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7 Inspiring Must-Read Memoirs Written by Black Women

Sep 23, 2021 09:00AM ● By Boitumelo Masihleho
collage of Black women memoir covers

September is National Literacy Month, a time to encourage people to go to the library or a bookstore, pick up a good book, and explore new worlds. International Literacy Day is observed on September 8th around the world to remind the public of the importance of literacy as a matter of dignity and human rights, and to advance the literacy agenda towards a more literate and sustainable society. 

Historically, it was challenging for women to become published authors; this was especially true for African-American women facing the dual struggle of race and gender bias.

Fortunately, there are more women of all backgrounds writing today. We have rounded up some inspiring and extraordinary memoirs written by Black female authors from different backgrounds.

I'll Never Write My Memoirs by Grace Jones 

Legendary influential performer Grace Jones offers a revealing account of her spectacular career and turbulent life, charting the development of a persona that has made her one of the world’s most recognizable artists. I’ll Never Write My Memoirs takes readers on a journey from Jones’s strict, religious childhood in Jamaica to her exciting years in Paris and New York and gives an exclusive look into the transformation to her signature look that we know and love her for today.


Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward

Jesmyn Ward is an American novelist and an associate professor of English at Tulane University. She won the 2011 National Book Award for Fiction for her second novel Salvage the Bones and won the 2017 National Book Award for Fiction for her novel Sing, Unburied, Sing. Her memoir Men We Reaped tells the story of how she dealt with unimaginable tragedy during her rural Mississippi upbringing. In five years, Ward lost five men near and dear to her, including her brother, because of drug addiction, suicide, accidents, and the misfortune that comes with growing up Black and poor. This book is an exploration of Ward’s personal loss and the disposition of Black men in a society that fosters drug addiction and the structural racism that keeps communities on the fringes of society.


The World According to Fannie Davis: My Mother's Life in the Detroit Numbers by Bridgett M. Davis

Bridgett M. Davis is a novelist, essayist, teacher, filmmaker, memoirist, and curator. Her memoir is an unforgettable coming-of-age story in a family with a secret. The secret is that Davis’ mother, Fannie, is running a Numbers racket out of her meek apartment in one of Detroit’s worst sections in the 1960 and 70s. This book is an celebration of Detroit in its heyday and an inside look at how The Numbers powered African-American communities that is moving, suspenseful, and emotionally rewarding. The World According To Fannie Davis: My Mother’s Life in the Detroit Numbers is a New York Times Editors’ Choice, and was named a Best Book of 2019 by Kirkus Reviews and Real Simple magazine. 


Negroland: A Memoir by Margo Jefferson

The winner of a Pulitzer Prize for criticism, Margo Jefferson previously served as book and arts critic for Newsweek and the New York Times. Her memoir, Negroland, received the National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography. This memoir explores the upper-class Black Chicago of her childhood in this evocative memoir from 2016. Born in 1947 to a prominent local pediatrician and his elegant socialite wife, Jefferson defines the term ‘Negroland’ not as an exact space but as a societal position and state of mind that many upper-crust families held for generations. Throughout, Jefferson links her family’s story to American history, and how economic class and education can never erase racism in the United States.


Becoming by Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America, the first African American to serve in that role, she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world. This memoir takes readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her, from her childhood on the South side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations and features thought-provoking questions and prompts to help you discover, and rediscover, your story.


My Love Story by Tina Turner

The long-reigning queen of rock & roll and living legend Tina Turner sets the record straight about her illustrious career and complicated personal life in this eye-opening and compelling memoir. My Love Story examines her darkest hours to her greatest triumphs. It is the story of a woman who dared to break through any barriers she encountered and showcases Turner’s strength, energy, heart, and soul. She also bravely writes about her eldest son Craig, who committed suicide at age 59 in July. At the time, Turner was attending Haute Couture Paris Fashion Week and celebrating her fifth wedding anniversary to Erwin Bach.


The Street by Ann Petry

Ann Petry was an American writer of novels, short stories, children's books, and journalism. Her 1946 debut novel The Street became the first novel by an African-American woman to sell more than a million copies. The Street is set in World War II-era Harlem, and it centers on the life of Lutie Johnson. Petry's novel is a commentary on the social injustices that confronted her character as a single Black mother in this time period. Petry was raised in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, and grew up as part of a middle-class Black family. Her father, a pharmacist, and her mother, a podiatrist, provided a relatively sheltered life for Ann and her siblings. She didn’t personally experience as much of the pervasive racism that permeated American life, but she was certainly aware of it, as exemplified in the story of The Street.



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 Boitumelo Masihleho is a South African digital content creator. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Rhodes University in Journalism and Media Studies and Politics and International Studies. She's an experienced multimedia journalist who is committed to writing balanced, informative and interesting stories on a number of topics. Boitumelo has her own YouTube channel where she shares her love for affordable beauty and lifestyle content. 

Read more from Boitumelo Masihleho:

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