To kick off Women’s History Month, let’s focus on American writers of note, who also happen to be female.
There are thousands of female authors and poets in America, both past and present. So this list of American women writers might tend to lean just slightly toward my personal favorites. Just slightly. So if someone you love is missing, mention her in a comment!
Louisa May Alcott
Louisa May Alcott is one of the most easily recognizable authors in America, but is mostly known for her outstanding children’s fiction. Books like Little Women and Little Men put Alcott on the map. However, this Massachusetts native did so much more than write for children (even though she never had any of her own). During the Civil War, Alcott was a nurse in a Union hospital in Washington, DC. Unfortunately, she became seriously ill and had to be evacuated for her own safety. The experience led her to write Hospital Sketches, an account of life and work in Civil War hospitals. Prior to writing about the March family, Alcott wrote a lot of gothic fiction featuring tortured love affairs, mystery, and sometimes nefarious schemes. One of the best is A Long Fatal Love Chase. Alcott also wrote many other fiction and non-fiction books, short stories, and articles. This amazing, and super easy to access, author should be put on your to-read short list, and you should definitely stock your classroom shelves with some of her classics.
Another Massachusetts resident, Emily Dickinson is known for her beautiful, haunting, and prolific poetry. Dickinson has gained a reputation for being shy, reserved, and quiet. In fact, after about 1860, Dickinson lived in almost virtual isolation until her death in 1886. Upon her death, her family discovered dozens of small, hand-bound books containing over 1,800 poems. Many of Dickinson’s poems deal with love, death, natural beauty, and life. Although her life experience was super limited (she never married, had children, or ventured far beyond her garden gate), her keen observation of the people and world around her supplied all the details needed to create her stunning poems.
Maya Angelou: activist, author, Civil Rights leader, and all around inspirational human being. Angelou helped to articulate the thoughts and feelings of many African-Americans with her poems and autobiographical books. Her magnum opus, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, was nominated for the National Book Award in 1969. Beyond writing, Angelou advocated for equality of all people regardless of color or sexuality. From the Civil Rights movement to marriage equality, Angelou used her written and spoken words to advocate for equality and love.
She may have only written one book, but that single novel helped to redefine American literature and open cracks in the Civil Rights movement. Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is often called THE great American Novel. The story of Atticus, Scout, Jem, and their small Southern town is seared into the memories of almost everyone who has ever read it. After her novel garnered her worldwide fame, Lee retreated and was rarely seen in public. Go Set a Watchman was published last year amid controversy about it’s originality, timeline, and whether Lee was forced into publishing due to diminished capacity. Whatever your feelings on Watchman, To Kill a Mockingbird is easily one of the best novels ever published. Go read it. Right now. I’ll wait.
Captured from West Africa. Enslaved in the American Colonies. And she became the FIRST African-American woman, and one of the first women, in America to be published. Phyllis Wheatley didn’t let anything stop her in pursuit of her passion: poetry. Her owners (there really isn’t a polite way to say this since Wheatley was a slave) educated her and allowed her freedom to write and publish. Unfortunately, her actual freedom from slavery proved a double edged sword. Her second volume of poetry could not find a publisher, and she died penniless from complications of childbirth in her at about age 30.
Sylvia Plath is known for helping to create the confessional style of poetry, and for her semi-autobiographical novel The Bell Jar. For many, The Bell Jar is their first glimpse into the mentally troubled mind of a young woman. Plath herself was deeply depressed and struggled with mental illness throughout her adult life, before ultimately committing suicide in 1963. Her poetry is visceral, powerful, and humming with life while also skating along the edge of death. One of her most famous poems, Ariel, was in her posthumously published volume of poetry by the same name. While definitely NOT for elementary kids, and even young middle schoolers, high school and college aged students should definitely be reading Plath.
I could keep this list going on for days and not even scratch the surface of the depth of female writers in America. From Laura Ingalls Wilder to Toni Morrison, Amy Tan to Harriet Beecher Stowe, there are so many amazing and powerful female voices just waiting for you to read.
Which female author is your favorite? Did I miss her? Tell me in the comments!
- [Frontis.: portrait of Phyllis Wheatley, and title p. of Wheatley, Poems on Various Subjects…, London, 1773]. (1773) [Image] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2004682060
- [Maya Angelou, award recipient, at the second annual Trumpet Awards Foundation gala, Atlanta, Georgia, 1994]. (1994) [Atlanta, Ga] [Image] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2015649819.
- The late Louisa May Alcott. (1888) [Image] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2002735645.
[Emily Dickinson, head and shoulders portrait, facing right]. (1894) [Image] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/96518224