I've always been a sucker for a good biography. There's something about being pulled into someone else's story that is just so intriguing to the mind of the reader....their trials, their triumphs, and discovering how many of us are actually more alike than we think we're different. In our womanhood, most especially women of color, we can find ourselves being torn apart by the pettiest issues, but our stories and our experiences are often what glues us together. Those are the moments I live for when it comes to reading. That connection to a complete stranger, to their words, and to their journey, allows us to untangle ourselves in each other because our stories are the fabric of who we are. Within the past year or so, female non-fiction writers of color have been receiving a great amount of well-deserved exposure and literary opportunities to tell their story. If you're looking for some refreshing new reads based on true life experiences to keep you connected and pushing on through 2017, here are some recent best-selling biographies, written by women of color, that encourage us to live free, laugh loud, love deep, and write hard.
Taraji P. Henson - "Around The Way Girl"
When we think about Black Girl Magic, we think about what it means to be real, gritty, raw, unfiltered, vibrant, intelligent, and confident. We also think about what it means to spend your life fighting against consistently being underestimated, underrepresented, and undervalued. We think about what it means to be both a nurturer and a hustler. We think about strength. We think about passion. We think about attitude. In today's generation, we think about Taraji. In her latest memoir, she opens up to us about her journey of escaping the streets of DC for the silver screen of Hollywood, while maneuvering through the roller-coaster of single motherhood. She ignored the people who tried to convince her that her dreams were too far-fetched and out of reach, and used everything stacked against her as a catalyst to succeed, instead of baggage holding her back. She became her own testimony and wrote to tell about it. We are all familiar with Taraji "the character" but here, she introduces us to Taraji "the woman" and epitomizes the around the way girl we all love, the one we all know her to be, and the one we all see in ourselves.
Issa Rae - "Misadventures of The Awkward Black Girl"
Issa Rae is the nerdy, witty, socially introverted, unapologetically curious Black girl we've all been, and many of us still are. The concept for this book stemmed as sort of a spin off from her original hit YouTube series, which was loosely based off of her life experiences, but eventually it was printed into somewhat of a manual on how to navigate being an "awkward Black woman" in the workplace, in relationships, and even dissecting the importance of black female friendships. We've watched her bring these characters to life in her award-winning television show, "Insecure" on HBO as she tackles everything from infidelity to dealing with obnoxious co-workers, petty girlfriends, and yes....white people. Warning: this book may have you laughing out loud to yourself in public, if you're into that kind of thing.
Gabourey Sidibe - "This is Just My Face, Try Not to Stare"
The title in itself screams everything we want this book to be, and nothing short of what we'd expect from Gaby. She holds nothing back when she exposes her experiences growing up in Bedstuy, being raised by a mother who sings in the subway for a living, and her first job which she landed as a phone sex operator. She also goes on to narrate how she found her own place in the film industry after coping with stereotypes about her image and how she managed being typecast alongside the rich, famous, and privileged. She opens up to the world about her most precious (no pun intended) insecurities and how she battled the inner and outer demons of weight, race, class, gender, depression, and how she let none of those socially appointed "pre-existing" conditions determine her destiny. In this memoir, Gaby invites us on her journey of self-discovery in an attempt to introduce us to the woman underneath it all. Or as she so eloquently puts it, “If I could just get the world to see me the way I see myself, would my body still be a thing you walked away thinking about?"
Angie Martinez - "My Voice"
The culture of Hip Hop has many cornerstones. From the lyricist to the emcee, to the DJ. The beats, the clothes, the language. And one of the most important voices of that language is Angie Martinez. A gem, born within the brick walls of Brooklyn, NY, would soon become the most trusted source, and the most respected narrator of our generation, bridging the gap between Hip Hop and Journalism in ways never seen before and staying true to her womanhood as she carved her place in a majority male dominated industry. Here, in her autobiography, she discusses her journey from being a troubled 16-year-old, part-timing her way at the radio station, cutting school, failing classes, because the only thing that connected with her, was the music and the story behind it. From a teenager, she worked her way up and learned every single aspect of radio, from behind the scenes, to on the mic. She knew how to run the boards of her show if she needed to because she understood what it meant to have to work twice as hard for half as much. By the time she had her own show, she had developed a reputation for herself preceded by the mentality, "If it didn't come from Angie, it ain't true." There were many celebrities who only wanted to interview with her because they trusted that she was the only one who would tell their story fairly. When it came to radio journalism, she WAS the standard. One of the reasons we fell in love with Ang was her honesty, and in this book, she doesn't only talk about how she slayed the good opportunities that came her way, but also the irresponsible decisions she made, and the lessons they taught her about her own individual independence. She earned her position as one of the most genuine voices in the game, rooted in the city of New York, but holding a special part in all of us. She is, "the perfect verse, over a tight beat."
