Not that you ever need an excuse to sing the praises of incredible women in literature, but March's Women's History Month is perfect opportunity to celebrate the many female authors who have made history.
Although it is infamous for its over-saturation of white, straight, male authors, literature wouldn't be the same without the women authors of the world. Throughout history, female writers have been breaking barriers, changing the rules, and challenging the status quo through their writing. From the famed female poet of the 6th century BCE to the revolutionary voices of the 18th century early feminist movement right up to today's 21st century contemporary authors, women have continually transformed the landscape of literature, and in turn, the our culture and history.
Despite their global impact, however, women authors are often underrepresented in publishing, bestseller lists, and literary awards. Women's History Month, however, gives us an opportunity to honor everything female authors have done, both for readers and for the world.
While this list could go on forever, here are just 13 of the female authors who have made history. Read their books, talk about their stories, and celebrate their contributions. Without them, literature wouldn't be the same.
A archaic Greek poet from the 6th century BCE, Sappho is considered to be by many the first female writer. Not only is her work celebrated today, in antiquity she was a celebrated artist. Plato even sung her praises, referring to her as "the tenth muse." Despite the mystery and many controversies around her largely unknown history, Sappho is regularly celebrated for her role as a feminist and lesbian role model.
Speaking of firsts, Puritan poet Anne Bradstreet became the first published female writer in the North American colonies when her book, The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America, was printed and sold in England. A prominent figure in early American literature, Bradstreet's work is praised for both its critical appeal and historical significance.
Like her daughter (Frankenstein author Mary Shelley) English author Mary Wollstonecraft was a pioneering writer of her time. Her pamphlet, A Vindication of the Rights of Women, is considered to be one of the most significant work of the early feminist movement. She laid down the foundation for the women's rights movement as we know it today.
One of the most widely read authors of all time, coming in just behind Shakespeare, Jane Austen changed the literature with her now classic love stories. Her funny and endearing stories, including Pride and Prejudice and Emma, defined the romance novel and continue to influence the genre today. But Austen was more than a basic romantic: her writing, which often examined women's roles in society and their dependency on marriage, is praised for its feminist ideals.
5Harriet Beecher Stowe
Born in 1811, Harriet Beecher Stowe is a celebrated anti abolitionist best known for her anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin. Drawing from real-life experiences of Southern slaves, her novel sparked national outrage from both sides after its publication. It played an important cultural role in the development of the Civil War, and is still praised today for it's impact on American history.
Following the example set by her mother, who died just weeks after her daughter's birth, Mary Shelley grew up to be a pioneering female author. A novelist, short story writer, dramatist, essayist, biographer, and travel writer, there were few things Shelley couldn't accomplish once she set her pen to paper. Most notable, though is her seminal work, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, which is widely considered to be the first sci-fi novel ever.
While prizes aren't everything, Edith Wharton changed literature and history when she won the Pulitzer in Prize for Literature in 1921 for her novel, The Age of Innocence. Her insight, honesty, and razor-sharp wit defined her writing and made her stand out among her male counterparts.
Gabriela Mistral, the pen name for Lucila Godoy y Alcayaga, was a Chilean writer, poet, diplomat, educator, and humanist who is best known for being the very first female Latin American to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1945. Her poems, which often revolved around themes of love, childhood, memories, and death, started as a way to cope after a passionate love affair with with a railway employee ended in tragedy. Not only did her writer influence Latin American poetry, but her work as a humanitarian transformed the education systems in her home of Chile as well as in Mexico.
Known for her famous sleuths, Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, and her chilling mysteries, Agatha Christie is the best-selling novelist in history. The only works that have sold more than hers? Shakespeare and the Bible.
A talented artist ahead of her time, American sci-fi author Octavia Butler broke down barriers of race, sex, class, and genre with her writing. The first science fiction author to receive a MacArthur Fellowship, also known as the Genius Grant, Butler challenged the accepted conventions of her genre and pushed the boundaries to create truly remarkable works of fiction. Considered to be one of the trailblazers of speculative fiction, Butler's work is still praised for its examination of the black experience, specifically the female experience, in America.
English author Jeanette Winterson made history with her 1985 coming of age novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, which tells the story of a young, gay girl who is struggling to define herself and find acceptance within her community. Although the author herself resists the book's categorization as a "lesbian novel," Oranges is often considered the first mainstream novel about gay women, and it opened up several doors for LGBTQ authors that came after her.
One of the most prolific modern writers, novelist, short story writer, poet, and activist Alice Walker was the first black woman to win a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award. She received both honors for her epistolary novel, The Color Purple, which explored issues facing African-American women, including racism, misogyny, sexism, and violence.
The number of records J.K. Rowling has set are too numerous to list here, but one pretty significant one: she is the first and only billionaire author. One of the most widely read female writers in history, Rowling is often credited with getting kids interested in reading again and revitalizing children's literature.