Women’s History Month is a great time to learn about incredible ladies who’ve made an impact and paved the way for women today. Women have been making strides in many career fields for a long time, including the publishing world. Books have an incredible way of impacting us and the world around us through poignant prose and powerful stories. If you’re looking for a great read and want to support the women of today or honor women of history, check out these eight amazing female authors that span genres from nonfiction to fantasy to horror.
Great authors of the past
Women weren’t always given a voice in the world of publishing. In fact, it used to be a common practice (and is still employed by some women today) for female authors to use a male pseudonym or an initialized version of their name to sell more copies of their work, as publishing industries didn’t believe stories would sell as well with a women’s name attached to them. The women you’ll find below broke the mold, told their stories, and became renowned authors in their respective genres, with or without a pseudonym.
Please note: We don’t refer to these women as authors of the past because they’ve already passed—both Alice Walker and S.E. Hinton are still living today. But their impact on publishing and the path for female authors put them firmly in a place of honor in the history books.
Alice Walker is an internationally celebrated American writer, poet, and activist. Her first work, Once, was published in 1970 and featured poetry written between the summer of 1965—which she spent in East Africa—and her senior year at Sarah Lawrence College. Her first novel, The Third Life of Grange Copeland, followed two years later and accounted the story of a family in rural Georgia that spans 60 years and three generations. However, Walker’s most famous work that you may recognize is The Color Purple (1982), a coming-of-age novel following the life and abuse of an uneducated African American woman named Celie; it was later adapted into a film starring Whoopie Goldberg in 1985. If you’re looking to read all the great classic authors of our time, Walker is not one to miss.
Susan Eloise Hinton—known by her penname S.E. Hinton—is an American young adult (YA) writer. Inspired by real events and depicting the story of two rival gangs in Oklahoma, Hinton’s first book, The Outsiders, was published in 1967 when she was only 17 years old—establishing her as one of the founding and most popular authors of the YA genre. The sales from that breakout novel were able to pay for her higher education at the University of Tulsa, and the novel was later picked up for a film starring Patrick Swayze, Matt Dillon, and more. Her subsequent novels Rumble Fish (1975), Tex (1979), and Taming the Star Runner (1988) all feature similar themes of familial bonds and finding oneself. Hinton also released two adult novels in the early 2000s, Hawkes Harbor and Some of Time’s Stories. So if you’re not into YA, you still have some options to check out this amazing author.
Shirley Jackson was an American novelist and short-story writer known as a pioneer in the horror and mystery genre. Jackson’s first short story, “Janice,” was published in 1937 while she studied at Syracuse University, where she was the fiction editor of the campus magazine. Her next short story, “Come Dance With Me in Ireland” (1944), was included in the Best American Short Stories that year. She produced an impressive body of work before her death in 1965, but her most well-known works are the short story “The Lottery” (1949)—also considered one of the most well-known stories of the 20th century—and her novel The Haunting of Hill House (1962), which was adapted into a single-season Netflix show in 2018. Her work includes six novels, two memoirs, and a plethora of short stories that have been republished in short-story collections posthumously. This horror icon will keep you busy for a while!
Chloe Anthony Wofford Morrison, better known by her penname Toni Morrison, was an American novelist known for her examination of the Black experience. Her first novel, The Bluest Eye, was published in 1970 and focused on a victimized Black women obsessed with White beauty standards. Originally from Lorain, Ohio, Morrison received her BA from Howard University and an MA from Cornell University. She went on to teach at Howard, Texas Southern University, SUNY–Albany, and Princeton University and became a fiction editor for Random House, all while working on her novels. By her third novel, Song of Solomon (1977), Morrison had become a household name and would go on to write her most critically acclaimed novel, Beloved (1987), which is still analyzed in high school English classes to this day. She wrote many more novels before she passed away in 2019, so you should get reading this recently lost but long beloved author.
Great authors of today
Today’s female authors speak loudly and with fervor in the publishing industry due to the contributions made by the women who came before them. The writers below cover a variety of genres, but each have seen major success for their work and the impact they’ve made with their words.
Angie Kim has only published one book so far, but she’s already making strides as an author. As a preteen, Kim moved from Seoul, South Korea, to Baltimore, Maryland, and went on to attend both Stanford University and Harvard Law School, become editor of the Harvard Law Review, and practice as a trial lawyer at Williams & Connolly LLP. In her debut novel, Miracle Creek, Kim infuses her knowledge of the law to create a riveting and accurate courtroom drama. The novel became an international best seller and won numerous awards from 2019–2020, establishing Kim firmly in the publishing world. Her second novel, Happiness Quotient, is eagerly anticipated but has yet to receive a publication date.
Erin Morgenstern is an American multimedia artist and novelist who writes in the fantasy genre. Her first novel was published in 2011 after she wrote most of it during the popular writing competition National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). The Night Circus was translated into more than a dozen languages only two years after its publication while also earning the Locus Award for “Best First Novel” and an Alex Award for adult books that appeal to young audiences. Morgenstern is originally from Massachusetts and received her Bachelor of Arts from Smith College, where she studied theater and studio art. In 2019, she released The Starless Sea, her second and only other novel to date. Both novels are characterized by sweeping fantastical romances with mysterious circuses and secret societies, so if that’s your thing, get to reading these books.
Victoria Elizabeth Schwab is an American writer who writes for every age range and in many genres, going by Victoria Schwab for her middle-grade and young adult books but V.E. Schwab for her adult novels. Schwab graduated from Washington University in St. Louis in 2009 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts and had completed her first novel, The Near Witch (2011), by her sophomore year, selling it for publication by graduation. At only 34 years old, her body of work includes five middle-grade books, five young adult books, and six adult novels—with at least three more in the works to add to her ongoing series. Her most popular and well-known novels are Vicious (2013), the Shades of Magic series, and The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue (2020). If you’re looking to dig into her work, those novels are a great place to start.
Zadie Smith is an English novelist, essayist, and short-story writer. Her debut novel, White Teeth—which was published in 2000 and won numerous awards—focuses on Britain’s relationship with immigrants from the British Commonwealth and two friends as they’re facing wartime. Originally from London, Smith attended King’s College in Cambridge, where she studied English Literature. She would later become a tenured professor of Creative Writing at New York University in 2010 and continues to hold that position today. Elected to the Royal Society of Literature in 2002, Smith has also published the novels The Autographed Man (2002), On Beauty (2005), NW (2012), and Swing Time (2016) as well as two essay collections, Changing My Mind (2009) and Feel Free (2018). If you’re looking for books with impactful messaging, Smith has plenty of them.
While this is a great place to start reading the works of incredible female authors, there are so many more amazing writers out there! Women have done incredible things to reshape the publishing industry and redefine what storytelling is—through fiction, memoirs, essays, and more. Look far and wide for impactful stories to learn more about the power of women and the path forward to a more equitable future. Happy Women’s History Month!
Want to learn more about how you can uplift women this month and beyond? Check out more blogs and articles with our “Women’s History Month” tag.