11 classic female writers that will bring your brain magic to life
It’s hard enough for female writers today to compete in the literary world. Throughout history, they had it even harder. Some even had to write under a male pen name or anonymously just to get published. And if you did a quick search for greatest authors of all time, women continue to get the shaft, rarely making it into the top ten. TheGreatestBooks.org doesn’t place a woman on their list until #16. Modern Library‘s list doesn’t include a woman until Virginia Woolf at #15. This list from The Guardian at least gets Jane Austen in there at #9.
But that doesn’t mean there haven’t been a ton of amazing women authors in every decade. Here are eleven female writers from history to round out your reading list. Some you may have studied in English class, while a few you might have never even heard of before. One thing they have in common? Not letting the patriarchy stop them from pursuing their passion for writing.
1. Anyte of Tegea
We’re going way back for this fabulous lady author. Anyte was an ancient Greek poet whose work focused on women and children. This was a distinct contrast to majority of poetry of the time, which usually focused on men. She was so talented, she even led a school of poetry and literature, proof that women were killing it at the writing game since the 3rd century BC. You can check out her work here.
2. Murasaki Shikibu
Born to a noble Japanese family in 978 AD, Murasaki Shikibu defied tradition by learning Chinese, a language that women were usually forbidden from studying as it was the language of the government, a male-dominated arena. It was also the language that Japanese texts were traditionally written in at the time. Lady Murasaki’s most famous work, The Tale of Genji, is memorable not only for its perfect presentation of courtly life and the beauty of nature, it’s also one of the first works to use the Japanese written language of kana that was developed during Murasaki’s time. Women on the cutting edge of literature once again!
3. Emilia Bassano Lanier
Everyone knows the name William Shakespeare but he wasn’t the only writer on the scene in Elizabethan England. Emilia Lanier started down the path to writing greatness when she had the good luck to move into the home of Susan Bertie, Countess of Kent, who believed young girls should have equal education to young boys. In that era, it was unheard of for women to write, let alone make a living off of it, but Lanier being the badass writer she was, published a book of poetry at age 42, called Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum. The collection has said to be one of the first feminist works of British literature.
4. Mary Wollstonecraft
Mary Wollstonecraft is most famous for two things: giving birth to the writer of Frankenstein and spreading feminist ideas way back in the 1700s. In her book, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, she argued that women were definitely not inferior to men, but simply weren’t being given the chance to educate themselves. Her ideas may have been unpopular in her lifetime, but Wollstonecraft became an inspiration for women throughout history, including Jane Austen, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Virginia Woolf. My absolute favorite Mary Wollstonecraft tidbit is how she and her husband lived in two adjoining houses, so they could maintain their independent lifestyles. No emotional labor issues for this gal!!
5. Phillis Wheatley
This incredible lady was the first African American woman to have a book of poetry published in the American colonies in 1773, and the third woman to publish anything at all. She often wrote about religious themes, combining elements from Christianity and the African culture of her parents. Wheatley also became very supportive of the American Revolution, writing multiple poems about George Washington. Our soon-to-be first president even invited her to visit him after reading her work. I don’t know about you, but my writing has never granted me an invitation to meet a president.
6. Jane Austen
There are many reasons why Jane Austen’s books, (Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Emma, amongst others) are still so popular today. Austen created timeless, complex female characters, ladies who speak their mind and refuse to follow their expected roles in society. Not surprising for a woman whose letters had to be burned by her sister Cassandra lest her nieces read some of Austen’s sassy comments about their friends and family. If Jane Austen were alive today, I bet she’d not only participate in the women’s march, but she’d also have the wittiest suggestions for protest signs, too.
7. Charlotte Bronte
Charlotte Bronte completely understood the struggles of being a woman trying to follow her literary dreams in a man’s world. It totally shows through in her brilliant novel Jane Eyre. To support herself while pursuing writing, Bronte worked as a governess, and hilariously described her job in a letter as making her want to vomit. Bronte was considered “coarse” because she openly talked and wrote about passion and sex. That didn’t stop her popularity from spreading. Even Queen Victoria was a fan of the book. She and Prince Albert would read each other passages before bedtime, calling it “quite creepy.” If the late Queen of England’s recommendation isn’t good enough, I don’t know what is.
8. Zora Neale Hurston
Zora Neale Hurston was a genius in so many capacities! Her work includes novels, short stories, as well as extensive writings about the realities of racism against African-Americans in the south. One of the specific important issues she brought to attention was the horrible yet common occurrence of white men in power forcing African-American women to be their concubines. Her best-known novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, deals with this very topic, amongst the numerous other struggles that African-American woman faced. Hurston was also a key player in the Harlem Renaissance. There is no doubt her writings had a huge impact on the cultural identity of our country.
9. L. M. Montgomery
Every girl should get a copy of L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series when they hit tween years, because it is the ultimate classic girl power novel. The main character Anne is brave, smart, resourceful, and kind. She also has no problems expressing her more sensitive feelings as well. In addition to creating sassy but heartfelt characters, Montgomery is also just a fascinating woman! In her sixty-seven years of life, she turned down no less than three marriage proposals and called off one engagement before finally marrying.
10. Virginia Woolf
Writing during the era of modernist literature, Virginia Woolf produced numerous essays and novels loved by both readers and academic critics. Some of her most famous works include Mrs. Dalloway, To The Lighthouse, and Orlando. Her experimental writing style, a staple of the modern novel, is rich in symbolism. Her books give readers much to ponder long after finishing the book. Aside from her creative writing, Woolf’s essays are fascinating and insightful. They’re especially poignant when she writes about her own struggles with depression. It’s no surprise how often her books are studied in colleges around the world.
11. Maya Angelou
Memoirist, playwright, songwriter, director, actress, singer, dancer, poet, activist, LEGEND: Maya Angelou is all these things. Her poetry is read in classrooms and at presidential inaugurations. If you’re looking for inspiration in your life, Angelou is the writer for you. Her work is full of stories and imagery of overcoming tragedy and hardship. Her poem, “Still I Rise” has become an anthem at political marches and protests. Published in 1978, it continues to move readers to this day. Her poetry collection Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie even garnered her a Pulitzer Prize nomination. When it comes to classic female writers, Maya Angelou should be at the top of any list.
Have you read some of these fabulous women? What was your favorite book? Let us know in the comments below!