Editor's Note: To accompany the review of "The Norton Anthology of African American Literature," the Book Review asked a number of distinguished black Americans to name the works by African Americans that most moved or influenced them.
When I was growing up, books were my friends. When I didn't have friends, I had books. And one of the greatest pleasures I have right now in life is to be reading a really good book, and to know that I have a good book after that book to read. So I love books. I think that books open windows to the world for all of us. Reading Maya Angelou's "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" was the first time I encountered a book about a person who looked like, sounded like and felt like myself. It was transforming to know that the life I was leading and could relate to so well was considered important enough to be written about. James Weldon Johnson's "God's Trombone," seven sermons beginning with the Creation and ending with Judgment Day: I learned every word of each sermon when I was 14 and spoke Sunday after Sunday in every black church in Nashville reciting them for years. I had a mini speaking career derived from those sermons. It's how and why I became so comfortable speaking in front of audiences.