Five modern classic American women poets

Do you want to read more poetry but not sure where to start?

For April, poetry month, I’ll be sharing various poetry recommendations to help you read more poetry.

For this week, I wanted to share five American women poets that are considered classics from the last 100 years or so.

This is the last week of poetry month and me sharing poet recommendations. I hope you’ve enjoyed this series! Please let me know your thoughts in a comment below.

All five of the women poets mentioned below were born in the 1900’s, and unfortunately none of them are still with us today. Each of them are significant both for their literary contributions and their impact on society.

Five women poets

Here’s a list of five women poets who lived in the last 100 years or so:

  1. Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000)
  2. Sylvia Plath (1923-1963)
  3. Maya Angelou (1928-2014)
  4. Audre Lorde (1934-1992)
  5. Mary Oliver (1935-2019)

I’ve listed them in order of when they were born. Keep reading to find out more about each one.

Photo by Jez Timms on Unsplash

Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000)

  • 1917-2000
  • Won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1950
    • First African American to receive a Pulitzer Prize
  • Won the Robert Frost Medal for Lifetime Achievement in 1989

Gwendolyn Brooks was an American poet, author, and teacher. She is considered one of the most widely read and influential poets from American poetry in the 1900s.

Brooks started writing poetry young, and by 16 she had already written and published around 75 poems!

She born in the south, but was a lifelong resident of Chicago. Living in Chicago was a huge part of her life and greatly influenced her work.

Her work often centers around the lives of ordinary people, with characters commonly a reflection of her life in the inner city of Chicago. She also conveyed a political consciousness through her work, with reflections of the civil rights activism from the 1960’s onwards.

Over her life, she received many public recognitions of her work. In 1950, she received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for her book Annie Allen, which made her the first African American to ever receive a Pulitzer. She was also inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters and became the poetry consultant to the Library of Congress, being the first Black woman to achieve either of those.


Sylvia Plath (1923-1963)

  • 1932 – 1963
  • Credited with advancing the genre of confessional poetry
  • Died by suicide when only 30 years old

Sylvia Plath is considered one of the most admired and dynamic 20th century poets. She’s best known for her semi-autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar (1963), and her two published collections of poetry, The Colossus and Other Poems (1960) and Ariel (1965).

When Plath was only 30 years old (1963), she died by suicide. She suffered from depression for most of her life and had tried several times to commit suicide. At the time of her death, she already had a significant following in the literary community and has since inspired countless readers and other poets.

In 1956, she married fellow poet Ted Hughes. Their relationship was tumultuous and Plath said he was abusive in her letters. They separated due to Hughes’ affair with another woman.

Horrifically, Plath died by suicide before their divorce was finalized and thus her entire estate and all her written work were inherited by Hughes. When Ariel was published after her death, Hughes changed the arrangement and selection of poems to be included from what Plath had already chosen. He has also admitted to destroying some of her journals and even lost (probably “lost”) another journal and an unfinished novel. He’s been repeatedly condemned for his censoring and controlling of her work.


Maya Angelou (1928-2014)

  • 1928-2014
  • Died at the age of 86
  • Genre(s): Memoirs and poetry
  • Key books: I Know Why the Cage Bird Sings

She had a far reaching career, both as an entertainer (singer, dancer, actress, composer, and Hollywood’s first Black director), storyteller (writer, editor, essayist, playwright, and poet), civil rights activist (worked with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X), and educator (as a lifetime professorship at Wake Forest University).

Over her life she wrote 36 books, with her most famous being her series of memoirs. Her book I Know Why the Cage Bird Sings, the first in the series of seven memoirs, was incredibly well received and nominated for a National Book Award.

At Bill Clinton’s inauguration she recited her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” and you can see her inaugural poem recited here. This made her the first poet since Robert Frost (John F. Kennedy in 1961) to recite a poem at a presidential inauguration.

She has received so many medals and public recognition for her work that I’m sure I won’t do it justice, but here’s a short, selective list:

  • Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for her book Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie
  • Tony Award for her role in the play Look Away
  • 3 Grammys for her spoken word albums
  • National Medal of Arts given by President Bill Clinton in 2000
  • Presidential Medal of Freedom given by President Barack Obama in 2010
  • Served on two presidential committees (Gerald Ford in 1975 & Jimmy Carter in 19977)

Videos of her performing her poetry


Audre Lorde (1934-1992)

  • 1934-1992
  • Died at the age of 58
  • Key books:
    Sister Outsider, The Black Unicorn
  • Key Essay:
    The Master’s Tools Will Not Dismantle the Master’s House

Audre Lorde was a self described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet.” She includes all these aspects of her identity in how she described herself, because she focused a lot on intersectionality and how each area of her life contributed to her overall experience.

A lot of her efforts were related to social activism, working to confront and address various areas of injustice, including racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia, both through political activist work and as a thought leader. Her written work centered around feminism, lesbianism, illness and civil rights, all of it as an exploration of the black female identity.

She contributed significantly to feminist theory, critical race studies, and queer theory. Her iconic essay “The Master’s Tools Will Not Dismantle the Master’s House” was an early discussion of the intersectionality of race, class, and gender.

Lorde was very vocal about her issues with the first world/white feminist movement and actively worked to confront race-related issues.


Mary Oliver (1935-2019)

  • 1935 – 2019
  • Won the National Book Award  and the Pulitzer Prize
  • Her work is inspired by nature

Mary Oliver is a well renown American poet. She was declared America’s best-selling poet in 2007. She also won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (for her 5th collection of poetry called American Primitive).

