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Iconic women, moving memoirs and non-fiction must-reads from Michaela Coel, Bernardine Evaristo and more.
This is a glorious year of memoirs and non-fiction with incredible voices that will totally consume your reading list (in a good way). This autumn will see anticipated books from I May Destroy You creator and all-round powerhouse Michaela Coel, Booker-winning Bernardine Evaristo, NHS icon Dame Elizabeth Anionwu and more arrive on bookshelves.
With titles from earlier in the year including Emma Jane Unsworth’s funny and perceptive exploration of postnatal depression via Arifa Akbar’s much-acclaimed Consumed (about her sister’s death from tuberculosis in 2016) to Akwaeke Emezi’s radical and powerful “Black spirit memoir”, these are books that are tackling some of our biggest questions with grace, beautiful writing and insight.
Humour also takes centre stage as My Mess Is A Bit Of A Life by Georgia Pritchett, Self-Contained by Emma John and The Troubles With Us by Alix O’Neill prove that life can be both confusing and complex but that finding wit and pleasure can see us through. Finally, memoirs by Beryl Gilroy, cult survivor Bexy Cameron, chef Erin French, Hassan Akkad and Qian Julie Wang uncover how hope and resistance can transcend the everyday to create something truly special.
Enjoy your new reading list.
Manifesto by Bernardine Evaristo
The 2019 Booker-winning author of Girl, Woman, Other is one of Britain’s most moving and insightful writers and her life – a childhood affected by racism of those around her, including white members of her own family; finding creativity through the arts; setting up Britain’s first theatre company for Black women in the 80s; moving from one home to another; exploring love (both good and bad) with male and female partners; and finding her own voice as a writer, activist and mentor – promises to make for one of 2021’s must-read memoirs (out 7 October).
Misfits by Michaela Coel
The first book by actor, writer and I May Destroy You creator Michaela Coel is based around her 2018 Edinburgh Festival MacTaggart lecture, which explored what it means to be excluded from a world that’s ruled by race, class and gender. Misfits is her riposte to what society deems as acceptable and how we can make change happen through empathy and a celebration of difference. As she beautifully evoked in her speech: “What carried me through… was the abundance of Black girls, white girls, mixed girls; misfits, my friends were all misfits; a huge gang of commercially unattractive, beautiful misfits, who found the mainstream world unattractive.”
Dreams From My Mother by Dame Elizabeth Anionwu
Dame Elizabeth Anionwu is the woman who became Britain’s first sickle cell nurse, was named as one of the 100 greatest Black Britons in 2020 and was the recipient of Dua Lipa’s Brit award trophy earlier this year. But behind all of these incredible accomplishments is an even more jaw-dropping story. Her mother was studying at Cambridge University in 1947 when she unexpectedly discovered she was pregnant following an affair with a Nigerian student. Encouraged to place her child in a Catholic care home, Elizabeth grew up taught by nuns before joining her mother again at age 11, a move that led to more heartbreak but also the roots of a new independent life. However, this is not a misery memoir: it’s about people’s kindness, self-discovery, Black political awakening, race issues in the UK from the 60s to now, the NHS, a celebration of Black joy and love in many different forms – especially that of a mother. Plus, it’s got some unexpected life twists that will leave your head reeling… (out 16 September)
After The Storm by Emma Jane Unsworth
Oh, what a book. In 2019, Animals and Adults author Unsworth initially wrote a claustrophobic, recognisable and honest piece for The Guardian about her postnatal depression. Articulately capturing the sense of despair, exhaustion and disappointment brought on by motherhood even when you love the child you’ve created, this follow-up book delves deeper into what happens to women’s bodies and brains – as well as the physical scars and huge emotions – with humour and scientific insight.
Consumed by Arifa Akbar
“Our parents were still often fighting or lost in their own world, so we were mapping out our futures alone, making choices with very little guidance. It was easier for me because Fauzia was holding my hand and leading the way, but who was leading her?” Both a wonderful tribute and an exploration of her deceased sister’s life, Akbar’s Consumed is one of this year’s must-read memoirs. Exploring a childhood scarred by their father’s behaviour, the complexities of sibling relationships and the effect of leaving their extended family in Lahore for a new life in London, this is a rich and beautiful story that will at times leave you weeping while simultaneously hugging Akbar’s writing close.
Cult Following by Bexy Cameron
The notorious Children of God cult was once described by one of its survivors as “hell on earth”. Founded by David Berg, the cult encouraged sexual and physical abuse of minors and, in this difficult memoir, British writer Bexy Cameron explores her harrowing childhood growing up as part of it. Exploring what happened to her, her parents’ acceptance of the cult’s rigid rules and how Cameron herself broke free, it’s a harrowing-but-moving story (out 8 July).
