Tony Nominee Lynn Nottage Shares the Five Books That Changed Her Life

Required Reading is a series in which we invite people we love to recommend five of the books that have defined their journey as a reader. Consider it your new favorite book club.

With nominations for best play (Clyde’s) and best book of a musical (MJ) at this year’s Tony Awards, playwright Lynn Nottage is having a moment. Though the two works vary significantly, the double nod is a testament to Nottage’s commitment to excellence in storytelling; her long list of accolades also includes two Pulitzer Prizes, for the plays Ruined (in 2009) and Sweat (in 2017).

Clyde’s, starring Uzo Aduba and Ron Cephas Jones and set at a truck stop sandwich shop, is a story about creativity. “It’s about the way in which we can look at the tools that we have right in front of us and figure out how with very little, we can assemble all of those ingredients in order to build a life that perhaps needs resuscitation,” Nottage tells Vogue. MJ the Musical, on the other hand, charts Michael Jackson’s complicated relationship to superstardom, navigating its audience through the peaks and valleys of Jackson’s legacy.

Nottage can recall writing plays as early as the age of five, when she would put on a lively living room performance for her parents and their friends. “I love communal storytelling and the ways in which, as a playwright, I get to have this really robust and lovely dialogue with audiences,” she says. “It’s why I don’t write poems and why I don’t write novels. I’m an introverted extrovert, which I think is the nature of a lot of playwrights: We love that time by ourselves in which we can ruminate and think, but we also love the time in the room with [other artists] who amplify our ideas and take them in directions that we possibly wouldn’t have conceived of on our own.”

As a writer, Nottage’s relationship to literature is a constant source of inspiration; the books that have changed her life have not only informed Nottage’s career, but also validated her voice. Here, she shares five of them.

The Art of Simple Living by Shunmyo Masuno

The Art of Simple Living: 100 Daily Practices from a Japanese Zen Monk for a Lifetime of Calm and Joy

I turned to that book because I found it to be incredibly centering. It forced me to be present in my life every single day, and think about my art practice and my life practice and how I can approach everything with a sense of mindfulness and intention.

A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

Image may contain: Lorraine Hansberry, Advertisement, Poster, Human, Person, Brochure, Paper, and Flyer

A Rain in the Sun was the very first play that I read by a Black woman. It’s probably the first play I read in which I saw any resemblance of myself on the page. Lorraine was not only a writer, but also an incredible social activist. It’s beautiful, it’s timeless, and it’s a multi-generational and intersectional play. It examines how gender and race and class shape the way in which we navigate the world.

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