Where are all the great female writers? Why am I adding the qualifier female? Aren’t they just writers?

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One of the great problems of being a female reader is that there seem to be so few female authors. Let me correct that, being a literary nerd, there seems to be a shortage of female authors. And please note the phrase “seems to be.” As I’ve written in the past, sometimes perfectly wonderful books are advertised as romance or have artwork that prevents me from taking the book and author seriously.

I have a number of brilliant friends who read so I asked them who their five favorite female authors are. And let me state that the fact that I have to ask for female authors frustrates me. Because 75% of my books are by men but if you did the ratio of authors it would be 80% men. (I happen to be a very loyal reader so I read every book by authors I love). I have more books stored at my parents’ home but of the books in my studio, the first 2 and 3/4 shelves are by female authors. All the rest are by men. I knew the ratio was not good but I did not realize it was so bad until I rearranged my bookshelves.

Everyone had more than five female writers they love, but I thought for brevity’s sake, five was a good number. And everyone forgot authors that they loved. One of my problems is that I have read a lot of first time female authors so I cannot list them if I have read only one book by them, like Muriel Barbery, author of Elegance of the Hedgehog (which I have already read twice and plan to reread a number of times), Tanya Egan Gibson, author of How to Buy a Love of Reading, Monica Drake, author of Clown Girl, Lauren Groff, author of The Monsters of Templeton, Azadeh Moaveni, author of Lipstick Jihad, and Mira Grant, author of Feed and Deadline. Oh, and I love  Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy, and Liza Marklund’s Annika Bengtzon series. And of course, I just read Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; I’m certain she will be one of my favorite authors after I read her other works.

My friends have recommended:

Jennifer
1. Virginia Woolf
2. H. D.
3. Joan Didion
4. Leanora Carrington
5. Annie Dillard

Sarah
1. Joan Didion
2. Anne Sexton
3. Sylvia Plath
4. Susan Sontag
5. Kate Chopin

Christina L.
1. Toni Morrison
2. Marge Piercy
3. Sandra Cisneros
4. Margaret Atwood
5. Di Prima

Roisin
1. Toni Morrison
2. Lauri Morr
3. Willa Cather
4. Isabella Allende
5. Madeline Engle
6. Miranda July

Neet
1. Joan Didion
2. Chris Kraus
3. Griselda Pollock
4. Anaïs Nin
5. bell hooks

Some others that we all thought should be on the list but none of us listed:
Joyce Carol Oats
Clea Koff
Cheryl Strayed
“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Bird by Bird by Anne LaMott

Kathy
1. Toni Morrison
2. Ann Friedman
3. Julie Klausner
4. Dana Stevens
5. Cheryl Strayed
6. Megan O’Rourke

Christine
1. Margaret Atwood
2. Joan Didion
3. Diana Gabaldon

Virginia
1. Anne Rice
2. Julina Baggot
3. Emily Brontë
4. Margaret Brown
5. Octavia Butler

Sada
1. Dacia Maraini
2. Mariangela Gualtieri
3. Edith Wharton
4. Brontë sisters (she felt bad to say just Charlotte)
5. Joan Didion

Jessica
1. Virginia Woolf
2. Marion Zimmer Bradley
3. Anaïs Nin
4. Harper Lee

Nicole
1. Jane Austen
2. Judy Blume
3. Harper Lee
4. Brontë sisters
5. Laurie Notato

My five female writers are
1. Anne Rice
2. J. K. Rowling
3. Joan Didion
4. Maya Angelou
5. Zadie Smith

Hermione Granger, J. K. Rowling

My beautiful cat dressed like Hermione Granger, one of the greatest female characters of all time.

Anne Rice I’ve read and reread. I know her writing so well that it’s like snuggling under a comfy blanket when I pick up her books. J. K. Rowling has created this world that I am completely enamored by (just like everyone else). Randy and I named our cat after Hermione Granger. But I also really enjoyed Rowling’s other three novels and found them filled with beautifully crafted sentences and elegant plots. Joan Didion I only discovered recently; because I was listening to an interview with Bret Easton Ellis and he said what a huge influence she was on his writing. So I looked her up based on him. Maya Angelou I read my freshman year of highschool. Her books have stuck with me and I am planning to reread them this year. Zadie Smith’s latest book, NW was so beautiful I intentionally read it slowly because I didn’t want it to end. However, I was upset that I had not included Anaïs Nin. And I suspect that Virginia Woolf will be up there as well. I look forward to reading more of her works as well.

The beauty of reading is that it allows us to experience and see things we never could. But if your major perspective is by men, it’s a little, I don’t know what exactly—myopic. I’m a feminist and I love Henry Miller and Charles Bukowski. The first time I ever read a book that spoke to me personally was Lost Souls by Poppy Martin (now Billy Martin). Lost Souls was about a bunch of goth kids living in the South. They wore chipped black nail polish and ripped fishnets, listened to Joy Division and Bauhuas, and dyed their hair black. The amount of solace I took in those small details is hard to describe.

I was hoping to discover something about myself while asking friends about books and their favorite writers. I learned about some great female writers and have renewed my vow to read more of them. I thought I might realize why I read more men than women, but sadly, I think it’s just a numbers game. More seemingly published men than women in literature.

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2 Comments

  1. and I bet that all the other ladies on your list had the same embarrasing moment I had:
    “my favorite authors… Tom Wolfe! No wait, that’s a guy. Bret Easton Ellis? That’s a guy as well! … let me think.. Laurie Anderson?! I love her. oh no, wait. She is a musician. Ok no, let’s start again..
    Which female authors do I know?”

    Reply

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