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Shonda Rhimes, the creative force behind TV hits Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder, and bestselling author of 2015’s Year of Yes, is beloved for the depth and honesty of her stories. Indeed, it’s stories – ranging from Stephen King thrillers to Maya Angelou’s powerful poetry – that most inspire her writing, as well as her life.
A few years ago, Rhimes reflected on her life in literature for Redbook Magazine, touching on the reads that defined her childhood, coming-of-age and raved storytelling style. Read on for the full list, and for Rhimes’ personal writing tips, check out her MasterClass on writing for television.
“I read Little Women every time I break up with a guy. I’ve been turning to Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy for heartbreak solace since I was 13 and found out the guy I liked was interested in someone else. I’d go home and cry to my sisters, and then I’d read Louisa May Alcott. There’s some profound comfort in that book for me – Jo becomes a writer and finds her heart in a most unexpected place. Above all, we learn what Jo has always known: No matter who the guy is or how great he is, no one loves you like your sisters.” -SR
“It’s one of the first poems I memorized for recitation, and when said aloud it’s especially powerful. The dichotomy of the carefree joy and the seething rage rubbing against one another stanza by stanza always felt — and continues to feel — like the perfect maddening definition of the human experience.” -SR
Columbine by Dave Cullen
“Columbine convinced me to tell a hard story. I wanted to end the sixth season of Grey’s Anatomy with a hospital shooting, but I was worried about the portrayal of violence and how to convey the deeper message to the audience. Then I came across this book by Dave Cullen. Reading it broke my heart open. It’s not about a shooting as much as it’s about what happens to people who survive this kind of tragedy. It’s written with a raw honesty that helped me glimpse the emotional toll this kind of event can have. Anyone concerned about gun violence in schools should consider it required reading.” -SR
The Stand by Stephen King
“Stephen King taught me how to suck people in. As a child, I spent about 85 percent of my time with my nose buried in a book. I remember spending most nights huddled under the covers with my flashlight, reading Stephen King novels and short stories. When I was 9, each night I would read as many pages of The Stand as I could until Stephen King had scared me too much. Then I’d lock it inside my closet so the characters couldn’t get me. Honestly, I feel like I learned some of the best storytelling rules from his books.” -SR
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
“To Kill a Mockingbird just gets better with age. I’ve read Harper Lee’s masterpiece over and over again. It’s a great read at age 11 and 23 and 35. Recently, at 42, I took it on vacation to read again. Age changes the book, like a painting that changes when you look at it from different angles. I used to spend all my time thinking of Scout. Now I spend most of my time focused on Atticus and Tom and Boo Radley. It’s timeless and perfect; I can’t wait to share a copy with my daughters. Especially with my daughter named Harper.” -SR
The Kid by Dan Savage
“The Kid saved my sanity while I waited for my kid. I’m 32, I’ve had a home visit, I’ve filled out the paperwork, and now I’m waiting and waiting to be picked by a birth mother to adopt her baby. Through it all, I keep on my person a tattered copy of this Dan Savage book. How the story of a white gay couple adopting a baby boy feels like exactly the same journey as a single black woman adopting a baby girl is its magic.” -SR
(via Redbook Magazine)
Books by Shonda Rhimes
Year of Yes (2015)