By the Book Interview: Common

Playwrights: I love Stephen Adly Guirgis and Tarell Alvin McCraney (who co-wrote “Moonlight” based on his own play). Poets: Morgan Parker.

What book influenced you to become a musician?

“Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison. I read it in the sixth grade and it gave me the appetite to write. I loved what he was speaking up for and saying. It really impacted me as a young Black boy to want to be seen, heard and recognized, and his book made me feel seen and heard in certain ways. It made me learn that through the music and art I do I can return the favor and make people feel seen and heard as well.

What’s your favorite memoir by a musician?

“Q: The Autobiography of Quincy Jones.” Because he was born in Chicago, I connected to that, but also, just knowing what he came from, when he talked about how poor his family was and what his family went through. To know that he eventually became the person who has worked with some of the greatest artists, from Michael Jackson to Frank Sinatra to Miles Davis — it was inspirational to think about a man who came from one of the poorest places in the country and became one of the most fruitful human beings on earth.

What’s the one wellness book you’d recommend and why?

“A Return to Love” by Marianne Williamson. It’s a self-help book but that is wellness to me, spiritual wellness. I was already hearing quotes from “A Return to Love” before I read it, and the quotes were so impactful that I used them in speeches.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.”

I needed to be reminded that I had light and something to offer, and that I didn’t need to dim my light for anyone. Also, that that power should be illuminated, expressed and given to whoever needs it. It helped me on my journey to remember to love myself, to understand my light and love my light and not be afraid of it and give it to the world.

What was the most surprising response you received to your earlier memoir?

My mother told me, “Boy, I didn’t know you did all that stuff.” Stuff I did growing up, such as having girls in the house, getting into fights and just generally getting into trouble in high school.

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