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…
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.
Memorable quote: “I discovered public libraries at this time and read until I was almost drunk on books.”
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.”
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.”
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.
Memorable quote: “Books may well be the only true magic.”
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.’”
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.”
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…”
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.”
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.”
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.