Remember Me | Memoir Titles and Trends

LJ’s first memoir preview looks at the trends in this season’s bumper crop of life stories.

When Mary Karr published The Liar’s Club in 1995, she ushered in a new era in memoir. Lacking in sentimentality or nostalgia, the book portrayed her family as she saw them: passionate, eccentric, and deeply flawed. Since then, readers have come to expect rigorous self-interrogation and emotional stakes, not cheap confession, in the genre. As Hillary Kelly noted in her book review of Stephanie Danler’s Stray in the New York Times, “Disclosure is not revelation.” An author “needn’t stitch herself back up…, but it’s best to make sure that the blood lost will be worth it.” In Body Work, Melissa Febos asks: “Should we not always tell stories so that their specificity reveals some larger truth?” At its best, this is what memoir achieves.

Among the forthcoming books over the next six months, LJ finds that varied stories and perspectives, intersectional narratives, works processing trauma, and those interrogating family are on the rise. A recent slate of books by Asian American authors, including Anna Qu, Kat Chow, and Qian Julie Wang, probe the nuances of growing up between cultures, with parents scarred by their own tumultuous histories and immigration stories. Writers from a variety of multicultural backgrounds are reckoning with what it means to live with a double consciousness in the United States, holding space for manifold customs and inheritances.

Kathryn Gordon, marketing and publicity director for Legacy Lit, notes that memoirs on “a diversity of topics by African American authors…are widening the scope of narrative and discussion around Black lives.” Queer narratives have made memoir, as a genre, more intersectional and remain vital for readers who are marginalized.

Jen Sookfong Lee, acquiring editor for ECW Press, says, “If we’re seeing a memoir about grief…the book also touches on the unique ways that queerness and chosen family [interact with] that grief.” Familial reckonings and histories are also a key narrative thread in memoirs this year; they remain a lens through which writers examine broader themes.

Trauma and redemption remain powerful topics that show no signs of waning. St. Martin’s Associate Editor Hannah Phillips notes “a crucial point in our culture where we’re finally realizing what trauma is—and how deeply it’s embedded within us.” Authors such as Stephanie Foo (What My Bones Know) are citing the influence of The Body Keeps the Score, Bessel van der Kolk’s 2014 examination of the way childhood trauma continues to show up in the body and psyche, even decades later. Phillips sees “redemption [as] another theme— who we allow to reach for redemption and how they reach for it.” Many authors have channeled traumatic experiences into advocacy, providing a blueprint for activism.

Couples continue to navigate illness and grief on the page, as seen in Amy Bloom’s recent In Love. Readers seek out these narratives not only to commiserate with marital strife and loss, but to see that people can move on, reinvent, and survive. The books highlighted below explore these various themes and showcase the vitality, immediacy, and resonance of the memoir.


Dr. Wendy Osefo pays tribute to her formidable mother Susan Okuzu in Tears of My Mother (Gallery, Sept.). Osefo attests that their relationship, while occasionally nettlesome, profoundly shaped her life. Simu Liu, born in China and raised in Canada, chafes at his parent’s rigid expectations in We Were Dreamers (Morrow, May). Pursuing his own version of success, he becomes the first Chinese star of a Marvel superhero film. In Ma and Me (MCD, May), Putsata Reang, who was a baby when her parents fled Cambodia, considers her strained relationship with her mother after coming out as queer. Erika L. Sánchez, the daughter of Mexican immigrants, recollects her childhood in Chicago in the 1990s in Crying in the Bathroom (Viking, Jul.). Rafael Agustin was a teenager trying to get a driver’s license before he realized he was undocumented. His Ecuadorian parents never disclosed his immigration status, a decision he revisits in Illegally Yours (Grand Central, Jul.).


