Best Biographies and Memoirs of 2020

Malcolm X, Rose Pastor Stokes, Natasha Trethewey. The best biographies & memoirs published in 2020.

See all of our 2020 Best Books lists


Burks, Ruth Coker with Kevin Carr O’Leary. All the Young Men. Grove. ISBN 9780802157249.

Burks writes a compelling personal perspective of what the AIDS crisis was like in Arkansas, where the stigma was magnified and the complacence infuriating. This is a powerful memoir about personal responsibility, and Burks’s spirited, straightforward voice balances the heartbreak of her story with just enough humor and toughness.


Cho, Catherine. Inferno: A Memoir of Motherhood and Madness. Holt. ISBN 9781250623713.

Cho’s candid memoir sheds insight into the inequities of maternal care in the United States and the stigma of mental illness, especially among people of color. It takes care to remind readers what is needed to ensure that maternal care and mental illness are divested of stigma.


Crawford, Lacy. Notes on a Silencing. Little, Brown. ISBN 9780316491556.

Crawford’s brave, brilliant, beautifully written memoir reveals the multifaceted effects of trauma on the life of a survivor of sexual assault, the damage done by some of the ways in which disclosures happen, and the power of finding a voice on one’s own terms, if and when one feels supported, sustained, and able to speak.


Hinojosa, Maria. Once I Was You: A Memoir of Love and Hate in a Torn America. Atria. ISBN 9781982128654.

In this widely acclaimed memoir, Hinojosa interweaves her own story of coming to the United States from Mexico with her family as an infant with stories of how her work as an award-winning journalist closely examines issues of identity and immigration. This riveting account will inspire, educate, and entertain.


Hochschild, Adam. Rebel Cinderella: From Rags to Riches to Radical, the Epic Journey of Rose Pastor Stokes. Houghton Harcourt. ISBN 9781328866745.

Bringing us into the life of Rose Pastor Stokes, Hochschild highlights her legacy as a leading speaker and writer who raised significant funds and attention for causes such as immigrant poverty, labor unions, birth control, and women’s suffrage. This is also a timely book, with its focus on societal inequality.


Moore, Wayétu. The Dragons, the Giant, the Women. Graywolf. ISBN 9781644450314.

Recounting her childhood during the Liberian civil war, Moore’s memoir takes readers from a child’s journey to a mother’s memory, narrating her family’s flight to safety and the displacement of diaspora. Her writing shines as it weaves moments of lightness into a story of pain and conflict, loss and reunion.


Payne, Les & Tamara Payne. The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X. Liveright. ISBN 9781631491665.

Award-winning investigative journalist Les Payne, along with his daughter Tamara, flesh out the formative years of Malcolm X, and add texture to his worldview. Extensive oral interviews with family offer a new dimension into Malcolm X’s biography and show a rich portrait of Black life prior to World War II.


Talusan, Meredith. Fairest. Viking. ISBN 9780525561309.

Talusan’s compelling debut stands out, not only because of her experiences, but also because she presents them with a rare, frank vulnerability. As a trans woman, she offers an intensely personal example of how one’s relation to oneself changes over time, shaped by circumstances and personal choices.


Trethewey, Natasha. Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir. Ecco. ISBN 9780062248572.

With spare prose and vivid imagery, Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Trethewey writes a narrative of a trauma survivor’s need to remember a past that has lapsed into the mind’s shadows. Her words are moving and heartbreaking as she recounts the power of memory and her long path to healing.


Wizenberg, Molly. The Fixed Stars. Abrams. ISBN 9781419742996.

Wizenberg’s memoir explores how a chance encounter upended her marriage and set in motion a new direction for her life, as she began to question her identity and sexual orientation. Her book shines when rendering female sexuality as more complicated and fluid than many allow. 


See all of our 2020 Best Books lists

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