Courtesy of BET's Digital Design
You could say 2023 was the unofficial “Year of the Tell All.” Books that impart wisdom and inspiration can also provide eye-opening revelations and gasp-worthy surprises.
So, BET.com rounded up the chart-topping tell-alls from celebrity A-listers, sports legends, journalists, and even a billionaire. Their stories represent resilience in the face of loss and triumph over abandonment, all within deeply personal narratives about family secrets and struggling to find authentic love.
It’s easy to click and ship while repping for the culture by making your purchase through one of the various Black independent booksellers available nationwide. Check out 13 of our favorite page-turners, which are sure to be the perfect holiday stocking stuffer for the bibliophile on your list.
"The Urgent Life: My Story of Love, Loss, and Survival" by Bozoma Saint John
Penguin Random House
The Read: The C-suite corporate executive and social media superstar, who made a name for herself at blue-chip companies like Apple, Pepsi and Netflix, reveals the heartbreaking story behind her drive to live life to the fullest in this deeply personal memoir. After several traumatic losses and her husband’s death from cancer, Bozoma Saint John shares with readers how she harnessed her grief to overcome darkness, raise her daughter, and climb the corporate ladder, thriving every step of the way.
In Her Own Words: "It's about time for us to be more open about the things that we are going through because the truth of the matter is that life is going to keep coming and we can't be fearful of it. I think we would be a better society if we better understood what we were each going through and, therefore, be more empathetic to each other,” she told CBS Mornings
Publisher: Viking Penguin
"Worthy" by Jada Pinkett Smith
The Read: The highly anticipated memoir from the Hollywood A-lister reveals a gritty childhood in Baltimore where she sold drugs, a love affair with the arts that would guide her career, bouts of severe depression that had her contemplating suicide and the surprising decision she and her husband made to live separately. The Red Table Talk host also shares her lifelong journey to heal and opens up for the first time about the Oscars slap seen (if not felt) across the world. Each chapter ends with a list of questions and prompts for readers to start their own healing journey.
In her own words: “My biggest hope for the book is that it’ll just be oxygen for people who need it,” Jada Pinkett Smith told The New York Times in October. “I didn’t want to talk about this journey and not give some breadcrumbs of how I got out of some of the stuff I was in, because it’s intense stuff.”
"Thicker Than Water: A Memoir" by Kerry Washington
The Read: The star behind hit shows like ABC’s Scandal revealed one of her own in her new memoir when she wrote about deeply held family secrets—the father she has known all her life is not her biological father. For the first time, the notoriously private actress takes readers into her childhood growing up in the Bronx, crippling bouts of anxiety, her decision to have an abortion, and her battle with an eating disorder.
In Her Own Words: "There's a phrase, 'You're as sick as your secrets'," Kerry Washington told PEOPLE. "I think there's some truth in that. There's so much healing and liberation in the truth and not feeling like we have to hide."
“Walk Through Fire: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Triumph” by Sheila Johnson
Simon & Schuster
The Read: The co-founder of BET and first Black female billionaire candidly shares the story of her upbringing, the betrayal of her husband’s affair and her rise from the ashes to develop her own identity and business empire. Describing her current life as her trailblazing third act, Sheila Johnson details her road to success.
In her own words: "I've come to reconcile the fact that we do need to walk through fire in order to come out stronger at the other end,” Johnson shared with CBS News.
“How to Say Babylon: A Memoir” by Safiya Sinclair
Simon & Schuster
The Read: Raised in a strict Rastafarian home in Jamaica, Safiya Sinclair takes readers inside a harrowing childhood where her controlling father felt her greatest virtue was obedience. Poetic and poignant, Sinclair paints a vivid picture of a young girl fighting valiantly to overcome patriarchal oppression. Eventually, she finds her voice and place in the world, all thanks to a poetry book given to her by her mother.
In her own words: “I always had a very distinct idea of how I wanted the book to read,” Sinclair told the Los Angeles Times in August. “On the sentence level, stylistically, I wanted the poet jumping out—I really wanted the words to feel lush and luscious. I wanted it to be kind of rigorous. I wanted it to be an infusion of or parallel to the Jamaican landscape. The kind of humid kiss of Jamaica is what informs a lot of how I wanted the sentences constructed.”
“Why Fathers Cry at Night: A Memoir in Love Poems, Letters, Recipes, and Remembrances” by Kwame Alexander
Little, Brown and Company
The New York Times bestselling author of 37 books and Newbery Medalist created a unique memoir layered with poetry, letters, recipes, and other elements. From observations culled from his parents’ marriage to his own divorce, Kwame Alexander offers a vulnerable and intimate exploration of one man’s journey to find the greatest love of his life: his daughters.
In his own words: "I wanted to write about a sort of familial love, wanted to write about the love of a father for his children,” Alexander told Lit Hub. “I wanted to write about romantic love. It was just a way for me to share what I’ve been thinking and feeling over the past couple dozen years.”
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
“Every Shot Counts: A Memoir of Resilience” by Carlos Boozer
The Read: Former NBA star and ESPN commentator Carlos Boozer takes basketball fans inside the locker room to reveal how he overcame the childhood trauma of witnessing the shooting death of his best friend and what led to him becoming a sports legend. The book is laced with intimate stories about playing alongside icons like LeBron James, the loss of Kobe Bryant and poignant lessons on how the Black Lives Matter movement helped shape his personal activism.
