Tupac, The Avid Reader (And His Reading List)

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Tupac Shakur's biggest influence was Shakespeare. When attending the Baltimore School for the Arts he said: "I love Shakespeare. He wrote some of the rawest stories, man. I mean look at Romeo and Juliet. That's some serious ghetto shit. You got this guy Romeo from the Bloods who falls for Juliet, a female from the Crips, and everybody in both gangs are against them. So they have to sneak out and they end up dead for nothing. Real tragic stuff."

Tupac still is one of the most influential and controversial rappers. But, what’s seldom talked about is the fact that Tupac was an avid reader. Despite his street thug persona, he was an extremely intelligent and well-read man who was known to possess an extraordinary library and who frequently talked about his love for literature in interviews and documentaries.

I studied Journalism and during my final stretch of college, I had to pick a specialization. Whereas the college professors strongly advised us not to - “there are no jobs for writers out there and at this day and age, with this economy, you might as well just starve to death instead of pursuing a career in writing,” - I choose a minor called Creative Writing, where I was taught the tricks of the trade.

One class called Storytelling was taught by a middle-aged American man who wore glasses like Woody Allen and spoke with a monotone voice and a thick American accent. Hence this monotonous way of speaking, I have no recollection of the things he tried to teach us. Sadly, I can’t recall what I did do instead of listening either. What I do remember though, is how he introduced the topic of poetry by handing out lyrics written by Tupac. “Now, what we're going to do here is analyze poetry written by the dear departed young man called Tupac.”

And so we did. The following hour or so we went over the rapper’s songs Keep Ya Head Up and Starin' Through My Rear View. We were taught that Tupac got into rap by writing poetry. That he wrote his first poem while being in Junior High and how he, at one point, changed his poems into raps. He even described rap as storytelling and poetry, when asked what rap meant to the artist. At the end of class the teacher concluded: “If you want to know how to write poetry while telling a story at the same time, I urge you to stop reading Walt Whitman and E.E. Cummings. Listen to Tupac Shakur instead, you’ll learn more from that.”

I’ve been a fan of the artist (and may have developed a teeny-tiny crush on him) ever since. I know all the words to his songs. Read every article ever written about him. I’ve posted multiple pictures of the rapper on my Instagram. Have seen all Youtube clips and documentaries about him. Got his birthday written down in my Google Calendar for six years straight. And I now have compiled a list of books read by the rapper.* For you! To read! E N J O Y!

*These are the books Tupac read during his lifetime including while he was at the Baltimore School of Arts and in prison. These are the books Tupac talked about in interviews and his close friends remembered him reading.