Most of her work focuses on themes of nature and the natural world. Oliver was influenced by both Whitman and Thoreau, as is seen in her clear and poignant discussions of nature. She’s also been compared to Emily Dickinson, as Oliver’s work leans toward solitude and inner thoughts, with a combination of dark introspection with joyous release.

Mary Oliver would often go for walks for inspiration and to help her writing. She rarely gave interviews and preferred for her work to speak for itself. But in a rare interview she said, “When things are going well, you know, the walk does not get rapid or get anywhere: I finally just stop, and write. That’s a successful walk!”

In the late 1950’s, Oliver met Molly Malone Cook, a photographer, and they became life long partners.

One quote that was all over the internet a while ago was:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

It’s from her poem The Summer Day (you can read it here), and it’s much more about strolling through nature and appreciating the little things than grand adventures.


Final thoughts

All these women are incredible and I encourage you to check out their work. All of them shaped the literary world and how we view the world.

Have you read any of these poets’ work?

I hope you’re learned something new and maybe discovered a new poet to read. Now that it’s the last week of Poetry month, what new poets did you discover this month?

Who would you add to this list of classic women poets?

I would love to hear your thoughts in a comment below

Five turn of the century women poets (1800-1900)

Do you want to read more poetry but not sure where to start?

For April, poetry month, I’ll be sharing various poetry recommendations to help you read more poetry.

For this week, I wanted to share five women poets that are considered classics from around the turn of the century (1800→1900). I tried to give a range of options from a few countries around the world.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing more women poets, each week moving closer to present day.

All five of the women poets discussed below were born in the 1800’s and published most of their work in the early 1900’s. Each of them are significant both for their literary contributions and their impact on society.

Photo by Daria Kraplak on Unsplash

Five women poets

Here’s a list of five women poets who lived through the turn of the century (1800→1900).

  1. Sarojini Naidu (1879-1949)
  2. Hilda “H.D.” Doolittle (1886-1961)
  3. Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966)
  4. Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950)
  5. Dorothy Parker (1893-1967)

I’ve listed them in order of when they were born. Keep reading to find out more about each one.

1. Sarojini Naidu (1879-1949)

  • 1879-1949
  • Indian political activist and poet
  • In India, Naidu’s birthday, February 13th, is celebrated as Women’s Day

Sarojini was both an Indian political activist and poet. She played an important role in the Indian independence movement and had close ties to Gandhi. She even persuaded Gandhi that women should join the famous Salt March (he was initially against it). After he was arrested on April 6, 1930, Gandhi appointed Naidu as the replacement leader.

She actively fought for civil rights, women’s emancipation and anti-imperialism. She was the first woman to be the president of the Indian National Congress (during British rule). Then after independence she was appointed as governor of a state.

Because of her poetry, Gandhi nicknamed her the “Nightingale of India”. Her poetry was written in English (she was educated in Madras, London, and Cambridge). One of her most popular poems is called “In the Bazaars of Hyderabad” from the year 1912.

Naidu’s birthday is February 13th, and each year India celebrates Women’s Day on her birthday to recognize the powerful women’s voices that shaped India.


2. Hilda “H.D.” Doolittle (1886-1961)

  • 1886–1961
  • American modernist poet, novelist, and memoirist
  • Wrote under the pen name “H.D.”

H.D. was primarily known as a poet, but she wrote so much more than that. She wrote novels, memoirs, and essays, along with translating a number of texts from Greek. She produced work over five decades, from 1910-1960s.

As a poet, she was known for her innovative and experimental approaches. Her work had strong themes of literary modernism and she participated in the avant-garde milieu era.

She started as an Imagist and for a long time only her early poems were studied. But was an Imagist for a short time and moved on to create many different types of content and developed her craft for decades past that. Interest in her later work was reignited from a feminist and queer studies perspective in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

H.D. was also bisexual, having her first same-sex relationship while in college. Over her life, she had several relationships with both men and women. The longest lasting relationship seems to be with Bryher (pen name for: Annie Winifred Ellerman). They met in 1918 and lived together off and on for a few decades and even continued their relationship after that, until H.D.’s death.

Fun fact. In the 1930’s, H.D. was treated by Sigmund Freud for both her war trauma and bisexuality.


3. Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966)

  • 1889 – 1966
  • Shortlisted for the Nobel Prize  in 1965
  • Regarded as one of Russia’s greatest poets

Anna is regarded as one of Russia’s greatest poets. Her father was Ukrainian and her mother was Russian, so sometimes you’ll see her referred to as Ukrainian.

Her full name is Anna Andreyevna Gorenko, but she is better known by her pen name Anna Akhmatova. Her pen name comes from their family lore of a maternal ancestor, Khan Akhmat, who was a Tatar chieftain and is believed to have been a descendant of Genghis Khan.

Her poetic work has significant range, from short lyric poems up to intricately structured cycles. Her style was considered strikingly original and very distinct form her contemporaries, especially with her use of restraint. She was considered an icon of both noble beauty and catastrophic predicament.

Anna lived in the Soviet Union during the Stalin era. Much of her work was condemned and censored by Stalinist authorities. However, she choose to remain in the Soviet Union and act as a witness to the historical events.

Unfortunately, many written records were destroyed during the Soviet regime, especially of those condemned by Stalinist authorities, and so there is very little information about her life.


4. Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950)

  • 1892 – 1950
  • American lyrical poet and playwright
  • Won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry
  • Pseudonym: Nancy Boyd

Millay is one of the most respected and successful American poets, and notably, she was recognized throughout much of her life. However, she did write much of her work under the pseudonym Nancy Boyd.

She was also a well-known social figure, feminist, and was known for her progressive political views. She was also known for her riveting readings and performances, which garnered her even more attention as a poet. Within her work, she had both homo and hetero portrayals of sexuality and was known for her descriptions of the female experience.

