The Big Read Blog (Archive)

Women We Love to Read

A few weeks ago, we shared our 15 favorite fictional females with you. As we close out Women's History Month, we thought we'd put together a different set of literary heroines: the authors themselves. While this list is far from complete, we hope it serves as an acknowledgement of those who inspire us, whether as readers, as writers, or as women.

Harriet Beecher Stowe: Few books can claim to have influenced the course of history, but Uncle Tom's Cabin is an exception. Published in 1852, Stowe's novel about the indignities and atrocities of slavery galvanized the country, and helped build momentum leading up to the Civil War. When Stowe met with President Lincoln in 1862, he supposedly said, "So you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war." Whether or not these words were actually uttered, the anecdote is testament to the author's place in both literary and American history.

Toni Morrison: Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the Nobel Prize, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Morrison is one of the most decorated living authors today. And rightly so. Lyrical, magical, and yet grounded in the realities of African-American life, Morrison's work is at once evocative and enlightening. comprises one of the country's richest literary feasts.

Julia Alvarez: Throughout her books, Alvarez gives voice to the experiences and struggles of Latina women, who frequently go unheard in a traditionally patriarchal culture. From describing the brutality of the Trujillo regime in her native Dominican Republic, to narrating the immigrant experience in New York City, Alvarez brings the Latina diaspora to life.

Virginia Woolf: Whether or not you're partial to Woolf's work, it's impossible to deny her genius. Her experimental structures and lyrical stream-of-consciousness were groundbreaking, and solidified her role as a leading literary modernist.

Jane Austen: If you've ever read Jane Austen, you're familiar with her insightful meditations on marriage and relationships. But her heroines were no lovesick damsels in distress. Her protagonists are intelligent, well-spoken, confident, and insightful. And yes, they always get their man.

Zora Neale HurstonAs we note in her Big Read biography, Hurston is today celebrated as "the intellectual and spiritual foremother to a generation of black and women writers." Though commercially unsuccessful during her lifetime, her work is now lauded for its honest and often heartbreaking portrayals of African-American life, which Hurston observed with an anthropologist's eye.

Alice Walker: And since we're on the subject of Hurston, why not look at one of the author's most famous advocates: Alice Walker. In the 1970s, Walker helped lift Hurston's work from obscurity and commemorated the author's previously unmarked grave with a headstone. In her own writing, Walker has continued to blaze the trail of her literary predecessor, using her fiction and nonfiction to challenge both racial and patriarchal norms. In 1983, she became the first black female to win a Pulitzer Prize for her novel The Color Purple.

Judy Blume: For generations of young girls, Judy Blume was the reassuring hand that guided the way through adolescence. Whether confronting racism, divorce, or first love, Blume's characters made us feel less alone as we dealt with our private struggles, and made us realize that maybe we'd survive teenagehood after all.

George Sand: Nineteenth-century France wasn't exactly a hotbed of gender equality. But Amandine Lucile Aurore Dupin refused to have her work judged differently because she was a woman. Writing under the pen name George Sand, the author published dozens of novels, plays, essays, and memoirs---an achievement that was considered excessive and unfeminine by some. She further defied her assumed place in society by wearing men's clothing, smoking in public, and voicing her strong political opinions in the press. The fact that she wrote for the press was an anomaly in itself: at one time, she was the sole female writer for the newspaper, Le Figaro.

Emily DickinsonWorking in seclusion from her family home in Amherst, Massachusetts, Dickinson quietly developed her inimitable style by composing more than 1,800 poems. Even today, 127 years after her death, Dickinson's use of syntax, language, and those famous dashes have cemented her legacy among poetic innovators.

 

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