15 Writers Every Badass Woman Should Read

by E. Ce Miller

Nothing caps off a long, hard day of being your fabulously badass self than curling up with a hot toddy and some lovingly bound words of wisdom by one of your favorite sisters in literature, amirite? After all, everyone needs a little girl power pick-me-up sometimes. And what’s better than having to look no further than your well-stocked bookshelves? (I’ll give you a hint: nothing.)

If you consider yourself a well-read kind of badass lady, then you probably already have a bookshelf or two (or, say, seven) filled with writers like Roxane Gay, Cheryl Strayed, Elizabeth Gilbert, and Toni Morrison — to name just a few. From hiking to personal transformation to teaching you to be the best bad feminist you can be, these women are kindred spirits in literary sass. But the list of writers every badass woman should read definitely doesn’t end with them.

There are few things that inspire me more than meeting a strong, takes-no-bullshit woman between the covers of a book. And if you’re looking for the same kind of inspiration, this list is for you. Here are 15 women writers whom every badass woman should read. Better start making some shelf space.

1. Gloria Steinem

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Writer, public speaker, political activist, feminist organizer — just glancing at Steinem’s resume makes me want to both be the absolute best woman I can and curl up into a tiny ball and hide because I’ll never be as cool as her. Her new memoir, My Life on the Road, tells you everything you ever wanted to know about her journey to becoming a feminist powerhouse.

2. Agatha Christie

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Whether detective novels are your jam or not, there’s no arguing that Christie was one bookish badass in her day — and remains so. As the author of 66 detective stories, 14 short story collections, six romance novels, and the world’s longest-running play, she still holds a Guinness World Record for having the most widely-published work (after Shakespeare and the Bible). Badass indeed.

3. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


As badass off the page as her characters are on it (seriously, you gotta hear this woman speak), Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is the author of titles like Half of a Yellow Sun , Americanah , and most recently, We Should All Be Feminists. These are stories that span countries and cultures, and read like anthems to strong women.

4. Naomi Klein

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If you were never assigned anything by this author, activist, and political analyst in school, then you must begin reading her now. An outspoken critic of globalization, runaway capitalism, and their effects on climate change, Klein responsible for worldview-altering titles like The Shock Doctrine and This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate .

5. Zadie Smith


As the author of four celebrated novels (and with another on the way), Smith has garnered accolades as a young author, a British novelist, and as an English-language novelist, among others. Her books, like White Teeth and NW , deal with issues of race, postcolonial identity, and class tensions, as well as ideas about love, loss, and family.

6. Sandra Cisneros

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Perhaps best-known for her novel The House on Mango Street , Cisneros is not only the author of several more titles — including Loose Woman and A House of My Own — but also something of an activist for the arts, maintaining strong ties to community art programs and literary advocacy. Her writing takes readers from the barrios of Mexico to the streets of Chicago, and always merges the personal with the political in a really powerful way.

7. Jane Austen

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There’s no arguing that Austen was a woman well ahead of her time. After all, you’re obsessed with Pride and Prejudice for a reason — and not it's just that Mr. Darcy is your dream date. Every single one of Austen’s enduring novels is filled with female characters who push boundaries, stand up for themselves, and live life on their own terms. Celebrate!

8. Stephanie Elizondo Griest

Griest wanted to see the world, so she learned Russian. Simple as that. Her travel memoirs — Around the Bloc: My Life in Moscow, Beijing, and Havana and Mexican Enough: My Life Between the Borderlines — are evidence of her complete badassery. She’ll do just about anything if she thinks it’ll make a good story.

9. Joan Didion

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This literary journalist and novelist has never been afraid to tell it like it is. A critic of declining American culture and morality, Didion is admired for her collections of critical (and hilarious, profound, and fascinating) essays, such as Slouching Towards Bethlehem and The White Album . In 2013, she was awarded the National Medal of Arts and Humanities by President Barack Obama.

10. Caitlin Moran

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You can’t help but love the hilariously irreverent Moran, an English columnist and author of books like How to Be a Woman — which addresses everything from why people constantly ask you if you’re going to have a baby to why finding a bra that’s comfortable for more than 45 minutes is nearly impossible — and the forthcoming Moranifesto — a collection of some of her best writing. You gotta give kudos to a gal who tells it exactly like it is.

11. Anne Lamott

Alcoholism, single motherhood, political activism, and religious faith all collide in Lamott’s body of work. Largely autobiographical and as moving as they are hilarious, her titles include Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year , Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life , and, most recently, Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace . You’ll recognize the irony, chaos, and humor from your own life in her writing.

12. Jeannette Walls

As the author of badass-filled books like The Glass Castle and Half-Broke Horses , Walls is no stranger to women who think outside the box, live beyond their boundaries, and defy expectations. From her unconventional upbringing under two irresponsible and bohemian parents to the life she built all on her own in New York City, Walls’s stories will both shock and inspire you.

13. Svetlana Alexievich


If you haven’t heard of this Belarusian investigative journalist, then I’m not sure where you’ve been all year. In addition to being a complete literary badass, she just won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Alexievich is responsible for titles like Zinky Boys — about the Russian war in Afghanistan — and Voices from Chernobyl — a history of the 1986 nuclear disaster.

14. Amy Tan

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The Joy Luck Club was required reading in my high school. And given that the novel has been translated into over 35 languages, my school wasn’t the only one. Tan’s writing heavily features mother-daughter relationships and gives voice to the Chinese-American experience. Her books, like the recent The Valley of Amazement , are filled with complex, strong female characters who aren’t afraid to rebel against the status quo.

15. Virginia Woolf

A free-thinking feminist and literary powerhouse, Woolf is responsible for the quote that haunts and inspires female creatives everywhere: “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” Easier said than done, perhaps. But after reading titles like Orlando and To the Lighthouse , you might just be inspired enough to build that room of your own.