In 1923, Millay won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (for her poem “Ballad of the Harp-Weaver”) and in 1943 she won the Frost Medal for her lifetime contribution to American poetry. She was the first woman and second person (ever) to win the Pulitzer for poetry.

In the 1930’s, modernist critics dismissed her work due to her use of traditional poetic forms. However, in the 1960’s and 70’s, interest in her work increased due to feminist literary criticism and feminist movements. She regained her reputation as being a highly gifted writer.


5. Dorothy Parker (1893-1967)

  • 1893 – 1967
  • American poet, writer, critic, and satirist

Dorothy Parker was an American poet, writer, critic and satirist. She was known for her humour, through her wit, wisecracks and social commentary.

She rose to fame in the 1920’s, both from her work in magazines and as part of the social scene in New York City. She was an inaugural member of the board of editors at the magazine the New Yorker and frequently contributed her own writings. She was also a founding member of the Algonquin Round Table. A group of writers, critics, actors, etc. that met together everyday for lunch at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City.

In 1926, Parker published “Enough Rope”, her first book of poetry that became a bestseller. You can access it for free here on the Gutenberg Project.

She also moved to Hollywood and worked as a screenwriter. She was nominated for two Academy Awards before being placed on the Hollywood blacklist. The films she worked on included:

  • A Star is Born → for which they were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing—Screenplay (This is the original version of the 2018 movie starring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper.)
  • Smash-Up, the Story of a Woman together with Frank Cavett, she received a nomination for an Oscar for the screenplay in 1947
  • Saboteur → a Hitchcock directed movie

Due to her left-wing politics (aka suspected of being a communist), Parker was placed on the Hollywood blacklist. Parker was listed as a communist in the “Red Channels” publication in 1950, which was an anti-communist document published by the right-wing journal Counterattack. Also, the FBI complied a large dossier on her (1,000 pages!) based on her suspected communist activities during the McCarthy era. She was also the chair of the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee’s fundraising arm and help found the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League in 1936.

When she died (1967), she willed her estate to Martin Luther King Jr., and upon his death in 1968, it was then given to the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People).


Final thoughts

All these women seem like powerhouses. They were all known for being disrupters and social justice advocates.

I hope you’re learned something new and maybe discovered a new poet to read.

I think it’s incredible to see how influential these women were and to learn about their lives outside of just being a poet.

Have you read any of these poets’ work?

Who would you add to this list of classic women poets?

I would love to hear your thoughts in a comment below.

Five classic women poets from around the world

Do you want to read more poetry but not sure where to start?

For April, poetry month, I’ll be sharing various poetry recommendations to help you read more poetry.

For this week, I wanted to share five women poets that are considered classics. I tried to give a range of options from around the world and from across the centuries.

All five of the women poets discussed below lived before the 20th century (so in the 1800’s or earlier).

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing more women poets, each week moving closer to present day.

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

Five classic women poets

Here’s a list of five women poets that lived before the 20th century.

  1. Sappho
  2. Mīrābāī
  3. Phillis Wheatley
  4. Elizabeth Barrett Browning
  5. Emily Dickinson

I’ve listed them in order of when they lived. Keep reading to find out more about each one.

Sappho (620 BCE–550 BCE)

  • 620 BCE–550 BCE
  • Archaic Greek Poet
  • Counted among the greatest of poets in Greek Antiquity

Very little is known about Sappho, a well-renown poet from Greek antiquity. Details of her life are often inconsistently reported or are simply unknown.

Additionally, most of her poems have been lost over time, and what has remained are mostly just fragments of poems. Her poem “Ode to Aphrodite” is one of the only complete poems that remain.

But in antiquity Sappho was considered among the greatest of poets. Just as Homer was called “the Poet”, she was called “the Poetess”, and Plato considered her the “tenth Muse”.

She is from the island of Lesbos, and is considered a symbol of love and desire between women as many of her love poems were about women. Due to this, the words lesbian and sapphic were inspired by her.


Mīrābāī (1498–1546)

  • 1498–1546
  • Northern India
  • Hindu mystic poet and devotee of Krishna

Mīrābāī was a 16th century mystic poet, with most of her poems and songs about Krishna (the Hindu God of Protection, Compassion, Tenderness, and Love). She considered Krishna to be her best friend, lover and husband.

Millions of hymns are attributed to Mīrābāī, but only a few hundred are considered to be authentically written by her. The rest are likely written by others who admired her. Also, many of her compositions continue to be sung today in India, with one of her most popular compositions being “Payoji maine Ram Ratan dhan payo” (पायो जी मैंने राम रतन धन पायो।, “I have been given the richness of Lord’s name blessing”).

She is also the subject of many legends and folk tales, but with very inconsistent details across them. However, one consistent aspect is that most legends discuss her fearless disregard for social and familial conventions.


Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784)

  • 1753-1784
  • Died at age 31
  • Former slave, and first Black American woman to publish poetry
  • Key book:
    Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral

Phillis Wheatley was born in West Africa, but was then kidnapped and sold to the Wheatley family of Boston when she was seven or eight. In addition to her domestic obligations, the Wheatley family did provide her with an extensive education and encouraged her to pursue writing. However, she was not emancipated/manumitted (set free) from the family until after she published her book of poetry.

Phillis Wheatley was the first Black American woman to publish poetry, and considered the first to make a living from her writing. Even after she was interviewed by 18 prominent men in Boston to prove that she wrote her own poetry, no one in the Americas was willing to publish her poetry. She was finally able to publish this collection of poetry in London in 1773.

