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Below you'll find our list — compiled following lively debate by Powell's staff — of 25 women you absolutely must read in your lifetime. In one sense, singling out a small group of female writers as eminently worthy of attention feels like an injustice to a gender who has published an immeasurable amount of profound, enduring literature. At the same time, recognizing great female authors is an exercise we here at Powell's are dedicated to undertaking again and again — emphatically, enthusiastically, unapologetically. And so we present to you 25 female writers we admire for their vision, their fearlessness, their originality, and their impact on the literary world and beyond.
To get you started, we've included a book recommendation for each author. Adrienne Rich is a feminist giant, and these poems, written inmap and delineate the territory of women's love for women sexual and otherwise and the struggle of selfhood, consciousness, history, and art with strength, creativity, and fierce empathy.
Even if you think you're not a fan of poetry, Rich's work — her "common language" — will move you. Bechdel first became well-known as a cartoonist for her long-running series Dykes to Watch Out For When Fun Home was published init was clear her work had taken a much different direction. She says that Fun Home is about how she learned to be an artist from her father. Bechdel narrates her childhood through diary entries that catapult the reader back in time, clever juxtapositions of literary classics, and artwork with a slightly gothic feel.
The subtitle is "A Family Tragicomic," and Fun Home is exactly that, but so much more: the story of Bechdel's coming out, her relationship with her father, her father's death, and his own sexuality.
Hempel used to be in that category known as a "writer's writer" — critically praised, loved devotedly by fellow authors, and often taught particularly her near-perfect story, "In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried" but not widely read. In fact, several of her early collections of stories were out of print and difficult to find.
But with the publication of her Collected Stories a few years ago, there's now no excuse for not reading her. Hempel is one of the best story writers in America today, hands-down — her incredible, sharp-edged prose, her precise minimalist style, her devastating and often absurd humor and poignancy have made her a touchstone and influence for other contemporary writers. Hempel's Collected Stories is an abundance that will reward readers again and again.
Adichie's ability to write with compassionate, brilliant prose about topics such as civil war, political strife, immigration issues, race, cultural differences, and love has earned her well-deserved critical acclaim and many awards, including a MacArthur "Genius Grant" in Adichie's most recent novel, Americanahparallels some of her own experience as a Nigerian coming to America for the first time to attend college. Alternating between the present and past, Ifemelu tries to adjust to her new temporary home, learning what it really means to be black in America. Although now "settled" and with a successful career, Ifemelu longs to return to Nigeria and leave everything behind, including shutting down a popular blog about her notable American observations.
A poignant, funny, sometimes scathing look at the reality of being a new immigrant in the United States — especially from an African perspective — Americanah is an unforgettable work of literature not to be missed. Lispector, a Jewish, Ukraine-born Brazilian author and journalist, is much-beloved throughout the world, but is sadly under-read in the United States.
Her last and most popular work, The Hour of the Starwas originally published mere months before her death in Exquisite and singular, the often-woeful novel is magnificent as much for its story as for the uncommon approach by which it's told. Lispector's gifted prose frequently shimmers with an innocent beauty, and so many of her passages nearly radiate from the. Lispector may well be one of the most brilliant writers you haven't yet had the honor of reading. There's no living writer like Donna Tartt.
Not since reading the Greek and Russian greats in college have I encountered a writer so gifted in weaving the melodramatic, even the supernatural, into the everyday; nor have I read prose so finely calibrated and opulent that the story's atmosphere quickly supplants my own. All of Tartt's novels — each a decade in the making — involve eccentric characters who find themselves in increasingly outlandish, dangerous situations. Her excellent debut novel, the literary thriller The Secret Historyfollows a cult-like group of classics students at a prestigious college who begin committing murders, possibly under the direction of Dionysus, Greek god of ritual madness.
A spellbinding and darkly humorous drama of privilege and desire, The Secret History is the type of book you read through the night and think about long after you've finished. Haitian-born Edwidge Danticat's themes of mother-daughter relationships have exotic rhythms that feel as magical as they do earthy.
There is honesty in her storytelling of the Haitian diaspora, of divided families; revealing love, loss, and longing. Her novels and short stories are of bittersweet memories and quick, violent societal injustices. In Breath, Eyes, Memorya Haitian daughter is removed from the world she knows and understands to be sent to New York for a reunion with a mother she doesn't recall.
They do their best to accommodate each other's love, but adherence to generational tradition endangers their delicate trust. Danticat's writing is alluring, almost tribal. Simple and complex, crushing and beautiful, Breathe, Eyes, Memory will linger long in your own memory. In her Pulitzer Prize—winning book, The Sixth ExtinctionNew Yorker staff writer Elizabeth Kolbert confronts what may well be the most compelling, portentous, and defining characteristic of our modernity: the nearly inconceivable and irretrievable loss of earth's biodiversity at the hands of our own species.
