41 Remarkable Memoirs by Black Celebrities
Whether an actor, singer, athlete, writer, or comedian, there exist the same undeniable requirements for success — hard work, dedication, persistence, and belief in yourself. However, in the face of adversity, these ideals are hard to hold on to. Being Black in America presents its own set of challenges in addition to the difficulties of standing out and proving your talent to the world. Fortunately, there are many celebrities who have shown that whatever your race, it's possible to break molds, shatter barriers, fight for what you want, and win it! Check out the best memoirs by Black celebrities that not only detail how they achieved their dreams, but that will inspire you to do the same.
— Additional reporting by Lauren Harano
More Myself: A Journey by Alicia Keys
With a detailed dive into her life, Alicia Keys tells her story in More Myself: A Journey, including everything from heartache to stardom. The book takes a look at her troubling relationship with her father, her path to success, and her roots before becoming a world-famous artist.
Let Love Have the Last Word: A Memoir by Common
Written by award–winning musician, actor, and activist Common, Let Love Have the Last Word: A Memoir is a personal story about how love can make all the difference. Touching on friends, family, and community, this memoir is raw and honest, and will teach you how to love like never before.
More Than Enough by Elaine Welteroth
Journalist and editor Elaine Welteroth shares her life journey in More Than Enough: Claiming Space For Who You Are (No Matter What They Say). It takes a look into what it means to come into your own and how to do so on your own terms.
The Beautiful Ones by Prince
Written by one of the greatest artists of all time, The Beautiful Ones by Prince is an in-his-words account of his life, stardom and all. The acclaimed musician's memoir tells the story of how Prince became Prince, and what it was like to be the star himself.
Still in the Game by Devon Still
In his memoir Still in the Game: Finding the Faith to Tackle Life's Biggest Challenges, Devon Still tells the heartbreaking story of his life, his struggles, and his ultimate devotion to his daughter and her fight against cancer. His courage and strength can be seen on every page, and his will to overcome is the definition of inspiring.
Negroland by Margo Jefferson
Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Margo Jefferson's memoir, Negroland, tells the story of a world that isn't often explored: upper-crust Black Chicago, where her father was head of pediatrics at a hospital, her mother was a socialite, and most everyone's wealth originated from antebellum free Black people who made their fortunes in plantations.
When They Call You a Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele
In Black Lives Matter cofounder Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele's memoir, When They Call You a Terrorist, Khan-Cullors reflects on the ways in which Black and Brown people are targeted by the criminal justice system, as well as ways in which humanity may bring change to a country motivated by white privilege and eager to turn a blind eye on the injustices inflicted upon people of color.
My Soul Looks Back by Jessica B. Harris
In her memoir My Soul Looks Back, Jessica B. Harris offers an inside look into the inner circle of the illustrious New York City Black intelligentsia in the early '70s, when she spent her days among Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, and Toni Morrison attending parties, sharing work, and learning from one another.
Becoming by Michelle Obama
In former First Lady Michelle Obama's dazzling memoir, Becoming, she chronicles her life from a childhood on the South Side of Chicago to becoming one of the most compelling and visible women of her time, noting all of the triumphs and disappointments she faced along the way.
Rabbit by Patricia Williams
In Patricia Williams's hilarious memoir, Rabbit, she revisits her past, where she was born one of five children at the height of the crack epidemic in Atlanta, pregnant at 13, a mother of two by 15, and — alone at 16 — determined to give herself and her children a better life, though she had an eighth-grade education and no marketable skills beyond hustling.
Queen Bey: A Celebration of the Power and Creativity of Beyoncé Knowles-Carter
In a post-Beychella world, it's only right that there's a book devoted to the genius that is Beyoncé, whose name now auto-corrects on iPhones everywhere. She's sold over 100 million records and won 24 Grammys, and she's the most nominated woman of the award. Queen Bey: A Celebration of the Power and Creativity of Beyoncé Knowles-Carter celebrates this, with pieces written by everyone from director and producer Lena Waithe to British Vogue Editor in Chief Edward Enninful.