Despite international recognition, she was unable to find anyone to publish any further volumes of poetry. She was able to publish some poetry in pamphlets and newspapers, but only in limited amounts.

Unfortunately, she ended up dying in abject poverty, with many of her poems lost due to lack of support.


Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861)

  • 1806–1861
  • English poet of the Victorian era
  • One of the most respected poets of the Victorian era

Elizabeth Barrett Browning was one of the most respected poets of the Victorian Era. She started writing poetry at a very young age and was primarily self taught in the areas of literature and the languages of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew.

She published her first collection of poems as an adult in 1838, and then wrote prolifically through 1841-1844. Her volume Poems published in 1844 was very successful and caught the attention of her future husband Robert Browning.

She was successful and quite popular in the UK and the United States. She heavily influenced both Emily Dickinson and Edgar Allen Poe.

Elizabeth held strong liberal values, especially for that era, and actively campaigned against slavery and in favour of children’s rights (against child labour).

One of her most famous poems is Number 43.

Number 43

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. 
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height 
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight 
For the ends of Being and Ideal Grace. 
I love thee to the level of everyday's 
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight. 
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right; 
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise; 
I love thee with the passion put to use 
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith; 
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose 
With my lost saints,—I love thee with the breath, 
Smiles, tears, of all my life!—and, if God choose, 
I shall but love thee better after death.


Emily Dickinson (1830–1886)

  • 1830–1886
  • Amherst, Massachusetts, USA
  • One of the most important American poets

Emily Dickinson is regarded as one of the most important and original American poets, but was little-known during her life and lived most of her life in isolation.

She was a prolific writer, but only 10 of her poems were published in her lifetime. Her sister discovered her extensive poetry collection after Emily’s death, and her poems were later published by her acquaintances.

Many of her poems were heavily edited before her acquaintances published them, especially with regards to her dedications and references to Susan (her sister-in-law Susan Huntington Gilbert Dickinson). Scholars often interprete this relationship as romantic, but edits were often done to hide the true nature of their relationship.


Final thoughts

I hope I was able to do these women some justice. Each of them had a significant influence on the world and within the realm of literature.

Since this only includes five poets, this is a small sampling of the classic poets. It’s simply a way for you to discover a new poet or learn something new about these incredible ladies.

Have you read any of these poets’ work?

Who would you add to this list of classic women poets?

I would love to hear your thoughts in a comment below.

Five modern classics: Feminist fiction books from the 1970’s until now

As April is Women’s History Month, I’ll be sharing book lists with a focus on books considered classic feminist texts and other books by women authors.

Are you interested in reading fiction books that shaped literature and how women were perceived?

Here are five fiction books considered modern classic feminist fiction from the 1970’s until recently. A lot of books have been published in that time, so this is just a small selection of books.

All of these books have had a significant impact on literature and the way women have been perceived. I’ve listed them in order of when they were published.

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Five modern feminist fictional books

Here’s a list of five fiction books considered to be modern feminist classics.

  1. The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter (1979)
  2. Kindred by Octavia Butler (1979)
  3. The Color Purple by Alice Walker (1982)
  4. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985)
  5. Kim Jiyoung, born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo (2016)

Keep reading to find out more about each one.

1. The Bloody Chamber (1979)

by Angela Carter

  • Year Published: 1979
  • Storygraph Categories: fiction, magical realism, short stories, dark, mysterious, medium-paced
  • Importance:
    One of the first feminist retellings of fairy tales

This is a collection of ten stories that are some kind of retelling or are based on fairytales or folk tales. As Carter stated: “My intention was not to do ‘versions’ or, as the American edition of the book said, horribly, ‘adult’ fairy tales, but to extract the latent content from the traditional stories.”

In general, the stories challenge the representation of women in fairy tales and was considered one of the first feminist retellings of fairy tales.

The stories vary in length, and the novelette which inspired the title, “The Bloody Chamber” is significantly longer than the rest. It won the Cheltenham Festival Literary Prize in 1979, the first year of the prize.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Angela Carter was a storytelling sorceress, the literary godmother of Neil Gaiman, David Mitchell, Audrey Niffenegger, J. K. Rowling, Kelly Link, and other contemporary masters of supernatural fiction. In her masterpiece, The Bloody Chamber—which includes the story that is the basis of Neil Jordan’s 1984 movie The Company of Wolves—she spins subversively dark and sensual versions of familiar fairy tales and legends like “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Bluebeard,” “Puss in Boots,” and “Beauty and the Beast,” giving them exhilarating new life in a style steeped in the romantic trappings of the gothic tradition.


2. Kindred (1979)

by Octavia Butler

  • Year Published: 1979
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, classics, historical, speculative fiction, dark, emotional, tense, medium-paced
  • Importance:
    Science fiction that centers Black characters

Octavia Butler was one of the most influential Black Women authors in Science Fiction. She grew up loving science fiction and set out to write books that she could see herself in and is often considered to cross genre boundaries.

In Kindred, it combines time travel with slave narratives. The story focuses on two interracial couples, and explores how issues of power, gender, and race intersect.

In an interview about the novel in 2004, Butler said, she “set out to make people feel history.”

Summary (from Goodreads):

The first science fiction written by a black woman, Kindred  has become a cornerstone of black American literature. This combination of slave memoir, fantasy, and historical fiction is a novel of rich literary complexity. Having just celebrated her 26th birthday in 1976 California, Dana, an African-American woman, is suddenly and inexplicably wrenched through time into antebellum Maryland. After saving a drowning white boy there, she finds herself staring into the barrel of a shotgun and is transported back to the present just in time to save her life. During numerous such time-defying episodes with the same young man, she realizes the challenge she’s been given…


3. The Color Purple (1982)

by Alice Walker

  • Year Published: 1982
  • Storygraph Categories:
  • fiction, classics, historical, lgbtqia+, literary, emotional, reflective, slow-paced
  • Importance:
    Winner of the 1983 Pulitzer Prize (making Walker the first black woman to win the prize)

The Color Purple won both the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award for Fiction. It was also on the BBC News’ list of the 100 most influential novels.

