International Women’s Day is Friday, March 8. One great way to mark the occasion is to read autobiographies by women who won the Nobel Peace Prize. Below are five heartbreaking, fascinating and inspiring books written by laureates from around the world. Rigoberta Menchú Tum of Guatemala won in 1992 for championing the rights of indigenous people. Jody Williams from the United States won in 1997 for spearheading a global campaign to ban landmines. Leymah Gbowee shared the prize in 2011 for helping to forge peace in violence-torn Liberia. And in 2014 at age 17, Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan became the youngest winner ever for a fearless fight for girls’ education that nearly claimed her life. This list includes two captivating autobiographies by Malala, one for adults and one for children. Check them out or put them on hold with your DC Public Library Card today!
“My name is Rigoberta Menchú. I am twenty-three years old. This is my testimony.” So begins the stunning autobiography, I, Rigoberta Menchú, one woman's map of “our lands running with blood and sweat.” First there are the deaths of oppression: one brother from malnutrition and another from pesticide spray. Then there are the deaths of repression: her mother and brother brutally tortured and killed, and her father, a revolutionary leader, burned to death during a protest. Through it all, you watch up close as a shy, insecure girl in remote Guatemala transforms into a global fighter for indigenous rights. Ten years after dictating the opening lines to this book, she won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Jody Williams grew up on stories of saints, but My Name Is Jody Williams, makes clear she’s not one. Before she takes you on a globe-hopping campaign to ban landmines, she describes her fragile family, her rocky love affairs, her academic failures, her crappy jobs. Early activism against U.S. involvement El Salvador leads to a job running fact-finding missions to Nicaragua and Honduras, then another providing medical supplies and treatment to El Salvador. The Nobel committee said the landmine work she led “proved the impossible is possible.” Her story suggest you can do it, too. “The only real limitations we face,” she writes, “are the ones we put on ourselves.”
Throughout her native Liberia, Leymah Gbowee had given conflict-resolution workshops. But for first time, this meeting was all women. And the stories wouldn’t stop. Instead of speaking of the violence that had made Liberia a pariah state, they spoke of their private war, of husband demanding sex, too many children, feeling dehumanized and abused. “That night, my brain was lighting up,” Gbowee writes in Mighty Be Our Powers. “I knew something extraordinary had happened.” She’d found the power to unite women across tribes, religion, wealth, education. Follow her footsteps as she channels that power into a grassroots movement that helps topple a brutal strongman and end 14 years of civil war.
You never forget this spell-binding book is told through a child’s eyes. Malala Yousafzai was a schoolgirl when she wrote I Am Malala. The title answers what a gunman asked when he climbed in her school van and demanded, “Who is Malala?” The bullet pierced her face and lodged by her shoulder blade. But instead of silencing this tireless little champion for girls’ education in Pakistan, it drew world attention. “I realized that what the Taliban had done,” she writes, “was make my campaign global.” Her book charts the geographical, historical and cultural forces of her paradise lost and her dogged struggle to ensure that children everywhere can pursue their dreams.
Malala Yousafzai’s illustrated autobiography for children, Malala’s Magic Pencil, reads like a fairytale but it’s real. She watches a TV series about a boy who fixes problems with a magic pencil, and she wants one, too. As her world expands, she goes from wishing for things like a ball for her brothers to ending hunger and poverty. But her magic pencil never appears. Instead, “powerful and dangerous men” come. They make girls afraid to go to school. She writes with sensitivity about how they “tried to silence” her protests to the world but failed; millions have joined her work for peace. Her message to children: “The magic is in you.”
About the Author
Barbara Cornell is a Library Associate at the William O. Lockridge Bellevue Neighborhood Library. She grew up in Michigan, where the public library across the street from her house was a first taste of independence. Since then, she has lived in five countries and always finds a home in books. She has two grown sons and lives with her husband in Washington, DC.