By Ezra Jack Keats
This was one of the first books I was able to read by myself. I'm from Minnesota, and I could relate to the child's adventure—wandering through a snowy town and putting a snowball in his pocket. It's the most beautiful day this particular child has ever had. What I never understood, until I started to read the story to my daughter when she was five, was how Keats celebrates the simple things in life. As adults we somehow stop appreciating small things, living in the moment. So I still love this book; it takes me home.
By Toni Morrison
Oprah introduced me to this novel when we started filming Beloved. It was the first book I'd read that touched on the experiences of young black girls in a society that doesn't seem to embrace us. It was amazing to see how it spoke to the pain and confusion I felt—and to realize I wasn't the only one. Morrison tells Pecola Breedlove's story so honestly and tragically. Thankfully, I was given a strong base by my parents, an understanding of who I was and my strength.
By Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee
This book came out around the time of our tenth anniversary, and my husband and I both bought a copy. We love Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee. They're so honest about their relationship; they don't fake it like so many other books about relationships—the "you can be in love forever" ones. Their story is about not only their courtship but also their lives as actors and their civil rights struggles. They're a role model couple. They've created a lasting relationship, achieved their career goals and goals for their community. They prove it's possible for others to do the same—and not just possible but a responsibility. Davis writes:
"Be not deceived,
The Struggle is far from over,
The best of being Black is yet to be—
So said the Ones who Died to set you free."
"The best is yet to be" means, to me, "We've set it here, but take it higher."
By Stuart Wilde
I found this book a few years after I moved to Los Angeles. It's about conquering the ego—the part of yourself that's about self-gratification, the me-me-me, the thing that has you judging others and driving yourself into a place that's unhealthy. Hollywood is so governed by the ego, and I never wanted to fall into that trap. This book helps me remain humble and true to my inner self. It reminds me that I've been given a gift and the opportunity to channel it and share it.
By Asha Bandele
In 1999 Bandele published a memoir called The Prisoner's Wife, which I loved, and this is her first work of fiction. It's about a mother and a daughter and breaking the silence that divides them. After a tragic accident, the mother is catapulted into grief, and she begins to recollect her own adolescence. The book is about the powerful love between a parent and a child. My oldest daughter, who's now 14, and I are very close, and we had the same reaction; we think it's the best book we've read in a long time. Bandele loves words and the way they come together. This story is compelling and powerful and meaningful and keeps you thinking. I want her books to last, so I only let myself read a few pages at a time. I tell people that reading her work is like strolling through a forest where you just want to take your time and look at every leaf.