Misty Copeland - "Life In Motion"
Know that you can start late, look different, be uncertain, and still succeed. This is the story of Misty Copeland. She didn't step foot in a ballet studio until she was 13-years-old and eventually went on to become the first EVER African-American woman to be a principal dancer with the American Ballet Theater. Serving as an escape from an unstable childhood, ballet soon became the only thing in her life that was consistent. Her living situation was all over the place as she and her siblings bounced around in between homes and marriages with her mom, and by age 15, she was in the middle of a custody battle between her mother and her dance teacher. She had been living with her teacher while being home schooled so she could focus more time on ballet without being overwhelmed with daily school hours, and she had become a vital part of the Bradley family. Despite the instability back home, she still longed for the moments she was missing out on with her own siblings in an important time of her childhood. The friction in these relationships sometimes made Misty's future in ballet seem unsure, but she stayed focused on the escape, and as an early teenager was receiving professional offers for dance opportunities. Even though her talent was undeniable, the road wasn't an easy one. There were many roles she didn't land simply because she was told she hadn't been dancing long enough, she didn't come from a prestigious background so she didn't have access to the same resources, and most notably, she didn't "look", like a ballerina. In this book, she vividly describes her trials and triumphs as a teenager and her journey of growing into a woman. She shares herself, the struggles she faced to find her place in her family, as well as on stage, before eventually becoming the face of ballet for dancers of color across the globe.
Janet Mock - "Surpassing Certainty"
Born into a "boys body", over 30 years ago in Honolulu, Hawaii, Janet Mock confidently explains that it was never her genital reconstructive surgery which made her a girl, "I was always a girl." In "Surviving Certainty", she details her painful and passionate journey into womanhood, including how she had to personally fund the medical expenses of her surgery by laboring as a sex worker in her teens. When she was 18 years old she flew to Thailand for the procedure and never looked back on the truth in her sexuality. She went on to become the first in her family to graduate college, receiving not only a Bachelor of Arts in Fashion Merchandising from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, but also a Master of Arts in Journalism from New York University in 2006. With Trans women of color being one of the most violently targeted groups in this day and age, and at the forefront of a post-millennial civil rights revolution, women like Janet Mock epitomize what it means to stand in your truth, by any means necessary. Her career in journalism would soon help her develop a platform of huge influence and a chance to use her personal experience to become a powerful activist for Transgender rights, and one of the most renowned LGBTQ advocates in our generation. She continues to be an agent of change, giving a voice to the voiceless, and hope to a community that often feels ostracized and overlooked, not just as men or women, but as human beings. Also written by Janet Mock,"Redefining Realness".
Shonda Rhimes - "The Year of Yes"
They say, if there's a story you want to read, you should write it yourself. Shonda Rhimes took that concept and ran all the way home with it. Literally. In an industry that often misrepresents people of color on and off screen, she decided to pick up the pen and never put it down. Shonda Rhimes initiated an entire new movement of television screenwriting, determined to create bodies of work that allowed us to tell our own stories, and how our stories intersect with the real world around us. She gave birth to characters who specifically gave us a chance to see ourselves reflected in powerful, prime time roles, accompanied by the juicy, brilliant plot lines that stretched far beyond our imaginations. In her book, "The Year of Yes", she discusses her journey of having to step outside the worlds and characters she created, and how she made a promise to her sister, and a conscious effort to herself, to say yes to (almost) every invitation and adventure that came her way for one whole year. By doing this, she noticed that she was actually saying yes to her reality as a woman, a sister, a daughter, and a mother, and becoming best friends with the Shonda behind the scenes. It's the script of how she began to say yes to herself. There's no denying that Shonda Rhimes has ushered in a fresh generation of fictional scripted television, providing underground writers of color opportunities they never had before. But her path to self-discovery outside of living vicariously through the stories and relationships she handcrafted in fiction, has been her most personal production to date. Following "The Year of Yes", she also released "The Year of Yes: Journal" as a personal guide to help others who are on a similar path learning to say yes to themselves. The message is simple, don't let anyone tell your story but you. It's your yes.