Pryor Convictions: And Other Life Sentences by Richard Pryor
For over 40 years, Richard Pryor made millions laugh with his stand-up comedy routine. Considered to be somewhat controversial, the five-time Grammy Award winner put racism, politics, sex, and religion at the center of his comedy routines, often using the N-word in his jokes about African-American culture. In his 1995 memoir Pryor Convictions, the comedian details his rocky start in life (including spending time in brothels and bars as a child), beginning his career alongside heavy-hitters such as Nina Simone and Bob Dylan, finding mainstream success as a comic and actor, and going on to host the Academy Awards twice, as well as becoming the first Black host on Saturday Night Live. He also delves into his numerous romantic entanglements, relationships with his children and family, and the drug addiction that almost caused him to lose it all.
Things I Should Have Told My Daughter by Pearl Cleage
In her memoir Things I Should Have Told My Daughter, bestselling author and playwright Pearl Cleage recalls the years before she achieved success as a writer back in the '70s and '80s, when she was a just a woman attempting to establish a career among the challenges of marriage and motherhood.
Reach For the Skai: How to Inspire, Empower, and Clapback by Skai Jackson
Reach For the Skai: How to Inspire, Empower, and Clapback by Skai Jackson details the origins of Skai's acting career, addresses bullying, and tells the young star's story from her own eyes. While she might look like she has it all in the spotlight, she wants people to know that's not the case, and she's stronger because of it.
Lady Sings the Blues by Billie Holiday
First published in 1956, just three years before her death, the autobiography Lady Sings the Blues chronicles the life of famed jazz musician Billie Holiday. Lady Day, as she was affectionately known, opens up about her troubled childhood, sexual abuse, heroin addiction, celebrity friends and feuds, jail stints, and finding success as an African-American in a pre-Civil Rights era. In addition to her struggles, the singer discusses the persistence and determination that carried her on her rise to fame, as well as the sexy and sultry atmosphere of jazz and blues.
I Put a Spell on You: The Autobiography of Nina Simone by Nina Simone
Born in 1933, Nina Simone conquered the world of jazz, soul, and blues with her alluring voice. Frequently referred to as the "High Priestess of Soul," Nina performed famous songs such as, "Feeling Good," "I Love You, Porgy" from the musical Porgy and Bess, and "I Put a Spell on You," which inspired the title of her autobiography. However, though the 15-time Grammy nominee went on to inspire many artists today (Elton John, Adele, Kanye West, Christina Aguilera, Beyoncé, and more), her life was more than music. Written in 1992, just a decade before her death, I Put a Spell on You delves into the singer's early childhood, personal racial injustices, her relationship with "the devil's music," as it was known to her family, and her role in the Civil Rights Movement.
Bonus: if you enjoy reading about Nina Simone's life, check out the Oscar-nominated Netflix original documentary, What Happened Miss Simone?
Assata by JoAnne Chesimard
In her revolutionary autobiography Assata, JoAnne Chesimard — better known as Black Panther Assata Shakur — shares how she came to live a life of fierce activism, as well as how the takedown of Black nationalist organizations led to Shakur's incarceration as an accomplice to murder.
The Prisoner's Wife by Asha Bandele
In Asha Bandele's bestselling memoir, The Prisoner's Wife, she recounts her experience of visiting a group of prisoners to read poetry during a Black History Month program, never expecting that she would meet Rashid, a man serving 20 years to life for his part in a murder, who would eventually become her husband.
