In the preface to Michelle Obama’s bestselling memoir Becoming, the former First Lady of the United States writes, “Your story is what you have, what you will always have. It is something to own.” In the pages that follow, Obama recounts her past with luminescent prose, revealing to readers the formative moments that transformed a little girl from Chicago into an activist and global icon. An extraordinary story about a remarkable life, Becoming‘s strength as a memoir stems from the humility, heart, and hope that hums beneath the surface of each sentence. Becoming urges each of us to tell our own stories and to remember that we are forever growing into who we’ve always been meant to be.
I'm Still Here
Austin Channing Brown
Austin Channing Brown’s essay Collection I’m Still Here is an illuminating meditation on faith, race, and what it means to come of age in the shadow of white supremacy. Throughout her book, Brown grapples with America’s legacy of prejudice and unpacks how racism can impact an individual’s sense of self-worth. Filled with heart and searing truth, I’m Still Here is a testimony of Black womanhood, activism, and resistance. Brown’s book is a parable of resilience. It is the story of a writer who dreams of a world where we are “not afraid to name whiteness” or “celebrate Blackness.”
The Source of Self-Regard
In Nobel prize winner Toni Morrison’s latest offering The Source of Self-Regard, we are reminded of why literature and those who create it matter. “A writer’s life and work are not a gift to mankind; they are its necessity,” she writes. In a series of essays, reflections, and remembrances Morrison’s new book examines the language’s capacity to uplift and destroy, how crucial resistance and political awareness is to progress, and storytellers’ potential to foster change. Much like Morrison’s prior books, The Source of Self-Regard is a masterfully crafted exploration of the American psyche. A timely and life-altering read, this collection will change you for the better. Each page is a catalyst for revolution.
Zora Neale Hurston: Folklore, Memoirs, & Other Writings (LOA #75)
Zora Neale Hurston
In the early chapters of her autobiography Dust Tracks on a Road, the legendary Zora Neale Hurston confesses, “I was always asking and making myself a crow in a pigeon’s nest.” An unabashed rebel, dreamer, and innovator, Zora Neale Hurston: Folklore, Memoirs, & Other Writings—which includes Mule and Men, Tell My Horse, Dust Tracks on a Road, and a number of essays—is an enlightening glimpse into the mind of one of American literature’s most dynamic voices. This volume highlights Hurston’s prowess not only as a storyteller but as an anthropologist and cultural critic. It’s an essential addition to any reader’s collection.
Zami: A New Spelling of My Name
Geraldine Audre Lorde
Audre Lorde’s biomythography Zami: A New Spelling of My Name recounts her coming of age. With bone deep wisdom and earnestness, Zami unveils how Lorde became the Black, lesbian, feminist, mother, poet warrior that she is known as today. Even while recounting her earliest memories, the power of Lorde’s words will make you reconsider the parameters of your own biography, each sentence urging you to trace the line between your present and past. This memoir will stitch Lorde’s words into your soul. It’s impossible to walk away from its pages unchanged.
We Are Never Meeting in Real Life.
Penned with tear-inducing humor and heart, Samantha Irby’s New York Times bestseller We Are Never Meeting in Real Life is a tour-de-force collection about love, life, meltdowns, and moments (such as witnessing a Civil War reenactment) that feel stranger than fiction. From the very first paragraph to the very last, Irby will captivate you. The candor of her prose, the relatability of her retellings will keep you reading and laughing. We Are Never Meeting in Real Life is simultaneously cathartic and stirring. Each essay will make you fall more and more in love with Irby’s words.
Like all of Zadie Smith’s books, Feel Free is an illuminating glimpse into the prolific mind of living literary legend. A thematically kindred follow up to the highly celebrated Swing Time, Smith’s latest is an immersive compilation of commentary on books, art, and film and heartfelt homages to icons like David Bowie and Prince. Although many of the essays in this collection were written during Obama’s presidency, Smith’s perceptiveness and ability to uncover what rests at the center of our culture’s political predicament, past and present, make the pages of Feel Free timeless. With piercing wisdom and precision, Smith’s essays challenge its reader to not merely think about freedom but to meditate on what freedom—and the lack thereof—feels like. As always, her work will teach you something new about yourself.
Deep Sightings & Rescue Missions
Toni Cade Bambara
Deep Sightings and Rescue Missions pairs Toni Cade Bambara’s fiction alongside previously unpublished essays and interviews. Best known for Gorilla, My Love, and The Salt Eaters, this collection proves that Bambara’s strengths as a fiction writer equally match her prowess as an essayist. Through Deep Sightings and Rescue Missions, Bambara conveys her passion for Black cinema, explores the power of language, and recounts how she became a storyteller. While reading this book, you will feel as if Bambara’s voice is whispering in your ear. Because of this, its pages are gift.
Playing In The Dark
Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison explores whiteness and racism’s impact on the literary canon and the way its collective legacy has limited our nation’s sense of narrative and truth. As captivating as her fiction, Morrison’s critical analysis uncovers the failings of American literature’s past and the potential of its future with unflinching scrutiny. In the end, Playing in the Dark makes a case for what we can learn by looking at texts critically, leaving its reader with a warning: “All of us, readers and writers, are bereft when criticism remains too polite or too fearful to notice a disrupting darkness before is eyes.” Morrison’s insight suggests that as we read, we should do so closely and with honesty.
Across the diaspora, Black women writers aren’t just celebrated for their prowess as novelists, but also for their strength as essayists, memoirists, and critics. From literary theory, pop culture critiques, and everything in between, writers like Toni Morrison, Toni Cade Bambara, Samantha Irby, and Zadie Smith fuse the personal and the political through their examination of the world that surrounds them. With fervor and unwavering foresight, the recommended writers on this list are an example of why Black women’s voices should not just be championed, but that they should be listened to.
Featured image: Read It Forward