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Women’s History Month is here! It’s a month where we take time to acknowledge and celebrate the achievements of women around the world. The best part is that we get to celebrate a brand new achievement: a woman in the United States is Vice President! As a way to celebrate this notable month, I’ve gathered 21 female authors that you should be on the lookout for – and all of them have been published in their twenties! Some of the women on the list you may recognize, and the other, unfamiliar, women are well-worth exploring.
- Mary Shelley
If you don’t know who Mary Shelley is, well, she’s responsible for some big literary works (in fact, she’s the considered to be the mother of science fiction). Shelley was born in 1797, and wrote six books in her twenties. She wrote the most famous of them all, Frankenstein (1818), the story of a young scientist who creates a monstrous creature in a science experiment gone wrong. The Last Man (1826) is a novel fitting for our current situation considering it’s about a pandemic, and 1823’s Valperga is a romance novel about a woman choosing between love and liberty.
- Zadie Smith
Zadie Smith was born in 1975. She’s won awards such as the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the Jewish Quarterly Wingate Literary Prize for some of her works, and has multiple New York Times Best Sellers. She wrote two books in her twenties: National Bestseller White Teeth (2000), a story that follows two wartime friends and their families, and The Autograph Man (2002), which is about a man who buys and sells autographs for a living. She wrote White Teeth during her college years and finished the novel during her final year at the University of Cambridge. Now if that isn’t motivation to do something life changing, I’m not sure what is!
- Helen Oyeyemi
Helen Oyeyemi was born in 1984, and did a lot in her twenties in terms of literary work. She won the PEN Open Book Award and was featured in the BBC National Short Story Award and Vision: An Anthology of Winning Stories from the 2007 University of Hertfordshire Writing Award. She wrote five books in her twenties, including The Icarus Girl (2005) about a girl born to an English man and Nigerian mother, The Opposite House (2007), about the daughter of Cuban immigrants waiting for the birth of her first child, and Mr. Fox (2011), about an author choosing between his imaginary muse and real wife.
- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Born in 1977, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian feminist writer. She’s won multiple awards, and even had her TED Talk featured in a Beyoncé song! She was also one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in 2015. But wait: she’s got more accomplishments. Adichie was one of 15 people to appear on the cover of British Vogue in 2019 that was guest edited by none other than Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, and was also one of the top 100 influential Africans by New African magazine that same year.
Yeah, she’s amazing. Adichie wrote three novels in her twenties: Purple Hibiscus (2003), a romance that tells the story of a 15 year old daughter living with an abusive father; Half of a Yellow Sun (2006), about a Nigerian Civil War known as the Biafran War; and Americanah (2006), which tells the story of a young Nigerian woman immigrating to the United States to attend a university. This woman is an absolute powerhouse, and is the perfect read for Black History Month or Women’s History Month.
- Samantha Shannon
Born in 1991, Samantha Shannon is being labeled the new J.K. Rowling with her book series The Bone Season. It tells the story of a young woman, Paige Mahoney, who is a clairvoyant in a world where they’re illegal. The Bone Season was released in 2013, followed by The Mime Order (2015). Shannon wrote this book series all throughout her twenties with her most recent book, The Mask Falling, out now.
- Eleanor Catton
Born in 1985, Eleanor Catton is a New Zealand novelist. She wrote two novels in her twenties, The Rehearsal (2008) and The Luminaries (2013). The Rehearsal is about Stanley and Victoria, two performers with two different experiences, and was actually Catton’s master’s thesis, so any performers, grad students or those looking to become grad students, this book could be a good read for you! The Luminaries tells the story of a New Zealand prospector who moves to Hokitika to work in the gold fields, and it won the 2013 Man Booker Prize.
- Téa Obreht
Born in 1985, Téa Obreht wrote only one book in her twenties: The Tiger’s Wife (2011). She only wrote two books in her life, but The Tiger’s Wife is her most notable work. It’s about a young doctor and the stories her grandfather tells her. Winning the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2011 and a finalist for the U.S. National Book Award for fiction, it truly is a must-read. Obreht’s other achievements include being part of the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 list, and being featured in The New Yorker’s 20 best fiction writers under 40.
