I’ve been reading a lot of memoirs lately, primarily by women. There are other posts about these memoirs waiting in the wings, like “memoirs about mental illness,” but for now I want to focus on three excellent memoirs written by amazing, inspiring Black women. I’ve always enjoyed learning about other cultures and customs, and as our country becomes increasingly divided over our differences, I think it’s even more important to learn as much as possible about the experiences of my fellow Americans of all races and backgrounds. My favorite way to do that is through books (of course)! One word of caution, though: the first two books on this list, and my reviews of them, contain mentions of sexual assault.
I enjoyed Gay’s bestselling essay collection Bad Feminist, and have been looking forward to Hunger since it was announced. It was released last week, and the wait was worth it. Hunger is amazing. In it, Gay details being gang raped at age 12 in a cabin in the woods, and how that led her to eat as much as she could as a defense mechanism. She talks about hiding her assault from her parents, her feelings of shame and worthlessness, and how she treated her body as if it did not deserve care. She describes exactly what it is like to live in a large body, how difficult it is, how much shame she carries. One thing that really spoke to me was her saying that because she is a feminist, she feels she should be able to accept and love herself at any size, but that she longs to be skinny anyway. I’m guessing a lot of women can relate to that (I certainly could). I’m about halfway through the book right now, but only because I’ve forced myself to put it down so I can get a full 8 hours of sleep (which is important for providing good reader’s advisory to my patrons)!
Janet Mock was born as Charles Mock, but was never interested in the same “masculine” things that her brother Chad was. Mock is a trans woman, and Redefining Realness chronicles her childhood and her transition, as well as the aftermath. Although her story has a positive outcome, she had to rely on sex work to pay for her gender reassignment surgery and experienced a few dangerous situations with clients. Mock grew up mostly in Hawaii, but spent time with her father in California and Texas as well. She was sexually assaulted as a young person by her father’s girlfriend’s son, repeatedly. At one point her father was addicted to crack cocaine, and her mother went through a series of boyfriends, some better than others. The writing in this memoir sings, and I’d suggest listening to the audiobook (available on Hoopla), which Mock narrates in a pleasant melodic voice. As a half Black, half Hawaiian woman, she examines the way race, skin tone, and her appearance have had an impact on her life with insight and wisdom. Her tone is never “shame on all you cis-gendered people for thinking of trans people as less than.” Instead, she shows compassion for everyone in her life, sometimes above what they deserve. Also be sure to check out Mock’s new book, Surpassing Certainty.
Issa Rae is funny, and this book is a delight. Rae rose to internet fame with her YouTube show of the same name, and for good reason. She cracks me up, in the best way possible. Rae narrates her childhood awkwardness in a way that we can laugh with her, instead of at her. She shares funny anecdotes about her Senegalese family and cultural differences, as well as dating misadventures and other fun stories. Ultimately, though, this is a book about success. Rae made her own success with her YouTube channel, and is a great role model for young Black girls (or any girls!) who want to get into comedy and/or acting. This isn’t just a fluffy memoir full of wacky stories, though. She examines the sexism in the comedy community, rejects it as a bunch of hooey, and goes on to show us all just how funny she can be (hint: very, very funny). She touches on racism, body image, and other tough topics. Even so, this memoir is more light-hearted than the other two on this list, so it’s a great book to pick up if you’re feeling down.
What’s your favorite memoir by a fierce Black woman?
Looking for a page-turner?Reserve Hunger
Kelly reads, writes and sometimes sews, always with a large mug of tea. She is the Managing Editor of Eleventh Stack and Clerical Specialist at CLP – West End, both of which give her plenty of ideas for stories that find homes in obscure literary magazines.