Celebrating Black history shouldn’t be relegated to February, the shortest and coldest month. In fact, since Black history and American history are one and the same, it should be something that we all know, understand and discuss. History has an uncanny way of repeating itself when we ignore it, try to bury it or simply pretend that parts of it — especially the painful parts — never happened. We really are doomed to repeat the mistakes we don’t confront and acknowledge from our shared past. While we may not live or share others’ experiences, we can try to recognize and appreciate their journeys.
One way of doing that is through Black literature and, in this case, memoirs. We understand that Black authors write many books, so we apologize if we miss some of your favorites. Here are some that we think you may enjoy reading, be it this month or any other. Let us know what you think and which ones we didn’t cover.
1. Prince: The Beautiful Ones, By Prince
The world lost the musical genius that was Prince Rogers Nelson on April 21, 2016. In an announcement that shocked the music world and beyond, we lost a visionary who produced such hits as “Let’s Go Crazy,” “1999,” “Raspberry Beret,” and “Kiss.” And though we won’t be able ever to see him live ever again, we can get a peek into his childhood, his early years as an artist, and how he created the groundbreaking movie and soundtrack “Purple Rain.” Whether you are a fan or not, you will enjoy being immersed in the world of his purple majesty.
2. The Taste of Country Cooking, By Edna Lewis
Food and storytelling are a perfect match, and in this marrying of recipes and a memoir, you get to learn about what some consider the Queen of Southern cooking and how she made a path for herself in a world dominated primarily by men. Edna Lewis, who died in 2006, and inspired aspiring chefs and women, grew up in a small Virginia Piedmont community that had been settled by freed slaves. As interesting as Lewis’s life is to ready about, so are her tasty recipes like pan-fried chicken, corn pudding and fresh blackberry cobbler.
3. A Promised Land, By Barack Obama
This isn’t the 44th president’s first attempt at a memoir. In fact, it’s his third. His first, Dreams of My Father, explored his life as a son of a Black Kenyan father and white American mother and the intersection of identity and race. His second The Audacity of Hope addresses discord in politics in an intimate and conversational tone filled with the optimism of what could be. And now, A Promised Land, a political memoir filled with introspection and experience that guides us through his journey to the White House, where he served as the first African-American president over two memorable terms. He pulls back the curtain on wins and losses, such as how he maneuvered through a financial crisis, the authorization of Operation Neptune’s Spear, and the monumental passing of the Affordable Care Act.
Obama is widely acknowledged to be one of the great orators in American history, but his skills as an author are also impressive. Go inside the Obama White House years in this insightful memoir that takes you inside historic moments.
4. Just As I Am, By Cicely Tyson
There are few that will accomplish what the award-winning actress and activist Cicely Tyson did. The Emmy and Tony winner released her memoir two days before her death at 96-years-old. One would never know that while growing up, a church girl, she barely spoke but finally felt that “in my ninth decade, I am a woman who, at long last, has something meaningful to say.” You will get a peek into her tumultuous marriage to jazz icon Miles Davis, who she has called the love of her life, and her lawsuit against the legendary actress Elizabeth Taylor. In her more than six decades of appearing on stage and screen, she shattered stereotypes and shares those memories of dealing with racial and gender inequality.
5. Raceless, By Georgina Lawton
Figuring out one’s identity is hard enough when you know your history, but it was particularly complex for Georgina Lawton, who was raised in an English suburban town. Lawton had white parents and white friends and didn’t think she was different except, of course, for her brown skin and dark curly hair and being the target of prejudice. When her father died, her history finally started being revealed. This led her to leave home and explore racial identity while living in Black communities in places such as Morocco, Nicaragua, Cuba and the United States. The book poses an interesting question of what it means to self-identify. Raceless will be published on February 23, 2021 and is available now for pre-order.
6. Becoming, By Michelle Obama
The former first lady of the United States created quite a buzz — selling more than 10 million copies — when she released her memoir in November 2018. Mrs. Obama, who was the first African American first lady to serve in that role, chronicles her childhood, growing up on the South Side of Chicago, going to Princeton and ultimately graduating from Harvard Law School. The self-described “box checker” welcomes you into her life filled with disappointments and achievements. You learn of the strength of her mother and how Mary Tyler Moore was her TV role model. You get a better understanding of the experiences that created a woman who was able to withstand the scrutiny and detractors as she navigated her journey at the White House.
7. Rabbit, a Memoir, By Patricia (Ms. Pat) Williams
For some comedians, encountering strife leads to their ability to speak about difficulties with humor. They can take the edge off of pain, such as Patricia Williams, whose memoir features a nickname she was called by her mom. Williams was one of five kids born during the crack epidemic. By 13, she was pregnant, and at 15, she was a mom of two. With strength and determination, she navigates her situation with humor while dealing with the inequity that comes with being a Black mom.
8. How We Fight for Our Lives, By Saeed Jones
This book has been described as a coming-of-age story, but it is more than that. Some can add words to paper, and while the syntax is correct, it’s just writing. Then there are those who create prose. And that is what this book is, a poetic retelling of what it’s like for Jones to grow up in the South as a young gay man as he tries to find himself among the landscape of challenging relationships with lovers, friends, and family.
9. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, By Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou was a dancer, an actress, poet, civil rights activist, and an award-winning author. This memoir covers her childhood traumas and follows her into adulthood. She dealt with racial prejudices, discrimination and being raped by her mother’s boyfriend as a young girl. All to become the woman that is often quoted, one of her more famous, “when someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” And Ms. Angelou showed us who she was, and she was brilliant. With a foreword by Oprah Winfrey, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is one of the most powerful memoirs by a Black author in the American literary canon.
10. Notes from a Young Black Chef, By Kwame Onwuachi
Sometimes we make the error of thinking that talent ameliorates racism. But it doesn’t. Sadly, it is so inculcated in the fabric of our society that no profession is exempt. And that is a part of the story of Chef Kwame Onwuachi and what it means to be young, Black, and ambitious in America. As he culls his talent to create one-of-a-kind flavors, the sour taste of old beliefs attempts to limit his possibilities.