Survivor Memoirs


Feature Story: Dr. Elaine Richardson, PhD to Ph.D.  

ELAINE RICHARDSON uses her story of recovery from human trafficking and drugs to becoming an award winning PhD and recording artist to motivate others. She is Professor of Literacy Studies in the College of Education and Human Ecology at The Ohio State University, 



In Spring 2015, I developed Purple Pens Poetry Workshops for survivors of sexual violence in order to share words of encouragement and empowerment. As a survivor of several attacks during my childhood and young adulthood, I eventually found my voice through poetry and through making a career of studying African American women writers. By learning the healing traditions in Black women’s intellectual history, I slowly developed an emotionally, socially, and professionally grounded life. I created workshops out of a desire to combat the social stigma surrounding survival and to help others along their paths of love and struggle.

Women’s quest for peace and justice are too often made invisible, trivialized, or misrepresented. This collection presents a rainbow of diverse people who stand in solidarity with those victimized in Atlanta and around the world. As the majority of girls in the youthSpark Voices program are African American, historic research provides useful context. Sexual violence is traumatic; in a hostile social environment that not only blames and shames victims, but deems Black women “unrapable,” the trauma is increased (Lenhart, 2006). In the African diaspora, Black women have penned life stories that offer insight into the shifting kaleidoscope of violence and harrowing social experiences with domestic and sexual violence, foster care or forced child home systems, public humiliation,  inadequate health care, employment discrimination, and disenfranchisement that have negatively impacted their physical and mental health.

​Writing empowers people to have a stronger efficacy in four areas: self, communication, tasks, and innovation. Poetry can strengthen survivors' voices, voices can strengthen advocate communities, and advocate communities can strengthen activism for change of culture and policy. At the very least, it can end the deafening silence and eliminate the culture of shame. ...   

Available narratives include:

  1. Laila Ali, Reach!: Finding Strength, Spirit and Personal Power
  2. Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
  3. Rachel Bagby, Divine Daughters
  4. Asha Bandele, The Prisoner’s Wife
  5. Violet Barungi, Farming Ashes: Tales of Agony and Resilience
  6. Halima Bashir, Tears of the Desert: A Memoir of Survival in Dafur
  7. Angela Bassett, Friends: A Love Story
  8. Donna Britt, Brothers (and Me): A Memoir of Loving and Giving
  9. Betty Brown, Open Secrets: A Poor Person’s Life in Higher Education
  10. Cupcake Brown, Piece of Cake: A Memoir
  11. Julian Bullock, Here I Stand
  12. Ayana Byrd, Naked: Black Women Bare All About Their Skin, Hair, Lips, and Other Parts
  13. Theresa Cameron, Foster Care Odyssey: A Black Girl’s Story
  14. Shanetris Campbell, I Am Not My Father’s Daughter
  15. Diahann Carroll, The Legs Are the Last to Go
  16. Vera Chapelle, Beauty and Truth: Journeying through Joy and Sorrow, Pain and Peace
  17. Letty Chihoro, Loving Me: Reclaiming my Power
  18. Julia Jeter Cleckley, A Promise Fulfilled: My Life as a Wife and Mother Soldier and General Officer
  19. Iris Cooke, The Little Black Book of Child Sex Slavery
  20. Cynthia Cooper, She Got Game: My Personal Odyssey
  21. Dorothy Cotton, If Your Back’s Not Bent: The Role of the Citizenship Education Program in the Civil Rights Movement
  22. Stephanie Covington Armstrong, Not All Black Girls Know How to Eat
  23. Lorie Crawford, Memoirs of a Black Woman: The Tale of Two Women
  24. Delores Cross: Beyond the Wall
  25. Sandra Pepa Denton, Let's Talk About Pep 
  26. Debra Dickerson, An American Story
  27. Waris Dirie, Desert Flower
  28. Patricia Due, Freedom in the Family:  A Mother Daughter Memoir of the Fight for Civil Rights
  29. Katherine Dunham, Loss of Innocence
  30. Stacie Farr, Black Girl in America
  31. Patrice Gaines, Laughing in the Dark: From Colored Girl to Woman of Color
  32. Robin Givens, Grace Will Lead Me Home
  33. [Roxanne Gay, Hunger]
  34. Marita Golden, Migrations of the Heart
  35. Pam Grier, Foxy: My Life in Three Acts
  36. Marilynn Griffith, SistahFaith: Real Stories of Pain, Truth and Triumph
  37. Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route
  38. Martha Hawkins, Finding Martha’s Place: My Journey Through Sin, Salvation, and Lots of Soul Food
  39. Ruth Hegerty, Bittersweet Journey
  40. Anita Hill, Speaking Truth to Power
  41. Endesha Ida Mae Holland, From the Mississippi Delta
  42. Billie Holliday, Lady Sings the Blues
  43. Kate Howarth, Ten Hail Marys
  44. Edith Hudley, Raise Up a Child: Human Development in an African American Family
  45. Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself Linda Brent
  46. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, This Child Will be Great
  47. June Jordan, Some of Us Did Not Die
  48. Queen Latifah, Put on Your Crown: Life-Changing Moments on the Path to Queendom
  49. Soraya Mire, The Girl with Three Legs
  50. Elaine Richardson, PhD to Ph.D.: How Education Saved My Life
  51. Ilyasa Shabazz, Growing Up X
  52. Assata Shakur, Assata
  53. Nina Simone, I Put a Spell on You
  54. Alice Swafford, Conquering the Darkness
  55. Tina Turner, I Tina!
  56. Essie Mae Washington-Williams, Dear Senator: A Memoir by the Daughter of Strom Thurmond
  57. Ethel Waters, His Eye is on the Sparrow
  58. Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Crusade for Justice
  59. Malinda West, Black Gal: Sharecropper’s Daughter Triumphant Journey Out of Poverty
  60. Mary Williams, The Lost Daughter
  61. Wendy Williams, Wendy’s Got the Heat
  62. Jan Willis, Dreaming Me: Black Baptist and Buddhist
  63. Mary Wilson, Dreamgirl and Supreme Faith
  64. Shakeeta Winfrey, The Other Winfrey
  65. Kaye Wright, Messy Marvin: A Story of Abuse and Survival

* Stories by Men of Color nclude:
Antwone Fisher, Finding Fish: Antwone Fisher
Carlos Santana, The Universal Stone: Bringing My Story to Light


Database of Black Women's Autobiography

Finding Your Voice: Moving "from Worthless to Astounding"  

60 Narratives of Survival & Empowerment ~ an excerpt from the  Purple Sparks book: 

DR.  S.  Y.  EVANS

Purple Sparks 

Poetry by Survivors of Sexual Violence

A Fundraiser for youthSpark 

Purchase copy here!

S: “Choose one word that represents your past, one for your present, and one for your future.”

K: “The word for my past is worthless. I feel worthless because of what happened to me. The word for my future is astounding. I know I can do great things. I don’t have a word for my present. How do I get from worthless to astounding?”  ~ Purple Pens Poetry Workshop, April 2015