2017: A Year For Reading Women

Over the winter break, as I took stock of where I am, who I am, and where and who I want to be as a person, I also took stock of the people and things that influence the various aspects of my life. I realized in so doing that although in life, the vast majority of the people who have been my greatest influences have been women, my reading habits often don’t mirror that reality at all. Why not? Why don’t I read more women? I am a woman, I’m raising daughters, I write, I have a graduate certificate in women and gender studies, I’m teaching a class with a gender studies marker on it, I’m on the advisory board for the Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship…. So, then I thought:

I should read more women writers. I want to read more women writers. Why don’t I read more women writers? That’s as good a New Year’s Resolution as any. Let 2017 be my Year For Reading Women.

And then, as you do, I turned to social media for suggestions. I must say, the response was overwhelming–heartwarmingly, encouragingly, brilliantly overwhelming. It genuinely felt for all the world as though nearly everyone I know was just waiting for someone, anyone, to ask: who’s your favorite woman writer? Who do you recommend? As the responses came flooding in, I realized with happy shock: it would be possible to go through your entire life only reading women writers, and never run out of material to read.

Why is this news to me? Why didn’t I know this before now? Or, perhaps on some subconscious level I did know this, but it just didn’t register concretely. Let me say it again, because it bears repeating:

It would be possible to go through your entire life only reading women writers, and never run out of material to read.

Now, realistically speaking, I am not only going to read women writers from now on–it would be professionally irresponsible, as well as personally limiting, for starters. But I am most certainly intentionally going to include more women writers in my reading choices from now on, because I believe it is personally, professionally, and politically important for me to do so. If you, too, would like to take on the challenge to think more intentionally about reading and appreciating women writers, below are the many, many recommendations I received, loosely grouped by category, to get us started. And notice–we’re really just scratching the surface, here. Feel free to leave your own suggestions in the comments!

Historical-20th c.  Women Writers, generally

Julian of Norwich, Showings (medieval English)

The Book of Margery Kempe (medieval, English)

Christine de Pisan, Book of the City of Ladies (medieval, French)

Anne Locke, 1530-1590, A Meditation of a Penitent Sinner

Mary Sidney, poetry; editing of her brother’s Arcadia (1561-1621)

Mary Wroth (1567-1651), the Countess of Montgomery’s Urania, Pamphilia to Amphilanthus

Margaret Cavendish (1623-1673), A True Relation of My Birth, Breeding, and Life; Poems and Fancies

Katherine Philips (1632-1664), Poems by the Most Deservedly Admired Mrs. Katherine Philips, the Matchless Orinda

Mary Astell, “Enemies,” 1683

Jane Austen, canon (English, active 1811-1818)

Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights (1847)

Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre (1847), Shirley (1849), Villette (1853), The Professor (1857)

Margaret Oliphant, canon (Scottish, active 1849-1897)

Elizabeth Gaskell, Cranford (1853), North & South (1854), Wives & Daughters (1865)

George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss (1860), Silas Marner (1861), Middlemarch (1871/72)

Elizabeth Stoddard, The Morgesons (American, 1862)

Louisa May Alcott, canon (active 1868-1888)

Emilia Pardo Bazan, El Encaje Roto (Spanish, 1898) In English: Torn Lace and Other Stories

Edith Nesbit (active 1886-1924)

Virginia Woolf, canon (English, active 1904-1941)

Lucy Maud Montgomery (active 1908-1937), the Anne of Green Gables series

Anita Loos, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1925)

Anais Nin, canon (French/US, active 1932-1977)

Jean Rhys, Voyage in the Dark (1934), Good Morning, Midnight (1939), Wide Sargasso Sea (1966)

Flannery O’Connor, canon (American Southern, active 1948-1964)

Barbara Pym (active 1950-1980)

Iris Murdoch (active 1954-1995)

Mary Stewart (English, active 1954-1997)

Kamala Markandaya, Nectar in the Sieve (1955)

Silvina Ocampo, La Furia et Otros Cuentos (Argentina, 1959; reprt 1976)

Sheila Watson, The Double Hook (1959), Deep Hollow Creek (1992)

Angela Carter (English, active 1966-1992)

Marian Engel, canon (Canadian, active 1968-1985)

Elizabeth Smart, canon (Canadian, active 1977-1986)

Contemporary Women writers, generally

Wislawa Szymborska (active 1952-2012)

Maya Angelous, canon (active 1957-2014)

Muriel Spark, canon (active 1957-2016)

Margaret Atwood, canon (active 1961-present)

Joan Didion, canon (active 1963-present)

Margaret Drabble (active 1963-present)

Joyce Carol Oates (active 1963-present)

