6 Memoirs Written by Women You Need to Read

As a woman who identifies very strongly with fellow women, I spend as much time as possible reading books written by, for, and about women. I absolutely love fiction, memoirs, and autobiographies of real women living their real lives. They are so captivating that I often find myself turning to the genre for inspiration more often than any other genre. Here is a list of some of my favorite memoirs written by women—I hope they inspire you as much as they have inspired me.


I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

The first of author Maya Angelou’s seven autobiographies, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings spans thirteen years of Angelou’s life—from age 3 to age 16—and begins with the story of her and her brother’s move to Arkansas to live with their grandmother and uncle. Throughout the autobiography, Angelou discusses living in a household that didn’t demonstrate love or affection, living with racial prejudice, surviving sexual assault, being reunited with an absent parent, and negative self-image and self-esteem. Angelou’s young life is rife with struggle and hardship, but despite all of the challenges she faces at such a young age, she becomes a strong, confident, and powerful young woman. Through her evolution from a shy, complacent child to a confident young woman, Angelou shows other young women and all of the book’s readers that despite the circumstances one is born into, with strength and resilience anything is possible, and anything can be overcome.


Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

In her graphic novel Fun Home, Alison Bechdel tells the story of her relationship with her father and the rest of her dysfunctional family and discusses her sexuality. Upon her father’s untimely death, Bechdel reflects on her distant and meticulous father’s life and on the secret of his true sexuality, which he kept hidden his entire life. In reflecting on her father’s sexuality and her own, Alison comes to accept herself and her family and is an excellent role model for young women also struggling to understand and come to terms with their sexuality and their true selves. Bechdel’s other graphic memoir, Are You My Mother? is also awesome, and this time focuses on her relationship with her mother.


Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

Girl, Interrupted is the first memoir regarding mental health that I ever read, and it remains one of my favorites. Kaysen’s memoir of her time at McLean hospital in Massachusetts takes place in the 1960s, following her diagnosis of borderline personality disorder at the age of 18. Throughout her memoir, Kaysen shares interactions with other patients and the hospital’s workers, shining a light on the treatment of those deemed mentally unwell and the circumstances that led these women to their hospitalization. By sharing her interactions with these women, Kaysen humanizes those that suffer from mental illness, and shows women like me that although it may often feel like it, they are not the only ones suffering from mental illness.


The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

Writer Joan Didion’s memoir about the death of her husband in 2003 is an amazing work discussing the process of mourning, and learning to accept the loss of a beloved family member. Before and following her husband’s death, Didion had been caring for her daughter who was suffering from septic shock following pneumonia. While she mourns the loss of her husband, Didioin continues to care for her child as she deals with her crippling grief. Didion’s memoir is a beautiful and heartbreaking account of dealing with grief and mourning, and is an essential read for anyone dealing with a personal loss.


The Liars’ Club by Mary Karr

In her first memoir in a series of three, The Liars’ Club tells the story of Mary Karr’s tumultuous and troubled childhood. Alcoholism and psychological issues run through the Texan family, leaving Mary and her sister to deal with the consequences of an unstable and at times dangerous home life. Although Mary and her family face many ups and downs throughout the course of the memoir, her spunk and toughness help her survive even the most terrible circumstances—coming out at the other end of her childhood with scars, but alive. Karr’s other memoirs Cherry and Lit are also wonderful and moving as they discuss Karr’s attempts to cope with her troubled past and consequent struggles with addiction, and her eventual triumph over her demons.


Just Kids by Patti Smith

I really want to write down concisely and clearly everything that I love about Just Kids, but I just love it so much that it feels impossible. Just Kids is musician and artist Patti Smith’s telling of her strong friendship with photographer Robert Mapplethorple, and of her life as an artist in New York City during the 60s and 70s. I don’t really know what else to say, other than that this book about friendship, youth, passion, hope, and love is beautiful and amazing, and that it should be much more widely read than it is.


Memoirs help us relate better to other people, which is why I believe this genre is so special. Have you read any of these memoirs?


Image credits: Amazon.com