Welcome to the first post in my vegan memoir series!
Let me start with why I’m doing this blog series and detouring from my usual spiritual book reviews. There are fewer vegan memoirs than I thought!
Since I’ve now had the chance to work with a few spiritual (and other) authors but haven’t yet had the chance to work with a vegan author, I thought I’d start reading and getting acquainted with the vegan memoirs that have already been published.
If you do a search for “top vegan memoirs” not only will you get a hodgepodge of vegan cookbooks that aren’t memoirs, but most of the books that come up will be by white men.
There are a lot of great vegan books by white men, but when I polled various Facebook and LinkedIn groups looking for memoirs by women and authors of colour, there were a lot more to add to the list, so I’m reading from least to most recent, and that’s why Angela Y. Davis’s autobiography comes first. Some publishing sites are calling the title An Autobiography but I’ll stick to the more popular title with the author’s name.
She called it an autobiography, but it qualifies as a memoir.
In my mind, you’ve got to be at least 60 or past the height of your career to write an autobiography that spans your lifetime. Memoirs highlight moments in one’s life. I think this could be both. When Davis wrote it, it covered her life at the time, but because she’s still alive we can look back at it as the story of her youth and young adulthood.
I’m not going to go through an entire plot review or critique the book because I think we can find strengths and weaknesses in every book. What’s interesting about Angela Davis is that she wrote it at the age of 28, an age you would think wouldn’t even constitute as well into adulthood.
When you read the first 100 pages, you’ll learn why it was timely that Davis wrote this because she’d been through a lot by that age.
We start the book with the events leading up to Davis’s arrest and imprisonment as she awaited her trial on charges of murder, kidnapping, and conspiracy. The charges stemmed from an incident in a Marin County (CA) courtroom in which Jonathan Jackson—an armed African-American high-school student whose brother was one of 3 inmates (called the Soledad Brothers) accused and charged with the killing of a prison guard—took several individuals hostage. As the police fired back, four people were killed and two others were injured. Jackson had used weapons Davis had purchased, and she had also corresponded with Jonathan’s brother George while he was in prison.
She talked about the poor conditions in jail, fighting to get out of solitary confinement, friendships she made, and trying to create a library. She was flown from the NY Women’s House of Detention to a jail in California, and was moved again to another jail in San Jose. During her time in jail, she even managed to contribute to a book, If They Come in the Morning, and continued to fight to free political prisoners.
We backtrack to her youth in Birmingham, Alabama and New York City before she enters college at Brandeis University in Massachusetts. She covers her travels to and life in France and Germany where she studied French and explored socialism and communism, and returning to the US to continue her post-graduate studies in philosophy at UC San Diego. While teaching and studying, Davis fought against the charges against the Soledad Brothers until she became a fugitive, (she was considered a terrorist by the FBI) and was arrested.
Then we go forward again to the time just before and during Davis’s trial, in which she represented herself as co-counsel. As the death penalty was abolished in the state of California, the state allowed her release on $100,000 bail from county jail. She was acquitted of all charges at her trial in 1972, spending a total of 16 months incarcerated.
It’s clear Davis was a brilliant student. She was figuring out where she belonged as she explored, and at times, led various Black organizations throughout the tumultuous civil rights era of the 60s and early 70s. She visited socialist Cuba and became a member of the US Communist Party, which she eventually left in 1991.
Her telling of the conflicting missions of Black organizations that merged, did not get along, and even threatened her life reflects the racism struggles we still face today, and how dismantling patriarchal systems and racism can’t only be done by Black people.
Is Angela Davis a vegan memoir?
Left: Original cover published 1974
Because the book ends when Davis is 28, there are obviously details missing from the live she led thereafter, but this is still an excellent book for any collection. Veganism isn’t mentioned at all in the book nor should it be (there’s even some mention of her buying meat when she had extra money as a student), as Davis only declared she was vegan in 2012 (at the age of 68). So I wouldn’t call this a vegan memoir but it’s a great memoir by someone who’s now vegan (and I thank the person who recommended it to me!).
Davis wrote two additional introductions before the 1988 and 2021 editions. It was originally edited by the late, great Toni Morrison and published by Random House and International Publishers. The newest edition is published by Haymarket Books.
Have you read Angela Davis and have more to say about the book? Comment below!