In Review

Black Women, Black Church, and Self-Narratives


Twenty Years a Missionary book coverTwenty Year’s Experience of a Missionary
Virginia W. Broughton (Pony Press, 1907)
First published in 1907, this is the memoir of Virginia W. Broughton (1856–1934), Baptist minister, missionary, and writer for the National Baptist Union newspaper and National Baptist Magazine.
The Other Side of Paradise book coverThe Other Side of Paradise: A Memoir
Staceyann Chin (Scribner, 2009)
Performer, poet, and LGBT activist Staceyann Chin (1972– ) shares her unforgettable story of triumph against all odds in this brave and fiercely candid memoir.
Generations book coverGenerations: A Memoir
Lucille Clifton (NYRB Classics, 2021)
American poet Lucille Clifton (1936–2010), known for her work focusing on the African American experience and family life, is the only author to have two books of poetry nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.
Dust Tracks book coverDust Tracks on a Road: An Autobiography
Zora Neale Hurston (HarperCollins, 2010)
First published in 1942, this bold, poignant, and funny memoir of novelist, folklorist, and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston (1891–1960) tells of her rise from childhood poverty in the rural South to a prominent place among the leading artists and intellectuals of the Harlem Renaissance.
My ife My Love My Legacy book coverMy Life, My Love, My Legacy
Coretta Scott King, as told to the Rev. Dr. Barbara Reynolds (Henry Holt, 2017)
This volume follows the life story of Coretta Scott King (1927–2006), civil rights and human rights activist, and founder of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change.
Pauli Murray Autobiography book coverPauli Murray: The Autobiography of a Black Activist, Feminist, Lawyer, Priest, and Poet
Pauli Murray (University of Tennessee Press, 1989)
Civil rights and labor rights activist Pauli Murray (1910–1985), who was named an Episcopal saint in 2012, was the first African American to earn a JSD from Yale Law School and the first African American woman to be ordained an Episcopal priest.
The Third Door book coverThe Third Door: The Autobiography of an American Negro Woman
Ellen Tarry (University of Alabama Press, 1966)
Writer, journalist, and activist Ellen Tarry (1906–2008) recounts her life in Alabama, Chicago, and New York City, where she worked for black newspapers, befriended many in the Harlem Renaissance, and engaged in Roman Catholic social work.
Dreaming Me book coverDreaming Me: Black, Baptist, and Buddhist: One Woman’s Spiritual Journey
Jan Willis (Wisdom Publications, 2008)
Jan Willis (1948– ) tells the story of her life, as a child growing up in the Jim Crow South, her experiences with racism at an Ivy League college, her involvement with the Black Panther Party, and the impact of meeting a Tibetan Buddhist monk in Nepal.


A selected reading list of classic and contemporary memoir and autobiography from Nyasha Junior’s course.

Nyasha Junior is Associate Professor of Religion (Hebrew Bible) at Temple University and a WSRP 2020–21 Research Associate at Harvard Divinity School. She is the author of An Introduction to Womanist Biblical Interpretation (Westminster John Knox Press, 2015) and, with Jeremy Schipper, Black Samson: The Untold Story of an American Icon (Oxford University Press, 2020).

Please follow our Commentary Guidelines when engaging in discussion on this site.