Famous Women Writers

I think of myself as a humanist, each human being has its or own value and place in the world, no matter if they are male or female. I see no difference between the genders, nor do I see gender as a determinant of a person’s value, thus, I do not consider myself biased in any way. Or so I thought.

I read a book – The Bastard of Istanbul, by Elif Shafak. The book, which I highly recommend, has incredibly strong female characters. Recently I read another book by the same author, Honor, and was talking to my best friend about it when she actually called the author a “she”. I corrected her, saying that she probably meant “he”. Diana said something later became obvious to me: “No man could portray women in such detail and so sensibly”.

I realized then that I don’t really read women authors. Except for Emily Brontë, Jane Austen and Ayn Rand, my favourite authors are male (Murakami, Garcia Marquez, Vonnegut, Herbert, Voltaire, Faulkner…), and I never thought about the fact that I connect with women writers. Moreover, the literature I studied in school is mostly male.

I am now reading Elif Shafak’s Black Milk, and it feels like the author knows me, she shares my worries, my troubles, my questions, and my fights. I identify with her more than any other author I have read. I ordered a few more books written by female writers, as I am curious and willing to discover things I thought or felt as my own share with women across the globe. It astonishes me that I had to wait all this time to discover this. I always thought I had things in common with some of the books I read, mostly written by men. But this is different, a level of connection I never thought I’d reach with a book.

I fell in love with Elif Shafak and her books. In Black Milk, she tells stories of famous female authors and the troubles they went through to be able to write, the conflict between writing and raising a family, the choices they had to make between one or the other, the compromises they had to reach and overall, the troubles and limitations that sometimes come with being a woman writer.

When I asked my friends if they read female authors, their answers were in the range of “they only write romance”, “they are not that good unless they write under a male’s name”, and “what women writers?”. Therefore, I compiled a list of brilliant female writers, as extracted from Elif Shafak’s Black Milk novel, to which I added recommendations from Michelle, who introduced me to Elif Shafak in the first place:

