memoir, Nonfiction

Empowering Memoirs Written by Women

From mathematician, political scientist, and businesswoman to more creative careers like writer, actor, country singer, and chef, these women have a lot to say. We invite you to read their empowering stories. Curated by Bonita Bignar.

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My Remarkable Journey by Katherine Johnson, Joylette Hylick, and Katherine Moore

The remarkable woman at heart of the smash New York Times bestseller and Oscar-winning film Hidden Figures tells the full story of her life, including what it took to work at NASA, help land the first man on the moon, and live through a century of turmoil and change. 
 
In 2015, at the age of 97, Katherine Johnson became a global celebrity. President Barack Obama awarded her the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom—the nation’s highest civilian honor—for her pioneering work as a mathematician on NASA’s first flights into space. Her contributions to America’s space program were celebrated in a blockbuster and Academy-award nominated movie. 
 
In this memoir, Katherine shares her personal journey from child prodigy in the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia to NASA human computer. In her life after retirement, she served  as a beacon of light for her family and community alike.  Her story is centered around the basic tenets of her life—no one is better than you, education is paramount, and asking questions can break barriers. The memoir captures the many facets of this unique woman: the curious “daddy’s girl,” pioneering professional, and sage elder.  
 
This multidimensional portrait is also the record of a century of racial history that reveals the influential role educators at segregated schools and Historically Black Colleges and Universities played in nurturing the dreams of trailblazers like Katherine. The author pays homage to her mentor—the African American professor who inspired her to become a research mathematician despite having his own dream crushed by racism.  
 
Infused with the uplifting wisdom of a woman who handled great fame with genuine humility and great tragedy with enduring hope, My Remarkable Journey ultimately brings into focus a determined woman who navigated tough racial terrain with soft-spoken grace—and the unrelenting grit required to make history and inspire future generations. 


I am a Girl From Africa by Elizabeth Nyamayaro

The inspiring journey of a girl from Africa whose near-death experience sparked a dream that changed the world. 
 
She squeezes my hand and smiles. “I am here to feed hungry children in the village, because as Africans we must uplift each other.” 
I don’t understand what it means to uplift others, but I nod. 
I know that I can finally stand up. I will search for food. I will live. 
 
 
When severe draught hit her village in Zimbabwe, Elizabeth, then eight, had no idea that this moment of utter devastation would come to define her life purpose. Unable to move from hunger, she encountered a United Nations aid worker who gave her a bowl of warm porridge and saved her life. This transformative moment inspired Elizabeth to become a humanitarian, and she vowed to dedicate her life to giving back to her community, her continent, and the world. 
 
Grounded by the African concept of ubuntu—“I am because we are”—I Am a Girl from Africa charts Elizabeth’s quest in pursuit of her dream from the small village of Goromonzi to Harare, London, New York, and beyond, where she eventually became a Senior Advisor at the United Nations and launched HeForShe, one of the world’s largest global solidarity movements for gender equality. For over two decades, Elizabeth has been instrumental in creating change in communities all around the world; uplifting the lives of others, just as her life was once uplifted. The memoir brings to vivid life one extraordinary woman’s story of persevering through incredible odds and finding her true calling—while delivering an important message of hope and empowerment in a time when we need it most. 


Where You Are Is Not Who You Are by Ursula M. Burns

The first Black female CEO of a Fortune 500 company looks back at her life and her career at Xerox, sharing unique insights on American business and corporate life, the workers she has always valued, racial and economic justice, how greed is threatening democracy, and the obstacles she’s conquered being Black and a woman. 
 
“I am a black woman, I do not play golf, I do not belong to or go to country clubs, I do not like NASCAR, I do not listen to country music, and I have a masters degree in engineering. I, like a typical New Yorker, speak very fast, with an accent and vernacular that is definitely New York City, definitely Black. So when someone says I’m going to introduce you to the next CEO of Xerox, and the options are lined up against a wall, I would be the first one voted off the island.”   
 
In 2009, when she was appointed the Chief Executive Officer of the Xerox Corporation, Ursula Burns shattered the glass ceiling and made headlines. But the media missed the real story, she insists. “It should have been ‘how did this happen? How did Xerox Corporation produce the first African American woman CEO?’ Not this spectacular story titled, “Oh, my God, a Black woman making it.” 
 