What I Know For Sure by Oprah Winfrey
Talkshow host, actress, author, spokeswoman, chef, magazine publisher, and CEO of both her own production company and television network, Oprah Winfrey has done it all. America's first and only Black billionaire, the Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient has led a full life of following her dreams, finding success, and inspiring others. In her 2014 memoir What I Know For Sure, Oprah divulges all of the wisdom she's accumulated over the years, her personal secrets for success, and advice on how to become your best self. Each chapter centers on a particular theme, including joy, gratitude, possibility, clarity, resilience, and others; while learning more about Oprah, you'll learn more about yourself.
The World According to Fannie Davis: My Mother’s Life in the Detroit Numbers by Bridgett M. Davis
An homage to her mother's numbers industriousness, The World According to Fannie Davis: My Mother's Life in the Detroit Numbers recounts Fannie Davis's life as "part bookie, part banker" and her role as a mother and wife. The memoir paints the picture of a woman making a way out of no way and doing what she has to in order to make a life for her and her children. It's a testament to the resilience of Black women and so suspenseful, it feels like fiction.
Spike Lee: That's My Story and I'm Sticking to It by Spike Lee
For the past 30 years, Spike Lee has written and directed films such as Do the Right Thing, Jungle Fever, Malcolm X, and Chi-Raq, as well as numerous others. Many of his works examine race relations, urban crime, and poverty in the Black community, as well as other controversial political and social issues. In 2005, the BAFTA-, Emmy-, and Academy Award-winning director penned his autobiography, That's My Story and I'm Sticking to It. The memoir explores Lee's family life and education, his journey to Hollywood, and how his films impacted the turn of the century in America.
Michelle Obama in Her Own Words: The Views and Values of America's First Lady
Despite her very successful careers in law, government, and education, Michelle Obama didn't gain public attention until she became the nation's first lady in 2008. However, once her husband was elected, she suffered extreme scrutiny as the country tried to discern what kind of first lady she would be. In 2009's Michelle Obama in Her Own Words, editor Lisa Rogak compiles over 200 quotes that Mrs. Obama has said over the years, from her early days in Chicago to her family's journey to the White House. Beginning with a brief biography, the book shares the former first lady's opinion on topics such as her childhood, racism, terrorism, the role of First Lady, women who have inspired her, and even fashion.
The Truths We Hold: An American Journey by Kamala Harris
Senator Kamala Harris blessed us with an insightful look into her life in The Truths We Hold: An American Journey, a book that explores her journey from young daughter of two immigrant Civil Rights activists to California Attorney General and beyond.
The Terrible by Yrsa Daley-Ward
In her lyrical memoir The Terrible, model and poet Yrsa Daley-Ward revisits her childhood in a northern English market town, where she was raised by her Jamaican mother, heard stories about her absent Nigerian father, and was sent to live with her Seventh Day Adventist grandparents along with her beloved brother, Little Roo.
Black Is the Body: Stories From My Grandmother’s Time, My Mother’s Time, and Mine by Emily Bernard
The memoir begins with the author being stabbed (along with six others) by a white man with a knife in a New England coffee shop. And while she wasn't stabbed because of her skin color, the metaphor of violence against the Black body remains. The action turned metaphor, among other things Bernard experiences (like marrying a white man), is explored in Black Is the Body: Stories From My Grandmother's Time, My Mother's Time, and Mine, a collection of essays that use her life as the stage to investigate where blackness and whiteness intersect.
Ordinary Light by Laureate Tracy K. Smith
In US poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith's memoir, Ordinary Light, she tells her own remarkable story of coming of age as a young artist in Black America after having suffered an insurmountable loss: the life of her mother.
Obviously: Stories From My Timeline by Akilah Hughes
This coming-of-age memoir is funny, honest, and extremely down to earth. Obviously: Stories From My Timeline by Akilah Hughes details Hughes's early life and her journey toward becoming a force in the media landscape. From delving into her complex family dynamic to detailing the very long, very arduous road to hitting her stride in New York, the Cincinnati native divulges a lot in a collection of chapters that peel back the layers of her identity.
