|photo: Seneca Shahara Brand
Liara Tamani is the author of the YA novel Calling My Name--a 2018 PEN America Literary Award finalist and a 2018 SCBWI Golden Kite finalist. Her sophomore novel, All the Things We Never Knew, is now available from Greenwillow Books. Tamani holds an MFA in writing from Vermont College and lives in Houston, Texas, with her daughter, boyfriend and a cat named Eazy.
On your nightstand now:
Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés. I read it many years ago, but I've kept it on my nightstand as a daily reminder to live guided by the instinctual, wild and free parts of myself. For the past few years, I haven't done a lot of reading in bed. I stash books in bathrooms and on tables around my house and read them throughout the day. Right now, I'm reading The Book of Delights by Ross Gay, On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong and Principles of Uncertainty by Maira Kalman.
Favorite book when you were a child:
Corduroy by Don Freeman felt so relatable. I'd gone to the department store plenty of times with my mother and seen something I wanted to take home. I loved the ordinariness of this story featuring characters who looked like me and my family.
Your top five authors:
Toni Morrison. Maya Angelou. James Baldwin. Zadie Smith. Gwendolyn Brooks. All these authors have shaped me with their words and wisdom.
Book you've faked reading:
Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume. Many people told me Calling My Name (my debut novel about a young girl's spiritual journey) reminded them of this book. I eventually read it; but before I did, I smiled, nodded and pretended to know what people were talking about.
Book you're an evangelist for:
Maud Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks. It's such a beautiful book, and people don't talk about it enough. Set in the 1930s and 1940s, the novel is about a young black girl growing into womanhood in Chicago. Written in vignettes, Brooks renders the details and lessons of everyday life in gorgeous, poetic fashion.
Book you've bought for the cover:
If They Come for Us by Fatimah Asghar is a beautiful book of poems. The cover is illustrated by Shyama Golden. I love Golden's artwork--her use of color and patterns, how imaginative and elegant her paintings are. I recently learned that she grew up in Houston, like me, which makes me love her even more.
Book you hid from your parents:
Sadly, I don't have one. I didn't read a lot for pleasure as a pre-teen and teen. I read a lot for school because I was obsessed with my GPA. I didn't make time to read for pleasure until I dropped out of law school (years after I moved out of my parent's house).
Book that changed your life:
White Teeth by Zadie Smith. It was the first novel I read after dropping out of law school. Reading Zadie reignited my love affair with words. Within a year, I started taking writing classes and was on my path toward becoming an author.
Favorite line from a book:
I have so many favorite lines from books. There's no one line I can point to as my favorite. In the book I am reading now, The Book of Delights by Ross Gay, I drew hearts, stars and squiggly lines around the following sentence:
On the other hand, the process of thinking that writing is, made disappearable by the delete button, makes a whole part of the experience of writing, which is the production of a good deal of florid detritus, flotsam and jetsam, all those words that mean what you have written and cannot disappear (the scratch-out its own archive), which is the weird path toward what you have come to know, which is called thinking, which is what writing is.
I love how liberated this sentence is. It captures exactly what he's thinking in the moment. How much freer writing by hand is than writing on the computer. How we have the tendency to quickly delete so many of our thoughts in pursuit of correct sentences. Gay goes on to write that he would've never allowed the run-on sentence to stand if he'd written it on his computer. I'm glad he wrote it by hand and that it lives on in his book. It was a delight to read.
Five books you'll never part with:
Cane by Jean Toomer, Maud Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks, Sold by Patricia McCormick, The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros and The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. These are all books I've read again and again and again. They are all so beautiful and special.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. It was the first book I connected with as a teenager. The first book that made me fall in love with words and writing. I would love to come to the book anew and reexperience all the ways it speaks to me.