Today is International Women’s Day. To celebrate I thought I’d give you a rundown of my Top Five Female Authors, and explain what it is about these particular women that makes them (and their writing) ROCK!
#1 Rita Mae Brown
MUST READ TITLE: Rubyfruit Jungle
Words cannot fully express the impact this woman’s writing has had on me. I first came across her when I read Rubyfruit Jungle, a novel that is (in my opinion) still her most triumphant despite being the her debut. Brown drew on her extraordinary insight into the human condition as well as her personal experiences when she wrote Rubyfruit Jungle and the genuine belief behind her convictions shines through in every word. It came as no surprise to me when I learnt her personal history, and her background in political activism.
Anti-war, pro-feminism, and a powerful force in the Gay Liberation movement, fiction is only the beginning of why I love and admire this woman.
As a teenager I struggled with my sexuality. I was extremely confused. I liked girls, I knew that, I’d known that since I was extremely young, but this didn’t seem to be acceptable among my peers and I knew from other experience that the thing to do, when you found yourself of a sexual persuasion that differed to the norm, was to keep your damn mouth shut.
It was shaming. It was limiting. And it made me incredibly angry.
Reading Rubyfruit Jungle changed my perspective on the subject, and my own life, and made me see there was nothing wrong with me. The mild obsession I developed with Brown after reading it led me to her other works and greater understanding of the varying sexual desires of people from all walks of life. I was no longer baffled by the fact I liked girls and boys, there was, I found, not only nothing wrong with this, but nothing particularly unusual about it.
When I was fourteen I read the following quote and it freed me. To this day I maintain she is spot on in this assessment. I re-read Rubyfruit Jungle (and later Venus Envy) on an annual basis to remind me of everything this remarkable woman had taught me.
It is no coincidence that my own characters are sexually free – they like who and what they like, and that is the end of it. People often ask me ‘Why do you write about so many gay people?’ and the answer is, I don’t, not really. There are far fewer gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender characters in my work combined than there are straight people.
The fact people still feel the need to ask me this question tells me we’ve still not done enough educate the world on this particular subject. If you ware one of the people who wonder, go read Rubyfruit Jungle and Venus Envy. If you still have questions when you’re done come back, we’ll talk.
#2 Maya Angelou
MUST READ TITLE: I Know Why the Caged Birds Sing
An author, poet, and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou is unusual for the list in that she didn’t write fiction. She was, however, a prolific writer, penning seven autobiographies, numerous books of poetry and a few of essays, as well as scripts for film, television, and the stage. I read I Know Why the Caged Birds Sing when I was fourteen. It gave me a great deal of insight into issues of race and poverty – something I had little personal experience of being from a middle-class white family, and growing up in communities with few, non-white people. There were a few at school, but I never noticed the difference and race really wasn’t a thing (at least for me). I don’t recall any bullying occurring for that reason and while I knew that the poorer kids were picked on I really didn’t understand why. I think, in large part, this stemmed from my naive lack of understanding concerning what it was like to be genuinely poor.
My family wasn’t wealthy but we certainly never struggled. We had a nice house, two cars, we we quintessentially middle-class and English.
I devoured Angelou’s memoirs as soon as I came across them which was, I should add, entirely accidental – someone had shelved it in the wrong place in the library and I picked it up thinking it was fiction. I soon realised it wasn’t, but decided to read it anyway as I’ve always had something of a romantic fascination with the American South (why yes, Rita Mae Brown is also Southern).
When I was older I came to appreciate Angelou’s poetry, which is high praise indeed – there are few modern poets I truly enjoy.
#3 Margaret Atwood
MUST READ TITLE: The Blind Assassin
I was late finding Margaret Atwood, it didn’t happen until I was doing my A Levels and studying The Handmaid’s Tale. I have never questioned why this book was on the syllabus, as far as my studies of English Literature went, introducing me to Atwood was one of the best things any teacher has ever done for me. I have since come to love her bravery, her honesty, her keen sense of character, and her (often insane) imagination. There are a select few authors who I always pre-order titles for, even before I have been able to read a blurb. Margaret Atwood is one.
#4 Angela Carter
MUST READ TITLE: ‘The Tiger’s Bride’ (Short Story in The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories)
Another author I was introduced to during my A Level English Lit course, Angela Carter will always be a favourite. The Magic Toyshop was the first book I read, and I devoured the whole thing in a single day.
Then I re-read it.
This was not me being diligent in my studies (I was flighty at best at college) I simply loved the book. The library was soon emptied of everything they had by her, and ‘The Tiger’s Bride’ is still one of my all time favourite stories.
#5 Marian Keyes
MUST READ TITLE: The Mystery of Mercy Close
A phenomenal fiction writer and at once poised, serious, and hilariously funny, Marian Keyes will always have a special place in my heart (and on my book shelves!). I discovered Keyes’ books when I was in my teens and have been a devout reader ever since – I’ve read everything she’s ever written several times over, and I don’t intend to stop any time soon. Often foolishly branded a ‘chick lit’ author, Keyes’s writing is insightful, poignant, and often draws out the aspects of humanity that we shy away from. Like Rita Mae Brown, I have always admired her for her ability to really capture those things that truly make us human. Her characters are often larger than life, yet they are some of the most believable you will ever read. Her plots are often serious, with inherent frivolity that makes even the most disturbing subjects a joy to read.
This ability to take the horrors of human nature, bare them in all their ugly glory, and somehow do so in a way that is not only engaging but actually entertaining and addictive to read is what makes Keyes spectacular.
I will not say I love everything she has ever written (This Charming Man isn’t one of my favourites, and I never really got into The Brightest Star in the Sky), but the majority are excellent and those I love best more than make up for those I’m less fond of.
Like me, Keyes has suffered with depression and, like me, she weaves these experiences through her writing and an attempt to inform people as they read. If I grow to be half as good at this as Marian Keyes, I shall be a very happy writer indeed.