Although earth has endured five mass extinctions over the last half-billion years — during which "the planet has undergone change so wrenching that the diversity of life has plummeted" — we now have the distinct and dubious honor of not only "witnessing one of the rarest events in life's history, [but] also causing it. Eliot is an author most people know from school or because they see her books on lists of "important literature. With a touch of satire and an incredible grasp on the intricacies of human nature, Eliot illustrates the patterns — and peculiarities — of the people inhabiting her fictional town of Middlemarch.
Flawed and conflicted, her characters stumble along as we all do, navigating mistakes and misfortunes with varying levels of success. This is not a book of classic character arcs or happy endings, but it is a true masterpiece, something to be enjoyed for its intrigue, savored for its razor-sharp prose, and admired for its timelessness. From toalmost six million African Americans left the South in search of better economic opportunities and a higher quality of life. It was one of the largest internal migrations in history and had a profound effect on the culture and politics of this country.
To better understand this monumental yet underdocumented event, Pulitzer Prize—winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson spent 15 years and interviewed more than 1, people researching and writing The Warmth of Other Suns. In this masterpiece of narrative nonfiction, Wilkerson gives the epic scale of the Great Migration a human angle by focusing on three individuals to represent each of the three main migratory routes. The Warmth of Other Suns is an illuminating and rivetingfilled with stories that are finely crafted, meticulously researched, and immensely readable. Jacobs was a writer, activist, and visionary whose work had a profound effect on the way we look at the urban areas around us.
She was considered an outcast in the male-dominated world of urban planning, yet her book, The Death and Life of Great American Citiesremains a seminal text in this field.
One of the great joys of this book is that Jacobs is not an academic, but rather a committed city dweller who obliviously derives much pleasure from living in an urban landscape. Her writing is insightful, honest, unpretentious, and eye-opening. The enthusiasm Jacobs feels for our cities is contagious and shines through on every of this classic. Didion is a true original. Her spare, no-nonsense style and acute observational skills completely changed the way we view literary nonfiction, and the influence she's had on generations of authors is immeasurable.
Though often grouped together with Tom Wolfe, Norman Mailer, and others in the New Journalism movement, her work has endured in ways theirs has not. It's been nearly 50 years since the first essays in Slouching towards Bethlehem were written, yet her unblinking portrait of America in general and California in particular remains as vibrant and relevant as ever. Armstrong's career began when she wrote and presented a documentary on the life of St.
A former nun and one of the foremost authors writing on comparative religion, Armstrong has published over 20 titles. A History of God discusses the origins of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam and explains how our concept of God has changed throughout the course of history. It is fascinating to learn how politics, philosophy, and various schools of thought have changed the way we think about monotheism. Most of us don't spend much time considering where our ideas about God came from.
In A History of GodArmstrong gives the reader a wealth of information in order to better understand the big picture. It's a meaty book, full of big ideas and well worth the read. Her agent found the book thoroughly distasteful and suggested an extensive rewrite. Shriver eventually found a new agent and published the book to great success. Twelve years later, We Need to Talk about Kevin continues to be a timely and necessary examination of evil in our society and what happens when that evil is under your own roof.
It's a compelling and grim read that has a train-wreck quality to it; you can't seem to look away from the characters. Are they despicable, or well-meaning people floundering in a situation beyond their control? While it's likely you've read her more recent titles, to get the keenest sense of Erdrich and her heritage, it's well worth it to return to the first novel of her Native American series, Love Medicine.
The story exposes the heart and soul of the Kashpaw and Lamartine families living on a North Dakota reservation, across generations. Erdrich's writing is colorful and melodic throughout, with breathtaking passages like her depiction of Grandpa Kashpaw: "Elusive, pregnant with history, his thoughts finned off and vanished. The same color as water. It can be hard to pinpoint what makes Lydia Davis's writing so magnetic.
Her precise, no-nonsense language combined with her liberal definition of the short story? Her attention to the overlooked, the mundane, the clutter in our lives that holds so much meaning? Her understated sense of humor, so deeply ingrained in her observations about the absurdities of life? Whatever it is, you'll find it in spades in her Collected Storieswhich compiles all of Davis's short fiction from her seminal Break It Down through Varieties of Disturbance Few writers' work lends itself so well to a compilation.
Whether you pick stories at random or start at the beginning and work your way through the collection highly recommendedthis is a book that feels like the best gift: fun, poignant, and endlessly rewarding.Ladies just read this
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