Finding Freedom In The Lost Kitchen by Erin French
This is the most unexpected and glorious food memoir you could ever read. Chef Erin French founded the restaurant Lost Kitchen in Freedom, Maine, where it became one of the most acclaimed (and hardest to book) spots in the food world. However, behind French’s success is a tale of a fractured family, a childhood spent working (and observing) in her father’s diner, prescription drugs, an abusive marriage and fighting back from the brink. You will gobble it up.
Dear Senthuran by Akwaeke Emezi
From the acclaimed author of Freshwater (which is a must-read companion to this book) and The Death Of Vivien Oji comes one of the year’s most anticipated memoirs. The ever-trustworthy reader and writer Roxane Gay describes it thus: “Dear Senthuran is a memoir in letters from Akwaeke Emezi that is unlike anything I’ve read. There are many magnificent parts where the language, the insight, the writing are simply unparalleled. They also are fearlessly open about identity, success, human frailty, mental health, destructive decisions that are sometimes necessary to achieve a greater goal.” Raw and demanding space, this is a must-buy (out 1 July).
Black Teacher by Beryl Gilroy
With an introduction by Bernardine Evaristo, Beryl Gilroy’s Black Teacher was first released in 1976. This is her story of moving from British Guiana to London at a time when colour bars were still in existence and the death throes of the British Empire were being palpably felt as the old guard was unable to accept the new. A voice from the Windrush generation, Gilroy resisted the ingrained racism of Britain to become the first Black headteacher in Camden and an acclaimed writer (out 1 July).
Hope Not Fear by Hassan Akkad
Hassan Akkad is a Bafta-winning photographer and filmmaker. He’s also a Syrian refugee and worked as a cleaner in a hospital’s Covid-19 ward during the pandemic. In this memoir, he takes us on a journey of hope and connection, of finding humanity in unlikely places and building something for the future. If you’re feeling bleak about the way things are going – this will do much to restore your faith. Tellingly, Akkad’s work in hospital instigated a government U-turn on excluding the families of NHS cleaners and porters from its bereavement compensation scheme. Things can change (out 2 September).
My Mess Is A Bit Of A Life by Georgia Pritchett
Georgia Pritchett is a multi-award-winning comedy and drama writer who’s worked on Veep and The Thick Of It and is currently writer and co-executive producer on Succession. So basically you know this is going to be properly enjoyable. Laugh-out-loud funny and insightful, this book is made up of Pritchett’s observations on anxiety, pregnancy, sexist behaviour and just the everyday. It’s the perfect summer delight. (When we received her book it came with a handwritten note from the author saying it would really irritate someone they knew if Stylist was able to feature it: “Annoying her would mean the world to me.” You’re welcome, Georgia…) (out 1 July)
Self Contained by Emma John
What the hell does the word spinster mean in a modern society? As a long-term single woman in her 40s, writer Emma John has created a witty and much-needed exploration of what it means to navigate a world in which coupledom is perceived as the inevitable outcome. From the practical (getting stuck in her loft with no phone) to the emotional impact of living in solitude during the pandemic, it’s an uplifting reminder of how love in its many different forms is all we need.
The Troubles With Us by Alix O’Neill
We cannot recommend that you read this memoir enough – short of stopping people in the street and pressing it into their hands, we really urge you just to order it online right now. Right this moment. It’s the story of O’Neill’s childhood growing up in 90s Belfast and it captures everything: from Eurovision to teen drinking to growing up in the eye of The Troubles where violence was bloody and endemic. Giving an overview of the politics of Northern Ireland while interweaving the stories of her own friends and family, this is also a tribute to the women at the heart of it all. Just brilliant.
Beautiful Country by Qian Julie Wang
Written via her childhood self, this intricate and penetrating memoir follows Qian Julie Wang’s educated family as they flee China to live as undocumented immigrants in New York. Facing poverty, jobs in factories, restaurants and hairdressers, learning English and trying to adapt and simultaneously hide in their new country, this is a beautiful and hopeful read that also underlines what can truly happen to people who are simply seeking refuge (out 30 September).
Images: courtesy of publishers.
Francesca Brown is books editor for Stylist magazine and Stylist Loves; she also compiles the Style List on a weekly basis. She is a self-confessed HBO abuser and has a wide selection of grey sweatshirts. Honestly, you just can’t have enough. @franabouttown