If you’re anything like me, you’re a bit of a stickybeak when it comes to the lives of other people. Not in a creepy neighbour peering over the fence or office gossip who wants to tell everyone about Gerry’s marital woes kind of way, but in the way that you are deeply fascinated by how people came to be who they are.
It is for this reason that I adore memoirs. The feeling of being invited into someone’s formative years and subsequent lived experience with the promise of potentially learning something new that you can apply to your own life makes memoirs my most reached-for genre of reading material.
Whether for a Christmas gift for someone special, or for your own reading pleasure, here are five of the best memoirs written by women.
Becoming, Michelle Obama
Before she was the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Robinson was a teen in Southside Chicago, who felt a gravitational pull toward the importance of community and helping those within them. So, perhaps it was fate that the brilliant young lawyer and the future president of the United States ended up working at the same law firm and falling madly in love.
Their shared passion for giving back, making the world a more just place and for each other has made them one of the most relatable and inspiring couples in history. In Becoming, Obama invites us to join her on a journey of self-discovery and finding one’s purpose along with the frustrations and jubilations of life in the White House. Much like her husband’s presidential term, you will not want this book to end.
Yes Please!, Amy Poehler
Amy Poehler is many things — an improviser, executive producer, comedian, movie star, production company owner, mother, divorcee and author. She is also a fierce feminist who has one hell of a story to tell and she is neither afraid of nor apologetic about telling it. From a young woman in Boston to a struggling improviser in Chicago to a world-renowned performer on Saturday Night Live in New York, Poehler shares her story of comedy, ambition and the double standards women face in her trademark take-no-prisoners way. As the Parks and Recreation star says: “Saying ‘yes’ doesn’t mean I don’t know how to say no, and saying ‘please’ doesn’t mean I am waiting for permission.”
When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir, Patrisse Khan-Cullors with Asha Bandele
If you, like millions around the world were called to action after witnessing the death of American man George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, then you will likely be wanting to learn more about the Black Lives Matter movement, how it came to be and why it is crucially important for its work to continue.
Started by Cullors, Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi in 2013, after the murderer of Black youth Trayvon Martin was acquitted of the crime, the Black Lives Matter movement has since become a global network which works to provide education on the deeply ingrained issue of racial inequality, legal resources for members of the Black community and organizational tools for protesters who want to mobilise to fight for effective legislative change. Cullors describes in poetic detail her own story as well as the devastating consequences that galvanized her to form the hashtag that gained even deeper meaning and recognition in 2020.
Redefining Realness My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More, Janet Mock
Mock is a powerful voice in the transgender community and a brilliant writer to boot. She has lent her expertise to the acclaimed FX series Pose as a writer, director, and producer on the show, and is the first trans woman of colour hired as a writer for a TV series in history. If that impressive resume isn’t enough to inspire you to read her captivating memoir, her story of growing up multiracial, poor, and trans in America should do the trick. Mock writes not only for herself but for all of the transgender community who have felt marginalised and misunderstood.
The Hate Race, Maxine Beneba Clarke
Maxine Beneba Clarke’s memoir of growing up black in a white, middle-class Australian suburb in the 1980s and 1990s gives readers an insight into the issues of racial inequality our country probably doesn’t want you to know we have. Clarke describes a childhood unremarkable in every way, except for the colour of her skin which leaves her vulnerable to a devastating amount of casual racism, obvious discrimination and constant bullying. A grim examination of our cultural consciousness and yet a joyous recollection of happy childhood memories, The Hate Race is essential reading for any Aussie who wants to gain a deeper understanding of the racial issues we have yet to rectify in our own backyard.