Each year, religion publishers supply a steady stream of memoirs, biographies, and autobiographies as a source of inspiration and education for spiritual seekers. More important today than ever, though, is reading about the lives of others for a better understanding of ourselves and stronger connections to those around us, says David Bratt, executive editor at Eerdmans. “We all have our own stories: we’re born, we die, and in between we face challenges and triumphs. Reading the stories of others helps us understand our own better. It’s an easy way to connect our lives to the lives of others.”
Stephanie Smith, associate publisher at Zondervan, agrees, and she searches for books that extend beyond individual experiences. “The difference between a powerful memoir and a mediocre memoir is the author’s intentionality to shift the story from their singular story to the greater human story in which we all find ourselves,” she says. “When writers do this, something extraordinary happens: readers realize they are not alone, and through the author’s example and journey, they are given the chance to find their own internal courage and faith to face the challenges in their own journey.”
Stories from the stars
Among the biographies and personal histories coming out this year are several from musicians, athletes, and other celebrities. Peeking into the lives of the rich and famous has always appealed to readers, and in January, novelist Travis Thrasher is taking a deep dive into the story of U2’s lead singer with Bono: From the Sheer Face of Love (Zondervan). Andy Rogers, acquisitions editor at Zondervan, calls the book “a thoroughly researched biography, written in the spirit of a novel, that seeks to present its subject with authenticity and accuracy—even the ugly bits—so readers will understand and identify with him more deeply.”
Zondervan is also publishing Grammy-winning Christian rapper Lecrae’s I Am Restored: How I Lost My Religion but Found My Faith (Oct.), which explores how he overcame sexual abuse, physical trauma, addiction, and depression and discovered a stronger faith in God. The book, which features daily practices for mental, emotional, and spiritual health, also encourages readers to be more vulnerable and honest with themselves and others.
Lori Allen, owner of one of the biggest bridal salons in the U.S. and star of TLC’s Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta, draws on her experiences as a business owner, mother, wife, and breast cancer survivor in Say Yes to What’s Next: How to Age with Elegance and Class While Never Losing Your Beauty and Sass (W, July). The book is geared toward women age 50 and older who are facing changes related to self-image, marriage, and caregiving.
Pittsburgh Steeler running back James Conner chronicles his record-breaking college football career at Pitt as well as his devastating Hodgkin’s disease diagnosis in Fear Is a Choice: Tackling Life’s Challenges with Dignity, Faith, and Determination, out June 16 from Harper. Jason Brown, another football player, who played for the Baltimore Ravens and the St. Louis Rams, describes why he left his position as an offensive lineman to launch what is now First Fruits Farms in Louisburg, N.C., in Centered: Trading Your Plans for a Life That Matters (WaterBrook, Feb.). Brown and his family have donated more than 1.6 million servings of fresh produce from the farm to their community in an effort to fight hunger.
Leaving behind a legacy
Several biographies of late spiritual leaders are also publishing later this year. Ram Dass, a psychologist and the bestselling author of 1971’s Be Here Now, worked for over a decade on his biography with longtime friend Rameshwar Das, finishing it a few months prior to his death in December 2019. Sounds True will release Being Ram Dass in January; in it, he describes his life and work, including early involvement with the conscious aging movement, psychedelics, meditation, and yoga.
In October, WaterBrook will release A Burning in My Bones: The Authorized Biography of Eugene Peterson, Translator of The Message, in which Winn Collier explores the life of Presbyterian minister, theologian, and author Peterson, who passed away in 2018. In the book, Collier, who had access to Peterson before he died, explores “everything from very personal struggles, to wonderful color from Eugene’s Montana boyhood, to his deep spiritual wrestlings,” says Paul Pastor, editor for WaterBrook and Multnomah.
“Eugene’s spirituality and vision was prescient, naming consumerism, political entanglement, fear, and our loss of a ‘biblical imagination’ as key problems. We need this book in order to fully appreciate his public witness—which is arguably more needed today than any time in recent memory. It tells us a better story about ourselves.”
And coming from Eerdmans in November, Mother of American Evangelicalism: The Life and Legacy of Henrietta Mears by Arlin C. Migliazzo examines the influential yet overlooked work of a woman who played a key role in the evangelical movement of the 20th century. In addition to writing What the Bible Is All About, which sold millions of copies after it was published in 1953, Mears navigated fundamentalism and liberal modernism to create a new direction for Christian orthodoxy, says Bratt of Eerdmans. “Billy Graham called her the most important woman in his life other than his wife and mother. She touched worlds ranging from Hollywood to evangelism to theological education. It’s a surprising story of a powerful woman in a very traditional world.”
Exploring emotional ups and downs
A number of new memoirs are delving into mental health challenges and deep internal conflicts, imparting lessons on healing. Tana Amen (The Omni Diet), a neurosurgical ICU trauma nurse and health and fitness expert, recounts her abusive childhood as well as battles with cancer and depression in The Relentless Courage of a Scared Child: How Persistence, Grit, and Faith Created a Reluctant Healer (Nelson, Jan. 2021). And Houston-based Methodist pastor Juanita Rasmus describes what her counselor called “a major depressive episode” in Learning to Be: Finding Your Center After the Bottom Falls Out (IVP, Sept.). The book blends wisdom with humor as Rasmus reflects on mental illness, exhaustion, and self-acceptance. Depression is also a key topic in Ben Courson’s Flirting with Darkness: Building Hope in the Face of Depression (Harvest House, Sept.), a follow-up to 2019’s Optimisfits: Igniting a Fierce Rebellion Against Hopelessness. The new book, which is geared toward millennials, details Courson’s experiences with mental illness, tragedy, and feelings of desperation, according to the publisher.
Offering the gritty details of one’s life story can liberate the author and help readers in need, writes Brit Barron in Worth It: Over Come Your Fears and Embrace the Life You Were Made For (Broadleaf, July). Barron, who is a copastor at Pasadena, Calif.’s New Abbey church, describes growing up in an evangelical megachurch during the 1990s, struggling with her sexuality, and ultimately falling in love and marrying a woman. “Each of us can use our stories to share the freedom that someone else might be desperately searching for,” she writes in the book.
With a potential for strong backlist sales that result from a long shelf life, spiritual memoirs, biographies, and autobiographies show no signs of slowing down, publishers say. Plus, “people are hungry for inspiration, and we all need reminders to persevere,” Zondervan’s Rogers notes.