15 Great Memoirs Written by Women.

I don’t know about you but I find a friend’s assessment of a book is often as good, if  not better than, that of  some of the reviewers. That’s why I wanted to share with you this list, compiled by some of my colleagues in the Association of Personal Historians.  Here are fifteen gems to add to your list of summer reading.

What’s your favorite memoir written by a woman? I’d love to hear from you.

An American Childhood. Annie Dillard. Harper Perennial; 1st Perennial Library Ed edition (July 20, 1988)
“Dillard’s luminous prose painlessly captures the pain of growing up in this wonderful evocation of childhood. Her memoir is partly a hymn to Pittsburgh, where orange streetcars ran on Penn Avenue in 1953 when she was eight, and where the Pirates were always in the cellar.”  From Publishers Weekly

Pilgrim At Tinker Creek. Annie Dillard. Harper Perennial Modern Classics (October 28, 1998)
“The book is a form of meditation, written with headlong urgency, about seeing. A reader’s heart must go out to a young writer with a sense of wonder so fearless and unbridled…There is an ambition about her book that I like…It is the ambition to feel.”  Eudora Welty, New York Times Book Review

Balsamroot: A Memoir. Mary Clearman Blew. Penguin (Non-Classics) (July 1, 1995)
“Blew mines the repository of her aunt’s memoirs and diaries, uncovering near-revelations that suggest Imogene’s life was far from what it appeared to be.
The memoir is energized by the search and by the author’s connectedness to a Montana heritage.” From Publishers Weekly

Bone Deep in Landscape: Writing, Reading, and Place. Mary Clearman Blew. University of Oklahoma Press (September 2000)
“I cannot reconcile myself to the loss of landscape, which for me often is an analogy for my own body…. And yet I know that I have never owned the landscape.” In her second collection of essays (after All but the Waltz), Blew again demonstrates her artistry and strong connection to the Western terrain of her past and present homes in Montana and Idaho.”  From Publishers Weekly

A Girl Named Zippy: Growing Up Small in Mooreland, Indiana. Haven Kimmel.Broadway; Today Show Book Club edition (September 3, 2002)
“It’s a cliché‚ to say that a good memoir reads like a well-crafted work of fiction, but Kimmel’s smooth, impeccably humorous prose evokes her childhood as vividly as any novel.” From Publishers Weekly

The Leopard Hat: A Daughter’s Story. Valerie Steiker. Vintage (May 6, 2003)
“In this finely etched memoir, Steiker relives her childhood the family apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side,
the Parisian escapes with her mother, the family holidays in India and Nepal in delicious, Proustian detail.”  From Publishers Weekly

Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression. Mildred Armstrong Kalish. (Bantam Books, 2007)
“Simple, detailed and honest, this is a refreshing and informative read for anyone interested in the struggles of average Americans in the thick of the Great Depression.” From Publishers Weekly

Lazy B. Sandra Day O’Connor.Modern Library; First Edition edition (November 1, 2005)
“A collaboration between O’Connor and her brother, the book recounts the lives of their parents “MO” and “DA” (pronounced “M.O.” and “D.A.”) and the colorful characters who helped run the Lazy B ranch.”  From Publishers Weekly

The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts. Maxine Hong Kingston. Vintage; Vintage International Edition edition (April 23, 1989)
“The Woman Warrior is a pungent, bitter, but beautifully written memoir of growing up Chinese American in Stockton, California.”  From Amazon.com Review

Personal History. Katharine Graham.Vintage; Reprint edition (February 24, 1998).
“This is the story of a newspaper’s rise to power but also of the destruction of a marriage, as Philip Graham slid into alcohol, depression, and suicide, and of Katharine’s rise as a powerful woman in her own right.”  From Library Journal

Some Memories of a Long Life [1854-1911]. Malvina Shanklin Harlan. Modern Library (July 8, 2003)
“These memoirs by the wife of a noted Supreme Court justice, John Marshall Harlan, first appeared last summer in the Journal of Supreme Court History…. Justice Harlan, though a former slave-holder, is remembered for his lone and eloquent dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson, the case that established the doctrine of “separate but equal.” From Publishers Weekly

The Road from Coorain. Jill Ker Conway.Vintage Books; First Vintage Books edition (August 11, 1990)
“At age 11, Conway ( Women Reformers and American Culture ) left the arduous life on her family’s sheep farm in the Australian outback for school in war-time Sydney, burdened by an emotionally dependent, recently widowed mother. A lively curiosity and penetrating intellect illuminate this unusually objective account of the author’s progress from a solitary childhood–the most appealing part of the narrative–to public achievement as president of Smith College and now professor at MIT.” From Publishers Weekly

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio: How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less. Terry Ryan. Simon & Schuster (August 30, 2005)
“Married to a man with violent tendencies and a severe drinking problem, Evelyn Ryan managed to keep her 10 children fed and housed during the 1950s and ’60s by entering–and winning–contests for rhymed jingles and advertising slogans of 25-words-or-less. This engaging and quick-witted biography written by daughter Terry… relates how Evelyn submitted multiple entries, under various names, for contests sponsored by Dial soap, Lipton soup, Paper Mate pens, Kleenex Tissues and any number of other manufacturers, and won a wild assortment of prizes, including toasters, bikes, basketballs, and all-you-can-grab supermarket shopping sprees.”  From Publishers Weekly

Wait Till Next Year: A Memoir. Doris Kearns Goodwin. Simon & Schuster; First Paper edition (June 2, 1998)
“Goodwin recounts some wonderful stories in this coming-of-age tale about both her family and an era when baseball truly was the national pastime that brought whole communities together. From details of specific games to descriptions of players, including Jackie Robinson, a great deal of the narrative centers around the sport.”  From Library Journal

A Romantic Education. Patricia Hampl. W. W. Norton & Company; 10 Anv edition (June 1, 1999)
“A now classic memoir, described by Doris Grumbach as “unusually elegant and meditative,” once more available with an updated afterword by the author. Golden Prague seemed mostly gray when Patricia Hampl first went there in quest of her Czech heritage. In that bleak time, no one could have predicted the political upheaval awaiting Communist Europe and the city of Kafka and Rilke. Hampl’s subsequent memoir, a brilliant evocation of Czech life under socialism, attained the stature of living history, and added to our understanding not only of Central Europe but also of what it means to be engaged in the struggle of a people to define and affirm themselves.”  From Product Description

Photo by Kathryn

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4 Responses to 15 Great Memoirs Written by Women.

  1. Thanks for these recommendations. I especially like “The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio” and saw a few on the list that sound like they’re right up my alley! I recently picked up “Secrets of a Mysterious Older Woman” by Constance Feathers. It’s the memoirs of her life after a divorce at middle age and her encouragement that every woman has the potential to be a MOW (Mysterious Older Woman). It’s combination memoir, humor, loving self, romance, life story and it’s a fun, insightful read.

  2. Nuala O’Faolain (“Are You Somebody?”) always tops my list.

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