With my fingers crossed for a female President to join the growing numbers of women in power, it seems that female empowerment is on the rise. Unfortunately, plenty of richly talented women struggle through the life of being a writer further hindered by their place in a patriarchal society. Some female authors, despite being reasonably well known, have yet to gain recognition to match that of their male counterparts, and others are author equivalents of Neville Longbottom in the Harry Potter books – you don’t realise their value until hindsight forces you to think about their significance. So, in the nature of promoting some authors who so far have (literally) been sold short, here are five female authors who need to be filling up your bookshelves.
Despite her most highly acclaimed books being non-fiction observations about photography and art, Susan Sontag thought of herself primarily as a writer of fiction. She wrote plays, films and prose, none of which managed to overtake the success of her book ‘On Photography’, for which she is the most well-known. Sontag is unmistakably valued in the non-fiction world of art criticism, I’ll admit, but her prose is equally observant yet few people even realise it exists. The books have the trademark wise flair of a Sontag essay on photography but with the charm of a plot and everyday characters, making them wonderful blends of art and literature. Her bibliography is not all that different to that of John Berger, the esteemed art critic, though her fiction (unlike his) never made it to the public eye, regardless of the fact that they are of the same quality as her works of non-fiction.
Winner of an Eric Gregory Award and the T. S. Eliot Prize, you would think that more people would have at least heard of Sarah Howe. However – pun intended – she’s not very well known outside the poetry bubble, despite her growing success and talent. Her book, ‘Loop of Jade’, explores her British and Chinese roots, how background shapes identity, and the simultaneous contradictions and harmonies of a dual heritage. She touches on Chinese traditions regarding the status and value of young girls, giving a gentle yet well-thought approach towards the controversies of her roots. The poetry she writes is intriguing, thought-provoking and noteable – it’s just a shame that it isn’t more widely read outside the literary world.
Yes, I know what you’re thinking – ‘but I’ve heard of her! How could she be underrated?’ – and trust me, she’s underrated. Her most famous novel ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, despite being as perceptive and harrowingly plausible as other (male) dystopian classics such as ‘1984’ and ‘Brave New World’, is nowhere near as widely read or recognised. She’s definitely not missed out on sales, but dystopian fan clubs almost exclusively fly Orwellian flags and such a classic novel as ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is not discussed in the depth it deserves; Atwood chose a dangerous hypothetical situation which gave rise to a new discourse surrounding gender roles and the risks of women falling back into traditional passive roles. And if you think ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ has had enough coverage, turn your attention to the novels that Atwood is still reeling out to this day; her latest book, ‘Angel CatBird’, was released only a month ago.
Liz Berry, poet of the collection ‘Black Country’, is arguably the most underrated woman on this list. I’ll admit that I was only drawn to her book because the cover caught my attention and I read the name ‘Black Country’ hoping for some dialect-speckled poetry; being a Yorkshire lass I’m a sucker for written dialects. However, I was not expecting to enjoy the collection as much as I did – it’s nostalgic and so real that you almost wish you’d grown up alongside her. Some of the lines she whips up are almost breathtaking – Exhibit A:
‘In the banks the foxes barked alleluia alleluia.
The blizzard tumbled upon us like confetti
and I, little bitch, blue bruise,
saw myself in your eyes:
from the poem ‘The First Path’
All in all, just a fantastic poet, and one who deserves so much more recognition.
Heard of her? Possibly the name rings a bell. But you’ll definitely have heard of her most famous book, ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ – although most of the limelight from that was swept up by the (admittedly awesome) film adaptation starring Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway. Meanwhile Lauren Weisberger is continually dominating the ‘Chick Lit’ genre, and is still releasing a new flick every two or three years, which she has been doing for well over a decade. Her books are light, fun, and easy reads, though that’s not to say they’re badly written or that she’s not as talented as her bibliography would suggest. They’re witty and empowering, and like rom-coms in book form – what could be better?