Share 8 Must-Read Memoirs Written by Black Women

8 Must-Read Memoirs Written by Black Women

Tolani Osan is a Marketing Associate at Simon & Schuster.  A daughter of Nigerian immigrants, Tolani enjoys literary fiction about the tensions between cultures and classes. Her favorite book is Khaled Hosseini’s “A Thousand Splendid Suns,” which she’s made a pact with herself to revisit every three years. She also founded and runs her own blog, TolanisLifeLessons.com. You can enjoy her musings about pop culture, fashion, and literature on Twitter @TolaniHerself.  

The writers on this list—the pioneers of a modern day movement, the Queen of Rock’n’Roll, a trend-setting superstar in film, music, and fashion—exemplify Black History as evergreen, ubiquitous, and at once individual. These powerful, personal memoirs penned by eight brilliant Black women paint an all-encompassing portrait of lived experiences, personal loss, survival, wild success, and what it means to follow your dreams.


Men We Reaped
by Jesmyn Ward

Before snagging two National Book Awards (for SALVAGE THE BONES and SING, UNBURIED, SING), Jesmyn Ward 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. THE MEN WE REAPED 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. Intimate, brutal, yet beautifully articulated, THE MEN WE REAPED is a must-read.

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Men We Reaped
Jesmyn Ward

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MENTIONED IN:

8 Must-Read Memoirs Written by Black Women

By Tolani Osan | February 15, 2019

11 Essential Reads for Black History Month

By Caitlin Kleinschmidt | February 26, 2015

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Rabbit
by Patricia Williams and Jeannine Amber

Comedian Patricia Williams goes by many names—legally she’s Patricia Williams, on stage she’s Ms. Pat, and some call her “Rabbit.” In her self-titled memoir, RABBIT, Williams chronicles her coming-of-age in crack-infested Atlanta, Georgia, where she learned to roll drunks for cash, was targeted by pimps, and became a single mother of two—all before her sixteenth birthday. RABBIT is unflinching, but as Williams does best, it delivers a story of hardship and tragedy with wisdom and humor.

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Rabbit
Patricia Williams and Jeannine Amber

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MENTIONED IN:

8 Must-Read Memoirs Written by Black Women

By Tolani Osan | February 15, 2019

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I'll Never Write My Memoirs
by Grace Jones

Legend. Icon. Triple-Threat. Singer-actress-model Grace Jones’s talent and singular fashion sense are—still—unmatched. I’LL NEVER WRITE MY MEMOIRS takes readers on a journey from Grace’s strict, religious childhood in Jamaica to her heyday 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.

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I'll Never Write My Memoirs
Grace Jones

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MENTIONED IN:

8 Must-Read Memoirs Written by Black Women

By Tolani Osan | February 15, 2019

10 American Icons: In Their Own Words

By Julianna Haubner | December 1, 2017

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When They Call You a Terrorist
by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele

A testament to the power of outrage, Patrisse Khan-Cullors is one of the three founders of the Black Lives Matter movement that was born in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s murder. For galvanizing a movement that demands justice for all, Khan-Cullors has been condemned as a terrorist and a threat to America. Joining forces with journalist Asha Bandele in WHEN THEY CALL YOU A TERRORIST, these brave women illuminate what it means to be a Black woman in America and gives voice to those suffering inequality.

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When They Call You a Terrorist
Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele

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MENTIONED IN:

8 Must-Read Memoirs Written by Black Women

By Tolani Osan | February 15, 2019

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Walking with the Muses
by Pat Cleveland

In 1970s New York—an era when tastemakers like Warhol, Avedon, and Halston thrived—Pat Cleveland became one of the first black supermodels through a combination of luck, enviable style, and unparalleled beauty. Ranging from the streets of NYC to the jet-set beaches of Mexico, from the designer drawing rooms of Paris to the offices of Vogue, WALKING WITH THE MUSES is Cleveland’s larger-than-life story.

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Walking with the Muses
Pat Cleveland

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MENTIONED IN:

8 Must-Read Memoirs Written by Black Women

By Tolani Osan | February 15, 2019

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My Soul Looks Back
by Jessica B. Harris

Award-winning writer Jessica B. Harris had a covetable group of friends back in the day, including James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, and other members of the Black intelligentsia. In her memoir, Harris recalls the James Baldwin reading aloud an early draft of IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK, the Maya Angelou cooking in her California kitchen, and the Toni Morrison relaxing at Baldwin’s Provence home. This memoir of friendship also pays homage to a bygone era—the vibrant New York City of Harris’s youth.

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My Soul Looks Back
Jessica B. Harris

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MENTIONED IN:

8 Must-Read Memoirs Written by Black Women

By Tolani Osan | February 15, 2019

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My Love Story
by Tina Turner

From what we can glean from her song-turned-film “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” Tina Turner has lived an extraordinary life, but it was by no means pain-free. In this explosive and inspiring memoir, Turner examines her darkest hours to her greatest triumphs. MY LOVE STORY is the story of a woman who dared to break through any barriers she encountered and showcases Turner’s strength, energy, heart, and soul.

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My Love Story
Tina Turner

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MENTIONED IN:

8 Must-Read Memoirs Written by Black Women

By Tolani Osan | February 15, 2019

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The World According to Fannie Davis
by Bridgett M. Davis

Part bookie, part banker, mother, wife, granddaughter of slaves—Fannie Davis ran a Numbers racket out of her meek apartment in one of Detroit’s worst sections. This woman was Bridgett M. Davis’s mother. In a moving homage to her gutsy, amazing mother, Bridgett M. Davis tells—at once unforgettable and suspenseful—the story of a parent who used grit and a little creativity to “make a way out of no way.”

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The World According to Fannie Davis
Bridgett M. Davis

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MENTIONED IN:

8 Must-Read Memoirs Written by Black Women

By Tolani Osan | February 15, 2019

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