Recent memoirs by Tarana Burke, Ashley C. Ford, and Dawn Turner all address racism within the context of Black girlhood, including being sexualized at a young age. Black authors attest to the pervasiveness of racial oppression through their own stories and experiences. Kendra Allen recalls Dallas in the 1990s in Fruit Punch (Ecco, Aug.), summoning a childhood marred by violence and turmoil but tempered by a loving family. Misty Copeland, the first Black principal ballerina at the American Ballet Theatre, returns to memoir after Life in Motion with The Wind at My Back (Grand Central, Nov.), paying homage to her mentor Raven Wilkinson, a Black ballet star from the 1950s who battled hostile crowds and death threats. Journalist Shanita Hubbard scrutinizes hip-hop’s relationship to Black women in Ride-or-Die (Legacy Lit, Nov.), in which she demands that Black men be held accountable for contributing to narratives that oppress Black women and lead to increased emotional abuse and gender-based violence. In Black Boy Smile (Legacy Lit, May), D. Watkins addresses generational hardship and the culture of silence around trauma, through the lens of his East Baltimore childhood. Helena Andrews-Dyer examines the “mommy group” dynamic in her Washington, DC, neighborhood, in which she is one of the few Black women, in The Mamas (Crown, Aug.). In Little Brother (Hachette, May), Ben Westhoff takes stock of his relationship with the young Black man he mentored through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program in St. Louis and who was shot and killed at the age of 19.


The presence of queer narratives continues to grow. Lee cites an increase in intersectionality, with authors “who identify as members of different communities using that hybridity to bring readers a perspective that may not have been published before.” Diana Goetsch reflects on her time as part of the crossdressing subculture in 1980s New York City in This Body I Wore (Farrar, May), noting that her identity emerged alongside that of the greater trans community. At age 40, Michelle Tea longed for a pregnancy but lacked health insurance and was told that her eggs were no longer viable. She ultimately carried a child conceived with the eggs of her partner and the sperm of a community member, which she discusses in Knocking Myself Up (Dey St., Aug.). Casey Parks recounts the painful experience of coming out in the rural South in the early aughts in Diary of a Misfit (Knopf, Aug.), which also chases down the story of a trans neighbor of her grandmother’s. Gabe Montesanti, who grew up in the conservative Midwest, credits roller derby with giving her the confidence to embrace her queer identity in Brace for Impact (Dial, May). Taylor Brorby enumerates the parallels between growing up gay in North Dakota and the environmental costs of mining and fracking in Boys and Oil (Liveright, Jun.). Jesse Leon examines his youth in San Diego as the queer son of Mexican immigrants, framing I’m Not Broken (Vintage, Aug.) as a story of resilience after a childhood devastated by sex trafficking and substance abuse. Wade Rouse portrays his efforts to relate to his conservative, distant father in Magic Season (Hanover Square, May). Their shared love of baseball brings reconciliation.


Neurodivergent and disabled authors are adding much needed testimony to the discourse around disability rights. Alice Wong, founder of the Disability Visibility Project, writes about her crusade to dismantle systemic ableism in Year of the Tiger (Vintage, Sept.). Neurodivergent educator and poet Chris Martin conveys his pioneering approach to helping autistic students discover their voices through poetry in May Tomorrow Be Awake (HarperOne, Aug.); he also explores how readers can better communicate with people on the autism spectrum.


Since the 1990 arrival of William Styron’s Darkness Visible, which broke a wall of silence, authors have more readily confronted mental illness in memoir. Charles Marsh struggles to find solace in his faith while grappling with depression in Evangelical Anxiety (HarperOne, Jun.). Andy Dunn, cofounder of the menswear start-up Bonobos, reveals his struggle with bipolar disorder in Burn Rate (Currency, May). In The Mind and the Moon (Ecco, May), Daniel Bergner explores the treatment of his bipolar brother, who was diagnosed in the 1980s and placed in a locked ward. After giving birth, Melissa Bond was prescribed benzodiazepines in increasing dosages; her hellish attempt to withdraw without losing her sanity is partly the subject of Blood Orange Night (Gallery, Jun.).