F*ck Your Diet: And Other Things My Thighs Tell Me by Chloé Hilliard
Comedian Chloé Hilliard will have you laughing, crying, and rooting for her the whole way when you read F*ck Your Diet: And Other Things My Thighs Tell Me by Chloé Hilliard. It's candid, raw, and has everything you need to get to know the star on a whole new level.
Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes
The queen of TGIT, Shonda Rhimes is the genius mind behind some of the most binge-worthy shows, including Grey's Anatomy, Scandal, and Private Practice, as well as How to Get Away With Murder and The Catch, of which she is the executive producer. Yet despite her astronomical success, the award-winning founder of Shondaland struggled with self-confidence, suffered from stage fright, was prone to panic attacks, and used her work to hide her introversion. In her funny, honest, and poignant memoir Year of Yes, Shonda challenges herself to say yes to everything for one year, including delivering a commencement speech at her alma mater, doing a guest spot on The Mindy Project, and meeting Oprah. Her journey also led to her subsequent weight loss of over 100 pounds, a balance between work and family, and a happiness that gave her the power to believe in herself.
Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama
Before making history as the first Black president in 2008, Barack Obama broke down barriers of another kind — becoming the first Black president of the Harvard Law Review in 1990. This garnered him extensive media attention, leading to a publishing contract and an early advance to pen a book about race relations. Tackling the issues using personal experience, Dreams of My Father was first published in 1995. The memoir chronicles Obama's life prior to his enrollment in Harvard, including his childhood in Hawaii, the strained relationship with his absent father, and his various education in the US. He also explores his mixed heritage and discusses how race relations vary across the globe.
Around the Way Girl: A Memoir by Taraji P. Henson
Known for her role as Cookie in Fox's Empire, and more recently for her part in the critically acclaimed Hidden Figures, Academy Award nominee and Golden Globe-winning actress, Taraji P. Henson details her struggles and successes in her 2016 memoir, Around the Way Girl. Presented as her most authentic self, the actress gets candid about her childhood in Washington DC, the influence of her grandmother, her relationship with her father, the realities of being a single mother, being Black in Hollywood, and more.
The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae
In February of 2011, the first episode of Issa Rae's comedy web series Awkward Black Girl hit YouTube. The show, which was produced by Pharrell Williams, ended in 2013, but her videos were viewed over 20 million times and attracted a base audience of 200,000 subscribers. Since then, Issa Rae has found success in her Golden Globe-nominated HBO series, Insecure. The comedy, which follows two friends navigating careers and relationships, explores social and racial issues, similar to Rae's web series. Her 2016 autobiography, The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, details her inspiration for both of these projects as well as humorously examines her life as a modern-day introvert, race relations in America, and owning your identity.
Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
In his New York Times bestselling memoir Born a Crime, The Daily Show host Trevor Noah opens up about his childhood in South Africa. In a time when interracial relationships were punishable by time in prison, Trevor's very existence put his family at risk; it wasn't until the apartheid was abolished in 1991 that Trevor was able to truly live uninhibited. In a hilarious, dramatic, and memorable way, Trevor tells of his meaningful relationship with his mother, general ups and downs of youth and adolescence, and how he managed to discover who he was in a time and place when danger, poverty, violence, and crime surrounded him.
You Can't Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson
Written by comedian and podcaster Phoebe Robinson, her autobiography You Can't Touch My Hair is a humorous and honest collection of essays that discusses heavy topics such as race and gender while peppering in lovable pop culture references and relatable anecdotes. The New York Times bestseller shares Robinson's perspective on being "the Black friend," getting followed by security while shopping, being labeled negatively as a woman in the workplace, how to respond to the inappropriate and invasive question "Can I touch your hair?," and more. Robinson (who has written for MTV's Girl Code, Glamour, Vanity Fair, and The Huffington Post, as well as appearing on numerous comedy shows) perfectly, and uniquely, encompasses the realities of many modern-day Black females.
