While every work of fiction transports us to the shoes of characters unknown, memoirs help us vicariously live the lives of real people for the length of those pages. The world out there is bleak now, so if you need some inspiration, my list of memoirs by authors of color is for you! Their words will bring you hope and encouragement when the going gets tough. Learn more about some of the finest movers and shakers who have ever walked on our planet, and please remember that, despite all odds, they managed to reach their destination. Hang in there, and you will too!
Between the World and Me By Ta-Nehisi Coates
Coates has sketched a framework of the cultural history of America for future generations to learn from. He explores the racist legacy left by America’s white ancestors and how it’s high time we change that. Written in the form of letters addressed to his son, this book is very emotionally charged and offers a sociopolitical critique of his world. His personal narrative is haunting but hopeful, making the reader believe in the infinite potential of tomorrow. Someday equity and justice would triumph, and this book helps us take a step closer to that.
The Weave of My Life: A Dalit Woman’s Memoirs By Urmila Pawar, Translated by Maya Pandit
Translated into English from Marathi by Maya Pandit, this is a stunning memoir of Pawar’s fight against casteism. Born in a Dalit household, she had little chances of upward mobility, let alone having access to quality education. However, this didn’t stop her from eventually paving a path for herself and helping many who, like her, the upper caste has restrained, do the same. Activist and award-winning writer Pawar is a force to be reckoned with.
The Light of the World By Elizabeth Alexander
After the death of her husband, Alexander is subjected to a huge existential crisis. Her sadness is too overwhelming to let her stay a functional human being. In this memoir, she ponders the wonders of her married life and the trauma triggered by her unexpected loss. Gradually, she finds comfort in caring for her children and carves a path to uproot herself from her grief. This beautiful memoir, where Alexander has channeled her poetic sensibilities, is a true roadmap of how to find meaning when the death of a loved one sucks out your will to live.
I Should Have Honor: A Memoir of Hope and Pride in Pakistan By Khalida Brohi
From a young age, the concept of arranged marriage is forced upon Khalida. Her mother has to marry her father when she is just a child of 9 years! Khalida is promised to a boy even before she is born. But her father refuses to marry her off when she is still a child as he believes in her right to education. Khalida wants to become a doctor once she grows up, but the path ahead of her is full of impediments. This book is a highly motivating memoir of one woman’s fight against the constraints of her tribal community and finding her footing beating all obstacles.
The Ungrateful Refugee By Dina Nayeri
At the age of 8, Nayeri has to flee her home in Iran with her mother and brother. Eventually, she finds asylum in America. With it comes the constant pressure of constantly being grateful to the host country that took her in. Her personal story is combined with those of other refugees and asylum seekers, and she paints a vivid picture of what’s it like to have to grapple for your place in society. She hasn’t glossed over the details of the refugee life. Rather, she has depicted the flip side of the western government and raised imperative questions regarding your individuality.
Heavy By Kiese Laymon
A beautiful personal narrative that sheds light on the American way of being, Laymon writes eloquently about his early experience of sexual abuse and his complicated relationship with his mother, grandmother, and his own body. He is suspended from college, yet he goes on to become a college professor. He asks his mother, his nation, and his readers to explore the ways of loving and how to be free. This memoir is a beautifully written, vulnerable, and at times comical analysis of weight, identity, and interpersonal relationships.