5 Female Authors Who Shaped Literature as We Know It

As an English major, I spend my fair share of time reading various poems and novels and studying their themes, connections to history and society, and impacts on literature at large. Since March is Womxn’s History Month, it felt fitting to take some time to reflect on some of the most influential female authors who have shaped literature, oftentimes changing the world through the creation of groundbreaking pieces of writing and expression. These 5 womxn are some of my personal favorite authors who have written incredibly powerful works which have touched millions of people and have shaped literature as we know it.

1. Mary Shelley (1797-1851)

Mary Shelley was a British author, daughter of two famous writers and wife of a famous poet, and is most-widely known for her masterpiece, Frankenstein. This novel pushed the bounds of Gothic fiction and horror-writing at the time, inspired a vast number of movies, plays, television shows, and even ballets, and is still a fixture in modern society. Frankenstein is also often considered to be one of the first science fiction novels ever written.

2. Ursula K. Le Guin (1929-2018)

Ursula K. Le Guin was an American novelist who primarily wrote in the fantasy and science fiction genres and helped to broaden and legitimize the genres, paving the way for countless authors of speculative fiction. She wrote a great number of powerful novels dealing with issues such as ecological devastation and political structures and received hundreds of awards and honors for her work. Many credit her novel A Wizard of Earthsea for the idea of a “wizard school”, made famous by the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, and she has served as one of the most inspirational authors for writers such as Neil Gaiman and Margaret Atwood.

3. Maya Angelou (1928-2014)

Maya Angelou was an American poet, memoirist, civil rights activist, and much more (including Hollywood’s first female black director) who challenged and expanded the genre of autobiography, sharing her stories, wisdom, and life experiences with the world in her works which often dealt with themes of racism, identity, and family. Her first and perhaps most famous autobiographical work is I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969) which details her coming-of-age and has been regarded as one of the most influential books that everyone should read in their lifetime. She won a number of awards and accolades throughout her life, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

4. Agatha Christie (1890-1976)

Agatha Christie was a British author who wrote mystery novels and crime fiction and is celebrated for her 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections. She is often referred to as the “Queen of Crime” and is recognized as the best-selling novelist of all time, her works ranking third behind only Shakespeare’s works and the Bible. There have been hundreds of adaptations of her works, including the recent movie Murder on the Orient Express (2017) based on her 1934 novel of the same name.

5. Jane Austen (1775-1817)

Jane Austen was an English novelist and is primarily known for her six main novels, including Emma, Sense and Sensibility, and Pride and Prejudice. Her work broke out of the traditional Romantic and Victorian styles popular at the time and also criticized sentimentalist novels (e.g. Samuel Richardson’s Pamela) which lacked seriousness. Austen helped to usher in literary realism and focused on portraying the complexities of English society in the 18th century with particular attention to manners and customs, the family structure, and the dependence of women upon marriage for social and financial survival. Her works are still widely beloved today and have prompted a wide range of film and TV adaptations, including Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the historical action comedy horror film, which in my personal opinion was pretty damn entertaining and even empowering.

While there are countless female authors who have greatly shaped and impacted literature, these 5 womxn are some incredibly prominent game-changers, making immense waves in their genres, inspiring literary styles, paving the way for countless other authors, and changing the lives of many readers. Whether you’re a fan of science fiction, poetry, or mystery novels, if you haven’t read any of their works, it’s time to. And if you have, it’s always a good time to read some more.