Poet and writer Yrsa Daley-Ward is the author of Bone, a poetry collection, and The Terrible, an award-winning memoir. Her new book, The How: Notes on the Great Work of Meeting Yourself, is a guide to living that blends poetry and prose.
Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson (1992).
One of the most excellent books I've ever read about love, desire, romance, and responsibility. I read it from cover to cover the first time I visited New York. I fell fast into the novel's world immediately, and there was no going back. I didn't want it to end. I didn't want it to end so much that I started again as soon as I finished. Buy it here.
The Complete Stories by Alice Walker (1994).
I was 18 when I read this. I wished I'd found it sooner, though I suppose you find a book exactly when you need it. I'd just finished The Color Purple (whew!) and needed to read as much Walker as I could find. And then this. Alice Walker become my favorite author. The topics she covers, and how she writes (beautifully) about hard things, became my inspiration. Buy it here.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (2015).
The thing that got me is that Coates is writing to his son, and the stunning language he uses to discuss race, racism, blackness in America, and police brutality. I was in love with this book. I still am. It means the world to me. Buy it here.
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl (1961).
This could be the reason I'm a writer and poet. I couldn't get enough of this book as a child: the wild, wild story, the mix of poetry, song, tragedy, and fantasy. It showed me that a book can be whatever you want. Buy it here.
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard (1974).
The imagery! The language! I am a nature lover, and the way the world is described here takes my breath away. This gorgeous, intimate, poetic book is pause and breath, memoir and spiritual guide. Get the audiobook too. Buy it here.
Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson (1998).
When I first read this novel in verse, I was in love — with the person who gave it to me — and then, more than anything, I was in love with the text. This strange, shifting literary vortex is haunting, brilliant, warm, weird, and so, so delicious. It made a home in my soul. Buy it here.
This article was first published in the latest issue of The Week magazine. If you want to read more like it, you can try six risk-free issues of the magazine here.