Non-fiction isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. However, even for those who don’t typically dive out of their fantasy lands, one can gain more inspiration straight from the source of real stories. For a list of memoirs, biographies, and stories by women, for women, and about women, read on.
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1. “I know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou is arguably one of the most talented literary geniuses in our history. According to the Maya Angelou website, she wrote 36 books during her lifetime, 30 of which were best sellers. However, her expertise goes far beyond storytelling. She was an activist, a raw voice for African Americans growing up in 20th Century America, a professor, a director, and more. Angelou worked for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, in addition to working on two political campaigns. She was awarded over 50 honorary awards before she died in 2014. Two of those honors were the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2010 and the National Medal of Arts by President Bill Clinton in 2000. 1
“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” was Angelou’s first and most critically acclaimed autobiography. When she was just eight years old, Angelou silenced herself for five years after her rapist was found murdered; she thought it was her voice that caused his death. In her memoir, she poetically lays out the raw truths of Black America, connecting with all kinds of women regarding the trauma and fear surrounding sexual assault.2 Angelou’s writing ritual involved cards and sherry, so pop open a bottle and get reading. 3
2.“Troubling Borders: An Anthology of Art and Literature by Southeast Asian Women in the Diaspora”
For visual art in addition to written work, check out “Troubling Borders: An Anthology of Art and Literature by Southeast Asian Women in the Diaspora” (Troubling Borders) by Asian women of Vietnamese, Cambodian, Lao, Thai, and Filipino ancestry. This vast representation of Asian culture includes short stories, poetry, painting, and photographs.
There are 62 contributors to this book, all who “have been shaped by colonization, wars, globalization, and militarization.” The summary explains how for some of these women, showcasing their work is a “bold act in and of itself.” Fighting stereotypes put on them by people in the United States, Troubling Borders can be the start of insightful discussions regarding racism.
3.“I Am Malala” by Malala Yousafzai
A list of must-read memoirs that doesn’t include “I Am Malala” is not a list worth trusting. Malala Yousafzai was15 years old and on her way to school when she was shot and nearly killed by the Taliban. Her crime? Standing up for education. Malala went on to be the youngest nominee of the Nobel Peace Prize. A former British prime minister calls her “an icon of courage and hope,” and she began working for the United Nations before she was just 16 years old. 4
Yousafzai wrote in a blog post on her 19th birthday, “Every year on my birthday I travel to meet girls who are struggling to go to school -- to stand with them and to make sure the world hears their stories." 5
In her memoir, Yousafzai describes her experience as a girl fighting for education in Pakistan. She illustrates her upbringing as the daughter of a man who owned a school himself and who, in addition to her mother, encouraged Yousafzai to continue writing and schooling.
4. “Educated: A Memoir” by Tara Westover
Another memoir on Amazon’s Best Sellers List is the true story of a woman’s abusive childhood through adulthood. A book that has readers angry and passionate, many admitting they forgot they were even reading non-fiction while racing through the novel.
Growing up in a fundamentalist Mormon family with an abusive father who didn’t believe in doctors or modern medicine, Westover and her siblings endured sickness and pain before making their way to Brigham Young University.
According to Vanity Fair, Westover had assumed she would attend university and then go home to live the way her father taught her to. Instead, she currently lives in a flat in London. “She visits doctors, has a doctorate from Cambridge, and had a fellowship at Harvard University.” 6
Her story highlights the importance of change because her life was forever positively changed when she chose to earn a degree and continue her education.
While no list can even begin to uncover women’s insightful and powerful stories, this list should give readers a good head start on being inspired. For those of you who don’t yet have an electronic reader, Amazon is continuing to follow through. For those who don’t quite have the patience and want to get started on this list now, some Barnes and Noble locations are offering curbside pick up at no extra cost.
1. Poetry Foundation, Maya Angelou, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/maya-angelou
2. Cleveland.com, Mary Angelou, Who Silenced Her Voice as a Child, Made it a Force in Her Memoirs, https://www.cleveland.com/books/2014/05/maya_angelou_who_silenced_her.html
3. Smart Shopping, 11 Facts About "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings", https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/75541/11-facts-about-i-know-why-caged-bird-sings
4. BBC, Malala: The Girl Who Was Shot for Going to School, https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-24379018
5. Malala.Org, For my 19th Birthday, Declare #Yesallgirls, https://blog.malala.org/for-my-19th-birthday-declare-yesallgirls-e08cd734a49b
6. Vanity Fair, Tara Westover Turns Her Isolated Childhood Into the Gripping Memoir Educated, https://www.vanityfair.com/style/2018/02/tara-westover-memoir-educated-interview