It’s safe to say that a woman’s name plastered on the front of a book is no longer a head-turner. You’ll find them casually shelved beside their male contemporaries in most bookstores. However, rewinding to the 18th and 19th centuries, this would not be the case. In those eras, female authors–and their talents–were deeply hidden under the wraps of male pseudonyms. Reflecting on past years, we can appreciate the emergence of bold women authors who created stepping stools for future writers to share their abilities with the world. To appreciate the role of women in great literature, here are five noteworthy female authors.
“I do not weep at the world. I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.”
Hurtson’s family moved to Eatonville, Florida when she was a child. As a young girl, she was largely sheltered from racism and did not experience segregation until later in her life. Her experiences led her to be a powerful contributor to the Harlem renaissance, and her unique writings stood out from other African American writers. Hurtson traveled the world to observe African religions and presented her culture in a raw way. Rather than sugar coating her culture, she showed the unfiltered goodness, ugliness, and everything in between. This was her way of expressing to the world her love for her community by recognizing its flaws and still choosing to identify with it.
Hurston wrote on controversial topics with shameless grace. In her writing, she finds unique ways to communicate her feelings. Her writing style creates almost tangible scenes and feelings, which she uses to articulate her well-formulated stance on race in America. Her portrayals of the African American communities beg readers to see their humanity by expressing deep emotions associated with racism. Hurston’s genius blend of authenticity and style has endeared some and repelled others through the years.
“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul – and sings the tunes without the words – and never stops at all.”
Emily Dickinson lived in Amherst, Massachusetts where she was surrounded by family. Her family members were known as intellectuals; her father served in Congress, her brother was an attorney, and her sister was also noted as an “intellectual.” Dickinson used her poetry as an academic avenue, and this is reflected in the deep thoughts in her works. Also influencing her work was Dickinson’s mental illness. It is believed that she fought depression, which is evident in her many poems about death and pain. She wrestled these feelings, as many of her poems are metaphors trying to understand her mental condition.
Dickinson’s poetry is a staple of American literature from high school to college. The notability of her writings is well-earned. Dickinson wrote from her home and for her own enjoyment. However, her poems pull readers in as if they were personally written for them. Many of her poems are riddles equipped with metaphors and imagery, highlighting her high level of intelligence and ability to manipulate words into masterful patterns.
“It is better to be young in your failures than old in your successes.”
O’Connor was a devout catholic throughout her childhood and through her writing career. Her family originally lived in Savannah, Georgia but moved to Milledgeville because of her father’s sickness. O’Connor’s catholic origins make their way strongly into her work. She deeply evaluates what salvation looks like in many of her works, such as Wise Blood, A Good Man is Hard to Find, and Revelation. By the end of her life, O’Connor had written two novels and 32 short stories.
Her literary talent is reflected by her well-known and easily spotted style. In her fiction writing, she portrays realistic settings. However, she presents them as if they are fantasy. Her characters’ attitudes and physical appearances are exaggerated and often perturbing. She creates violent and odd scenes in which her characters transform for the worse. However, O’Connor includes a message in each short story and novel. Through her uncanny stories, she communicates a critique of life. Her writing presents plentiful opportunities for the reader to dissect metaphors, motifs, and themes and apply them to their own lives.
“Beauty is not a means, not a way of furthering a thing in the world. It is a result; it belongs to ordering, to form, to aftereffect.”
Welty was surrounded by a love of the arts. Her family encouraged her to love instruments and reading. She graduated from high school an exceptional student and showed her devotion to learning through her attendance at Mississippi State College for Women and the University of Wisconsin. Outside of writing, Welty had many talents; she worked for a radio station and published books of her photographs.
Eudora Welty’s writing is rich with life-like detail and characters. She describes character interaction in a way that transports the reader into the story. The dialogue she creates is realistic and believable. Although fiction, Welty’s novel, The Optimist’s Daughter, seems like a firsthand account of actual events. The characters’ emotions are skillfully portrayed, evoking pity, joy, and anger corresponding to the story. Welty also includes many motifs in her stories, further drawing in the reader.
“…I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”
Harper Lee’s father, like Atticus, was a lawyer. She grew up a tomboy and was the youngest of four siblings. Lee attended a private college for women in Monroeville, Alabama, and then studied at Oxford University. It is evident that Lee’s own life played a huge role in her well-received novel To Kill a Mockingbird.
Lee only produced two novels in her lifetime. To Kill a Mockingbird reached fame and endeared the public; Go Set a Watchman did not receive the same level of popularity. Despite only penning two works, her writing is skillful and rich with purpose, creating realistic characters through dialogue and anecdotes. The scenes included in her books often focus on character development and form an attachment between the reader and her characters. Using her strong characters, she communicates messages within the stories about society. She allows enough ambiguity in her writing to encourage readers to think about her topic and reach their own conclusions but enough clarity to show her stance on an issue and nudge them in that direction.
Each of these female authors has a lot to offer our culture. They pushed aside obstacles and demonstrated that talent does not have a gender, showing us how to make stories from our experiences. By sharing their worldviews and unique situations, these writers continue to inspire generations of women.