  • Adalet Ağaoğlu: Turkish elite intellectual.
  • Alexandra Kollontai: Russian revolutionist  and feminist.
  • Alice Munro: Canadian author writing in English. Munro’s work has been described as having revolutionized the architecture of short stories, especially in its tendency to move forward and backwards in time; winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature; her collection Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage: Stories (2001) became the basis of the film Away from Her from in 2006.
  • Alice Walker: Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and poet.
  • A. M. Homes, pen name of Amy Homes: American writer best known for her controversial novels and unusual stories, most notably The End of Alice (1996), a novel about a convicted child molester and murderer.
  • Amy Tan (I recommend The Joy Luck Club):  an American writer whose works explore mother-daughter relationships; Chinese origins (beautiful references to Chinese wisdom and culture).
  • Anais Nin: undeclared feminist famous for her diaries.
  • Anita Desai: Indian novelist and MIT professor.
  • Anna Funder: Australian author, winner of the Miles Franklin Prize, and the Barbara Jefferis Prize, with her novels All That I Am and Stasiland.
  • Anne Lamott: American writer, progressive political activist, public speaker, and writing teacher.
  • Anne Rice: American author of gothic fiction, Christian literature, and erotica; you all know Interview With a Vampire, don’t you?
  • Annie Proulx: American journalist and author; Brokeback Mountain, among other books.
  • Arundhati Roy: Indian author and political activist, best known for the 1998 Man Booker Prize for Fiction, won with The God of Small Things and for her involvement in human rights and environmental causes.
  • Audre Lorde: Caribbean-American writer, radical feminist and civil rights activist.
  • Ayn Rand: American novelist, philosopher, playwright, screenwriter, and creator of Objectivism, a philosophical system. I recommend The Fountainhead.
  • Barbara Kingsolver: American novelist, essayist and poet.
  • Betty Friedan: American writer, activist, and feminist. A leading figure in the women’s movement in the United States, the most popular book: The Feminine Mystique.
  • Carson McCullers: American writer of novels, short stories, plays, essays, and poetry; most acclaimed work: The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.
  • Cheryl Strayed: American memoirist, novelist and essayist; the second book, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail has been translated into more than 30 languages and was no. 1 on New York Times Best Seller list for seven consecutive weeks.
  • Chimamanda Adichie: Nigerian writer, called “the most prominent” of a “procession of critically acclaimed young anglophone authors [that] is succeeding in attracting a new generation of readers to African literature”; MacArthur Fellowship, Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards; most acclaimed book: Half of a Yellow Sun. 
  • Claire Messud: American novelist and literature and creative writing professor; best known as the author of the 2006 novel The Emperor’s Children.
  • Cristina di Belgioioso: Italian noblewoman who played a prominent part in Italy’s struggle for independence.
  • Donna Tart: American author and writer of novels, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction with The Goldfinch in 2014.
  • Doris Lessing: British novelist, poet, playwright, librettist, biographer and short story writer.
  • Dorothy Parker: American poet, short story writer, critic and satirist best known for her wit, wisecracks, and eye for 20th-century urban foibles.
  • Edwidge Danticat: Haitian author, in her work, she exposes her country’s traumatic history, becoming a potent voice for the diaspora, also using non-fiction and film; her most known work is Breath, Eyes, Memory.
  • Eleanor Catton:  Canadian-born New Zealand author. Her second novel, The Luminaries, won the 2013 Man Booker Prize.
  • Elena Ferrante is an Italian writer whose real identity is unknown; her Neapolitan series is beyond amazing, I have read all four books without stopping. The books are deep introspection into her life, identity, womanhood and a beautiful tale of Naples: My Brilliant Friend (book 1); The Story of a New Name (book 2);  Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay (book 3); The Story of the Lost Child (book 4).
  • Elif Shafak: another personal favourite; the best book to start with is The Bastard of Istanbul; from then on, you’ll anyhow want to read anything she ever wrote.
  • Elizabeth Gilbert: American author, essayist, short story writer, biographer, novelist and memoirist; author of the famous Eat, Pray, Love.
  • Elliott Holt: American fiction writer and former ad copywriter. Holt won a 2011 Pushcart Prize for her story Fem Care and was the runner-up of the 2011 PEN Emerging Writers Award for her story The Norwegians.
  • Emily Brontë: English novelist and poet, best remembered for her only novel, Wuthering Heights, now considered a classic of English literature.
  • Emily Dickinson: American poet, she lived a mostly introverted and reclusive life; there is even a museum dedicated to her.
  • Emma Donoghue: Irish-born playwright, literary historian and novelist now living in Canada. Her 2010 novel Room was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize and an international best-seller.
  • Erica Jong: American author and teacher best known for her fiction and poetry, particularly for her 1973 novel Fear of Flying.
  • Fatma Aliye: Turkish novelist, columnist, essayist, women’s rights activist and humanitarian; wrote under the pen name of “A Woman” or “A Lady”.
  • George Eliot, pen name of Mary Ann Evans: English novelist, journalist, translator and one of the leading writers of the Victorian era.
  • George Sand, pen name of Amantine-Aurore-Lucile Dupin: French novelist and memoirist.
  • Gertrude Stein: American writer of novels, poetry and plays that eschewed the narrative, linear, and temporal conventions of 19th-century literature, and a fervent collector of Modernist art; her autobiographical book, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, is a beautiful tale about 1900s Paris, including her stories about her friends, like Picasso, Matisse, Braque, Hemingway, Fitzgerald and the likes.
  • Gillian Flynn: American author and former television critic for Entertainment Weekly. As of 2012, she has published three novels: Sharp Objects, Dark Places, and Gone Girl; the latter is also a movie.
  • Halide Edip Adivar: Turkish novelist and nationalist and women’s rights political leader; one of her best novels is The Clown and His Daughter part 1The Clown and His Daughter part 2.
  • Hélène Cixous: professor, French feminist writer, poet, playwright, philosopher, literary critic and rhetorician.
  • Herta Müller: German-Romanian novelist, poet, essayist and recipient of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Literature.
  • Iris Murdoch: Irish-born British author and philosopher best known for her novels about good and evil, sexual relationships, morality, and the power of the unconscious.
  • Isabel Allende: her works contain aspects of a “magic realist”, famous for novels like The House of the Spirits, Eva Luna and City of the Beasts; find her TED talk here.
  • J. Courtney Sullivan: American novelist and former writer for The New York Times; best known for Commencement and Maine, named one of TIME’s top novels of 2011.
