Rebecca Walker is a founder of the Third Wave Foundation and the author of Black, White and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self (Riverhead, $14).
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (Perrenial Classics, $14). Zora Neale Hurstons acclaimed novel is a celebration of a black womans life lived fully and without regret. Protagonist Janie Crawford unfurls the story of her love and loss in the swamps of South Florida the way she might unfurl her long, beautiful hair: with great dignity and a sensual, tantalizing flourish.
Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy (Penguin USA, $8). One of the most wrenching, tragic, and sublime literary works of all time, this classic tale of a young man whose dreams and aspirations are constantly thwarted by poverty and other circumstances beyond his control humbles us before the tribulations of life.
Giovannis Room by James Baldwin (Delta, $13). Baldwins deceptively simple novel about two men who fall in love amid the grit and glamour of the gay bar scene in Paris ends badly but not without first setting a new standard for doomed literary love. A devastating look at the cowardice and stigma that can keep people apart.
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner (Knopf, $13). One of the first truly modern novels of our time, the Bundren familys heroic and pathetic attempt to bury their mother and wife, Addie, is told in stream-of-consciousness and from the perspective of 15 different characters. A hilarious, harrowing, and psychologically complex portrait of grief and the American South.
Zen Mind, Beginners Mind by Shunyru Suzuki (Weatherhill, $10). Piercing, breathtaking, and ultimately evolutionary teachings from Suzuki Roshi, the beloved Japanese Zen master instrumental in bringing Zen Buddhism to the West. The true purpose is to see things as they are, to observe things as they are, and to let everything go as it goes. This is to put everything under control in its widest sense. Need I say more?
The Captains Verses by Pablo Neruda (New Directions, $10); Things That I Do In The Dark by June Jordan (out of print); Voice of Longing by Jalal al-Din Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks (out of print); and The Wellspring by Sharon Olds (Knopf, $15). I know Im cheating here, but I couldnt choose between these four absolutely essential collections of verse. If I were stranded on an island, these evocative poems of love, politics, God, and the life cycle itself would be my literary companions of choice.