17 Memoirs And Biographies Every Black Woman Should Read At Least Once

Must-reads on the groundbreaking, boundary-pushing women who've made history, inspired us, and paved the way.


Sydney Scott Mar, 02, 2017

Black history is full of inspiring women who have created paths of their own while carving a space for the women who will follow. 

In celebration of Women’s History Month and to give every woman out there a little inspiration to pursue their dreams and goals, we’ve rounded up a list of memoirs and biographies to encourage you to create a path of your own.

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This award-winning biography sheds light on the life of civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer, who served as vice-chair for the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and was instrumental in creating Mississippi's Freedom Summer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. The biography closely examines Hamer's history and the risks she took in her quest for equality.

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Including a collection of photos and tributes to Lorde after her death, The Cancer Journals is Lorde's account of coping with breast cancer and a mastectomy. It's an intense reflection of every feeling Lorde encounters as she battles the illness. Blending politics with her experience, the memoir is essential reading, not just for survivors or those coping with cancer, but every person interested in the politics surrounding a woman's body. 

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Known as one of the most influential women in civil rights, Ella Baker is famous for her work with the NAACP and advocating for grassroots organizing. While Baker avoided the spotlight, her work thrust her into it. Ransby's biography of the civil rights legend thoroughly examines Baker's life and political career. 

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With HBO's adaptation starring Oprah Winfrey on its way, now's the time to dive into The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Lacks, who was diagnosed with cancer and died at the age of 31, was the progenitor of the HeLa cell line, which has aided the medical community in a number of breakthroughs. The book tells Lack's story while exploring the disturbing history of experimentation on African Americans.  

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Adapted from her TEDx Talk, Adichie shines a light on feminism that's inclusive, tackling ideas and behaviour that marginalize women. Adichie draws on her own experience as a Nigerian woman and from her observations abroad. It's a witty, nuanced look at what feminism could be.  

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Shakur's autobiography is an account of the legendary Black Panther's activism, blending her political and personal life to give readers a clear picture of who she is. Shakur creates a poignant image of life as a Black woman and activist as well as the rise and fall of political organizations. 

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One of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Wells was an inspiring woman who was active in pursuing women's rights and civil rights. A Sword Among Lions examines Wells' life as a black woman and activist who not only had to face-off against conservatives, but even those who worked alongside her.

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Part memoir, part inspirational self-help guide, Year of Yes is Rhimes' reflection on saying yes to new things and experiences. Who better to take a little advice from than TV's number one showrunner?

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Known as America's first female African-American millionaire, Madam C.J. Walker created the blueprint for Black women who aspire to run their own businesses and companies. Detailing her rise from the daughter of slaves to millionaire, On Her Own Ground is an inspirational must-read.

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A much needed voice in the world, Mock's Redefining Realness delves into the issues trans youth face by looking at Mock's own path and way of navigating the world. Through the obstacles and triumphs, the writer and activist's memoir is a powerful look at identity and what it means to be truly and unapologetically authentic.

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A vivid autobiography that's bold and warm, Davis reflects on her life, activism, and the moments and people who influenced her. It's a roller coaster of events and poignant moments and even those familiar with Davis will probably learn something new. 

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A radical activist and a dynamic leader of the feminist and Black Power movement, Florynce Kennedy, known to many as Flo, was a force to be reckoned with. Regularly photographed sporting a cowboy hat with her middle finger in the air, Flo was a staunch believer in intersectionality and a woman's right to do as she pleases with her body. Her biography is not only an account of her life, but of how black feminism shaped political movements during the Black Power era. 

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Writer and LGBT rights advocate, Chin's memoir explores race and sexuality through poignant memories, triumphs, and defeats. Through it all, she discovers her identity and voice, telling her story with warmth and courage.

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Chicago-native Margo Jefferson's memoir tells the story of race, culture, and America through Jefferson's scope as the daughter of an upper-crust Black family. From the civil rights movement to the belief in a postracial America, Negroland is an examination and reckoning with the movements of the time and Jefferson's place in society. 

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An iconic figure in pop culture, Jones has a myriad of stories and experiences to share, which make for a riveting memoir. From her strict upbringing in Jamiaica to her rise in New York, the singer and artist shares initimate details of her life with humor and candor. 

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From Insecure creator Issa Rae, Awkward Black Girl is a reflection of her own quirks and cringe-worthy moments. Hilarious, poignant, and engaing, Rae's memoir is a must-read.

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Poet, writer, and activist, Lorde was a force to be reckoned with and in this biography Veaux examines the icon's early conservative upbringing, her marriage and later career as an outspoken lesbian, and the work that led to her becoming one of the greatest voices in Black history.