Jane Austen. The Handmaid's Tale. Virginia Woolf. You know the books and writers every feminist should read, and you know they're fantastic. But aren't they all a little — gulp — old? I mean, sure, Margaret Atwood and Gloria Steinem still write, and they're totally relevant, but where's the new blood?
Trust me. Feminists continue to produce just as much badass content today as they have for the last several decades. Best of all, there's plenty of feminist fiction out there, so when you're done reading Judith Butler and bell hooks, you can slip into an awesome novel.
Or maybe you're a newcomer. You've just figured out that a feminist is a person who believes in the social, economic, and political equality of the sexes, which makes you a feminist! Yay! But where do you start?
If you google "essential feminist texts" or something similar, you'll be bombarded with lists of all sizes with roughly the same core books, such as Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex and Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique. These are all great books — especially if you want to understand the differences between second- and third-wave feminisms — but they can be intimidating, and they can also be problematic.
I'm not trying to discourage you from reading every feminist book you can get your hands on. But you don't have to read 200 years of feminist theory before you get to those awesome feminist novels I've been talking about.
So this is a list of women writers that every feminist — newbies and second-wavers alike — should read. It's 100 percent fiction; there's no theory or criticism here, although several of the authors featured here have written non-fiction as well. I've tried to keep this as contemporary as possible, so you can look forward to more from these women in the coming years. As this list is not even close to exhaustive, please share your writer recommendations with your fellow feminists on Twitter.
1. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie might just be the most famous Nigerian author writing today. This MacArthur Genius Grant recipient published her first novel, Purple Hibiscus, when she was only 26 years old. Adichie is perhaps most famous for "We Should All Be Feminists," a TEDx talk that she later adapted into a short book. Beyoncé later sampled the work for her hit single, Flawless.
2. Roxane Gay
Roxane Gay had a big summer in 2014, when she published her essay collection, Bad Feminist, and her sole novel to date, An Untamed State. She teaches English at Purdue University, and has edited no less literary entities than PANK and Literary Hub.
3. Maxine Hong Kingston
Of her siblings, Maxine Hong Kingston was the first to be born in the U.S. Her writing frequently blends memoir with fiction and Chinese mythology, as is the case with The Fifth Book of Peace, which details her experience losing a manuscript in a house fire. Hong Kingston is a Professor Emeritus at Berkeley.
4. Louise Erdrich
Ojibwe author Louise Erdrich has written 15 novels, including The Round House, which won the National Book Award for Fiction in 2012. Her work reflects on both her heritage and the lives of indigenous peoples in the U.S. and Canada throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.
5. Sandra Cisneros
Sandra Cisneros earned her literary chops. She published her best known novel, The House on Mango Street , after she graduated from the Iowa Writers Workshop. Her work focuses on the formation of Chicana identities, often through coming-of-age narratives.
6. Leslie Marmon Silko
In sheer numbers, Leslie Marmon Silko is primarily a poet. She has written three novels, however, and was a MacArthur Foundation Grant recipient in 1981. Her work draws on her Laguna Pueblo and Mexican-American heritage, and focuses on Native American identities in the U.S. and abroad.
7. Isabel Allende
One of the most widely read authors in translation, Isabel Allende is the pen behind 18 wonderful novels, including her critically acclaimed debut, The House of the Spirits. The Peruvian-born, Chilean-American author received Chile's National Prize for Literature in 2010 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014.
8. Amy Tan
Like Hong Kingston, Amy Tan is the American-born daughter of Chinese immigrants. Best known for The Joy Luck Club — which was made into a film starring Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Ming-Na — Tan has written seven novels, two children's books, and several works of non-fiction. Her writing deals primarily with mother-daughter relationships in Chinese-American immigrant communities.
9. Jhumpa Lahiri
Indian-American author Jhumpa Lahiri is best known for her first short story collection, The Interpreter of Maladies, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2000. She is also the author of two novels, The Namesake and The Lowland . A fan of her work, Barack Obama appointed Lahiri to the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities in 2010.
10. Jacqueline Woodson
Jacqueline Woodson is the only author on this list who writes primarily for children and young adults. Most of her novels have won literary honors, including Brown Girl Dreaming, which won the Newberry Honor and National Book Awards. Her work tackles racial identity, gender and sexuality, and class conflicts, often with focus on individual development, rather than on top-down solutions to social justice dilemmas.
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