14 transformative and inspirational memoirs written by women

Mar 7 2022, 6:00 pm

Today is International Women’s Day (IWD), a global celebration of the many economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The Government of Canada’s theme for IWD 2022 is Women Inspiring Women

One of the many ways women have inspired women is through the power of words, specifically in the form of books. These 14 significant memoirs, written by global leaders like Michelle Obama, Joan Didion, and Malala Yousafzai are not only inspirational but also transformative.

Themes of hardships, trauma, and illness are at the core of these unforgettable memoirs, but each one leaves us with a message, that overcoming and becoming is possible, even throughout the most difficult of times.

Between Two Kingdoms by Suleika Jaouad

Suleika Jaouad had just graduated from college, fallen in love, and moved to Paris. She was preparing for life in the real world as a war correspondent. Not long after, she was struck with an itch, which led to extreme fatigue, and later, a trip to the doctor. The diagnosis was leukemia, with a 35% chance of survival.

Just like that, Jaouad’s dreams were shattered, and she spent the next four years in a hospital bed, fighting for her life. In this deeply moving memoir, she chronicles her illness, life after treatment, and a 15,000-mile journey across the country to meet some of the strangers who had written to her while she was in the hospital. The audiobook, narrated by Suleika, is beautiful, with her extraordinary strength felt through every word. 

Becoming by Michelle Obama

From the former First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama’s memoir is outstanding. In it, she chronicles the experiences that have shaped her life, from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years spent living at the White House. Initially released in hardcover, Becoming is now available in paperback, featuring a new introduction by the former FLOTUS, a letter from the author to her younger self, and a book club guide with 20 discussion questions and a five-question Q&A.

Becoming has also been adapted into a Netflix documentary, produced by the Obamas’ company, Higher Ground Productions. The film takes viewers behind the scenes as Obama travels to 34 cities on tour for the book.

The Other Side of Yet by Michelle D. Hord

Michelle D. Hord has been through what many would consider unimaginable. The most devastating loss came when Hord’s beloved daughter was murdered by her ex-husband. In the opening lines of her raw and tragically moving memoir, she writes, “There’s the realization that the other children will grow up, and my baby will not.” 

Hord’s book is about finding light in the midst of darkness, and creating a life of passion and purpose, regardless of the hardships and trauma we face. In 2008, Hord founded Gabrielle’s Wings, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to giving children of color in vulnerable communities the kind of experiences that she was unable to give to her late daughter, Gabrielle.

Hunger by Roxane Gay

Roxane Gay is one of the greatest female writers of our time. In her unforgettable memoir, Hunger, which is a show of true resilience and bravery, Gay writes about her own emotional and psychological struggles with her body, her relationship with food and weight, and her experience as a victim of sexual violence. 

In an interview with Elle, Gay stated that the New York Times bestseller was “by far the hardest book I’ve ever had to write.”

The Beauty of Living Twice by Sharon Stone

Sharon Stone is an award-winning actress, human rights activist, artist, and writer. She received the prestigious Nobel Peace Summit Award in 2013 for her work for people with HIV & AIDS. To look at the glamorous Hollywood star, known for her appearances in Total Recall and Basic Instinct, you wouldn’t believe the misfortune she’s been through. 

In her unflinching and emotionally charged memoir, The Beauty of Living Twice, Stone writes about her efforts to rebuild her life after suffering a massive stroke that left her bleeding into her face, brain, head, and spine. The book, which at times feels at times like an intimate conversation between the reader and Stone, is a celebration of women’s strength and resilience. The audiobook, narrated by the actress, is highly recommended.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Cheryl Strayed leaves us yearning for an adventure with her memoir. The New York Times bestseller is deeply layered, raw, and impactful. The book recounts 26-year-old Strayed’s 1,100-mile solo hike on the Pacific Crest Trail in 1995 and contains flashbacks to hardships that happened earlier in the writer’s life that led her to the trail. 

Wild has since been adapted into a film, which was produced by actress Reese Witherspoon’s production company, Pacific Standard. Witherspoon played the part of Strayed, and the film was written by bestselling British author Nick Hornby.

Educated by Tara Westover

An inspirational story of overcoming barriers and achieving the impossible, Tara Westover’s Educated is truly remarkable. Westover was born in the mountains of Idaho to survivalist parents. She was so far removed from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure her or her siblings received any kind of schooling. A challenging read at times as Westover relays the abuse she suffered at the hands of her brother Shawn. However, her resilience and quest for education led her to college at the age of 17, and from there her learning blossomed, which later led to the completion of a PhD program in history at Cambridge University. 

Educated spent 132 consecutive weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and has received numerous literary awards and accolades since its release. 

