Now that you’ve got some fun summer reading under your belt, fall could be the time to revisit or start reading some literary classics — by ladies. Catching up on the novels that you never read in school is a great way to stay engaged in culture, but far too often the most lauded books only show the perspectives of, well, male writers in the canon.
While war, murder, and philandering are interesting in small doses, your reading life will be richer if you explore a wider range of literary protagonists. Great works of literature by women (and non-American writers) have always existed, but are often not talked about as much. These books or collections of work are just some of our favorites — and we hope you like them too.
Anne Sexton’s collection of work
Anne Sexton’s poems come alive with a burning precision of human emotion. She speaks to the truest aspects of womanhood, unafraid to explore sentiments that got her chastised during her lifetime for her honesty and willingness to write on taboo topic. Instead of backing away from intensity, her poems embrace it. She was one of the pioneers of women’s honesty in literature, and it’s amazing to read her words and think about how they may have shaped current poets.”
“The Lover” by Marguerite Duras
In Duras’ novel, a French teenager becomes enveloped in an affair with a wealthy Chinese man in Colonial Vietnam. But this book goes far deeper into the narrator’s neuroses than the traditional romance. It burrows within her anxieties and transports the reader into an obsessive mind, questioning reality and imagination. It was one of the first widely acclaimed novels to so eloquently blend autobiography and fiction, a technique being explored by many women writers today.
“All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes” by Maya Angelou
You might have read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, but not many people know that Maya Angelou continued her autobiography with six more volumes. This one, All Gods Children Need Traveling Shoes, covers her time living and teaching in Ghana and the trials of single motherhood. It’s a perfect story of growing into adulthood and trying to build a life across multiple identities. Reading the lesser publicized works of a well known author is a fantastic way to get a full portrait of a cultural luminary.
“Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe
Hey guys! Long time no see. Pardon people! New semester; a ton of books to read. Being an english major is not easy, trust me. Currently reading 'Things fall apart by Chinua Achebe. So far so good. Whats up with you guys? Rims🐥 #bookstagram #delhibookstagrammer #chinuaachebe #thingsfallapart #thesecondcoming 💓 #bookstagramindiafeature
Achebe’s seminal work is the definitive way to begin the journey into narratives about colonialism. It begins with the story of one man’s tribe struggling to retain autonomy against the encroaching forces of Europeans, and spirals out into a commentary on an extremely fraught aspect of history. This book is a prime example of a novel that seamlessly accomplishes a strong narrative and a historical education.
“The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath
Plath’s novel was one of the first books to starkly depict female mental illness in ways that were both relatable and fought against the conventions of women’s public personas. This extremely readable volume was an important landmark in showing the complexity of women’s minds and lives. Plath’s honesty is enlightening and frightening in equal measure.
“Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston
Hurston’s novel is the blazing coming of age story of a teenage girl in Florida in the 1920s. It simultaneously describes the narrator’s life and provides a commentary on racism and re-enslavement in the early 20th century. Hurston was a pioneer of literature, fighting back against social inequality with her art while cultural forces worked to keep her words unread.
“Wide Sargasso Sea” by Jean Rhys
“Wide Sargasso Sea” challenged power structures in multiple ways, by questioning the ways men and women relate as well as the effects of colonialism. It lives within the larger cannon of literature, because Rhys wrote it as a companion to “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte. The protagonist, caught between two cultures, fights against the forces that attempt to control her life, shedding light on how women have been forced into unwanted social roles.