Whether you’re looking for your next quarantine read or the perfect gift to give this holiday season, Agate’s memoirs offer a range of powerful stories and lessons for readers of all stripes. Check out some of our favorites below!
Longlisted for the 2019 National Book Award, Iliana Regan’s powerful debut memoir chronicles her journey from foraging on the family farm to running her Michelin-starred restaurant, Elizabeth. Her story is raw like that first bite of wild onion, alive with startling imagery, and told with uncommon emotional power.
Regan cooks with instinct, memory, and an emotional connection to her ingredients that can’t be taught. Written from that same place of instinct and emotion, Burn the Place tells Regan’s story in vivid prose and brings readers into a world—from the Indiana woods to elite Chicago kitchens—that is entirely original and unforgettable.
In this unflinching, unforgettable memoir, Regina Louise tells the true story of overcoming neglect in the US foster-care system. Drawing on her experience as one of society’s abandoned children, she tells how she emerged from the cruel, unjust system, not only to survive but to flourish.
Louise weaves together raw, sometimes fragmented memories, excerpts from real documents from her case file, and elegant reflections to tell the story of her painful upbringing and what came after. The result is a rich, engrossing account of one abandoned girl’s efforts to find her place in the world, people to love, and people to love her back.
Gail Campbell Woolley
When Gail Campbell Woolley was seven, a pediatrician told her mother that Gail suffered from sickle cell anemia, a rare blood disease, and that she would be dead by age 35. While others may have responded to this horrifying news by descending into a fog of self-pity, Gail went in the opposite direction. She decided to live an eventful, exciting life that ultimately included—despite a troubled home life and the systemic racism and sexism of the late 20th century—academic success, an impressive career, a long and loving marriage, and the ability to leave her unmistakable stamp on every person she met.
Soar, written in the last two years of her life, is Woolley’s powerfully inspiring story, and its publication checks the last item off her extraordinary bucket list, which also included traveling to every continent except Antarctica.
Freda Love Smith
Part memoir, part cookbook, and all rock and roll, Red Velvet Underground tells the story of how musician Freda Love Smith’s indie-rock past grew into her family- and food-centric present.
Interspersed throughout these stories are 45 flexitarian recipes—mostly, but not exclusively, vegetarian—such as red pepper-cashew spread, spinach and brazil nut pesto, and vegan strawberry-cream scones. Throughout the book, Smith reveals how food, in addition to music, has evolved into an important means for creativity and improvisation. Red Velvet Underground is an engaging exploration of the ways food and music have informed identity through every stage of one woman’s life.
Never Stop is the wrenching memoir of Simba Sana, the cofounder and former leader of Karibu Books, a major indie-bookselling phenomenon and perhaps the most successful Black-owned company in the history of the book industry. In this memoir, Sana reveals how his experience with Karibu jumpstarted his lifelong journey to better understanding himself, human nature, faith, and American culture—which ultimately helped him develop the powerful personal philosophy that drives his life today.
Building Karibu became Sana’s opportunity to bind the disparate elements of his life together. Ultimately, though, the paradoxes in his identity and his accumulated emotional wounds confounded his effort to overcome his business reversals, and everything Sana built—his marriage, family, and business—was lost in an incredibly brief period of time. Sana had to rebuild his life—and his identity—and set out to do so in a way that focused principally on the meaning and importance of love.
Marra B. Gad
In 1970, three-day-old Marra B. Gad was adopted by a white Jewish family in Chicago. For her parents, it was love at first sight—but they quickly realized the world wasn’t ready for a family like theirs. Marra’s biological mother was unwed, white, and Jewish, and her biological father was black. While still a child, Marra came to realize that she was “a mixed-race, Jewish unicorn.” In black spaces, she was not “black enough” or told that it was OK to be Christian or Muslim, but not Jewish. In Jewish spaces, she was mistaken for the help, asked to leave, or worse. Even in her own extended family, racism bubbled to the surface.
The Color of Love explores the idea of yerusha, which means “inheritance” in Yiddish. At turns heart-wrenching and heartwarming, this is a story about what you inherit from your family—identity, disease, melanin, hate, and most powerful of all, love. With honesty, insight, and warmth, Marra B. Gad has written an inspirational, moving chronicle proving that when all else is stripped away, love is where we return, and love is always our greatest inheritance.