With attractions like museums pretty much off the table this year, millions of Americans will have to find a safe and solitary alternative source of education, knowledge and culture during Black History Month. The good news is, all you have to do is curl up in a cozy spot with a great book — not exactly a chore during the cold, dark month of February. African American writers have produced no shortage of novels and literature, but sometimes, the hardest-hitting and most inspiring stories are told by those who lived them. The following selections are among the most beloved, most important and most highly regarded memoirs from both today and years past — and each is available and in stock on Amazon. All prices are for the paperback versions.
Maya Angelou: ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’
- Price: $7.92
If you’ve never read Maya Angelou’s debut memoir, it’s hard to imagine a better place to start your literary journey this February than with “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” Published in 1969, it remains one of the most significant and celebrated books ever written in any genre. The autobiography chronicles the author’s childhood after being abandoned to live with relatives in the rural South. Although its heavy themes include violence, humiliation, racism, inferiority, abuse and an unspeakable assault, it’s ultimately a story of hope and inspiration.
Michelle Obama: ‘Becoming’
- Price: $11.89
It’s not hard to believe that “Becoming” has remained a bestseller since its initial release in 2018. Its author, after all, is one of the most famous and admired women around. The highly regarded memoir — 4.8 stars after nearly 95,000 reviews — traces Michelle Obama’s journey from standout academic achiever to mother to the first African American woman to reside in the White House.
Michael W. Twitty: ‘The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South’
- Price: $12.59
The 2018 James Beard Foundation Book of the Year award was just one of the many impressive accolades that the noted cultural and culinary historian Michael Twitty earned for this unique memoir. The book examines the Black experience through the lens of cuisine — Southern cuisine, specifically — and explores the historical role of soul food as both a cultural glue for the African American community and a means of physical survival over centuries in a hostile land.
John Lewis: ‘Across That Bridge: A Vision for Change and the Future of America’
- Price: $8.31
When longtime Georgia Rep. John Lewis passed away in 2020, the world lost not only one of the last and deepest connections to the King-era Civil Rights Movement, but it also lost a great writer. Drawing from his experience as a pioneering civil rights leader who nearly gave his life for the Movement on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday, Lewis uses the book’s pages to offer wisdom, lessons, warnings and hope about what America can and should be.
Cicely Tyson: ‘Just as I Am: A Memoir’
- Price: $14.49
“The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman” is sometimes mistakenly included on lists about great African American memoirs — but that classic novel is actually a work of fiction. When it was adapted for the screen in 1974, however, an actress named Cicely Tyson landed the lead role in the movie of the same name. It was just one of nearly 100 credits in Tyson’s extraordinary seven-decade career, which has drawn renewed attention after her death on January 28, 2021. The recipient of an Academy Award, SAG Award, Tony, Emmy, Peabody Award and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, her memoir is one of Amazon’s current bestsellers.
Ta-Nehisi Coates: ‘Between the World and Me’
- Price: $12.92
Widely hailed for its unique and deeply personal structure, this memoir is staged as a series of letters from a father to his teenage son. The author, a national correspondent for “The Atlantic,” frames the memoir as a tutorial designed to prepare his own child for the realities of being Black in America. A darling of both critics and regular readers, it boasts 4.7 stars after nearly 19,000 ratings.
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