- Alice Walker
Born in 1944, you might know Alice Walker from her book The Color Purple, a story about an African-American woman and her survival of bigotry and abuse in the South. This was widely acclaimed by Oprah, and made into a Steven Speilberg movie. Before that, Walker wrote her first novel, The Third Life of Grange Copeland (1970), telling the story of Grange, his wife, his son and his granddaughter, living in Georgia. After that, she won a slew of humanitarian awards, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame for the California Museum for History, Women and the Arts.
- Flannery O’Connor
Born in 1925, Flannery O’Connor contributed to the literary world until her death in 1964. She wrote Wise Blood (1952), and from there was honored for her work. Wise Blood tells the story of a U.S. Army veteran impersonating a priest and starting his own religion. I mean, she was featured on a stamp in 2015, has an award named after her for short fiction, has a Little Free Library book trail, a historic house museum in her childhood home, and even has a dormitory named after her! O’Connor is a big literary influence, even though her life was cut short. So, if you want to read a book by a powerhouse that was also quoted by Bono in a song, this is the right read for you.
- Valeria Luiselli
Born in 1983, Valeria Luiselli is author of Faces in the Crowd (2011), which won the Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction. In it, we learn about three stories: one about a mother writing a memoir while her marriage is falling apart, the second the misadventures of a translator, and the third about a man named Gilberto Owen who is a Mexican poet. Luiselli is a Mexican author who received the 5 Under 35 award, the American Book Award, and the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Literature. If you’re bilingual, you’ll really want to read Faces in the Crowd, as it ties to how language and identity are connected.
- Emily Brontë
Born in 1818, you’ve probably heard of Emily Brontë in your high school English class before (I have). In her twenties, Brontë wrote the book I learned about in my high school English class senior year: Wuthering Heights (1847). It tells the love story between Heathcliff and Catherine after Heathcliff is adopted by Catherine’s family. Did I also mention this was the only novel she ever wrote? Wuthering Heights was used in a lot of media, and I even watched the movie (which I did not like at all). This book is definitely on my reading list though (since I’ve never read it, and I’m sure the book is better than the movie), so if you haven’t read Brontë’s only novel, well, it’s time.
- Danielle Steel
If you haven’t read a Danielle Steel book in your lifetime, then you probably didn’t grow up an avid reader. Born in 1947, Steel is best known for her romance novels and is the fourth bestselling fiction author of all time. 22 of her books have been adapted for television and two of them have Golden Globe nominations. This woman is literally the queen of romance novels. It all started off with her first novel Going Home (1973), which tells the romance of Gillian Forrester fleeing New York for San Francisco. If you want to see where it all started for this powerhouse, this book would be a good start.
- Jenny Han
Born in 1980, you may know Han for the extremely famous trilogy later made into a movie, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. But before that, Jenny Han wrote Shug, a children’s book, in 2006 and after that, her very first trilogy, The Summer I Turned Pretty (2009). It’s a romance about Isabel spending the summer at Cousin’s Beach with her mother, brother, mother’s lifelong friend and sons. She went on to write the Burn for Burn trilogy, about three girls plotting revenge, and then the To All the Boys trilogy about Lara Jean and her love letters getting released to her crushes. If you’re a fan of YA, Jenny Han’s novels are going to be right up your alley.
- Carson McCullers
Born in 1917, Carson McCullers’ literary career includes some pieces that made it all the way to Broadway! She wrote The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1940), which tells the story of a deaf man named John Singer and his encounters with people. Reflections in a Golden Eye (1941) is a romance that follows three individual people – a private and two captains – living on an army base, and The Member of the Wedding (1946) is about 12 year old Frankie Addams, a troubled adolescent who feels disconnected. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter and Reflections in a Golden Eye were both adapted into films, while The Member of the Wedding was later adapted into a stage production, which ran from 1950 to 1951. If you’re a huge Broadway nerd, you should read Carson McCullers.
- Cecilia Ahern
Cecilia Ahern has a lot of literary works that were adapted into movies. Born in 1981, Ahern wrote PS, I Love You (2003), about Holly who receives letters from her husband after dying of a brain tumor, Where Rainbows End (2004), about the long distance love story of Rosie and Alex after Alex moves to Boston, and The Gift (2008), about a man named Lou competing for a promotion while he grows apart from his family. You may recognise PS, I Love You because it was adapted into a movie starring Hilary Swank and Gerard Butler. Where Rainbows End was also adapted into a movie, but instead under the name Love, Rosie. Ahern was also the co-creator and producer of Samantha Who? So, if you’re a fan of any of her media, you should definitely check out her books.