In this smart, no-nonsense book, part memoir and part cultural critique, Burns writes movingly about her journey from tenement housing on Manhattan’s Lower East Side to the highest echelons of the corporate world. She credits her success to her poor single Panamanian mother, Olga Racquel Burns—a licensed child-care provider whose highest annual income was $4,400—who set no limits on what her children could achieve. Ursula recounts her own dedication to education and hard work, and how she took advantage of the opportunities and social programs created by the Civil Rights and Women’s movements to pursue engineering at Polytechnic Institute of New York. 
 
Burns writes about overcoming the barriers she faced, as well as the challenges and realities of the corporate world. Her classmates and colleagues—almost all white males—“couldn’t comprehend how a Black girl could be as smart, and in some cases, smarter than they were. They made a developed category for me. Unique. Amazing. Spectacular. That way they could accept me.” Her thirty-five-year career at Xerox was all about fixing things, from cutting millions to save the company from bankruptcy to a daring $6 billion acquisition to secure its future. Ursula also worked closely with President Barack Obama as a lead on his STEM initiative and Chair of his Export council, where she traveled with him on an official trade mission to Cuba, and became one of his greatest admirers. 
 
Candid and outspoken, Ursula offers a remarkable look inside the c-suites of corporate America through the eyes of a Black woman—someone who puts humanity over greed and justice over power. She compares the impact of the pandemic to the financial crisis of 2007, condemns how corporate culture is destroying the spirit of democracy, and worries about the workers whose lives are being upended by technology. Empathetic and dedicated, idealistic and pragmatic, Ursula demonstrates that, no matter your circumstances, hard work, grit and a bit of help along the way can change your life—and the world. 


Poet Warrior by Joy Harjo

Poet Laureate Joy Harjo offers a vivid, lyrical, and inspiring call for love and justice in this contemplation of her trailblazing life. 
 
In the second memoir from the first Native American to serve as US poet laureate, Joy Harjo invites us to travel along the heartaches, losses, and humble realizations of her “poet-warrior” road. A musical, kaleidoscopic meditation, Poet Warrior reveals how Harjo came to write poetry of compassion and healing, poetry with the power to unearth the truth and demand justice. 
 
Weaving together the voices that shaped her, Harjo listens to stories of ancestors and family, the poetry and music that she first encountered as a child, the teachings of a changing earth, and the poets who paved her way. She explores her grief at the loss of her mother and sheds light on the rituals that nourish her as an artist, mother, wife, and community member. Moving fluidly among prose, song, and poetry, Poet Warrior is a luminous journey of becoming that sings with all the jazz, blues, tenderness, and bravery that we know as distinctly Joy Harjo.


Unfinished by Priyanka Chopra Jones

“I have always felt that life is a solitary journey, that we are each on a train, riding through our hours, our days, our years. We get on alone, we leave alone, and the decisions we make as we travel on the train are our responsibility alone.” 
 
A remarkable life story rooted in two different worlds, Unfinished offers insights into Priyanka Chopra Jonas’s childhood in India; her formative teenage years in the United States; and her return to India, where against all odds as a newcomer to the pageant world, she won the national and international beauty competitions that launched her global acting career. Whether reflecting on her nomadic early years or the challenges she has faced as she has doggedly pursued her calling, Priyanka shares her challenges and triumphs with warmth and honesty. The result is a book that is philosophical, sassy, inspiring, bold, and rebellious. Just like the author herself. 
 
From her dual-continent twenty-year-long career as an actor and producer to her work as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, from losing her beloved father to cancer to marrying Nick Jonas, Priyanka Chopra Jonas’s story will inspire a generation around the world to gather their courage, embrace their ambition, and commit to the hard work of following their dreams. 


Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted by Suleika Jaouad

A searing, deeply moving memoir of illness and recovery that traces one young woman’s journey from diagnosis to remission and, ultimately, a road trip of healing and self-discovery. 
 
In the summer after graduating from college, Suleika Jaouad was preparing, as they say in commencement speeches, to enter “the real world”. She had fallen in love and moved to Paris to pursue her dream of becoming a war correspondent. The real world she found, however, would take her into a very different kind of conflict zone. 
 
