Empowering Women Through Autobiography and Memoirs
By Lucy Lillystone, Sarah Lundy, Kelly Stone, Kate Baguley and Ellie Brady
The recent Meghan Markle interview sparked various conversations about the authenticity and truth of women’s voices, acting as a reminder that women are undeniably resilient despite efforts to suppress their opinions. Here’s a selection of the best and most inspiring stories of women who have stood up to racial and misogynistic discourse, spoken out and used their voices to empower themselves and others.
Red Dust Road by Jackie Kay
Jackie Kay’s funny and heartfelt autobiography Red Dust Road is a blended account of womanhood and discovery. Kay writes about her life, be it her experiences as a young, mixed race girl in Glasgow, growing up as an adopted daughter to Helen and John Kay - fierce socialists and wonderful parents - and her journey to England, the Scottish Highlands and Nigeria to learn more about her birth parents and where she truly comes from. Kay’s voice is unapologetic and deeply honest in this book, holding no bias or bitterness to any of the players in her life story and less than usual familial history. Red Dust Road is a powerful book on belonging, and one we should celebrate.
I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb
I Am Malala is the incredible autobiography of a girl who spoke out against the Taliban, asserting her rights to an education, almost costing the ultimate price, her life. On the 9th of October 2012, on the bus home from school, fifteen-year-old Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head for her refusal to be silent. I Am Malala documents her miraculous recovery and her journey to becoming a global symbol of women’s rights and peaceful protest. This is a remarkable story about how one woman’s voice really can change the world, and why we should all be listening.
Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs
Small Fry is a poignant memoir in which Lisa Brennan-Jobs, the estranged daughter of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, delves into her unconventional upbringing. Growing up in the shadow of such a famous parent, Brennan-Jobs struggled as a child with the diverging lifestyles her two parents led, the complicated, oftentimes manipulative relationship she had with her father which was exacerbated by his refusal to acknowledge her as his daughter for years, and the lasting impact these memories had on her mindset growing up. As she shares these vignettes, her unfiltered narrative voice allows her to tell her acutely personal story in her own candid words.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is the first of a series of autobiographies by Maya Angelou and it is both heart-breaking and inspiring. Following Angelou growing up and coming of age, the story exemplifies the resilience of women who suffer sexual abuse, abandonment, poverty, and racism. The book highlights the deep and uncompromising individuality of women in 1930’s America. Reflecting on what it is like to be a young Black girl living during a time of unparalleled racism, as well as her insecurities regarding her own image, this autobiography is painful but powerful. Written with great clarity, honesty and with a genuine sense of humour, Angelou suggests the best defence is to throw the hypocrisy of society back in its face. An important, defining and incredibly brave work for its time that is still relevant now, everyone should read this book at least once.
Unfollow by Megan Phelps-Roper
Megan Phelps-Roper’s story follows her life growing up in the Westboro Baptist Church and the path that led her to leaving at the age of 26. It is one that is often difficult to read as she reveals the poison that permeated her life within ‘the most hated family in America’.
Phelps-Roper’s story is ultimately one of courage. To outsiders it may seem like the easiest thing in the world to leave behind a group within which tormenting and spewing hatred is their bread and butter. But when you are placed in her situation, having to leave behind her family forever and everything she has ever known, you understand her incredible act of bravery by breaking free. It is gripping and beautiful and shows that whatever difficulties you face, you always have reason to hope.