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Rachel’s Reads – February 2023

“In recognizing the humanity of our fellow beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute.” – Thurgood Marshall

Black history is American history and thus should be something that we all understand, know, and discuss. Acknowledging and learning from the painful parts of our shared past should be something that we appreciate rather than trying to hide them away. 

Throughout history, stories are how we learn. They pique our interest, ground theory in specifics, create a reference point for new ideas, and allow us to make sense of our experiences. Stories can teach us not only about ourselves, but also about the people around us. From the notable works of James Baldwin and Maya Angelou to the Black authors of today, memoirs and autobiographies allow us to share their experiences in their own words. Below are several memoirs that share different journeys. I hope you find something that sparks your interest, whether this month or all year long. 

The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South by Michael W. Twitty
Sifting through recipes, stories, genetic tests, and historical documents, Michael travels from tobacco and rice farms in the colonial period through the plantation kitchens and Civil War battlefields to the Black-owned organic farms of Georgia today. This dense but fascinating read gets right to the heart of American culinary tradition and shows how food has the power to bring different people to the table.

I’m Telling the Truth, But I’m Lying: Essays by Bassey Ikpi
Incredibly raw and real, this collection of essays by Nigerian-American Bassey documents her experiences being diagnosed with Bipolar II and her anxiety throughout her life. The collection is incredibly vulnerable and is an honest account of how she deals with the highs and lows she experiences. It is not about triumphing over mental illness but finding peace, and reminds us that compassion shouldn’t be in short supply.

Open Wide the Freedom Gates: A Memoir by Dr. Dorothy Height
Dr. Dorothy Height is a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient and yet many people haven’t heard her story. She marched at civil rights rallies, sat onstage as Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech, and sat through tense White House meetings, usually as the only woman in the room. Her passion for her cause is front and center in her story. 

Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward
The heart of this memoir is Jesmyn’s grief that is vast and unending. It is also about rural poverty and race, and the ways in which Jesmyn lost five men in her life in five years. The prose is beautiful and painful as she writes her own story and that of her community. 

This Boy We Made: A Memoir of Motherhood, Genetics, and Facing the Unknown by Taylor Harris
Taylor’s memoir explores motherhood, science, faith, and the intersections of healthcare and parenthood, Black parenthood in particular. One morning Taylor’s 22-month-old son, Tophs, wakes up listless and unresponsive. This is the beginning of their journey to discover what is wrong with Tophs, and the countless hours spent in the search for diagnosis. 

The Chiffon Trenches by André Leon Talley
One of the most notable fashion icons, the late André Leon Talley offers a candid look at the big names in fashion during the course of the last 50 years. He is empathetic and ruthlessly raw as he tells his story of growing up in the Jim Crow South through his magazine jobs and his friendship with Anna Wintour. This book is deeply flawed, and yet it’s an illuminating, visceral, and tragic look at the fashion industry from a man who rose to the top only to be cast out when he got heavier and older. 

Where the Children Take Us by Zain E. Asher
In this memoir, CNN Anchor Zain E. Asher pays stunning tribute to her mother, Obiajulu Ejiofor, as she deals with the tragedy of losing her husband and having to raise four children as a widowed immigrant in South London. With her relentless support and tough-love parenting, the family is able to overcome the pressures of poverty, crime, and prejudice to raise a CNN anchor, an Oscar-nominated actor, a medical doctor, and a thriving entrepreneur. 

Please make the choice to reach out to our two local Black-owned bookstores, BLK + BRWN and Bliss Books & Wine (online only), to order these books. 

Happy Reading!


Rachel became the publisher of The Independent in March of 2017 and then married her husband Jake in May. Their goldendoodle Einstein joined the family in 2019. Rachel is an avid reader and loves to share book recommendations. (Don’t miss her column, Rachel’s Reads in the Magazine!) She can always be found with a book nearby, especially while traveling (another of her favorite things).

Bailey Pianalto Photography