A.S. Byatt (active 1964-present)

Joy Kogawa (active 1967-present)

Alice Munro, canon (active 1968-present)

Toni Morrison, canon (active 1970-present)

Susan Swan (active 1970s-present)

Marina Warner (active 1972-present)

Anne Rice, canon (active 1976-present)

Isabel Allende, canon (active 1982-present)

Alice Walker, The Color Purple (1982)

Sheri S. Tepper (active 1984-2016)

Dorothy Dunnett, King Hereafter (1982), a retelling of Macbeth

Louise Erdrich (active 1984-present)

Jeanette Winterson, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit (1985)

Mary Beard (active 1985-present), Classical studies

Barbara Kingsolver (active 1988-present)

Diana Gabaldon (active 1991-present), Outlander series

Donna Tartt, The Secret History (1992), The Little Friend (2002), The Goldfinch (2014)

Banana Yoshimoto, Kitchen (1993), N.P. (1994)

Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things (1997), The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (2016)

Amelie Nothomb, Stupeur et Tremblements (1999), English: Fear and Trembling

Anita Rau Badami, Hero’s Walk (2001)

Geraldine Brooks, Year of Wonders (2001), March (2005), People of the Book (2008), Caleb’s Crossing (2011), The Secret Chord (2015)

Jhumpa Lahiri, Interpreter of Maladies (1999) and The Namesake (2003)

Zadie Smith, White Teeth (2000), The Autograph Man (2002), On Beauty (2005), Swing Time (2016)

Mary Lawson, Crow Lake (2002), The Other Side of the Bridge (2006), Road Ends (2013)

Chimamanda Adichie, Purple Hibiscus (2003), Half of a Yellow Sun (2006), The Thing Around Your Neck (2009), Americanah (2013), We Should All Be Feminists (2014)

Johana Sinisalo, Troll: A Love Story (2004)

Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (2004)

Elizabeth Kostova, The Historian (2005)

Kelly Link, Magic For Beginners (2006), Pretty Monsters (2008), Get In Trouble (2016)

Gillian Flynn, Sharp Objects (2006), Dark Places (2009), Gone Girl (2012), The Grown Up (2015)

Elizabeth Stroud, Olive Kitteredge (2008)

Heather Fowler (active 2010-present)

Jennifer Egan, A Visit From the Goon Squad (2010)

Robin Fleming, Britain After Rome (2011)

Pamela Hartshorne (active 2012-present)

Karen Russell, St. Lucy’s Home For Girls raised By Wolves (2006), Swamplandia! (2012)

Joumana Haddad, Invitation to a Secret Feast (2008), I Killed Scheherezade (2010), Superman Is An Arab (2012)

Helen Marshall, Hair Side Flesh Side (2012)

Katherine Howe, The House of Velvet and Glass (2012), Conversion (2014)

Rachel Joyce, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Frye (2012)

Liane Moriarty, Big Little Lies (2014)

Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven (2014)

Jacqueline Woodson, Another Brooklyn (2016)

Genre: Crime Fiction

Dorothy Sayers (active 1916-1957); Peter Wimsley mysteries

Agatha Christie, canon (active 1919-1976)

Dorothy B. Hughes (active 1931-1993)

Josephine Tey (active 1932-1952)

Ngaio Marsh (active 1934-1982), Roderick Alleyn mysteries

Patricia Highsmith (active 1950-1995); Mr. Ripley thrillers

Ellis Peters (active 1963-1995); Brother Cadfael mysteries

PD James (active 1962-2013); Adam Dalgliesh and Cordelia Gray mysteries

Sue Grafton (active 1967-present), the Kinsley Milhone alphabet mysteries

Elizabeth Peters (active 1975-2010), Amelia Peabody series

Fred Vargas (active 1986-present), Three Evangelists and Adamsberg series

Kerry Greenwood (active 1989-present), Phryne Fisher mysteries

Lindsey Davis (active 1989-present), Marcus Didius Falco mysteries

Patricia Cornwell (active 1990-present), Kay Scarpetta mysteries

Batya Gur (active 1992-2005), Michael Ohayon mysteries

Laure R. King (active 1993-present); Kate Martinelli, Harris Stuyvesant and Bennet Grey, Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes mysteries

Kathy Reichs (active 1997-present), Temperance Brennan series

Sarah Waters, Fingersmith (2002)

Tana French, In the Woods (2007), The Likeness (2008), Faithful Place (2010), Broken Harbour (2012), The Secret Place (2014), The Tresspasser (2016)

Mo Hayder (active 2000-present)

Louise Penny (active 2005-present), Inspector Gamache series

Attica Locke, Black Water Rising (2009), The Cutting Season (2012), Pleasantville (2015)

