Top Ten Women Writers Who Deserve More Recognition

16th Jul 2013

We love the Top Ten Tuesday series featured weekly on The Broke and the Bookish, so when the topic of writers deserving more recognition came up, we obviously had to get in on the action.

Women writers all too often don’t get the recognition they deserve (no thanks to sexist institutions like the London Review of Books and other mainstream media who routinely marginalise women writers, so that they account for only an average of 25% of book reviews).

So it didn’t take us long to come up with ten women writers we reckon deserve more recognition. But like any For Books’ Sake list, it’s by no means definitive – with only ten spots on it, we could never come close to honouring all the amazing authors deserving our attention.

So consider it a starting point and tell us who we’ve missed. If we get enough additional suggestions we’ll definitely consider lengthening the list into a more epic future edition!

And now, without further ado, we present…

Barbara Comyns

On the list because: Often out of print during the last few decades, several of Comyns’ works have been reissued in recent times, allowing her distinctive twisted blend of innocence, magic realism, menace and humour to be rediscovered by new audiences a-go-go.

Read: Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead (1955, republished in 2010 by The Dorothy Project) and The Vet’s Daughter (1959).

Memorable quote: “I discovered public libraries at this time and read until I was almost drunk on books.”

Ntozake Shange

On the list because: A fierce, bold and awe-inducing campaigner around race, gender and feminist issues, Shange has been recognised with numerous awards but remains on the edges of popular recognition. And she’s the only poet ever to have her work adapted for Broadway.

Read: Her début 1975 collection, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, a ‘choreopoem’ since adapted for both stage and screen, scoring a long list of awards.

Memorable quote: “Where there is a woman there is magic.”

Grace Paley

On the list because: Penning several short story collections and volumes of poetry alongside political activism and teaching, Paley is best known for her much-anthologised postmodern depictions of New York, many of which explored issues of race, gender and class.

Read: The Collected Stories (1994), which includes her three earlier short story collections (The Little Disturbances of Man, Enormous Changes at the Last Minute and Later the Same Day), and was a finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award.

Memorable quote: “The only recognisable feature of hope is action.”

Where there is a woman there is magic.Sonya Sones

On the list because: The author of three YA novels written in verse (as well as one for adults, The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus), Sones is an original and innovative author, exploring challenging issues with style, sensitivity, humour and aplomb.

Read: Her début novel Stop Pretending: What Happened When My Big Sister Went Crazy (1999), telling the story of teenage protagonist Cookie and her older sister’s manic depression and subsequent hospitalisation.

Memorable quote: “It’s raining in my heart like it’s raining in the city.”

Alice Hoffman

On the list because: Despite a back catalogue of more twenty novels, alongside short fiction and books for children and young adults, Hoffman doesn’t often get her dues for her magical writing, though many of her novels have been adapted into films.

Read: Beloved by everyone from Toni Morrison to Jodi Picoult, her latest novel The Dovekeepers (2011) is an ideal introduction to her work.

Memorable quote: “Books may well be the only true magic.”

Monique Roffey

On the list because: Born in Trinidad and shortlisted for several prestigious prizes in the past (including the Orange Prize, now The Women’s Prize for Fiction), Roffey still doesn’t get the recognition she deserves for her ground-breaking Caribbean books.

Read: Her latest novel, Archipelago (2012), an important and uplifting novel about change, loss, and humans’ place within the world.

Memorable quote: “It seemed to him that he was always somewhere else.'”

Amélie Nothomb

On the list because: Despite a long list of prizes and other awards, several of her numerous novels are still only available in their original French, meaning many English readers are yet to discover her.

Read: Fear and Trembling (1999), an elegant, ingenious and hilarious account of a protagonist (a Belgian woman named Amélie) whose dream to live and work in Japan soon turns into a comic nightmare.

Memorable quote: “I thought maybe I would become a god, or a goddess, or a president or a Nobel Prize winner.”

Irène Némirovsky

On the list because: One of the most accomplished, insightful European authors ever published, compared to both Sartre and Camus, she lived her life in perpetual flight from persecution and she was eventually murdered by the Nazis at the age of 39.

