A mixed-race child of an immigrant, Iain Haley Pollock began reading books his father read as a child, a tradition he carries on with his own kids. Two of the most influential books have been poetry collections, where he was able to discover multiple poets at once. Never underestimate the anthology! His conversation with the host, Gail Marie, ends with the story of how and why he read Malcolm X’s autobiography…as a fourth grader.
Critic, poet, and essayist Hanif Abdurraqib remembers “sneak reading” Thomas Pynchon’s novel “Gravity’s Rainbow” as a freshman in high school, but he quickly grew out of hiding his passion for books. Later in high school, he read Shakespeare, and his musically inclined hear heard the meant-to-be-spoken rhythms in his plays. But music criticism is where he felt spoken to, specifically Lester Bangs, and it this writing that continues to influence his own.
Elizabeth Cox is an award-winning author of several collections of poetry, short stories, and four novels. Her most recent is called “A Question of Mercy.” Long before she won the Robert Penn Warren Award for fiction for her entire body of work, she grew up 100 yards from a library with two older brothers who became poets — Herb Barks and Coleman Barks. You can only imagine the kind of reading life she’s had! Or you can listen to her story right now.
Her greatest reading achievement? Being the first first-grader to read 100 books and sitting in the birthday chair even though it was not her birthday. But it was the $75 gift certificate to a West LA feminist bookstore that changed poet Lynn Melnick the most as a reader. In its stacks, she met Alice Walker, Gloria Anzaldua, Audre Lorde, Adrianne Rich, Rita Dove, and other women writers. She never looked back.