Best Memoir & Biography of 2023

The best memoirs and biographies of 2023 have three traits in common: they’re insightful, evocative, and direct.


Chin, Ava. Mott Street: A Chinese American Family’s Story of Exclusion and Homecoming. Penguin Pr. ISBN 9780525557371.

Chin’s memoir is a book of dizzying, disturbing contrasts, inspired by the ways her parents’ and grandparents’ oral histories were elided by her school’s textbooks. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 kept her Chinese family from gaining U.S. citizenship for six decades, but the nation welcomed their backbreaking labor. There’s love and unity within the New York City building where many of her ancestors lived, and evidence of blunt racism outside of it.

Dixon, Athena. The Loneliness Files: A Memoir in Essays. Tin House. ISBN 9781959030126.

Dixon’s sensory, evocative memoir displays an angle of loneliness as she openly talks about her own moments of solitude and isolation, through moving stories written in the lyrical language for which the award-winning poet is known. But there’s also beauty and power in her conclusion that loneliness is a shared experience, which could be a life-altering revelation for many.

Eig, Jonathan. King: A Life. Farrar. ISBN 9780374279295.

Award-winning Eig’s latest biography is unprecedented in the way it portrays Martin Luther King Jr. What’s different is his close examination of declassified FBI files, tons of archival material, and personally conducted interviews that uncover the intimate complexities of King, the person. Its nearly 700 pages read like a novel, and Eig isn’t afraid to show that the man many put on a pedestal was human. This is the best definitive biography about King to date.

Graybeal, Alyssa. Floppy: Tales of a Genetic Freak of Nature at the End of the World. Red Hen. ISBN 9781636280974.

Graybeal’s book focuses on how her rare genetic connective-tissue disorder affects her daily life. She spills her emotions on the page as she is forced to navigate through life with chronic pain, little to no support, and obstacles from an unaccommodating world. So fine is this offering that readers will want more works by this debut memoirist.

Ito, Susan Kiyo. I Would Meet You Anywhere: A Memoir. Mad Creek. ISBN 9780814258835.

Adoption, the meaning of family, secrets, and the right to know one’s origins are major themes of this riveting memoir about Ito’s closed adoption and quest for answers. She knows only that her birth mother is Japanese American, and her father is white. She eventually finds and meets her mother, only to then grapple with the ups, downs, and conflicting needs of their relationship.

Nguyen, Viet Thanh. A Man of Two Faces: A Memoir, a History, a Memorial. Grove. ISBN 9780802160508.

Pulitzer Prize winner Nguyen told LJ that he wasn’t drawn to the memoir genre, but readers will feel he’s treated them with one that’s far different from others. He plays with font sizes and how words are arranged on the page, while on the periphery of his stories about fleeing Vietnam with his family and becoming refugees in the United States are observations about politics, war, immigration, and mental health.

Semenya, Caster. The Race To Be Myself: A Memoir. Norton. ISBN 9781324035770.

World-champion track star Semenya understandably takes an unapologetic, un-flinching tone when she describes all she’s endured to prove that she lives as a woman. She’s had to expose, literally and figuratively, her body to sports officials due to her naturally high testosterone levels and other features she’s had since birth. Her memoir screams of the unfairness inherent in elite sporting competitions and asks readers to look within at their own biases.

Sinclair, Safiya. How To Say Babylon: A Memoir. S. & S. ISBN 9781982132330.

Poet Sinclair, whom Rita Dove called her literary heir, flexes her prose muscles in this entrancing memoir about her upbringing in a Rastafarian household in Jamaica. She writes about colonialism and her reggae musician father, who thinks women should obey strict guidelines to fend off the corrupting Western world. But Sinclair doesn’t demonize him; she understands his wish for her to be “the perfect daughter” but refuses to let go of her dreams. An inspiring read seasoned with wordsmith expertise.

Smith, Maggie. You Could Make This Place Beautiful: A Memoir. Atria/One Signal. ISBN 9781982185855.

Award-winning poet Smith’s memoir is, in a word, art. Sometimes written in first-person, sometimes third, sometimes in verse and other times in prose, it serves as a master class on how to write about the end of a marriage and the embrace and practice of self-love. Smith’s real-life reinvention is beautifully conveyed on the page. It will take readers through an emotional landscape.

Wheatle, Alex. Sufferah: The Memoir of a Brixton Reggae-Head. Akashic. ISBN 9781636140933.

Novelist Wheatle brilliantly tackles non-fiction in this memoir that demonstrates the healing power of music. The medicinal sounds and salvation come from reggae legends as Wheatle faces racism, physical and sexual abuse, and police brutality, after his parents abandoned him when he was a baby, and he was placed in the British foster care system. His discovery that he has Jamaican heritage is a wonderful full-circle moment for Wheatle and for readers.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing