If you’ve ever taken a literature course or perused down the aisles of Barnes & Noble, you know that publishing—like the majority of the entertainment industry—is painfully white, straight and male. It’s important that we always read and promote stories created by women and marginalized people, but this week—post-International Women’s Day—presents the perfect opportunity to celebrate some voices that have accomplished amazing things in the literary world! Although this list barely scrapes the ice in terms of noteworthy female writers currently on shelves, these are a few authors who I think everyone needs to read in their lifetime.
1. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
A Nigerian author of multiple books, short stories and nonfiction essays, Adichie is a literary and feminist force to be reckoned with. I had the privilege of being assigned Americanah for my high school AP Literature course, and after reading a syllabus full of snooze-worthy works by dead white dudes, reading something that actually discusses current issues felt refreshing and entirely necessary. Adichie draws on her own experiences as a modern “American African” woman to highlight the injustices of racism and immigration policy in a way that will undoubtedly change how you see those issues as well.
2. Roshani Chokshi
When I say that Roshani Chokshi is a goddess walking among mortals, I mean it quite literally. Before you even delve into her stunning prose and luscious worldbuilding, I suggest you take a look at her Instagram to witness for yourself just how iconic she is (tap on her “Wedding” highlight if you want your mind to be blown and all of your standards raised forever). One of the most kind-hearted and quick-witted authors I can think of, Chokshi has published several New York Times bestsellers and has more on the way. Her two YA series’, The Star-Touched Queen and The Gilded Wolves, are epic fantasies that will keep you reading until the last page. All her books are infused with elements of her own identity as a Filipino Indian American and are some of the richest stories I’ve ever read. The Gilded Wolves—which is like a mash-up between The Da Vinci Code and National Treasure—will make you laugh out loud, cry and fall permanently in love with Chokshi’s writing.
3. Roxane Gay
If you know anything about intersectional feminism, the fight for body positivity or the #MeToo movement, Roxane Gay is arguably one of the biggest driving forces behind these society-altering conversations. Gay has published both nonfiction and fiction that presses the importance of acceptance, equality and justice for women and their bodies everywhere. Her ideas as a writer and English professor continue to permeate cultural attitudes daily not only through her books, but also through her particularly unapologetic Twitter account—I’ve never seen someone shut down a misogynist as swiftly and fiercely as Roxane Gay can.
4. Sabaa Tahir
When An Ember in the Ashes was published in 2015, Sabaa Tahir had devised the makings of an epic fantasy franchise that would span the entire second half of the decade. As a Muslim Pakistani American, Tahir helped shift a saturated fantasy literature market from stories that were focused almost exclusively around white European settings to include a series that featured main characters of color and a magic system based on Middle Eastern culture. An Ember in the Ashes is a dark, uncompromising story about overcoming your inner demons to fight brutality and injustice, and it easily rivals the works of Tolkien and R.R. Martin. Now is the perfect time to dive into the series if you haven’t read it before, since the final installment of the series—A Sky Beyond the Storm—was just announced and is set to release in December!
5. Elizabeth Acevedo
The last writer on this list came as a surprise even to me when I first picked up her debut novel, The Poet X. Though I love reading books of all types, I’ll admit I tend to turn and run when someone presents me with poetry. But this novel-in-verse absolutely flipped all my preconceived notions about poetry upside down when I finally started it on a friend’s recommendation. Elizabeth Acevedo tells the story of Xiomara, a teenage Afro-Latina girl struggling to manage her first love under the disapproving eye of her religious mother. She discovers an outlet through spoken word poetry, and Acevedo’s expert lyricism and metaphor will set the bar for what you consider to be good writing. I listened to The Poet X as an audiobook narrated by Acevedo herself, and it was truly one of the best reading experiences of my life. All those awards pasted on the cover are there for a reason.
No matter what types of stories you love, there are always amazing women working behind the scenes—as writers, editors, publishers and creators—to push boundaries and break glass ceilings. In today’s world, we’re surrounded by women accomplishing new heights and telling stories that change us all for the better. I hope for this International Women’s Day, you find someone new and astounding to aspire to.