- Helen Keller
Helen Keller is probably one of the most famous figures in the disabled community. Born in 1880, Helen Keller lost her sight and hearing at a very young age due to fever. Keller was taught sign language by Anne Sullivan, her mentor who later became her lifelong friend. Sullivan spelt words on her hand to help her identify her surroundings. I remember seeing The Miracle Worker and I can never forget the scene where the actress who played Anne Sullivan taught her “water.” Keller went on to write The Story of My Life (1902), about her encounters with Anne Sullivan, Optimism (1903), about being optimistic, a good read based on our current society, and The World I Live In (1908) about her struggles being death and blind. She was inducted into the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame in 1971 and the Alabama Writers’ Hall of Fame in 2015. If there’s one woman you should read for Women’s History Month, it is absolutely Helen Keller.
- Amelia Atwater-Rhodes
Born in 1984, Amelia Atwater-Rhodes started her writing career young, publishing her first book in 1999! She went on to write nine books in her twenties, including Snakecharm (2004), a sci-fi book part of The Kiesha’ra Series about a marriage between Danica, a hawk shapeshifter and Zane, a cobra shapeshifter that ends a war, Wolfcry (2006), also part of The Kiesha’ra Series about the child of Danica and Zane that tries to unite both hawk and cobra, and Token of Darkness (2010), about a former high school football player named Cooper who sees a ghost. He then bumps into Delilah and Brent, who help him investigate the ghost. If you’re a fan of fantasy and sci-fi, Atwater-Rhodes is a great read.
- Alice Hoffman
Alice Hoffman is the author responsible for some really great films. Born in 1952, she wrote Property Of (1977), about an outsider who wants to feel like they belong with a gang leader. The Drowning Season (1979) is about three generations of a family sharing a compound on Long Island, and Angel Landing (1980) is about a power plant explosion. Five of her other works were adapted into movies, one of the most famous being Practical Magic. If you’re a fan of the movie, give the books a try!
- Malala Yousafzai
If you don’t know who Malala Yousafzai is, now’s the time to learn about her. Born in 1997, Malala Yousafzai is an activist for women’s rights, specifically women’s education in Pakistan. Yousafzai was once almost murdered because of her belief that all girls should be educated. I remember hearing about this and was absolutely appalled — as was the rest of the world. I could go on about how amazing Yousafzai is, but it’s better for you to read the articles and books about her. Malala wrote Malala’s Magic Pencil (2017), about Malala wishing for a magic pencil to solve all her problems. Malala: My Story of Standing Up for Girls’ Rights (2018) about Malala’s belief in going to school adapted for children. If you want to read her story however, I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban is made for more mature readers. We Are Displaced (2019) is about Yousafzai and nine other girls’ stories of displacement. If there is any woman you should be reading for Women’s History Month, it’s this Gen Z, Nobel Peace Prize winner.
- Jean Craighead George
Born in 1919, Jean Craghead George is responsible for many children’s books, and won the International Hans Christian Andersen Award in 1964. In her twenties, George wrote Vulpes the Red Fox (1948) about a fox named Vulpes getting away from hunters until he faces an enemy by the name of Reissue. She had dedicated her life to writing, creating children’s books for 63 years until her death in 2012. I suggest you encourage young children around you to read her books for Women’s History Month, or just in general. George dedicated her life to writing for children, and children should know who she is.
- Sarah J. Maas
Born in 1986, Sarah J. Maas is a science fiction author. She wrote 10 books in her twenties, including Throne of Glass (2012), about Cealena Sardothien investigating a killer within Prince Dorian’s palace, The Assassin and the Pirate Lord (2012), about Cealena seeking retribution, and A Court of Thorns and Roses (2015), about Feyre Archeron, a 19-year-old huntress who is taken to the faerie land of Prythian after killing a faerie wolf and finds out everything she’s known about the faerie lands is a lie. Maas has written three series, and won the Goodreads Choice Awards five times. If you’re looking for a good science fiction author to read, she’s a definite!
These women have dedicated their lives to spreading a simple message that women can accomplish anything, and they want you to learn that message, too. Whether you sit down and read a book by a female sci-fi writer, a children’s author, a playwright or an activist, I encourage you to read stories by women this Women’s History Month.