Friday, December 4, 2009

Feel Good Friday: Female Authors

Hey Athenites!

Although I will admit that I haven't been keeping upon my non-academic reading since school started (the much-loved but still mostly unread Rohinton Mistry book on my bedside table is testament to that), I still call myself "a reader."

Books are the best, y'all.

BUT, here's the catch. People of colour and female authors are still often pushed into obscurity, told that their writing is somehow "not universal" (?), are subjected to a hell of a lot of tokenism, or not represented on the"Top Ten" lists, which are hugely influential in kickstarting careers.

The Publisher's Weekly Top Ten of 2009 list, for example, featured absolutely no female authors. (They made some sort of vague pronouncement about this, saying that it "distrubed" them, as if the composition of the Top Ten list was preordained and not a totally subjective set of picks.) While I don't think that authors should be given the Top Ten distinction simply because they are female or a PoC, I do find it odd that the publishing world refuses to cast its net a little further out. Because I am sure that non-white-non-males have written some pretty damn good books too.

The New York Time's Top Ten of 2009, on the other hand, featured a number of female authors, including Kate Walbert's "A Short History of Women," which is all about feminism--just the way I like it. Just as with my badass female musicians post about a month ago, I am 100% sure that, if you enjoy reading, you know at least 2 or 3 excellent female authors. I will kick start the list with some picks of my own, but feel free to add your own in comments:

-Tamora Pierce. I know, I know, she's a fantasy writer whose target audience is the 12-15 range, but C'MON! No mockery. She writes strong, powerful female characters who are compassionate, ambitious, smart, just as capable as any boy, and always save the day!

-J.K. Rowling. Kind of obvious. But you can hardly write a list of female authors without her. I will not, however, be including Stephanie Meyer. Because everyone knows that Harry Potter is better (one of the many reasons why: Hermione is active, intelligent, brave, competent, and not a passive little lump on a log like Bella).

-Petina Gappah. This up and coming Zimbabwean writer has given a powerful and interesting interview in The Guardian about her work and about being labelled: "an African writer."

-Amulya Malladi. Writes fiction about India, America, family, and culture shock. Light reading, but very interesting, funny, and engaging.

-Toni Morrison. I haven't read anything by her, but have heard enough about her, from both family and friends, to convince me that she should be on this (not exhaustive) list.

-Jane Austen. I could not, in good conscience, exclude her from the list. I know that her Regency-era wordiness does not endear her to everyone, but dear god, I love her.

-Stephanie Bolster. Her book of poems, Two Bowls of Milk, is, in my opinion, utterly beautiful. She's also a Canadian who lives and teaches in Montreal.

-Margaret Atwood. I mean, really now. Can't forget Margaret, especially if you're Canadian. (Funny story: Yamina and I once thought that we saw her in the crowd at Ottawa's Tulip Festival and spent ten minutes mustering up the courage to go talk to her, and when we finally did, discovered that the woman we thought was Atwood was actually a tourist from California. I swear, she looked just like her!)

-Maya Angelou. Obvi.

Fill up this list with some great female authors of your own, because I know there are TONS of amazing authors that I've forgotten/don't know about. I would love to add a couple new authors to my holiday wish list this year!


Stephanie :)


  1. Emily Dickinson?
    Emily Bronte?
    Dorothy Parker?
    Angela Carter?
    Virginia Hamilton Adair?
    Anne Sexton?
    Sylvia Plath?

    Just you know a couple of my favourite writers of all time.

    Also, I'd like to add that I resent that female writers & artists are given extra lists &tc so many times & so little people object to it. Can we please stop and ask ourselves the question why we even NEED special lists?

    Related to this I once read an artist or writer's interview (can't remember who, it's been so long ago) that claimed men are more succesful in art because they feel the need to create whereas a woman can ust get children. And yes, this was an artist of our time.


  2. I think one of the reasons why there are "special lists" for female authors is that female authors have been completely rejected and discarded from "canon literature" for the majority of history. If you look at the work that has been kept from medieval times etc, the general trend in authors is that they were white, they were male, and they were usually among the upper class.
    I don't think there are "special lists" necessarily for the reason that women authors are cannot be put in the same category as male authors, but simply because they have been marginalized for so long that there needs to be an extra effort to almost make up for the past lack.

    - Nadya

  3. Diane Duane is another author who writes YA fiction, and I really liked her things as a teenager; Susanna Clarke is supposedly very good, although I haven't read her myself, Diane Sylvan is another one (she's only written non-fiction so far, but she has a fiction book coming out next year). I actually really like the Sookie Stackhouse books by Charlaine Harris (the books that True Blood is based on), in the books Sookie is much more self-reliant and intelligent, I feel like they really dumbed her down for the show (which of course annoys me to no end). Obviously not intelligent reading, but fun fluff nonetheless.

    Neil Gaiman & Philip Pullman are two authors that obviously aren't female, but IMO do a very good job of writing female characters. Coraline is a favorite of mine, as is the His Dark Materials trilogy.

  4. Wow, shame on me for forgetting the authors Eline listed...It's hard to keep track.

    Thanks, Nadya, for your response to Eline, because that's pretty much exactly what I was going to say. It's not that women can't be included in Top Ten lists along with other (male) authors, or that female authors/PoC who are authors are somehow in a class of their own, but rather an acknowledgment that female authors/authors who are PoC ARE neglected, and this is compensation for that.

    IMHO, making "special lists" for female authors/PoC who are authors is not in any way degrading, but rather a way to celebrate their accomplishments while simultaneously reminding the world that sexism/racism still exists even in the most progressive circles and the most innocuous circumstances.

    Thanks for your suggestins Michelle!

  5. Oh hey, just wanted to clear that I know WHY women are being left out. It's a pretty well known fact in the art world yet so many just ignore it. I don't think special lists are degrading but I really just resent the fact that they had to be called into existence so people would acknowledge female artists and authors.

    When seeing the Western canon I just want everyone to keep in mind that this is from a priviliged white male view.

  6. I adore Tamora Pierce! Thanks so much Steph for including her. I also love Diane Duane's young wizard series. I just looked her up on wikipedia and she has her fingers in quite a few pies, she's definitely someone to look up to. Another female author I like is Meredith Ann Pierce, she wrote the Darkangel trilogy.

    Also, Anne Rice? I haven't read any of her stuff but I've heard she creates lots complex characters and plotlines.

  7. YUS Sylvia Plath. One of my all time faves. For anyone who hasn't read The Bell Jar, DO IT. A little research about her life will only make it more fascinating.
    Awesome poetry, to boot:)