Sandra Cisneros's House on Mango Street was one of the first texts to provoke a conscious response in me as a young writer of seventeen. I could relate to Esperanza's themes of confinement and liberation as she and other characters tried on the roles of womanhood while living in a house with windows "so small you'd think they were holding their breath." Navigating the longings and betrayals of a young life, I tried to emulate the lyrical prose and deceptive simplicity of a girl's poetic ruminations on discovering herself.
Perhaps the most influential memoir I've read is Julia Scheeres's Jesus Land, a tribute to her close relationship with her adopted brother as they dealt with racism, reform school and a religiously fanatical family. Her scenes are cinematic, rich in character and dialog. I've rarely grieved a character so. Her book is a testament to resiliency, and breaking from the shadows of silence by telling true stories.
Drawn to stories of identity and transformation, I am especially intrigued by the ways people influence their physical environment and how the land, in turn, shapes self and culture. Kim Mahood's Craft for a Dry Lake, which explores the landscape of her upbringing in relation to personal and Aboriginal history, influenced my own point of view as I journeyed through outback Australia.
I love how Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible weaves historic research of a country into the profile of a missionary madman, unfolding each chapter through the distinct voices of his wife and daughters. One of my favorite novelists is Annie Proulx, whose That Old Ace in the Hole presents ecological politics through its ruddy and rural characters, each introduced through their morphological descriptions and dialog.
In New Zealand I bought Janet Frame's three-part autobiography (equally compelling as the film adaptation of An Angel at My Table). I am still riveted by her vivid account of coming into herself as a writer in her homeland and on her first trip abroad to Spain, where she sat with her typewriter, alone and uncertain, in the alcove of a whitewashed room while the women in their black shawls whispered below.
Who are your literary (or artistic) influences? Who or what has inspired and shaped you as a writer/artist?