However, the novel has also frequently been thee target of censors or book challenges, as it appears at #17 on the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2000-2010. It’s usually challenged due to explicit content, specifically in terms of its depiction of violence.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Alice Walker’s iconic modern classic is now a Penguin Book.

A powerful cultural touchstone of modern American literature, The Color Purple depicts the lives of African American women in early twentieth-century rural Georgia. Separated as girls, sisters Celie and Nettie sustain their loyalty to and hope in each other across time, distance and silence. Through a series of letters spanning twenty years, first from Celie to God, then the sisters to each other despite the unknown, the novel draws readers into its rich and memorable portrayals of Celie, Nettie, Shug Avery and Sofia and their experience.

The Color Purple broke the silence around domestic and sexual abuse, narrating the lives of women through their pain and struggle, companionship and growth, resilience and bravery. Deeply compassionate and beautifully imagined, Alice Walker’s epic carries readers on a spirit-affirming journey towards redemption and love.


4. The Handmaid’s Tale (1985)

by Margaret Atwood

  • Year Published: 1985
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, dystopian, literary, dark, reflective, tense, medium-paced
  • Importance:
    Classic feminist dystopian novel

The Handmaid’s Tale is considered a feminist dystopian novel and is notable for sparking intense debate.

The novel is considered a feminist dystopian novel because it explores themes of how women are subjugated, especially their lost of agency, individuality and reproductive rights.

Atwood used history as inspiration as all scenarios portrayed within the novel have actually occurred in real life. In an interview Atwood stated, “…I didn’t put in anything that we haven’t already done, we’re not already doing, we’re seriously trying to do, coupled with trends that are already in progress… So all of those things are real, and therefore the amount of pure invention is close to nil.” The overlap with reality makes the novel that much more impactful and scary.

In 1985, the novel won the Governor General’s Award in Canada, along with the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 1987. It has also been nominated for a handful of other awards: the Nebula Award in 1986, the Booker Prize in 1986, and the Prometheus Award in 1987.

However, it has been criticized as “white feminism” for both the treatment of marginalized communities in the book (basically ”doing away with them” in a few lines and removing them from the conversation), while also primarily borrowing from the lived experiences of those communities but applying it to white women. A lot of the reproductive and human rights exploitation highlighted in the novel came from how Black and Indigenous women were treated in the past.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now . . .

Funny, unexpected, horrifying, and altogether convincing, The Handmaid’s Tale is at once scathing satire, dire warning, and tour de force.


5. Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 (2016)

by Cho Nam-Joo

  • Year Published: 2016
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, contemporary, literary, emotional, informative, reflective, medium-paced
  • Importance:
    Highlights everyday sexism in Korea

This is the most recent of the five novels, but it’s notable for how it depicts sexism in Korea and the recent impact it has had on sparking discussion around women’s experiences.

Even though it’s a fictional novel, all the main character’s experiences are based on statistics and research done by the author (with footnotes and references to back it up).

The novel focuses on sexism experienced throughout everyday life, the constant and pervasive sexism.

The author, Cho Nam-Joo, said that she intended to “make this into a public debate.”

“I thought of Kim Jiyoung’s character as a vessel that contains experiences and emotions that are common to every Korean woman.”

Cho Nam-Joo

In 2020, the novel was longlisted for both the U.S. National Book Award for Translated Literature and the French Emile Guimet Prize for Asian Literature.

Summary (from Storygraph):

One of the most notable novels of the year, hailed by both critics and K-pop stars alike, Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 follows one woman’s psychic deterioration in the face of rampant misogyny. In a tidy apartment on the outskirts of Seoul, millennial “everywoman” Kim Jiyoung spends her days caring for her infant daughter. But strange symptoms appear: Jiyoung begins to impersonate the voices of other women, dead and alive. As she plunges deeper into this psychosis, her concerned husband sends her to a psychiatrist. Jiyoung narrates her story to this doctor—from her birth to parents who expected a son to elementary school teachers who policed girls’ outfits to male coworkers who installed hidden cameras in women’s restrooms. But can her psychiatrist cure her, or even discover what truly ails her?


Have you read any of these books? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the book in a comment below?

Final thoughts

I know this is such a small selection of books, and it’s clearly not representative of all feminist fiction in the past 50 ish years. Though, I did try and provide a range of novels both in genre and authors.

Each one of these is so distinct and I like how each book has it’s own way of sparking conversation and provoking debate. I believe each of these will leave a strong impression on you and give you lots to think about. However you feel about these books, you’ll likely have an opinion about it and something to say.

I think some of the best books help inspire both questions and conversation. If it can make you reconsider aspects of reality or get you talking to others about big topics, I think that’s powerful.

Do you have a favourite feminist fictional book? I’d love you to share it in a comment below.

Five classics: Feminist fiction books from before the 1960’s

As April is Women’s History Month, I’ll be sharing book lists with a focus on books considered classic feminist texts and other books by women authors.

Are you interested in reading fiction books that shaped literature and how women were perceived?

Here are five older fiction books considered classic feminist fiction from the 19th century up to the 1960’s. Obviously that’s a large time span, so this is just a small selection of books.

All of these books have had a significant impact on literature and the way women have been perceived. I’ve listed them in order of when they were published.

