Dope Writers

I’m fighting sleep on the LIRR as I type this on my Blackberry. Today I logged on to Twitter (I know I said I was taking a hiatus, but focus mayne) to see two veteran writers had tweeted one of my recent posts. Meant very little to them to tweet it and mention admiration me for writing it, but it meant the world to me.

In November 2009 I started blogging without really knowing where the blog would take me. But I knew as a new unknown writer/journalist I had to have one. Its been two years of ups and downs. But in 2009 I would have never imagined that I would receive a number of emails per day from readers and aspiring writers saying I’ve inspired them, or asking me for advice on how to break into this industry. Trust, I’m still trying to figure out the answers myself. Today I realized I’ve never shared some of my favorite writers who have influenced me along the way. Admittedly, I’m apprehensive as hell to write this list out of fear that I may leave off a writer whose work I adore. But off the top, before I ever had a blog or a published article, here are the writers that make me want to throw away my pen and burn everything I’ve ever written.

Gloria Naylor

I fell in love with Ms. Naylor as an English literature major when I was 17. Dr. Rebecca Dixon, one of the smartest women I know, listed Naylor’s Linden Hills and Bailey’s Cafe on our syllabus as required reading for the semester. Linden Hills had me hooked from page one. Creating circles of hell similar to Dante’s Inferno with black elite characters dealing with a host of family issues was genius to me at 17-years-old. Her most notable work, Women of Brewster’s Place, was made into a movie featuring some of Hollywood’s budding black actors and actresses, including Oprah. Naylor’s storytelling capabilities are worth more praise than she gets.

 Flora Nwapa

Efuru is one of my favorite books, and one of the best I’ve ever read. You become Efuru as you read. I don’t know if Nwapa purposely wrote with a feminist perspective in mind when she wrote the book in 1970, but one cannot help but applaud the independent women in her novel. Nwapa must certainly be on the top of any African literature list. I love her for this one book alone.

Jill Nelson

She is the reason I went to grad school for journalism. If I had to recommend any book to young writers it would be Volunteer Slavery: My Authentic Negro Experience. What she endured working for the Washington Post as a black woman will both move and anger you. Her story is compelling and witty. It’s a page turner worth every word on all 256 pages. I’m not kidding when I say I read her book and started researching grad schools for journalism. After reading her story I thought I could be the change I want to see in media.

Joan Morgan

This should be obvious on so many levels. She’s in my freakin’ bio. Morgan’s When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost is also another reason I went to grad school to study journalism. I saw major similarities between Morgan (based on her book) and my twentysomething self. The love for hip-hop, loathe of sexism, embracing feminism, being a writer– the influence was instant. Chickenheads is a must read. And the fact that I can read it repeatedly is a testament to her writing and the necessity of this book.

dream hampton

Can I be honest with y’all for a minute? I wasn’t up on dream until mad late. My first time hearing of her was in ’09/’10. I know, I know. As a journalist who wants to cover music this is like blasphemy. When I finally learned who she was I spent hours reading her work. In addition to her mastery of the craft, dream is brilliant. She knows so much about damn near everything. Nerds rock. If I’m off Twitter her timeline is the one I will check. Her writing is poetically beautiful. She makes words sing. dream is hands down one of the best writers of her generation. Free the Girls says it all. I’ve tried to imitate her. I can’t. Never would be able to. No one can. She’s that fucking good.

Danyel Smith

Journalist. Author. Former Editor-in-Chief. Current EIC. Commentator. I can go on and on about her accomplishments. I love me some DSW. Shoutout to VIBE for archiving those 90s issues on Google books. I hit up Google books for hours and read her old articles. If there was anyone’s career I’d like to mirror my own after it would be this woman. Who do you know that can leave the game, go get an M.F.A. in Creative Writing, write two books and come back as the EIC of a legendary magazine? Exactly.

Denene Millner

If you don’t know you better ask somebody. Way before relationship gurus hit the scene there was What Brothers Think, What Sistahs Know by Denene and her hubby Nick Chiles published in 1999. My mom still has that purple book in her personal library. She is a NYT Bestselling author who has penned over 19 books. Yes, 19. Damn I’m slacking. Denene is an amazing writer and journalist. Her piece “The Attack Against Black Girl Beauty” gave me chills. Actually, I think I shed a tear. A true testament to her skills.

Percival Everett

Read Erasure. #enuffsaid

Alice Walker

The Third Life of Grange Copeland was the book that made me a believer that Walker was not all hype.

Ta-Nehisi Coates

I subscribe to The Atlantic because of this dude. Well, The Atlantic is one of my favorite magazine so that’s not completely true, but hey, it sounded good. Seriously, few people slay the way he does. His intellect is razor sharp. And not intellectual in the way that makes his work boring and difficult to understand. Reading Coates makes you go look some shit up if you’re uninformed. Every time I read him I pray that my writing can only be 1/4 as smart as his. Jesus Buddha Joseph Mary, about that unanswered prayer…


Don’t know nothing about the allegations that Shakespeare didn’t write any of his works. What I do know is that I’ve read majority of Shakespeare’s comedies. Merchant of Venice and As You Like It are at the top of my list. Here’s why I personally like Shakespeare: not only was the writing Shakespearean, he wrote storylines that were straight up some everyday life drama. No, seriously. If you could get past the language it was mostly tales of infidelity, sex, betrayal, jealousy, greed, judgmental folks, family quarrels and more. Gangsta.

Virginia Woolf

Lover’s of literature praise Woolf for A Room of One’s Own. I, however, personally dig Mrs. Dalloway, which is said to be in the top 100 best books of literature of all time. I wouldn’t say her writing inspired me per se. She’s a notable writer nonetheless. Plus, I can’t have y’all thinking my library isn’t diverse. I got some Wally Lamb, Salman Rushdie, Anita Diamant, Edith Wharton, Graham Greene and Steven Pressfield in my collection.

