So many books have altered my life in significant ways. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye was a life raft bobbing on the choppy waters of my adolescence. In college, The Great Gatsby changed me from an art to an English major. Twenty-eight or 29 coverless, spine-split paperback copies of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird became the rickety bridge between me and my very first class of turned-off, damned-if-they'd-read high school students. (I was 21 at the time; so were a few of my students!)
One summer I had the enormous good fortune to read, one right after another, Mary Gordon's Final Payments, Alice Walker's The Color Purple, and Carolyn M.Rodgers' rousing poetry collection, How I Got Ovah. The collective effect was galvanizing; like literary Supremes, these three writers jointly sang me an invitation to try to write, too. And soon after I'd started, John Updike's breathtaking story Packed Dirt, Churchgoing, a Dying Cat, a Traded Car (from his Pigeon Feathers collection) suggested to me that making stories could somehow make me a better person—that we are all, in a sense, works in progress. Each of the works I've mentioned is a first-person testament. For me it's all about voice: two souls — character and reader, speaker and listener — lost together in some spooky woods and trying to find their way out."