Photo by Jr Korpa on Unsplash

Five feminist fictional texts

Here’s a list of five feminist fictional books written before the 1970’s.

  1. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868)
  2. The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1892)
  3. The Awakening by Kate Chopin (1899)
  4. The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing (1962)
  5. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (1963)

Keep reading to find out more about each one.

1. Little Women (1868)

by Louisa May Alcott

  • Year Published: 1868
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, classics, literary, emotional, hopeful, lighthearted, medium-paced
  • Importance:
    Created a new genre

Alcott wrote this coming-of-age novel focused around the lives of the four March sisters.

Through this novel, Alcott developed a new genre of literature by combining romantic children’s fiction with sentimental novels.

The book was an immediate success! Readers were eager for more about the characters, so Alcott quickly completed a second part. It was originally published in two volumes, however now the two volumes are often sold together in a single novel.

Summary (from Storygraph):

The lives and adventures of the four March sisters–Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy–are set against the backdrop of nineteenth-century New England while their father is off fighting in the Civil War.


2. The Yellow Wallpaper (1892)

by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

  • Year Published: 1892
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, classics, horror, short stories, dark, mysterious, fast-paced
  • Importance:
    Mental health portrayal

This is a short story that powerfully portrays health issues and their treatment faced by women of this era (late 19th century).

It’s considered an important work of early American feminist literature due to its portrayal of women’s mental and physical health. It’s also considered a great work of horror fiction.

I find it’s a short story you can keep re-reading, getting something new from it each time.

Summary (from Storygraph):

First published in 1892, The Yellow Wall-Paper is written as the secret journal of a woman who, failing to relish the joys of marriage and motherhood, is sentenced to a country rest cure. Though she longs to write, her husband and doctor forbid it, prescribing instead complete passivity. Narrated with superb psychological and dramatic precision, this short but powerful masterpiece has the heroine create a reality of her own within the hypnotic pattern of the faded yellow wall-paper of her bedroom–a pattern that comes to symbolize her own imprisonment.

This key women’s studies text by a pivotal first-wave feminist writer, lecturer, and activist (1860-1935) is reprinted as it first appeared in New England Magazine in 1892, and contains the essential essay on the author’s life and work by pioneering Gilman scholar Elaine R. Hedges.


3. The Awakening (1899)

by Kate Chopin

  • Year Published: 1899
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, classics, reflective, slow-paced
  • Importance:
    Landmark of early feminism

The Awakening is considered a precursor to American modernist literature, due to its blend of social commentary, a realistic narrative, and psychological complexity. It’s also one of the earlier American novels that discussed women’s issues without condescension (surprise surprise it took a woman to accomplish that).

It was considered quite controversial at the time of publication, mostly due to its open discussion of female marital infidelity.

Chopin faced many barriers when she tried to publish stories after she published this novel, and unfortunately she did not write another novel after this one.

Summary (from Goodreads):

When first published in 1899, The Awakening shocked readers with its honest treatment of female marital infidelity. Audiences accustomed to the pieties of late Victorian romantic fiction were taken aback by Chopin’s daring portrayal of a woman trapped in a stifling marriage, who seeks and finds passionate physical love outside the confines of her domestic situation.

Aside from its unusually frank treatment of a then-controversial subject, the novel is widely admired today for its literary qualities. Edmund Wilson characterized it as a work “quite uninhibited and beautifully written, which anticipates D. H. Lawrence in its treatment of infidelity.” Although the theme of marital infidelity no longer shocks, few novels have plumbed the psychology of a woman involved in an illicit relationship with the perception, artistry, and honesty that Kate Chopin brought to The Awakening.


4. The Golden Notebook (1962)

by Doris Lessing

  • Year Published: 1962
  • Storygraph Categories: fiction, classics, literary, reflective, slow-paced
  • Importance:
    Realistic depiction of women’s lived experiences

The Golden Notebook is considered as a companion volume to Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. It also became popular with feminists due to its realistic depiction of women’s lived experiences.

This 1962 novel by the British writer Doris Lessing is considered one of the best English-language novels since 1923 (according to Time Magazine).

Margaret Drabble describes Lessing’s writing style as “inner space fiction” because Lessing’s work explores a combination of mental and societal breakdown.

Doris Lessing was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2007 for being “that epicist of the female experience, who with scepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilisation to scrutiny”.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Anna is a writer, author of one very successful novel, who now keeps four notebooks. In one, with a black cover, she reviews the African experience of her earlier year. In a red one she records her political life, her disillusionment with communism. In a yellow one she writes a novel in which the heroine relives part of her own experience. And in the blue one she keeps a personal diary. Finally, in love with an American writer and threatened with insanity, Anna tries to bring the threads of all four books together in a golden notebook.


  • Find out more on:
  • You can read the book online here.
    • This was an experiment where seven women read the book online, while also commenting on the book and discussing it together. Each page/website has a short part of the book with the comments from the seven women below. You can read along the book together as if in a group.
    • Chapter 1 starts here.

5. The Bell Jar (1963)

by Sylvia Plath

  • Year Published: 1963
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, classics, literary, dark, emotional, reflective, medium-paced
  • Check trigger warnings before reading this book
  • Importance:
    Powerful depiction of mental health and Plath’s only novel

The Bell Jar is the only novel written by Sylvia Plath, an American writer and poet. It was originally published under a pseudonym (”Victoria Lucas”) as it is semi-autobiographical.

The novel portray’s the main character, Esther Greenwood, as she descends into mental illness. The book is often considered a roman à clef as the protagonist’s experience tends to mirror the author’s, with Plath dying by suicide only a month after its publication in the UK.

