15 of My Favorite Black Memoirs

15 of My Favorite Black Memoirs

These books are deeply personal, beautifully written and impossible to put down.

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There’s nothing I love more than a great memoir. Whether it’s learning more about someone I deeply admire, like former First Lady Michelle Obama or being introduced to someone I barely knew, like Kiese Laymon, I love the idea of finding inspiration and hope in someone else’s personal story.

While I know this is no way an exhaustive list, these are some of my favorite memoirs by Black authors of all time. Do you have a favorite that I missed? Drop it in the comments.

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“I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou

“I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou

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“I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” is the debut memoir from celebrated author Maya Angelou. In the book, she shares stories of her childhood, from the prejudice and abandonment she felt after being sent by her mother to live with her grandmother in the South to the devastating abuse she suffered at the hands of a much older man when she returns to her mother’s home in St. Louis at eight-years-old.

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“Just As I Am” by Cicely Tyson

“Just As I Am” by Cicely Tyson

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The best way to describe “Just As I Am,” actress Cicely Tyson’s memoir, is with her own words. “Just as I Am is my truth. It is me, plain and unvarnished, with the glitter and garland set aside. In these pages, I am indeed Cicely, the actress who has been blessed to grace the stage and screen for six decades. Yet I am also the church girl who once rarely spoke a word. I am the teenager who sought solace in the verses of the old hymn for which this book is named. I am a daughter and a mother, a sister and a friend.”

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“Becoming” by Michelle Obama

“Becoming” by Michelle Obama

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“Becoming” is the debut memoir from our forever First Lady, Michelle Obama. In the book, she shares the deeply personal and inspiring story of her journey from the South Side of Chicago to becoming the first Black First Lady of the United States.

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“Born A Crime” by Trevor Noah

“Born A Crime” by Trevor Noah

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When comedian Trevor Noah was born to a white Swiss father and Black Xhosa mother, interracial relationships could land the couple in jail. Noah shares his story of growing up in hiding, and somehow manages to make it funny in his highly-anticipated debut memoir, “Born a Crime.”

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“Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body” by Roxane Gay

“Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body” by Roxane Gay

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Author Roxane Gay shares her personal story of her relationship with food and her struggles with body image in “Hunger.” In the book, Gay writes candidly about how she felt eating protected her after a traumatic experience that would change her life forever. “I ate and ate and ate in the hopes that if I made myself big, my body would be safe. I buried the girl I was because she ran into all kinds of trouble. I tried to erase every memory of her, but she is still there, somewhere. . . . I was trapped in my body, one that I barely recognized or understood, but at least I was safe.”

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“My Soul Looks Back” by Jessica B. Harris

“My Soul Looks Back” by Jessica B. Harris

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Throughout the 1970s, Jessica B. Harris spent her time hanging out in New York City with the likes of Maya Angelou, James Baldwin and Toni Morrison. And she writes all about her stunning memoir,“My Soul Looks Back.” As a former theater critic for the New York Amsterdam News and editor at Essence magazine, you can imagine, she has some amazing stories to tell.

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“Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl” by Issa Rae

“Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl” by Issa Rae

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“Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl” is the New York Times’ bestselling memoir from Insecure creator Issa Rae. In the book, the self-described introvert talks about her struggles with navigating work, relationships and friendships in the most hilarious way.

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“How We Fight For Our Lives” by Saeed Jones

“How We Fight For Our Lives” by Saeed Jones

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Saeed Jones shares his deeply personal story of growing up as a Black gay man from the South in “How We Fight For Our Lives.” He explores his relationships with friends, family and lovers using language only an award-winning poet can. As NPR’s Fresh Air put it, “Jones’ voice and sensibility are so distinct that he turns one of the oldest literary genres inside out and upside down.”

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“Soul on Ice” by Eldridge Cleaver

“Soul on Ice” by Eldridge Cleaver

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Eldridge Cleaver wrote his memoir, “Soul on Ice” in 1965 while he was an inmate in Folsom State Prison. And it had folks clutching their pearls when it was released in 1969. Cleaver, who would eventually join the Black Panther Party, does not hold back in his raw exploration of race and the Black experience in America.

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“Heavy: An American Memoir” by Kiese Laymon

“Heavy: An American Memoir” by Kiese Laymon

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The New York Times called “Heavy: An American Memoir” a best book of 2018. In the book, Laymon writes about his experience growing up as an only child to a single mom. He is candid about his struggles with body image and his complicated relationship with his mother.

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“The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South” by Michael W. Twitty

“The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South” by Michael W. Twitty

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Michael W. Twitty is a culinary historian. And in “The Cooking Gene,” he breaks down his own ancestry, both Black and white, through the lens of food and its importance to our culture.

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“All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George M. Johnson

“All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George M. Johnson

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“All Boys Aren’t Blue,” is the New York Times bestselling memoir by George M. Johnson. Through a series of essays, he shares all of the joy and pain he experienced growing up as a Black queer boy. You’ll go on an emotional roller coaster as you read painful stories of bullying as well as heartwarming stories of the love he shared with his grandmother.

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“Thick: And Other Essays” by Tressie McMillan Cottom

“Thick: And Other Essays” by Tressie McMillan Cottom

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Writer and professor Tressie McMillan Cottom does not hold back in “Thick and Other Essays.” She puts American on blast as she explores our culture’s often unhealthy obsession with image and capitalism.

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“Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood” by bell hooks

“Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood” by bell hooks

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“Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood” is a beautifully written memoir by bell hooks. She uses the pages to share her memories of growing up Black and poor in the South during the 1950s and how her love affair with books helped her get through some of the most difficult times in her life.

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“Notes of a Native Son” by James Baldwin

“Notes of a Native Son” by James Baldwin

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I couldn’t make a list of my favorite memoirs without including James Baldwin’s “Notes of a Native Son.” This book is a collection of essays that were published in well-known outlets, including Harper’s magazine. I love the way Baldwin critically explores the subject of race in both America and Europe and his complicated relationship with his father, who struggled with mental health issues.

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