In celebration of International Women's Day, we're sharing some quotes from 11 inspirational and influential female authors that you should definitely add to your reading list - if you haven't already. The women below all have their own histories, literary style, and artistic intent, but they all share a common bond in being some of the most celebrated women in our literary canon, all featured in The Literature Book.
Toni Morrison (b. 1931)
Toni Morrison is one of the USA’s most powerful literary voices, and the first African-American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature (1993). Born into a working class Ohio family, she grew up with a love of reading, music and folklore. After gaining a BA degree from Howard University and an MA from Cornell, Morrison wrote her first four novels while working as an editor in New York. Her fifth book, Beloved was widely acclaimed and adapted into a film in 1998. She continues to write, and to speak against censorship and repression of history.
Margaret Atwood (b. 1939)
For much of her childhood Margaret Atwood spent half the year in the Canadian wilderness, where her father studied insects. During this time she would write poems, plays, and comics, and while still at school she decided to become a writer. Atwood's passion for environmental issues and human rights comes through in her dystopian novels such as The Handmaid’s Tale – which features a caste society in which fertile women are kept as slaves to provide children for sterile families – and the trilogy begun with Oryx and Crake. In 2000 she won the Booker Prize for The Blind Assassin.
Lionel Shriver (b. 1957)
Born in North Carolina, USA, to a deeply religious family, Shriver changed her name from Margaret at the age of 15. As well as being a journalist for The Economist and The Guardian, Shriver has won awards including the Orange Prize for her fiction. We Need To Talk About Kevin tackles the subject of parenting a child who becomes a mass murderer. Read it already? Her other novels include Big Brother and The New Republic.
Sylvia Plath (1932 - 1963)
An American poet who advanced the genre of confessional poetry, Plath also wrote a semi-autobiographical novel called The Bell Jar, which was initially published under a pseudonym. The text is made up of multiple flashbacks to protagonist Esther’s earlier life, as she interns for a renowned magazine in New York. Esther, in search of her own identity as a woman, descends into a worsening mental state throughout the book, which appears to parallel Plath’s own struggles with depression.
Harper Lee (1936 - 2016)
Born in the town of Monroeville, Alabama on 28 April 1926 Harper Lee attended the Unitersity of Alabama, where she edited the university magazine. Although she started law school her passion was for writing, and in 1949 Lee dropped out and moved to New York. Lee wrote the literary classic To Kill a Mockingbird, which with its themes of race, childhood and innocence, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961. Interestingly, her best friend (and influence for the character of Dill) was the author Truman Capote. The world mourned her death in 2016.
Angela Carter (1940 - 1992)
Angela Carter is known for fiction that fused feminism and magical realism. Her most famous work, The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, is a collection of re-written fairy tales and folklore, including Little Red Riding Hood, Beauty and the Beast, and Puss in Boots. The psychological themes underlying the original narratives are intensified and modernized, and themes of murder, incest and cannibalism are used to show a darker side to humanity.
Maya Angelou (1928 - 2014)
Whilst also penning poetry and essays, it is her autobiographies that Maya Angelou is most well known for. The first book of the seven volumes, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, expresses the author’s changing responses to the violence of racism. A lifelong Civil Rights Activist, her books also explore issues of childhood, trauma and motherhood.
The Brontë sisters, born in the early 19th Century, have arguably written some of the greatest and most celebrated novels of all time. Anne, Emily and Charlotte – collaborated on literary works and explored similar themes in their writing. From the dark Victorian Gothic themes in Anne Bronte's Wuthering Heights to issues of gender and domesticity explored in Charlotte's Jane Eyre, the Brontë's writing continues to capture imaginations nearly two hundred years later.
Donna Tartt (b. 1963)
Like the characters in her novel The Secret History, Donna Tartt studied classics at university. It was also whilst studying there that she began her first novel. The Secret History follows a group of six Classics students at an elite New England university. Using this setting to focus on various literary and cultural debates, Tartt questions the role of literature, identity, and the genre itself.
Zadie Smith (b. 1975)
Born in North London in 1975 to an English father and Jamaican mother, Smith wrote her first novel White Teeth during her final year at King’s College Cambridge. It has since gone on to win numerous awards, being praised for its humour whilst exploring the multicultural melting pot of London in the 1980s. In an article in The Guardian newspaper she was asked to give her 10 golden rules for writing fiction, which included: “Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand – but tell it”.
Jane Austen (1775 - 1817)
The daughter of a relatively prosperous country parson, Austen read widely from her father’s library and started writing at a young age. Austen's novels gently satirize the social mores of English country gentry, as well as poking fun at the overindulgent drama of Gothic Romanticism. Austen highlights the vulgarities and follies of the English upper classes the importance of rank, the stigma of social inferiority, and the system of patronage are played out via balls, visits and society gossip. Austen's work includes Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Emma. All this in just 41 years.
The Literature Book is a beautiful celebration of the greatest literature of all time, from the best books ever written to pioneering plays and poetry. Encounter literary names you already know, discover new authors to add to your reading list, and learn something new on every read.