Ten Feminist Writers That I Adore

Every bookshelf needs feminist books. In my journey as a reader I found a few feminist authors that completely revolutionized my reading experience. Here’s just a few of my favorites!

  1. 1. Virginia Woolf 

    Woolf is a famous Feminist icon and Modernist writer. Her work is widely celebrated, especially her Feminist essay, A Room of One's Own (1929). In this extended essay, Woolf calls upon female scholars to recover women’s voices and their lives which were lost in history. And since Woolf cannot find historical accounts of the everyday woman, she ventures to imagine the lives of past women lost in obscurity. One of her more well-known examples of this is Judith Shakespeare, the imagined sister of William Shakespeare. I won’t spoil the details, but basically Judith is not given the same opportunities that her brother is given, despite her potential, all because she is a woman. Woolf was a supporter of fellow female writers, and she is famously quoted for saying the following about English writer Aphra Behn, “All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn, for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds.” Behn was a pretty cool person too. She was a spy and is often regarded as the first professional female writer! And not to mention, some believe her work Oroonoko is the first novel in the English language, so a pretty talented woman. 

  2. 2. Sylvia Plath

    Plath is a well known American poet and many view her as a Feminist icon. She is credited for expanding the genre of confessional poetry, which dealt with taboo subjects such as mental illness, suicide, depression, gender roles, and family life, all which she discussed frankly in her poetry. Concerning gender roles, although some of her works such as “Lady Lazarus” (1965) may reflect her hatred for the male gender, rather than her Feminist views, some of her other poems express more Feminist views in the sense that women should be equal to men, and have the freedom to express agency. For instance, her 1965 poem “The Applicant” challenges gender roles, specifically the strict roles of mother, wife, and house-maker a woman was expected to take on once married. Plath tragically died by suicide at the age of 30, but is widely celebrated today for her contributions to American literature.

  3. 3. Edna St. Vincent Millay

    Millay is a 1920s writer and is known for her brilliant writing and for her feminist activism. In her celebrated poetry, she is known for employing the traditional sonnet structure in order to discuss both the heterosexual and homosexual female experience. For example, in her poem “I, Being born a Woman and Distressed” (Sonnet XLI) (1923), the speaker discusses the fraught relationship between her and her male sexual partner. In the 1920s, women were having more casual sexual encounters and therefore more agency over their sex lives. This poem highlights this changing relationship between men and women, and the speaker’s agency in this causal relationship.

  4. 4. Marge Piercy

    Piercy is an American poet and activist, and I absolutely love her two poems “Always Unsuitable” (1999) and “Barbie Doll” (1971). The first deals with women judging other women, and this sense of broken sisterhood. The second deals with gender roles and the negative and impossible societal standards placed upon women and their looks in patriarchal societies. As a final note, the imagery in both poems is fantastic.

  5. 5.  Dorothy Parker

    Parker wrote during the 1920s, and is known for her wit, humor, and satire, which were all seen more as male traits than female traits during this time. In the poem “Song of One of the Girls” (1926) the speaker discusses famous influential women, and how these women disrupted gender norms, and how although these women are all apart of her, because she is a woman, she is expected to remain at home to fulfill feminine duties. In her work “The Waltz” (1933), Parker further explores the internal conflict that arises in women when restricting expectations are placed upon them by the patriarchy.

  6. 6. Gwendolyn Brooks

    with gender, therefore her works have a black feminist approach to them. She wrote “the mother” in 1945, and in this poem she puts a unique twist on the traditional theme of motherhood. Here the mother figure chooses to give up motherhood as a way to gain back control over her life. To me, the poem suggests that this motherhood was forced upon her by the patriarchy, and in order to regain her control and identity she must give up motherhood, and sadly, the child that was possibly forced upon her. 

  7. 7.  Jamaica Kincaid

    Kincaid is an Antiguan-American writer who is known for writing about the negative experiences associated with living under colonial rule. She also discusses female gender roles in her well-known short short story or prose poem “Girl” (1978,1983), and in her lesser known short story, “Ovando” (1989). Both works can be read and studied through a Feminist lense, as well as a Post-Colonial lense, and even a combination of both lenses.

  8. 8. Maxine Hong Kingston

    Hong Kingston is a Chinese American writer, who wrote “No Name Woman” (1976), which is the first chapter of her autobiographical text The Woman Warrior. This text is so powerful because it discusses the intersectionality between gender and ethnicity. Also, “No Name Woman” challenges female roles, particularly the role of mother. This first chapter reminds me of Brooks’s poem “the mother”, because in both texts, the mother figure chooses to give up motherhood in resistance against the patriarchy, and the traditional female role of mother in their patriarchal societies.

  9. 9. Charlotte Perkins Gilman

    Gilman was an American writer and social reformer who suffered from postpartum depression and was prescribed the “rest cure”, and these elements can be seen in the short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” (1892). The female narrator suffers from what we know as postpartum depression, but because this label was not in use during the story’s publication, the narrator is believed to be suffering from hysteria, which was viewed as a women's emotional disorder. The narrator was prescribed the rest cure which only exacerbated her poor condition by taking away her autonomy, and by being treated as though she were a child or animal that had to be supervised and locked away. Gilman wrote her short-story as a warning to the dangers of the rest cure and apathy toward women’s mental health.

  10. 10. Audre Lorde

    Lorde is known for embracing the complexity of identity and people's experiences in general. For instance, Lorde famously described herself as a “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet.” As an advocate for inclusivity, she frequently discussed “otherhood” and intersectionality in her work. Lorde is a queer theory icon, and is also known for her discourse on sisterhood, and emphasizes that although women do not all share the same experiences in life, they can still bond together and support one another. An interesting fact about Lorde is that the original spelling of her first name was Audrey, however, she changed the spelling to Audre because she liked how it looked next to her last name, which also ended in an “e”. If that isn’t something a poet would do, then I don’t know what is. One of her well-known poems, “To The Poet Who Happens to Be Black and The Black Poet Who Happens to Be a Woman” (1985), deals with the intersectionality between race and gender, as the title suggests. There are so many different literary theories one can apply to this poem, such as queer theory, gender theory, race theory, marxist theory, etc. Lastly, Lorde suffered from cancer and wrote many famous and personal illness narratives before tragically passing on November 17, 1992 at the age of 58.

If you are looking for more Feminist authors & theory, then I highly recommend you check out Adrienne Rich’s essay, “When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-Vision” (1972;1978), as well as Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Women and Economics (1898), and Mary Wollstonecraft’s essay, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). Rich was a highly influential Feminist writer in the the mid to late 20th century, Gilman was advocate for women’s rights, and Wollstonecraft was a dominant figure in the first wave of Feminism, and her essay is a widely read and cited Feminist text. I hope you check out some of my favorite Feminist writers and get inspired to advocate for women’s rights!