I think it’s important to acknowledge and warn individuals that there are racists parts of the book. I personally don’t think that those parts are enough to negate the rest of the book, but I completely understand if you don’t want to read the book because of this.

Summary (from Goodreads):

We follow Esther Greenwood’s personal life from her summer job in New York with Ladies’ Day magazine, back through her days at New England’s largest school for women, and forward through her attempted suicide, her bad treatment at one asylum and her good treatment at another, to her final re-entry into the world like a used tyre: “patched, retreaded, and approved for the road” … Esther Greenwood’s account of her year in the bell jar is as clear and readable as it is witty and disturbing.


Final thoughts

I couldn’t help to think that so many of the books considered to be “feminist texts” are just a genuine portray of women’s experiences.

Most of them are just women written as fully developed characters dealing with normal life experiences. Or, if they were considered controversial at the time, it might just be women going through experiences that society didn’t want to know about (like mental health and unfulfilling marriages).

I know that older male authors are not known for writing strong or well-rounded women characters, but I didn’t realize that the bar was so low.

I recently read Kafka’s novel The Trial and I was astounded at how terrible the women characters were. Now, I understand that his stories were groundbreaking and powerful commentaries on society, but the one-dimensional female characters were such a turn off, and made it extremely difficult to finish the book.

All that to say, I think we need to understand what it means to be considered a feminist text within the literary context of that era. It’s unlikely for it to match with what we consider feminism to be today.

Six recent prize winning books from women authors

As April is Women’s History Month, I’ll be sharing book lists with a focus on books considered classic feminist texts and other books by women authors.

Are you hoping to read more award winning books? While also wanting to read more books by women?

Here’s the perfect list for you. Here are six books by women that have recently (within the last 10 years) won international prizes!

I have included a diverse collection of prizes to showcase a range of genres and book recommendations.

Photo by Robin Edqvist on Unsplash

Award winning books

Here’s a list of books with women authors that have won an award in the past 10 years.

  1. The Vegatarian by Han Kang 2016 Man Booker International Prize
  2. Olga Takarczuk Won the Novel Prize for Literature in 2018 Two books to highlight are: Flights & Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead
  3. Piranesi by Susanna Clarke 2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction
  4. Network Effect by Martha Wells 2021 Hugo Award for Best Novel
  5. Tomb of Sand 2022 International Booker Prize

Keep reading to find out more about each one.

1. The Vegetarian – 2016 Man Booker International

by Han Kang
Translated by Deborah Smith

  • Year Published: 2007
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, contemporary, literary, dark, sad, tense, medium-paced
  • Language: Korean
  • Importance:
    Winner of the 2016 Man Booker International Prize

The Vegetarian was published in 2007 in Korea, with the English version published in 2015. This is Han’s second book that has been translated into English.

The Vegetarian is considered the biggest win for Korean translated literature since the book Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin, which won the Man Asian Literary Prize in 2012.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Before the nightmare, Yeong-hye and her husband lived an ordinary life. But when splintering, blood-soaked images start haunting her thoughts, Yeong-hye decides to purge her mind and renounce eating meat. In a country where societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye’s decision to embrace a more “plant-like” existence is a shocking act of subversion. And as her passive rebellion manifests in ever more extreme and frightening forms, scandal, abuse, and estrangement begin to send Yeong-hye spiraling deep into the spaces of her fantasy. In a complete metamorphosis of both mind and body, her now dangerous endeavor will take Yeong-hye—impossibly, ecstatically, tragically—far from her once-known self altogether.


2. Olga Tokarczuk – Nobel Prize 2018

Olga won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2018 for “a narrative imagination that with encyclopedic passion represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life”. She was the first Polish female prose writer to win the Nobel Prize.

Here are two of her novels that have been translated into English.


by Olga Tokarczuk
Translated by Jennifer Croft

  • Year Published: 2007
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, literary, magical realism, short stories, adventurous, challenging, reflective, slow-paced
  • Language: Polish
  • Importance:
    Won the Man Booker International Prize in 2018

This is a book of vignettes that are all narrated by a “nameless female traveller.” There are 116 vignettes in the book, varying in length with some only one sentence and others up to 31 pages.

Flights has gotten quite a bit of literary attention. In 2008, it won the Nike Award, Poland’s highest literary award. Then after it was translated, it won the Man Booker International Prize in 2018.

Summary (from Goodreads):

From the incomparably original Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk, Flights  interweaves reflections on travel with an in-depth exploration of the human body, broaching life, death, motion, and migration. Chopin’s heart is carried back to Warsaw in secret by his adoring sister. A woman must return to her native Poland in order to poison her terminally ill high school sweetheart, and a young man slowly descends into madness when his wife and child mysteriously vanish during a vacation and just as suddenly reappear. Through these brilliantly imagined characters and stories, interwoven with haunting, playful, and revelatory meditations, Flights explores what it means to be a traveler, a wanderer, a body in motion not only through space but through time. Where are you from? Where are you coming in from? Where are you going? we call to the traveler. Enchanting, unsettling, and wholly original, Flights is a master storyteller’s answer.


Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead

by Olga Tokarczuk
Translated by: Antonia Lloyd-Jones

  • Year Published: 2009
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, contemporary, literary, thriller, dark, mysterious, reflective, medium-paced
  • Language: Polish
  • Importance:
    Shortlisted for the 2019 International Booker Prize

The title of the book comes from William Blake’s poem call “Proverbs of Hell.” These are the specific lines:

In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy. Drive your cart and your plow over the bones of the dead.

William Blake
Source: Proverbs of Hell

It was shortlisted for the 2019 International Booker Prize, and as mentioned above the author won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

The main character of the novel is a middle aged woman, which is quite rare, but very enjoyable to read.

