Tuesday, May 25, 2010

My hundred most influential writers (developing the list).

I'm trying very hard to make an honest list of the hundred writers who have most influenced me. And that's just generally influenced me, not influenced me as a writer--though that's one way I've been influenced, certainly.

First I brainstormed, then I looked at my bookshelves at home and at school. Then I brainstormed some more. I know there are a lot of writers who have been important to me over the years whose books aren't represented in my collection anymore: Alice Walker, for example, or E. Annie Proulx. Tom Robbins and Erica Jong. I'm trying to remember who meant so much to me. As usual, this is at least partly related to teaching. I taught middle school for four years, and now teach high school English. Right now I'm still brainstorming, but I also want to code the list with when the book was/became important to me, and to some degree, how it was important. Neil Gaiman, for instance, is primarily significant to me because I learned a lot about teaching literature from reading Coraline with my sixth graders in Brooklyn. I didn't expect my students to love the book as much as I did; I thought it would seem too foreign, but it reached them, it transcended some social differences and they connected with it and we used it to really study literature in a meaningful way, talking about symbols and analyzing the characters and the structure of the book in a way that made me proud--of myself as a teacher, but more of my students.

e early literacy
es elementary school
ms middle school
hs high school
c college
20 20’s
s Syracuse
30 30’s
t teaching

Early literacy is when most of the picture book authors became important to me, but this is a blurred category for me. I'm not sure it's separate from elementary school. Rather, I think there's mostly overlap. Erica Jong is tagged hs, because I didn't really read her after that. Beckett is hs and c, and maybe also ms. Some of these I can't remember exactly. But I'm having fun with it, and chronology is interesting to think about.

So, I have 130 so far, and I've already eliminated some (like I love Ishiguro but honestly, the anonymous author of Go Ask Alice was more influential, and even she might not make the top 100). I think there are also a few big gaps. The last six I thought to add to my list were Robert McCloskey, Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright, E. Annie Proulx, Frances Hodgson Burnett, and Lois Duncan. This suggests that other gaps must exist as well. I've only included three zine writers, and I think I might just leave it at that. I'm not sure any of them will make the top 100--probably just Cindy Crabb who writes Doris, which has been important to me since high school. There aren't many poets--Shel Silverstein, Lucille Clifton (though more for her memoir work), Anne Carson (more for her translations), Dylan Thomas (mostly for Under Milkwood), Yusef Komunyakaa... and there are maybe too many playwrights (including Sophocles, Euripedes, and Aristophanes--but you can't just say "the ancient Greeks," can you? and they were all important--I left Aeschylus out because I didn't care about him so much, but the others were all important in their own ways: Electra and Electra and Medea and Lysistrata...).

At some point, I'll have to figure out how to distinguish between important author and important book. I only ever read Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink, and Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, but I've read both those books multiple times (I've read Catch-22 at least five or six times since high school, maybe more, and I've probably read Caddie Woodlawn upwards of twenty times, since it was one of the [relatively] few books I owned as a kid, and didn't just get from the library), and they've certainly influenced me and my worldview in multiple ways. Same with Anne Frank.


Now I'm looking at lists of award-winners. First, the Newberys. Then the Caldecotts. Next, the Nobel Prize list, then National Book Award winners. Which does reflect my evolution as a reader, honestly. And to some degree, what's important. I'm mostly checking the NBA lists for gaps in my own list (also, the NBA website is so stupidly organized--Newberys and Caldecotts, you can skim, but NBA, you have to click on every single year?!).


JospehCra威廷 said...
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ccp said...

Great project. I'm looking forward to seeing your list. I just finished Lucille Clifton's Generations: A Memoir, and was blown away. The volume I read is a combination of the memoir and her poems from 1969-1980 titled Good Woman. It's the first of her work I've read. I'm not a huge poetry reader, but enjoyed a number of the poems. Have you read any of her children's books? xo, celia

Elissa said...

Hey Celia--I've read a bunch of her children's books, but she's on my list because of Generations. The memoir blew me away as well. I want to look up the reviews it got--it seems like it should be a widely-taught classic, but it isn't, and I'm curious why.