13 Women Authors You May Have Never Heard of But Should Go Read Immediately
We all know that there are, unfortunately, lots of amazing writers that remain obscure and unknown. Sometimes these writers eventually break into mainstream, like Jennifer Egan or Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; sometimes they're rediscovered years after their death, like Zora Neale Hurston or Emily Dickinson; and sometimes, they're never discovered at. Although this happens to all sorts of writers, female writers are at a particular disadvantage since women have a much more difficult time getting taken seriously as writers in general.
Not only are women who write on subjects like relationship or families often relegated to the category of "chick lit" with a dismissive sniff, but even when women who are classed among "serious fiction" and "literature," they're still much less likely to be reviewed in major publications or get the kind of exposure their male counterparts get. And it's hard for them to maintain literary careers because they tend to be paid less. Plus, lots of people don't like it when women write avant garde literature and write reviews accordingly. And all of this makes it even more difficult for women to achieve the kind of name recognition and enduring respect that their male counterparts often receive.
If reading all of that gets you kind of miffed and makes you want to add some more women writers to your shelf -- correct response, by the way -- consider these 13 authors who you may not have heard of, but who might just blow you away.
Zoya Pirzad is an Iranian author whose first novel I'll Turn Off the Light — published in English as Things We Left Unsaid — is an international bestseller. Set in Iran's Armenian community pre-Islamic Revolution, this novel about a bored suburban housewife speaks to themes women everywhere can relate to. It's an understated gem that hasn't gotten much attention in the United States, which is probably why most of Pirzad's other novels haven't been translated yet.
Stephanie Vaughn has been hailed as "a writer's writer," but I think everyone should dive into her prose. Her short story collection Sweet Talk may have been published two decades ago, but it remains just as moving today, from the first story, "Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog," which is an understated family portrait, to the last, "Dog Heaven" which is a masterpiece. The collection deserves a place among the classics.
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Djuna Barnes was an early feminist writer and illustrator from the 1920s, who was well ahead of her time in embracing the idea that the personal is political. In addition to her journalistic endeavors, including a dramatic piece in support of suffragettes being force fed while on hunger strike, she also made waves with her novel Nightwood . Set in Pairs, the book revolves around a same-sex relationship loosely based on Barnes's own life experiences. It was a sensation at the time, but unlike male writers like Hemingway and Faulkner who were writing simultaneously, Barnes is largely unremembered today.
Born in New York City but raised in her parents' native Dominican Republic, Julia Alvarez's debut novel How The García Girls Lost Their Accents, which tells the story of a Dominican immigrant family by going in reverse chronological order, got a lot of attention when it was published in 1991. In the years since, Alvarez has faded from view, however, and although her books are still in print, they haven't had the lasting attention they undoubtedly deserve.
A British novelist with an eye for the idiosyncrasies of modern life, Catherine O'Flynn's novels have received plenty of critical praise, and her novel What Was Lost was even long listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2007. (And her latest book, Mr. Lynch's Holiday, was one of my favorite reads from last year). But despite all of this, she isn't widely known, at least not in The States.
Most famous for her slim volume I Killed Scheherazade , Joumana Haddad (above) is also a political activist and poet from Lebanon. Yet even her infamous I Killed Scheherazade, which criticizes both gender roles in Arab culture as well as Western portrayals of Arab women, is barely read in America. Provocative and passionate, the book is a must-read for feminists everywhere.
After writing numerous short stories for The New Yorker, Andrea Lee published a short story collection, Interesting Women, and two novels, Sarah Phillips and Lost Hearts in Italy, that explore femininity, race, and class with style and assurance. She's also published a memoir, but none of her work has gained her lasting attention.
Maeve Brennan was a 20th century short story writer and journalist who immigrated to the United States from Ireland in 1934. She was a frequent contributor to The New Yorker where she wrote a column called "The Long-Winded Lady" that satirized New York high society. Her short stories, on the other hand, often dealt with themes of loneliness, despair, and vulnerability. Considered one of the most important voices of the Irish diaspora, many of Brennan's works remained unpublished until several years after her death, including her novella The Visitor , about the insidious effects of family pride. Yet despite her talent and her lengthy career, Brennan remains largely unknown today.
Poet and activist Mitsuye Yamada wrote her first book of poems while in a Japanese internment camp in Idaho during World War II, but the book, Camp Notes and Other Poems , was not published until the 1970s. A feminist dedicated to addressing the particular concerns of Asian women, her work is both insightful and political, and it deserves to be remembered.
Chances are you remember reading Jackson's famous short story "The Lottery" in high school at some point – and if not, you should, because it's like a 1940s pre-cursor to The Hunger Games. Still, other than this story, Jackson has largely dropped off the cultural radar, even as her male contemporaries like John Cheever live on. So if you've never read her novel The Haunting of Hill House , you should because even in the age of horror movies it manages to be just as frightening as it was when Jackson wrote in in the 1950s.
If you're a fan of sweeping historical fiction and stories about kings and courts, Indu Sundaresan is someone you must check out. Her Taj Trilogy, set in the court of the Mughal Emperor during Mughal rule in India, is a sweeping saga of power, betrayal, and true love. Her books are not only impeccably researched, they bring the details of the past to life.
Nawal El Saadawi is an Egyptian activist, feminist, and a founder of the Arab Women's Solidarity Association. She also written over a dozen novels and short story collections, many of which have been translated into English. Her works often deal with issues facing Egyptian women and Muslim women more generally, and both her literary works and her activism have provoked frequent outrage, yet she's never let that stop her. Still, though she provokes plenty of international reactions, her works are largely obscure in the United States.
As a Classics professor, it's not surprising that Anne Carson's novel An Autobiography of Red would be based on the myth of the Labors of Herakles. But within the verse novel, Carson deconstructs the myth by centering the story on the monster Geryon from the Tenth Labor and setting the whole thing in a roughly modern age. It's a multi-layered book that received glowing praise from critics and big-name authors, but never really found the widespread popularity such a fascinating work deserves.