It started with an itch—first on her feet, then up her legs, like a thousand invisible mosquito bites. Next came the exhaustion, and the six-hour naps that only deepened her fatigue. Then a trip to the doctor and, a few weeks shy of her twenty-third birthday, a diagnosis: leukemia, with a 35 percent chance of survival. Just like that, the life she had imagined for herself had gone up in flames. By the time Jaouad flew home to New York, she had lost her job, her apartment, and her independence. She would spend much of the next four years in a hospital bed, fighting for her life and chronicling the saga in a column for The New York Times
 
When Jaouad finally walked out of the cancer ward—after three and a half years of chemo, a clinical trial, and a bone marrow transplant—she was, according to the doctors, cured. But as she would soon learn, a cure is not where the work of healing ends; it’s where it begins. She had spent the past 1,500 days in desperate pursuit of one goal—to survive. And now that she’d done so, she realized that she had no idea how to live. 
 
How would she reenter the world and live again? How could she reclaim what had been lost? Jaouad embarked—with her new best friend, Oscar, a scruffy terrier mutt—on a 100-day, 15,000-mile road trip across the country. She set out to meet some of the strangers who had written to her during her years in the hospital: a teenage girl in Florida also recovering from cancer; a teacher in California grieving the death of her son; a death-row inmate in Texas who’d spent his own years confined to a room. What she learned on this trip is that the divide between sick and well is porous, that the vast majority of us will travel back and forth between these realms throughout our lives. Between Two Kingdoms is a profound chronicle of survivorship and a fierce, tender, and inspiring exploration of what it means to begin again. 


Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics by Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics is a landmark celebration of the remarkable life and career of a country music and pop culture legend. 
 
As told by Dolly Parton in her own inimitable words, explore the songs that have defined her journey. Illustrated throughout with previously unpublished images from Dolly Parton’s personal and business archives. 
 
Mining over 60 years of songwriting, Dolly Parton highlights 175 of her songs and brings readers behind the lyrics. 
 
• Packed with never-before-seen photographs and classic memorabilia 
• Explores personal stories, candid insights, and myriad memories behind the songs 
 
Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics reveals the stories and memories that have made Dolly a beloved icon across generations, genders, and social and international boundaries. 
 
Containing rare photos and memorabilia from Parton’s archives, this book is a show-stopping must-have for every Dolly Parton fan. 
 
• Learn the history behind classic Parton songs like “Jolene,” “9 to 5,” “I Will Always Love You,” and more. 


Finding Freedom: A Cook’s Story; Remaking a Life from Scratch by Erin French
 
Long before The Lost Kitchen became a world dining destination with every seating filled the day the reservation book opens each spring, Erin French was a girl roaming barefoot on a 25-acre farm, a teenager falling in love with food while working the line at her dad’s diner and a young woman finding her calling as a professional chef at her tiny restaurant tucked into a 19th century mill. This singular memoir–a classic American story–invites readers to Erin’s corner of her beloved Maine to share the real person behind the “girl from Freedom” fairytale, and the not-so-picture-perfect struggles that have taken every ounce of her strength to overcome, and that make Erin’s life triumphant. 
 
In Finding Freedom, Erin opens up to the challenges, stumbles, and victories that have led her to the exact place she was ever meant to be, telling stories of multiple rock-bottoms, of darkness and anxiety, of survival as a jobless single mother, of pills that promised release but delivered addiction, of a man who seemed to offer salvation but in the end ripped away her very sense of self. And of the beautiful son who was her guiding light as she slowly rebuilt her personal and culinary life around the solace she found in food–as a source of comfort, a sense of place, as a way of bringing goodness into the world. Erin’s experiences with deep loss and abiding hope, told with both honesty and humor, will resonate with women everywhere who are determined to find their voices, create community, grow stronger and discover their best-selves despite seemingly impossible odds. Set against the backdrop of rural Maine and its lushly intense, bountiful seasons, Erin reveals the passion and courage needed to invent oneself anew, and the poignant, timeless connections between food and generosity, renewal and freedom. 

*All summaries courtesy of the publisher unless otherwise noted.

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