In Pieces by Sally Field

Sally Field is an American icon, known and cherished for her roles in Gidget and Norma Rae. In her transformative and honest memoir, In Pieces, which was selected as a New York Times Notable Book of the year, Field tells her story for the first time. She opens up about her life and brings readers behind the scenes of her star-studded early career in Hollywood and into the truth of her lifelong relationships, including her complicated love for her own mother.

The book includes intimate details about her relationship with Burt Reynolds. However, she stated in interviews that she was glad he would never get a chance to read it. “This would hurt him,” she told the Times. “I felt glad that he wasn’t going to read it, he wasn’t going to be asked about it, and he wasn’t going to have to defend himself or lash out, which he probably would have. I did not want to hurt him any further.”

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

American writer Joan Didion, who passed away in December of last year, was a literary legend. Didion had a career spanning almost 70 years, one that was sparked after she won an essay contest sponsored by Vogue magazine in the 1950s. 

In her National Book Award-winning memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, she writes about the year following the death of her husband, writer John Gregory Dunne. The book recounts in detail her experiences of grief. It’s since been adapted for stage, with various adaptations starring Cate Blanchett and Vanessa Redgrave. 

I Am Malala by Christina Lamb and Malala Yousafzai

In this unforgettable co-authored memoir, Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb chronicle Malala’s early life, the rise and fall of the Taliban in Swat Valley, and the assassination attempt made against 15-year-old Yousafzai. Few expected her to survive after she was shot in the head while riding the bus home from school.

Since then, Malala’s inspirational recovery has taken her from a remote valley in Pakistan to the United Nations in New York. She’s the world’s youngest Nobel Prize laureate, and a leading symbol of peaceful protest. Now 24, the global icon is the co-founder of Malala Fund, an international nonprofit that champions every girl’s right to an education.


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Know My Name by Chanel Miller

One of the most memorable books we’ve ever read, Chanel Miller’s exquisitely written and heartbreaking memoir recounts her experience of sexual trauma and transcendence. Miller’s abuser was slapped on the wrist with a petty six-month sentence in country jail after he was found guilty of sexually assaulting her on Stanford’s campus. She became known to the world as Emily Doe after that, when she astounded millions with her victim impact statement, posted to BuzzFeed, where it instantly went viral, being viewed by 11 million people in four days. 

Know My Name was a New York Times bestseller and best book of the year choice by Time, The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, NPR, and People, among others. A force to be reckoned with, Miller was named one of the Forbes 30 Under 30 and Time Next 100 honouree, and was a Glamour Woman of the Year honouree under her pseudonym Emily Doe. We recommend the audiobook, narrated by Miller. 

The Beauty in Breaking by Michele Harper

Michele Harper’s inspiring memoir opens on her tumultuous childhood, where she often didn’t feel safe under the hands of her own father. As readers, we accompany Harper through life, her upbringing in Washington, her acceptance into Harvard Medical School, her marriage, and unfortunate divorce. We meet Harper in the ER later in life, where she comes to understand that each one of us is broken—physically, emotionally, and psychically. She learns to recognize the breaks, and how to mend them. 

Raw, vulnerable, and courageous, The Beauty in Breaking is a wonderfully written and must-read story about the necessary lessons Harper has learned as a daughter, a woman, and a physician.

Small Fry by Lisa Brennan Jobs

It’s likely that you know a lot about Apple and Steve Jobs, but you probably don’t know much about his daughter, Lisa Brennan Jobs. In her devastating memoir, Small Fry, Brennan Jobs covers her childhood in Palo Alto and her famous father’s estrangement. 

Kevin J. Hamilton of The Seattle Times refers to the book as “a heartbreaking memoir, beautifully rendered… It’s a love story for the father that she had, flaws and all.” There have been many TV and film adaptations made about the life of Steve Jobs that include Brennan Jobs, but perhaps the most accurate is Aaron Sorkin’s 2015 movie, Steve Jobs, for which Sorkin managed to secure an interview with Brennan Jobs before writing the script.

​​Unbound by Tarana Burke

American writer and activist Tarana Burke is the founder of the #MeToo movement and the subsequent nonprofit. She was the 2017 Time Person of the Year and the winner of the 2019 Sydney Peace Prize and has been the recipient of countless other accolades. 

In her significant memoir, Unbound, she recounts her sexual assault, believing from a young age that she was to blame. Later in life, Burke fought to reunite her fractured self, through organizing, pursuing justice, and finding community. She shares her extensive work supporting and empowering Black and brown girls, and the realization that she needed to stop running and confront what happened to her. This is the story of one woman’s inner strength and perseverance. 

Sean LoughranSean Loughran

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