Elly Griffiths (active 2009-present), Ruth Galloway and Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens series

Genre: Historical Fiction

Sigrid Undset, Kristin Lavransdatter (3 volumes, 1920-1922), set in medieval Scandinavia

Dorothy Dunnett, The Lymond Chronicles (6 titles published between 1961-1975), set in 16th c. Europe

Jeanette Winterson, Sexing the Cherry (1981), 17th century England

Philippa Gregory (active 1987-present), Tudor England

Sarah Waters (active 1998-present) Welsh, Victorian with lesbian themes

Lauren Willig (active 2005-present), Napoleonic era

Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall (2009), Bring Up The Bodies (2012), Tudor England

Genre: Fantasy/Science fiction

Una McCormack, Dr. Who and Star Trek tie-in books

Madeline L’Engle, canon (active 1945-2007)

Dianna Wynne jones (active 1960s-2011)

Ursula le Guin, canon (active 1962-present)

Susan Cooper (active 1965-present), The Dark Is Rising series

Octavia Butler, canon (active 1970-2006)

Tanith Lee, canon (active 1968-2015)

Katherine Kurtz (active 1970-present), the Deryni novels

Robin McKinley, canon (active 1978-present)

Tanya Huff (active 1980s to present)

Robin Hobb (active 1983-present), Assassin’s Apprentice series, Liveship Traders series

Sherwood Smith (active 1988-present)

Michelle Sagara West (active 1991-present), Sundered, Sacred Hunt, Sun Sword, House War, Chronicles of Elantra

Connie Willis, Domesday Book (1992), To Say Nothing of the Dog (1997)

J.K. Rowling (active 1997-present) the Harry Potter series

Anne Bishop (active 1998-present), Black Jewels series

Jo Walton (active 2000-present)

Nnedi Okorafor (active 2005-present), Nigerian-American writer

N K Jemisin (active 2004-present); Inheritance Trilogy, Broken earth trilogy, Dreamblood series

Kim Harrison (active 2004-present), Rachel Morgan/ The Hollows series

Naomi Novik (active 2006-present), the Temeraire series

Ann Leckie (active 2006-present), Imperial Radch space opera trilogy

Sarah Monette/Katherine Addison (active 2003-present), Doctrine of Labyrinths series, Iskryne, the Goblin Emperor

Aliette de Bodard (active 2006-present), Obsidian and Blood Trilogy, among others

Gin Hale (active 2007-present), Wicked Gentlemen; Cadeleonian Series

Ilona Andrews (active 2007-present), Kate Daniels series

Corinne Duyvis, Otherbound (2014); queer & disability fantasy

Francis Hardinge (active 2001-present)

Kristin Cashore (active 2008-present)

Isobelle Carmody (active 1987-present); Obernewtyn Chronicles

Kameron Hurley (active 1998-present), The Bel Dame Apocrypha, Worldbreaker saga

Zen Cho, Spirits Abroad (2014), Sorcerer to the Crown (2015)

Jo Walton, The Just City (2015)

V.E. Schwab, A Darker Shade of Magic (2015)

Genevieve Cogman, The Invisible Library (2015)

Foz Meadows, An Accident of Stars (2016)

See also this link for 100 “must-read” sci fi/fantasy novels by women writers:  http://bookriot.com/2016/05/02/100-must-read-sci-fi-fantasy-novels-by-female-authors/

Genre: Dystopian Lit

Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games (2008), Catching Fire (2009), Mockingjay (2010)

Lauren Oliver, Delirium (2011)

Veronica Roth, Divergent (2011), Insurgent (2012), Allegiant (2013)

Genre: Paranormal Romance

Stephenie Meyer, Twilight (2005), New Moon (2006), Eclipse (2007), Breaking Dawn (2008)

Deborah Harkness, All Soul’s Trilogy: A Discovery of Witches (2011), Shadow of Night (2012), Book of Life (2014)

Deborah Blake, Baba Yaga novels: Wickedly Dangerous (2014), WickedlyWonderful (2014), Wickedly Powerful (2016), Wickedly Ever After (2016)

Genre: Children’s/YA

Delia Sherman, The Freedom Maze (2001)

Frances Hardynge (active 2005-present)

Holly Black, The Coldest Girl in Girl Town (2013)

Malinda Lo, Ash (2009), Huntress (2011), Adaptation (2012), Inheritance (2013)

Genre: Graphic Novels

Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis (2000)

Alison Bechdel, Fun Home (2006)

Kelly Sue Deconnick and Emma Rios, Pretty Deadly (2014-present)

Sana Amanat & G. Willow Wilson. Kamala Khan iteration of Ms. Marvel (2013-present)