Linda Hobbs

Linda is so lowkey she will probably tell me to remove her name from this list. But I won’t. She’s one hell of an investigative reporter. She broke the story of the Chris Stokes molestation allegations in VIBE. I don’t care if Linda rewrote the phone book, I’d read it.

Demetria Lucas

This chick right here? I discovered her blog a couple years ago. Here was this woman living out this dream life in NYC as a writer. To top it off the transparency in her writing was totally relatable. She quickly became one of the writer’s whose blogs I checked daily. I’ve even read some of her blog posts three times. A Belle in Brooklyn didn’t disappoint. When young writers hit me up I tell them to go read Lucas’ and Aliya S. King’s blog so they understand, this writer’s life ain’t easy. But it’s well worth it.

Aliya S. King

Speaking of Aliya S. King, Aliya is just awesome all the way around. I read Platinum in one sitting. Before that I would devour her blog dedicated to helping new writers. I have read every single post on this woman’s blog. Does this sound creepy? No? Ok, good. I say it all the time, I don’t stan for celebs. I stan for great writers. What I like about Aliya is she is still very much that down to earth chick from Jersey. I emailed her as a semi-unknown writer in ’10. It took her months, but she got back to me answering my questions. When I met her in person she had that  same warm and inviting spirit. Her dedication to helping young writers is admirable. I hope to give back in the way she has.

Greg Tate

Greg breaks it down so it can forever be broken. If there’s one person who I think was born to write, it’s Greg. He has an undeniable natural gift. And this man truly makes me want to quit writing forever.

Others notable mentions: Octavia Butler, Toni Morrison, Jean Rhys, Edwidge Danticat, Chinua Achibe, Edith Wharton, Terry McMillan, Zora Neale Hurston, Nella Larsen, Walter Mosley, James Baldwin, Karen Marable Good, Akiba Solomon, Vanessa Grigoriadis, Shanel Odum, Elizabeth Mendez Berry, George Nelson, Lola Ogunnaike, Dan Charnas and kris ex.

Who are some of your favorite writers? And what books are a must read?

  • LEdwards

    This is your calling. Embrace it. Don’t you dare give up and quit. There are too many people depending on you! Do not doubt yourself and think that you made a mistake in your writings. You were built for this and will succeed. Do your thing. I am proud of you and can’t wait to see you take off! Thank you for being you!

  • Khay Renee

    You have assembled an awesome list. A lot of my favorites are on your list.  I love Morrison (Paradise is my favorite), Walker (Third Life is AMAZING), Nella Larsen, Hemingway (The Sun Also Rises), Langston Hughes short stories (The Ways of White Folk is my favorite collection).  I also love Tayari Jones, Tananarive Due, Heidi Durrow and Lori Tharps.  And your blog has become of of my faves.  I appreciate your honestly and candor.  It’s refreshing. Keep doing what you do.

  • A lot of your favorites are mine, too, which is why I’m blown away by your inclusion of me and my work on this list. I know that feeling of wanting to “throw away my pen and throw away everything I’ve ever written.” It usually happens when I read Edward P. Jones’ work (his The Known World made me, literally, burst into tears), or a poem or musing by Bassey Ikpi (who will make you hurt yourself laughing out loud and nodding your head in agreement all at the same time), or a Junot Diaz short story (Every time I read Drown, I think maybe I should go work at a toll booth or grocery store and stop all this writing business). I think Toure is an amazing writer, particularly his fiction, which is so beautiful and powerful and thoughtful and surreal I actually brought it with me onto the maternity ward when I delivered my first baby). 

    I think you’re an amazing writer, too, and I’m so very grateful that you are using the gift God gave you in such a meaningful, inspired way. There mustn’t be any pen throwing or word burning; I adore your words. Keep doing what you do.

    • Anonymous

      Thank you for this comment, Denene. I have to check out Jones and Diaz because I’m unfamiliar with their work. I love being put on to new writers. Of course I’d include you. Are you kidding? You’re amazing and I love the way you ride hard for black girls and children. Now I’ll put the matches and journal away for now. No burning. 🙂

  • Carl33x1

    OMG….Bene. This is why no one wants to make black films. Black people build this man Tyler Perry up just to tare him down…all over Kim Kardashian casting.  Some black people are so sad. It’s moments like this that I am ashamed to be called black. I don’t like any ONE black person speaking for me. Bené Viera (you) and the rest of these clowns are just jealous of Kim K because she is fine as hell….and it looks like you Bené Viera may be Jealous of Tyler Perry success too.  Bené Viera why are you so mad? He didn’t read your movie script or sign your napkin or something stupid like that. Your letter was full of hatred for Kim K and Tyler Perry. How dare you write an open letter dogging anyone. Who tha FLIP are you, to have an opinion on anything or any filmmaker. A filmmaker has the right to make the film that he or she wants to make.  And then to end your letter with Spike Lee was right? HOW low and sad was that. To put one black man against another one, defeats your whole argument. It is not even that many black successful filmmakers to begin with. You are a sad woman…very sad. Who cares if you don’t spend your punk azz dollars to see Tylers movies. I am not even a Tyler Perry fan to be honest with you, but you made me one because of your so called “OPEN LETTER”.

  • Hilarycward

    Great list of writers, many of whom are my favs too. I have to add Toni Morrison because Bluest Eye changed my life. Langston Hughes. W. Somerset Maugham. zadie smith…just to name a few…..Keep doing great work as a writer. You’re inspiring me!

  • Love this list! There are so many books I need to read. Thank you for compiling this list!

  • LR

    Gosh, there are too many to name!  You, of course.  Edward P. Jones – I am intrigued by him on so many levels.