The Woman Warrior
by Maxine Hong Kingston (1976)
A child of Chinese immigrants, Maxine Hong Kingston grapples with the conflict of her modern life in California with the “talk stories” her mother tells about their life in China in this National Book Critics Circle Award-winning memoir, a book that propelled Kingston to literary stardom at age 36.
This Boy’s Life
By Tobias Wolff (1989)
Any list of classic memoirs would certainly include Wolff’s account of growing up in the 1950s as he travels with his mother across the country in search of a place to call home.
The Liars’ Club
By Mary Karr (1995)
Mary Karr is often credited for helping kickstart the current memoir boom with the publication of her vivid memoir The Liar’s Club, a tale of Karr’s childhood spent with a blue-collar, tall tale-telling father and an eccentric mother prone to psychotic episodes.
The Color of Water
By James McBride (1996)
By Frank McCourt (1996)
Another breakout bestselling memoir from the mid-’90s, Frank McCourt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book Angela’s Ashes recounts the author’s childhood spent in extreme poverty in the slums of Limerick, Ireland.
The Year of Magical Thinking
by Joan Didion (2005)
Legendary writer Joan Didion wrestles with the sudden death of her longtime husband and the illness of her daughter, Quintana, in this bracingly honest portrayal of loss.
by Alison Bechdel (2006)
In this landmark graphic memoir, Alison Bechdel discovers her father is gay shortly after she comes out as a lesbian in college; a few weeks later, he commits suicide, leaving Bechdel to puzzle out the mysteries of his complicated life and legacy.