Genre: Memoir/Autobiography

Carrie Fisher, Wishful Drinking (2008), Shockaholic (2011), Princess Diarist (2016)

Kristin Hersh, Rat Girl (2010)

Jennifer Lawson, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (2012)

Malala Yousafzai, I Am Malala (2013)

Lauren Graham, Talking As Fast As I Can (2016)

Anna Kendrick, Scrappy Little Nobody (2016)

Further resources:

Powell Books’ “25 Women to read before you die” feature: http://www.powells.com/25-women-to-read-before-you-die

List Challenges, “102 of the Greatest Female Authors”: http://www.listchallenges.com/102greatestbooksfemaleauthors

Ranker.com, “Best Female Authors of All Time”: http://www.ranker.com/list/best-female-authors/ranker-books

Wikipedia: “List of Women Writers”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_women_writers

Wikipedia: “List of Women Poets”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_female_poets

Huffington Post: “14 Brilliant Women Poets to Read on World Poetry Day”: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/women-poets-world-poetry-day_us_56e87b21e4b0860f99dad087

Bustle.com: “18 Contemporary Women Poets You Should Be Reading”: https://www.bustle.com/articles/171622-18-contemporary-women-poets-you-should-be-reading

Bustle.com: “25 Books By Female Authors To Put On Your Bucket List”: https://www.bustle.com/articles/110578-25-books-by-female-authors-to-put-on-your-bucket-list

Huffington Post: “17 Memoirs By Women You Should Put On Your Reading List”: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/womens-memoirs-you-need-to-read_us_55a7e9fae4b0c5f0322c9b81

Hello Giggles: “All The Best, Most Kick-Ass Female Memoirs You Need To Read”: http://hellogiggles.com/love-kick-ass-female-memoirs/

Time: “These Are The 21 Women Writers You Should Be Reading”: http://time.com/63548/goldfinch-female-authors-reading/

The Telegraph: “Nobel Prize in Literature: The Women Who Have Won It”:


Bustle.com: “18 Pulitzer Prize-Winning Books By Women You Should Read Right Now”: https://www.bustle.com/articles/22127-18-pulitzer-prize-winning-books-by-women-you-should-read-right-now

Huffington Post: “50 Novels By Women Writers on Conflict, Displacement, and Resilience”: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/soniah-kamal/women-write-war_b_5662555.html

Bustle.com: “13 Female Young Adult Fiction Authors That Owned 2014”: https://www.bustle.com/articles/49273-13-female-young-adult-fiction-authors-that-owned-2014

Bustle.com: “25 Graphic Novels Written By Women”: https://www.bustle.com/articles/132931-25-graphic-novels-written-by-women-a-guide-for-beginners

What’sOnAfrica.org: “50 Books By African Women That Everyone Should Read”: http://whatsonafrica.org/50-books-by-african-women-that-everyone-should-read/

Wikipedia: “List of Indian Woman Writers”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Indian_women_writers

The Culture Trip.com: “10 Must Read Women Writers from the Middle East”: https://theculturetrip.com/middle-east/articles/10-must-read-female-writers-from-the-middle-east/

Scott Esposito’s list of “22 Classic and Contemporary Latin American Women Writers to Read”: http://conversationalreading.com/22-classic-and-contemporary-female-latin-american-authors-to-read/

Wikipedia: “List of Swedish Women Writers”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Swedish_women_writers

Wikipedia: “List of Icelandic Women Writers”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Icelandic_women_writers

Wikipedia: List of Polish Women Writers”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Polish_women_writers

Wikipedia: “List of French Women Writers”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_French_women_writers

Wikipedia, “List of German Women Writers”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_German_women_writers

Wikipedia: “List of Spanish Women Writers”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Spanish_women_writers

Wikipedia: “List of Russian Women Writers”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Russian_women_writers

(You get the picture…you can Google “Women Writers from….” for any part of the world and come up with a Wikipedia list of them!)

AND, a bonus: here is the link to “Literature Map.” Type in the name of any author, and it will give you suggestions for other writers like that one. http://www.literature-map.com/

Thank you so much to everyone who participated in the initial suggestions for this post! It’s gonna be a great year. 🙂


About Melissa Ridley Elmes

Professor and writer; Unrepentant nerd; chaotic good. Author of Arthurian Things: A Collection of Poems. PhD, MFA. She/hers. Views my own.
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1 Response to 2017: A Year For Reading Women

  1. Tammy Jones says:

    I know this is an old post but what about Ayn Rand? The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957) were amazing novels! (I know the books are supposed to be in italics, but they refuse to convert properly for me) I hope you are doing well!

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