Why He Wrote the Book: “To tell my journey and my story with the hopes of inspiring others,” Boozer told the Fayetteville Observer. “It doesn’t have to be basketball. I know there’s a lot of basketball kids who are gonna read this book, but it can be anything in life. Just because you get tested doesn’t mean your goal isn’t for you.”
“Straight Shooter: A Memoir of Second Chances and First Takes” by Stephen A. Smith
Simon & Schuster
The Read: One of the sports world's most popular and polarizing figures goes on the record about his challenging life growing up in Queens, the humiliating loss of his first ESPN show, and his unfiltered rise to become an award-winning journalist. Fans of Stephen A. Smith's straight-no-chaser approach will appreciate his sharp and candid takes on today’s top sports stars, NBA teams, social justice issues, and even Donald Trump.
In his own words: “The book is for everybody because the ultimate goal is for it to serve as a motivational tool to inspire folks to move forward and march on no matter what adverse circumstances they're confronted by,” Smith told Men’s Health. “And those who have the ability to reach the masses, to touch the lives of many other people, I sincerely hope those people read this book as well, because I want them to have that kind of impact. I want them to utilize my book as a tool to help impact others in a very positive way.”
“Nothing Is Missing: A Memoir of Living Boldly” by Nicole Walters
Simon & Schuster
The Read: From talking her way onto the game show “Wheel of Fortune,” paying for college, and adopting three girls off the streets to quitting her job in front of thousands of people on social media, Nicole Walters paints a vivid picture of a life well lived by taking chances, overcoming the odds, and leading with an open heart. The self-made millionaire and founder and CEO of Inherit Learning Company is a first-generation American whose parents immigrated from Ghana. She believes she got to where she is today by tuning out the naysayers and listening to her own internal voice.
In her own words: “Ultimately, we do have our own agency. It was important for me to realize what tools I have and how can I use and leverage those [tools] to change my circumstances and that's what I mean when I say no one is coming to save you,” Walters told CBS Mornings. “Any big need or desire you want has to be initiated by you.”
“The Girl in the Yellow Poncho: A Memoir” by Krystal Brent Zook
Duke University Press
The Read: This coming-of-age story of a biracial girl takes readers through Krystal Brent Zook’s struggles with identity after her white father abandons her family. An award-winning journalist and professor, Zook details her journey to become a feminist activist while dealing with her childhood trauma. Join her journey as she tries to overcome fears of abandonment once she has the chance to reconcile with her father and heal her broken family and heart.
In her own words: “Originally, this was going to be a journalistic book—looking at the shifting demographics and politics of mixed-race identity,” Zook shared in The Examined Family. “But to my surprise, a more personal narrative began to take root. At some point, it became a book about my decision to look for my father [again], and to finally heal the generational trauma that existed within myself and my family.”
Publisher: Duke University Press
“Sink: A Memoir” by Joseph Earl Thomas
Grand Central Publishing
The Read: A vivid portrait of Philadelphia’s inner city is the backdrop for Joseph Earl Thomas’ searing memoir, which details a harrowing childhood laced with drug addiction, violence, poverty, and a love of video games and geek culture. Readers will root for Thomas as he finds his way out of despair and forges a path away from toxic masculinity to building his own authentic community.
In His Own Words: “I definitely don’t want people to walk away from it being like, ‘Look at this magical character who’s special and dealt with these hard experiences, but through sheer force of will triumphed,’ or something like that—I definitely don’t want the hero-story narrative thing, which I think is one of the few ways that we even have to talk about difficult experiences—in this country in particular,” Thomas shared with The Sunlight Press “But I do want people to work through their own interpretations, or confusions, or questions for themselves. I figure that’s a lot more fun than falling back on a set of preconceived scripts and expectations, or beliefs, or ways of knowing about literature. I was trying to be careful to keep the book from being an easy explanation or easy reading.”
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
“Up Home: One Girl’s Journey” by Ruth J. Simmons
Penguin Random House
The Read: The road to becoming an Ivy League president was neither straight nor destined for Ruth Simmons, who was born the last of 12 children in a sharecropping family in Jim Crow, Texas. Recounting the inspiring people and challenging circumstances that pushed her along the way, Simmons would eventually go on to lead three universities as president. She made history as the first African-American president of an Ivy League school. Simmons paints a resilient portrait of a life well lived and success well earned.
In Her Own Words: “The more I found myself having to explain how I overcame life in a small town in East Texas during the segregated era of the country, the more I realized that I could avoid having to repeat the story by writing about it,” Simmons told the Southern Review of Books. “So, I started the book during my Brown presidency but set it aside for a number of years only to take it up again during the COVID pandemic.”
“Lucky Me: A Memoir of Changing the Odds” by Rich Paul
Courtesy of Penguin Random House
The Read: While the world may know him as Lebron James’ childhood friend and business partner, Rich Paul is taking readers behind the multi-million dollar dealmaking for some of the NBA’s top talent to reveal a gritty childhood that could have set him off on a very different trajectory. Paul describes his captivating journey of escapting the crime-ridden streets of Cleveland as a result of a mix of luck, street smarts, and the work ethic instilled by his father. It’s the recipe that led to his blueprint for success as CEO of Klutch Sports Group.
In His Own Words: “When you read the book, you get to dive into a lot of the things that I had to overcome,” Paul told PEOPLE. “But hence the title of Lucky Me. I was lucky enough to be able to continue down a path where there wasn't a ton of light, but the door was cracked with a little light and I was smart enough not to invest in the pitfalls that were there for me every day in my environment.”
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