In Body Work, Febos observes: “All forms of trauma…share the quality of disempowerment.” Trauma survivors are taking back that power, unyoking themselves on the page and catalyzing their anger into action. At age 17, Sara Kruzan was convicted for the murder of a pimp who had forced her into sex work when she was 11. After serving more than 19 years in prison, she now advocates for other survivors of juvenile sex trafficking, detailed in I Cried To Dream Again (Pantheon, May). Antong Lucky, who formed the Dallas Bloods gang in the 1990s, relates his post-prison life, focused on criminal justice reform and violence-reduction strategies, in A Redemptive Path Forward (Counterpoint, May). In Corrections in Ink (St. Martin’s, Jun.), Keri Blakinger, a onetime competitive figure skater who later experienced drug addiction, also commits to post-prison advocacy. In This Goes Out to the Underground (Hachette, Jul.), human trafficking expert Pardis Mahdavi, fearing that her ex-husband had kidnapped her daughter, manages to smuggle herself across the globe to save her. In A Place Called Home (Legacy Lit, Sept.), David Ambroz recounts growing up as a person without housing in New York (one among some 100,000 kids in that area) and urges readers to replace pity with action. Edafe Okporo’s Asylum (S. & S., Jun.) narrates his life as a queer man in Nigeria, where he endured homophobia and harassment and became a global gay rights activist. In My Boy Will Die of Sorrow (Hachette, Jul.), Efrén C. Olivares, a human rights lawyer and Mexican immigrant, shares stories from the trenches after the Trump administration implemented its family separation policy in South Texas.

Bearing witness and documenting history, Holocaust narratives are essential works. Lily Ebert, authored, along with her great-grandson Dov Forman, Lily’s Promise (Harper-One, May). Tova Friedman, wrote, with the help of Malcolm Brabant,  The Daughter of Auschwitz (Hanover Square, Sept.). Ebert and Friedman were sent to Auschwitz at roughly age 20 and five, respectively, and both survived to see the camp liberated in 1945. Ebert is a founding member of the Holocaust Survivors Centre, and Friedman is a retired therapist, who campaigns against anti-Semitism.

In 2005’s The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion wrote, “Given that grief remained the most general of afflictions, its literature seemed remarkably spare.” Didion’s honesty about her reaction to the death of her husband inspired other writers, and readers now have a variety of memoirs to draw upon in not only navigating grief, but also in bearing the unbearable. In This Is Not a Pity Memoir (Harper, Jun.), Abi Morgan recalls how her longtime partner, after awakening from a medically induced coma while undergoing treatment for multiple sclerosis, recognized his family and friends but regarded Morgan as an imposter. Rebecca Woolf makes the decision to slip her wedding ring back on when the husband she was planning to leave is diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer, which she examines in All of This (HarperOne, Aug.).


As Edward Ball demonstrated in his 2020 memoir Life of a Klansman, writers are examining how they’ve benefited from the crimes of their ancestors. Baynard Woods, raised in South Carolina with an ethic of Southern pride, was dismayed to learn that his family tree is rife with white supremacists, which he dissects in Inheritance (Legacy Lit, Jun.). Craig McNamara, whose father Robert McNamara was John F. Kennedy’s secretary of defense and oversaw the U.S.’s escalation of the Vietnam War, joined the anti-war movement after dropping out of college, a decision he discusses in Because Our Fathers Lied (Little, Brown, May). The offspring of "flower children" bron in the 1960s and ’70s are pondering the failed dreams of their parents, many of whom joined cults and embraced New Age movements, as seen in Claire Hoffman’s 2016 Greetings from Utopia Park. Daniella Mestyanek Young grew up in a Brazilian commune, was raised in the Children of God religious cult, and escaped to Texas at the age of 15, a journey she discusses in Uncultured (St. Martin’s, Sept.).