For the Love of the Game: My Story by Michael Jordan
When Michael Jordan first came on the scene in the mid-1980s, he took the sports world by storm. His skill on the court was, at the time, unparalleled and extremely remarkable. One of the most famous and highly decorated basketball players in history, he continued to pursue excellence off of the court after he retired. He inspired and endorsed Nike's athletic footwear and apparel, Air Jordan, making it one of the most profitable shoe lines in Nike's history. He also became a savvy businessman, making him the second richest African-American in the nation (after Oprah). However, none of his achievements — including an Olympic gold medal and Presidential Medal of Freedom — would have been possible had it not been for his hard work, determination, and ability to dream. In his 1998 autobiography For the Love of the Game, Jordan expands on what made him such a success and gives an inside look at his complete journey, from basketball to business.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Published in 1969, the autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is the coming-of-age story of world-renowned poet and activist Maya Angelou. Beginning just at the age of 3, the story follows Angelou's troubled life, including sexual abuse and rape, to becoming a teen mother in the South in 1945. The first in a series of seven books that chronicle her life, this memoir addresses issues such as racism, identity, family, death, motherhood, and literacy. In a troubled world with bleak circumstances, Maya propelled herself forward with dreams, hopes, and words.
The Soul of a Butterfly: Reflections on Life's Journey by Muhammad Ali
In 2013, the late Muhammad Ali wrote The Soul of a Butterfly, a memoir reflecting on some of the most touching and memorable moments of his life. Ali shares his spiritual philosophy, including the importance of moral courage, faith in God, respect, and perseverance. With examples from his childhood and later family life and his boxing career and role as a "Messenger of Peace" for the UN, Muhammad uses his unwavering values to not only inspire but also prove that it was more than just his success in the ring that made him "the Greatest."
Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, A Life in Balance by Simone Biles
At just 19 years old, Final Five member Simone Biles laid everything she had out on the gymnastics floor at the 2016 Summer Olympics, and it paid off. The world watched as the gymnast took home four gold medals for her all-around performance, her work with a team, her floor exercises, and her vault skills; she also took home a bronze medal for her work on the balance beam. In her inspiring 2016 autobiography Courage to Soar, Simone opens up about her childhood and first involvement with gymnastics, the years she spent training, and her time at the Olympics. She shares how her family, passion, and diligence helped her make sacrifices, work hard, and become the most decorated gymnast in American history.
Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina by Misty Copeland
In 2015, Misty Copeland became the first African-American female principal dancer in the 75-year history of the American Ballet Theatre. In her memoir Life in Motion, Misty details her life as a young prodigy, overcoming obstacles on her journey to the ballet, and the determination it took to achieve her dreams of dance. With grace, persistence, devotion, and hard work, Misty was able to break down barriers, and her autobiography explores how you can do the same.
I Never Had It Made: An Autobiography by Jackie Robinson
In 1947, Jackie Robinson made history as the first African-American to play in Major League Baseball. Originally published in 1971 — the year he died — Robinson's autobiography I Never Had It Made examines his childhood, his years at UCLA, his time in the Army, and the unexpected journey of breaking down barriers in baseball. While recalling all of the special moments in the sport that made him famous, the former MLB star also discusses his turbulent relationship with his son, his role during the Civil Rights Movement, and the qualities and values that helped him overcome challenges and conquer his dreams.
I Got This: How I Changed My Ways and Lost What Weighed Me Down by Jennifer Hudson
Published in 2012, Jennifer Hudson's memoir I Got This follows the singer's path to stardom and how, in the face of adversity, she managed to discover her identity, achieve success, and obtain happiness, finding herself along the way. Beginning with her youth in Chicago's South Side, the autobiography includes intimate stories of Hudson's family, her relationship with her son, her journey on American Idol, and the career she created after her time on the competition series came to an end. The Oscar-winning performer also shares how she successfully lost over 80 pounds and gained self-confidence in the process.