  • Jane Smiley: American novelist; Her best-selling A Thousand Acres, a story based on William Shakespeare’s King Lear, received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1992.
  • Jeanette Winterson: British writer, broadcaster and activist.
  • Jhumpa Lahiri: Indian American author. Lahiri’s debut short story collection, Interpreter of Maladies, won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and her first novel, The Namesake, was adapted into the popular film of the same name.
  • Karen Russell: American novelist and short story writer. Her debut novel, Swamplandia!, was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
  • Katherine Mansfield is a prominent modernist short fiction writer born and brought up in colonial New Zealand; her real name is Katherine Mansfield Beauchamp Murry.
  • Lillian Hellman: American dramatist and screenwriter, famously blacklisted by the House Committee on Un-American Activities at the height of the anti-communist campaigns of 1947-52.
  • Lorrie Moore: American fiction writer known mainly for her humorous and poignant short stories; Bark is her most-known work.
  • Lou Andreas Salomé: Russian-born psychoanalyst and author. Her diverse intellectual interests led to friendships with various distinguished western thinkers, including Nietzsche, Freud, and Rilke.
  • Louisa May Alcott: American novelist best known as the author of the novel Little Women and its sequels Good Wives, Little Men and Jo’s Boys; there’s even a documentary about her life, Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind ‘Little Women’.
  • Louise Erdrich: American writer of novels, poetry, and children’s books featuring Native American characters and settings. She is an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, a band of the Anishinaabe; her most known work: The Round House.
  • Margaret Atwood: Canadian poet, novelist, literary critic, essayist, and environmental activist. Recently one of her famous novels, The Handmaid’s Tale, was turned into a drama series – watched it, very disturbing and fascinating at the same time.
  • Margaret Wrinkle: American writer, filmmaker, educator and visual artist; her debut novel, Wash, reexamines American slavery in ways that challenge contemporary assumptions about race, power, history and healing and was picked by Wall Street Journal as one of the 10 Best Novels of 2013.
  • Marguerite Duras: French writer and film director; there’s Hiroshima mon amour among her movies.
  • Marguerite Yourcenar: French writer (novelist, essayist, playwright, short story writer, poet),  first woman writer accepted into The French Academy winner of the Prix Femina and Erasmus Prize. Famous novels are Memoirs of Hadrian, and Potrait d’une voix.
  • Mary Gordon: American writer and the McIntosh Professor of English at Barnard College. She is best known for her novels, memoirs and literary criticism.
  • Maya Angelou: American author and poet; has published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, and several books of poetry, and is credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows spanning over fifty years.
  • Muriel Spark: award-winning Scottish novelist. In 2008 The Times newspaper named Spark in its list of “the 50 greatest British writers since 1945” at number 8.
  • Nadine Gordimer: South African writer, political activist and recipient of the 1991 Nobel Prize in Literature.
  • Naomi Shihab Nye: poet, songwriter, and novelist. She was born to a Palestinian father and an American mother.
  • Patricia Highsmith: American novelist and short story writer most widely known for her psychological thrillers, which led to more than two dozen film adaptations.
  • Pearl S. Buck: 1938 Nobel Prize for Literature winner, also known by her Chinese name Sai Zhenzhu, was an American writer and novelist. As the daughter of missionaries, Buck spent most of her life before 1934 in China.
  • Rachel Kushner: American writer known for her novels Telex from Cuba and The Flamethrowers.
  • Rebecca Walker: American writer; named by Time Magazine as one of the 50 future leaders of America.
  • Rebecca West: British author, journalist, literary critic and travel writer by her real name Dame Cicely Isabel Fairfield; pioneering writer, thinker and proponent of female sexuality.
  • Rita Mae Brown: American writer and feminist; best known for her first novel Rubyfruit Jungle. Published in 1973, it dealt with lesbian themes in an explicit manner unusual for the time. Brown is also a mystery writer and screenwriter.
  • Sandra Cisneros: American writer best known for her acclaimed first novel The House on Mango Street, and her subsequent short story collection Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories.
  • Sarah Walters: Welsh novelist; best known for her novels set in Victorian society and featuring lesbian protagonists, such as Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith.
  • Selma Lagerlöf: Sweedish author, the first woman to win the Nobel Prize of Literature, became a member of the Swedish Academy; one of her best works is The Saga of Gösta Berling (1891) and the very famous  The Wonderful Adventures of Nils Holgersson (you watched the cartoons, right?).
  • Sevgi Soysal: Turkish author best known for the novel Tante Rosa.
  • Sheila Heti: Canadian writer and editor, best known for How Should a Person Be?, chosen by The New York Times as one of the 100 Best Books of 2012, and which she describes as a book of constructed reality based on recorded interviews with her friends, particularly the painter Margaux Williamson.
  • Simone de Beauvoir: French writer, intellectual, existentialist philosopher, political activist, feminist and social theorist.
  • Sue Monk Kidd: American author, winner of the South Carolina Fellowship in Literature, author of The Secret Life of Bees, When the Heart Waits, Dance of the Dissident Daughter.
  • Susan Sontag: American writer and filmmaker, professor, literary icon, and political activist. Sontag became an international cultural and intellectual celebrity after publishing her 1964 essay “Notes on ‘Camp’.
  • Sylvia Plath: American poet, novelist, and short-story writer.
  • Taiye Selasi: Ghanian and Nigerian author mentored by Toni Morrison and Salman Rushdie. Her short story The Sex Lives of African Girls appeared in The Best American Short Stories of 2012, and her first novel, Ghana Must Go, was selected as one of the 10 best books of 2013 by the Wall Street Journal.
  • Toni Morrison: American novelist, editor, and professor. Her novels are known for their epic themes, vivid dialogue, and richly detailed characters; she was the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature and Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
  • Toshiko Tamura: pen-name of an early modern feminist novelist in Showa period Japan. Her real name was Toshi Satō.
  • Ursula K. Le Guin: American author of novels, children’s books, and short stories, mainly in fantasy and science fiction.
  • Vincent Ewing, her real name Nihal Yeginobali: is one of the most prominent figures in Turkish literature.
  • Virginia Woolf: English writer and one of the foremost modernists of the twentieth century.
  • Yuko Tsushima: pen name of Satoko Tsushima, a contemporary Japanese fiction writer, essayist and critic.
  • Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald: American novelist and the wife of writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, an icon of the 1920s.
  • Zadie Smith: very acclaimed British novelist, essayist and short story writer. One of her most famous works is White Teeth.

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