In a 2014 Buzzfeed essay on the books that shaped her voice, author Roxane Gay offered an ode to the magic escapism of the written word:

“I was a shy girl, but when I read, I was adventurous. Books made me bolder. I read stories, the titles of which I can no longer remember, about young girls embarking on thrilling adventures on wagon trains and fending for themselves, panning for gold. The Chronicles of Narnia made me believe I could slip into a wardrobe and emerge in a completely different world. Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time helped me embrace my intelligence, showed me how I was not merely bound to this world, not at all. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory made me believe anything was possible if I allowed myself to believe.”

For a list of her top 10 books provided to NY-based bookstore One Grand, Gay included works that – like her own writing – touch on race, class, feminism and the human condition. Read on for a list of her favorites, and for a deeper look at her process, check out her Masterclass on writing for social change.

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

“This is such an elegant novel. I love how Wharton finely details the lives of the New York wealthy, their intrigues, the ways they interact, the ways they indulge and deny themselves. And at the heart of it, passionate, unrequited love, and the quieter, more reserved love borne of duty. I’ll always love this book.” -RG

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (also rec’d by Gabrielle Union)

“I don’t mind emotional excess and in addition to being so very readable, with really interesting, complex, at times infuriating characters, “A Little Life” is full of emotional excess. I so admire how Yanagihara allows the melodrama into this story, and does so unabashedly. This book is unforgettable and heart wrenching and all I could ever want in a reading experience.” -RG

Break Any Woman Down by Dana Johnson

“I first read this short story collection many years ago and it has stayed with me. I was struck by the title, and then the stories, each focused on black girls and women, the worlds of those stories fully realized and held carefully in Johnson’s very talented hands.” -RG

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Pachinko is the novel I tell anyone who will listen about. It is a multigenerational, sweeping saga of Koreans in Japan. The prose is as edifying as it is absorbing. There are no easy, convenient endings for any of these characters but my goodness, how richly Min Jin Lee renders their lives.” -RG

Big World by Mary Miller

“Mary Miller is one of my favorite short story writers and in Big World, she writes about flawed, boozy women who make bad decisions and live to tell their tales. The writing in this little collection is atmospheric and claustrophobic and illuminating and lovely. In each story, Miller shows us how the world is as big as it is small.” -RG

Tampa by Alissa Nutting

“There is a scene in Tampa where Celeste marks her territory, if you will, with her own vaginal moisture. That, in many ways, tells you everything you need to know about Tampa and Alissa Nutting’s immense talents. This novel is disturbing, uncomfortable, irreverent, and compelling. Nutting makes us complicit in Celeste’s crimes and still, she leaves room for empathy where most writers would not.” -RG

Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith

“The level of craft at work in each of the poems in “Don’t Call Us Dead” is exceptional. These are poems about black men and their imperiled, impassioned bodies, what it means to live with HIV, and so much more. There is pain here but there is so much joy, so much fierce resistance to anything that dares to temper the stories being told here.” -RG

We Are Never Meeting In Real Life by Samantha Irby

“I can’t nor do I want to unsee the essays in this collection. Irby is well known as a humorist, and the essays in “We Are Never Meeting in Real Life” are, indeed, very funny. They are also poignant, and incredibly honest. Humor makes way for vulnerability and by the end of this book you will have cried as much as you laughed about what it means to be a black woman, what it is to live with chronic illness, how poverty marks you, how love always finds a way.” -RG

Possessing The Secret Of Joy by Alice Walker

“While most people tout “The Color Purple,” and rightly so, I love, beyond measure, “Possessing the Secret of Joy,” which is a not quite sequel to “The Color Purple” about Tashi, the wife of Celie’s son Adam, and how something that happens to her body at a very young age shapes the rest of her life. This is the novel that taught me how to write fiction with political ambitions. It is searing and wondrous and painful and every time I read it, the ending wrecks me. And still, I go back for more. That’s how important this novel is.” -RG

Bad Marie by Marcy Dermansky

“Marie is very very bad which makes her very very interesting and, in fact, endearing. This slender novel is witty and sharp and sexy. It’s a wild ride from New York to Paris to Mexico as Marie tries to find herself, at any cost. Oh what ride it is.” -RG

(via One Grand Books)

Categories: Writers

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