Summary (from Goodreads):

One of Poland’s most imaginative and lyrical writers, Olga Tokarczuk presents us with a detective story with a twist in DRIVE YOUR PLOW OVER THE BONES OF THE DEAD. After her two dogs go missing and members of the local hunting club are found murdered, teacher and animal rights activist Janina Duszejko becomes involved in the ensuing investigation. Part magic realism, part detective story, DRIVE YOUR PLOW OVER THE BONES OF THE DEAD is suspenseful and entertaining reimagining of the genre interwoven with poignant and insightful commentaries on our perceptions of madness, marginalised people and animal rights.


3. Piranesi – 2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction

by Susanna Clarke

  • Year Published: 2020
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, fantasy, literary, adventurous, mysterious, reflective, medium-paced
  • Importance:
    Winner of the 2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction

Susanna Clarke is well known for her debut novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell from 2004. After her debut novel was published, she became ill with chronic fatigue syndrome, which made writing torturous for her. Piranesi is her second novel, published 16 years later.

The title, Piranesi, alludes to an Italian artist from the 18th century named Giovanni Battista Piranesi. He produced a series of prints prints entitled Imaginary Prisons that depict large, intricate architectural structures.

Piranesi was a finalist for the Hugo Award and nominated for a Nebula Award in 2021. Both awards are for works within the genres of science fiction and fantasy.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Piranesi’s house is no ordinary building: its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls are lined with thousands upon thousands of statues, each one different from all the others. Within the labyrinth of halls an ocean is imprisoned; waves thunder up staircases, rooms are flooded in an instant. But Piranesi is not afraid; he understands the tides as he understands the pattern of the labyrinth itself. He lives to explore the house.

There is one other person in the house—a man called The Other, who visits Piranesi twice a week and asks for help with research into A Great and Secret Knowledge. But as Piranesi explores, evidence emerges of another person, and a terrible truth begins to unravel, revealing a world beyond the one Piranesi has always known.


4. Network Effect – 2021 Hugo Award for Best Novel

by Martha Wells

  • Year Published: 2020
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, science fiction, adventurous, emotional, funny, fast-paced
  • Importance:
    Winner of the 2021 Hugo Award for Best Novel

Martha Wells is well known for her Murderbot series (The Murderbot Diaries), a science fiction series about a part human and part robot construct called a Security Unit.

Network effect is the fifth book in the Murderbot series. The first book is called All Systems Red.

The first four books in the series are quite short, whereas this fifth book is much longer. It has been described as “… if the first books were episodes in a four-part TV miniseries, then ‘Network Effect’ is the feature-length movie with the bigger budget and scope, and it is no less enjoyable.”

So far I’ve only read the first book (due to a very long hold time line at my library), but I really enjoyed it and can’t wait to read the rest of the series.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Murderbot returns in its highly anticipated, first, full-length standalone novel.

You know that feeling when you’re at work, and you’ve had enough of people, and then the boss walks in with yet another job that needs to be done right this second or the world will end, but all you want to do is go home and binge your favorite shows? And you’re a sentient murder machine programmed for destruction? Congratulations, you’re Murderbot.

Come for the pew-pew space battles, stay for the most relatable A.I. you’ll read this century.

I’m usually alone in my head, and that’s where 90 plus percent of my problems are.

When Murderbot’s human associates (not friends, never friends) are captured and another not-friend from its past requires urgent assistance, Murderbot must choose between inertia and drastic action.

Drastic action it is, then.


5. Tomb of Sand – 2022 International Booker Prize

by Geetanjali Shree
Translated by Daisy Rockwell

  • Year Published: 2018
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, literary, emotional, mysterious, reflective, medium-paced
  • Language: Hindi
  • Importance:
    Winner of International Booker Prize in 2022

Tomb of Sand won the International Booker Prize in 2022, making it the first novel translated from an Indian Language to win the prize.

The English version of the book was published by Titled Axis Press, a small non-profit publishing house that focuses on work by Asian and African writers.

The main character is an 80-year old woman! I think it’s important to read stories both from diverse authors and about diverse characters, which would include a range of ages. I’m really excited to read more books with older women main characters.

Summary (from Goodreads):

An eighty-year-old woman slips into a deep depression at the death of her husband, then resurfaces to gain a new lease on life. Her determination to fly in the face of convention – including striking up a friendship with a hijra (trans) woman – confuses her bohemian daughter, who is used to thinking of herself as the more ‘modern’ of the two.

At the older woman’s insistence they travel back to Pakistan, simultaneously confronting the unresolved trauma of her teenage experiences of Partition, and re-evaluating what it means to be a mother, a daughter, a woman, a feminist.

Rather than respond to tragedy with seriousness, Geetanjali Shree’s playful tone and exuberant wordplay results in a book that is engaging, funny, and utterly original, at the same time as being an urgent and timely protest against the destructive impact of borders and boundaries, whether between religions, countries, or genders.


Final thoughts

If you spend much time on booktube, booktok, or other book-social media areas you’ve probably heard of some of these book awards.

When I started trying to understand which was what, it got to be a bit overwhelming as there are so many book awards out there. But that also means you can find awards for almost any category you want to read.

Here’s the wikipedia page for literary awards, it’s a decent place to start if you’re looking for something specific.

Literary awards can be a great way to find good books. But just because they’ve won an award, doesn’t always mean you’re going to love it.

I would recommend finding some awards that reflect your reading interest and check out their past winning books. You might find a new favourite.

Are there any specific book awards that you follow?

Have you read any of these books? I’d love to know your thoughts in a comment below.