rhimes)

“When I read Alcott, I knew that these girls she was talking about were all white. But they were nice girls and I understood them. I felt like I was almost there with them in their living room and their kitchen.” -MA

Collected Poems by Countee Cullen

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

“Early on, I was so impressed with Charles Dickens. I grew up in the South, in a little village in Arkansas, and the whites in my town were really mean, and rude. Dickens, I could tell, wouldn’t be a man who would curse me out and talk to me rudely.” -MA

Collected Poetry by Paul Laurence Dunbar 

“When you are put down by the larger society and there’s a poet who compares the color of your skin to chocolate and brown sugar, you fall for it, because you need it. Paul Laurence Dunbar — who was one of the great poets of the 19th and 20th centuries — wrote about African-Americans, and he showed me the beauty of our colors and the wonder of our music.” -MA

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (also rec’d by Alice Walker)

“When I first read Ellison’s 1952 novel, it was as if somebody turned a bright light on in a dark corridor. That which I thought was so frightening, so terrifying, was just a shadow.” -MA

Collected Poems by Langston Hughes (also rec’d by Martin Luther King Jr.)

Complete Poems by James Weldon Johnson

Collected Poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Love Works by Janice Mirikitani

Poems by Octavio Paz

Complete Tales and Poems by Edgar Allen Poe

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman (also rec’d by Bob DylanBruce Springsteen)

Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe

“I’ve read everything Thomas Wolfe ever wrote; my brother and I memorized whole chapters of You Can’t Go Home Again and Look Homeward, Angel. It’s hard to select just one of Wolfe’s books, but his story of a man who leaves his North Carolina town to seek a better life was probably the most important to me.” -MA

(via The Week & Scholastic)

Categories: Activists Writers

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