Read: Suite Francaise, which explores life in occupied France, written in 1940 but unpublished until fifty years after her death, when her daughter discovered the manuscript. It went on to win the Prix Renaudot, the only time it’s been awarded posthumously.

Memorable quote: “How sad the world is, so beautiful yet so absurd…”

Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

On the list because: A Russian national treasure who was for many years banned by the Soviet Union, few of her works have been translated into English, though she has had an internationally acclaimed singing career.

Read: There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbour’s Baby,  a rich and macabre collection of dark and disturbing fairytales, republished as a Penguin Modern Classic in 2011.

Memorable quote: “It’s no secret, of course, that souls sometimes die within a person and are replaced by others – especially with age.”

Anne Brontë

On the list because: Often overshadowed by Charlotte and Emily, lately her work has been rediscovered and re-evaluated, causing The Brontë Society to claim that she was “the most radical of the sisters.”

Read: Her first book, Agnes Grey (1847), based on her experiences as a governess, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848), now considered to be one of the first feminist novels.

Memorable quote: “He who dares not grasp the thorn should never crave the rose.”

Who’d make it onto your top ten? Let us know in the comments, take a trip to The Broke and the Bookish to see who featured in others’ answers, or if you want more women writers, investigate our author archive or our top fifty books by influential women writers.

(Image via Thomas Hawk)


  • AMJ says:

    I would add the Hungarian writer Magda Szabo. Her powerful novel The Door has been translated into English, although I understand there is much more to her than just The Door.

    • Jane Bradley says:

      Thanks AMJ, she’s a new one on me so will have to investigate. Thanks for sharing!

  • Caroline says:

    Great llist, some new ones there to me, which proves the point.
    I would add:
    1.Elizabeth Taylor, because although well-known amongst some not given enough attention.
    2. Penelope FitzGerald for much the same reason.

    All praise to Virago and Persephone Books for their publishing activities, and blogs like yours too. A good corrective to LRB and the gender bias of reviewing, publishing etc etc.

    • Jane Bradley says:

      Thanks Caroline – for the kind words and for the reading recommendations too!

  • Kathryn says:

    What about Tove Jansson for her adult stories and novels? Many have been published in English posthumously and are filled with beautiful insights on human experience.

    I’m also a big fan of Jeanette Winterson. She’s challenging to read, but very much worth the struggle. She’s quite well known within certain circles, but probably a bit too experimental to have been promoted on a large scale before now.

    Finally, Octavia E. Butler was a wonderful science-fiction writer who managed to look into the future while keeping her stories rooted in emotion, serious thought and relationships (and I don’t mean just romantic ones).

    As a side point, I’m thrilled to see Ntozake Shange on your list. I remember her from a women’s drama class in uni. She’s amazing.

    • Jane Bradley says:

      Thanks Kathryn, we love Winterson too! Personally I’ve never read any Butler or Jansson so will definitely have to add those to my reading list, thanks for the suggestions.

    • Beulah Devaney says:

      Love Butler and Jansson – we’re hoping to get more coverage of both of them over the next few months!

  • Hadas says:

    Very pleased to see you went with women – they tend to have an even harder time. Best example – JK Rowling. Added letters to make it sound masculine? The woman is now one of the most famous in the world.
    I’ll be sure to check out some of these.
    Here’s my own list –


  • Jess says:

    Jane were you in that class where we did for colored girls… I think I still have that on my shelves this year and seriously worth a re-read me thinks! Also, YES to Monnique Roffey, saw her speak at Morley Lit Fest after reading Archeopelago and she is wonderful, go see her talk if you can.

  • C says:

    Great list! Though the it rains on my quote is very famously by Verlaine….

  • Rachel says:

    Audre Lorde! Amazing poet, but if you like novels try reading her autobiographical masterpiece, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/395220.Zami

  • Adele Geras says:

    DOROTHY WHIPPLE! A marvellous, marvellous writer whose work is published by Pesephone Books…..

    • Rebecca Winson says:

      Dorothy Whipple? Her name alone is enough to intrigue me. What books would you recommend, Adele?