The concept, issues, and complications of family continue to preoccupy modern memoirists. Carmen Rita Wong recalls her early childhood in Harlem as the daughter of a Latina mother and a Chinese immigrant father, in Why Didn’t You Tell Me (Crown, Jul.). In Normal Family (Little, Brown, Jul.), Chrysta Bilton discovers in her 20s that she is one of a dozen siblings resulting from her father’s secret life as a sperm donor. Nabil Ayers, the son of a Jewish former ballerina and a celebrated Black jazz musician, had few childhood encounters with his father and yet feels his influence keenly in My Life in the Sunshine (Viking, Jun.). Novelist Ingrid Rojas Contreras boasts a heritage of otherworldly connections and visions. Born in Bogota, she links her family saga with that of Colombia in The Man Who Could Move Clouds (Doubleday, Jul.). In Also a Poet (Grove, Jun.), author Ada Calhoun contemplates her relationship with her father (the poet and art critic Peter Schjeldahl), through the lens of their shared love of the poet Frank O’Hara. In Trouble (Monoray, Jul.), Marise Gaughan discusses suicide—both her father’s successful attempt and her own unsuccessful one.

Vivian Gornick’s 1987 memoir Fierce Attachments set the standard for illuminating the frequently vexed relationships between mothers and daughters. Titles releasing this year continue in this vein by being not only celebratory but interrogative. Leah McLaren’s Where You End and I Begin (Harper, Jul.) represents her unique relationship with her mother, characterized by unusual intimacy and the repercussions of her mother’s past trauma. In Ain’t That a Mother (Blackstone, May), Adiba Nelson unearths her Afro-Latina heritage and the ways she’s been imprinted upon by her matriarchs—not least her mother, whose intense personality shaped the author’s views of motherhood.


Gordon observes that “memoirs told in essay” continue to be popular, while publicist Andrew Gibeley of Abrams notes that authors are infusing such collections with “humor and hope.” Jenifer Lewis, who costars in TV’s Black-ish, shares stories of hardship as well as courage and strength in Walking in My Joy (Amistad, Aug.). Parents raising children during a prolonged pandemic will likely appreciate Natasha Leggero’s humorous collection The World Deserves My Children (Gallery, Nov.). Keith Gessen also seeks levity in Raising Raffi (Viking, Jun.). Tom Segura offers readers humorous essays about parenting, celebrity encounters, and youthful mistakes in I’d Like To Play Alone, Please (Grand Central, Jun.).


The success of the Beatles documentary Get Back in 2021 spoke to the fact that people not only love the Beatles but are generally interested in the artistic process of celebrated musicians. A slew of upcoming music memoirs should help satiate that curiosity. Brian Johnson, lead singer of AC/DC, considers his childhood in a small town in England in The Lives of Brian (Dey Street, Oct.). He also discusses the making of the band’s iconic album Back in Black. Joe Trohman, lead guitarist of Fall Out Boy, sifts everything from the reality of modern rock stardom to depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder in None of This Rocks (Hachette, Sept.). Kenny Loggins, a pioneer of yacht rock whose songs featured prominently in many popular 1980s movies, tells stories from his five-decade career in Still Alright (Hachette, Jun.). Chris Blackwell, the founder of Island Records, helped bring reggae music to the world stage; he tells this and other stories in The Islander (Gallery, Jun.).


One of the more sought-after nonfiction sections in public libraries, memoirs are accessible and easily browsable and are an essential narrative expression. In addition to the memoirs in this preview, look to other areas of nonfiction as well, especially for works that blur the lines with motivational nonfiction (for example, the work of Glennon Doyle). Gordon has noticed that “a lot of self-help books include the personal stories of authors,” and Gibeley observes that there are “fewer books that just rely on an author’s platform. Readers are looking for authors with something to say—and with skill and style to their writing, too.” The ascent of the memoir will continue for the foreseeable future. The format, with its ability to blend the personal and the universal, gives space for authors to explore the deepest of wounds; to come to understanding within themselves and offer illumination to others; to find solace; to share pain; to probe the world lived in and yearned for. As Body Work author Febos emphasizes, “We are writing the history that we could not find in any other book. We are telling the stories that no one else can tell, and we are giving this proof of our survival to each other.”

Barrie Olmstead is Outlying Branch Dept. Head, Laughlin Library, Las Vegas-Clark County Library District.

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