Audiobooks by Black Authors: 4 women, 1 man

I love listening to audiobooks. I often listen to fiction as I’m guilty of flipping to the end in print copies. The audiobook keeps me from spoiling the ending. But I also love memoirs, particularly ones written from a minority experience. Here are a few of my favorites by Black voices. By the way, you can find the list here on Amazon, but I recommend you look at or your local library for your copies. Despite my behavior, I really do believe Jeff Bezos has enough money.

Finding Me: A Memoir by Viola Davis, April 26, 2022.

EGOT winner Viola Davis shares the story of her complicated childhood and her rise to fame. In the Netflix special Oprah + Viola, Davis says, “We weren’t just poor, we were po’!” She wasn’t kidding. Their resources were nearly nonexistent, their trauma extreme. Yet from a young age, Davis felt the drive to become an actor. She pursued that end with the kind of tenacity you would expect from someone who survived a childhood home so invested with rats that she felt them walking on her in her sleep.

Listening to the story, I was impressed by Davis’ gusto and determination, but I was equally amazed by the work it takes to become an actor with a living wage. She travelled everywhere–by bus–for the smallest parts. She points out in the book that 95% of actors do not make a living wage doing what they love. They are relegated to nonpaying roles that neither pay their bills nor qualify them for medical insurance available through professional organizations. The actors we recognize make up less than 1% of those out there beating the pavement for work.

The memoir is tragic and victorious, sad and funny, familiar and educational. This one would have been on my list no matter who performed the audio. But the fact that Viola Davis herself read it? Holy moly. It’s fantastic! Before I knew she won the Emmy for it, I knew it had to be an award winner.

You’ll Never Believe what Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories About Racism by Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar, January 12, 2021

Ever seen Amber Ruffin, writer and occasional actor on Seth Myers Late Night? Or maybe you’ve seen The Amber Ruffin Show on PeacockAnyway, Ruffin grew up in Omaha, Nebraska with four older siblings, including Lacey Lamar. The demographics of Omaha is 75% White, about 12% Black, and the other 13%, other races. Consequently, many White people in the city lack connections with Black citizens. Because Lacey has a job working predominantly with Omaha’s White folks, she hears some crazy, unbelievable things from her co-workers and other people in the community.

The sisters have kept track of these encounters and have organized them in this book for for our listening pleasure. It’s an amazingly lighthearted take on a serious topic and their interaction is delightful. If you’re like me, you’ll have laugh-out-loud moments and times the examples are a little too familiar for comfort. I’m telling you, I learned stuff and changed because of it. I mean, I’m not guilty of touching a Black person’s hair or anything like that, but I’ve definitely acted like I knew more about racism than the Black person in the room. This book called me out and taught me to be better. It is awesome.

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown, May 15, 2018

Austin Channing Brown‘s parents gave her an androgynous name intentionally. Actually, they gave her a name that sounded like it would belong to a White male, hoping it might open some doors that a woman’s name, particularly an ethnic one, would not. Impressive proactivity, for sure, and one more way we learn from Austin Channing Brown about the subtle (and overt) racism that is commonplace for our Black friends and loved ones.

Brown does a wonderful job narrating her book, a memoir that calls out, among other things, problems with efforts to create so-called diversity. She points to her experiences in White majority churches, schools, and workplaces to illustrate some of the weaknesses of this popular, if impotent, approach to racism. Incidentally, this audiobook was so good that I immediately bought the print copy for my dad who promptly read it cover to cover. He loved the print version as much as I did the audiobook.

By the way, a common criticism I’ve read of her book is that she paints all White people with a broad brush. Maybe I just agree with what she says, but this did not stand out to me. Rather, I was convicted to rethink some of my own attitudes and behaviors.

The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish, December 05, 2017

Two caveats: One, if you’ve not been introduced to Tiffany Haddish, you may be a little too late. Recently (September 2022), she’s received some seriously negative press that she may not overcome. Time will tell. Two, her language is awful and most of my blog readers know I’m a bit of a prude when it comes to foul language. If neither of those are big issues for you, please proceed.

Tiffany Haddish is a product of the US foster care system and has the scars to prove it. Her memoir includes experiences of neglect and abuse that will make your jaw drop and accounts of how she responded to her difficulties that will shock you. She found opportunities in places I did not know had potential (entertainers at bat mitzvahs–who knew?) and dealt with her adversaries in some creative, if unconventional, ways. She managed to move from poverty to self-sufficiency to fame, describing a path that is froth with switchbacks and detours. How her story could be funny at all is a testimony to Haddish’s comedic gifts.

People who know me well might be surprised that I enjoy Haddish’s humor. There’s something about her though, that I find compelling and she always makes me laugh. Listening to her tell her story–her performance classic Haddish–was a hoot.

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah, November 15, 2016

Comedian Trevor Noah, former host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, can imitate accents like no one I’ve ever heard. He can go from speaking in a Scottish brogue to sounding like Indian royalty effortlessly. It’s this extraordinary skill that makes it so fun to listen to him read his memoir. You may want to buy the print version too; I did. I wanted to re-read sections and that’s just easier with print. But really, don’t miss the audio. It’s phenomenal.

Trevor Noah was born to a South African (Xhosa) mother and her Swiss-German lover. Their relationship was illegal and thus Noah was born a crime. This reality colored his upbringing in ways people unfamiliar with apartheid will struggle to imagine. Thus, the memoir is his life story, but it is also a primer on apartheid. You cannot understand Trevor Noah’s life without at least a basic understanding of the systems that defined it–namely apartheid government. I learned more about apartheid listening to this book than I had ever gotten from the news.

But, this is not a civics book. It’s a story told by the master storyteller who lived it. At turns hilarious and devastating, Born a Crime is a riveting tale of hope in adversity. You will not be disappointed.

By Aileen MItchell Lawrimore

Aileen Mitchell Lawrimore is a mother x 3, wife x 35 (years not men), minister, speaker, writer, retreat leader, and lover of beagles and books. She has a lot to say.