Posted June 30, 2014 by in Book Lists

20 Best Female Authors, Part 3

Writing this series about the 20 Best Female Authors has taught me two things. First, women have produced some of the best literature ever written, and second, there is no way to include all my favorites in this list! For this week, we will look at some real groundbreakers in the writing industry.

Mary Shelley. Image from www.biography.com.

Mary Shelley. Image from www.biography.com.

11. Mary Shelley

When people think of Frankenstein, they usually conjure images of a scary monster with a scar across his forehead and bolts in his neck. At least, that is the image films and cartoons have imprinted on our minds. Shelley’s Frankenstein, though a monster, is nothing like the modern-day interpretation of him. Instead, those who have actually read her Gothic novel Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus understand that the monster is all too human. Written in 1818, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a story of love, loss, and man’s nature. Dr. Frankenstein is the titular character, not the monster, who is simply called Frankenstein’s monster. In many ways, the monster is much more human than his creator. Mary Shelley was only 21 years old when Frankenstein was published, and although the book showed great depth in an author so young, none of her follow-up works were as brilliant or as well-received as the first. Still, Mary Shelley changed the content available to female writers of the time. Up until then, women such as the Brontë sisters and Jane Austen wrote mostly about domestic issues. Shelley opened up a new world of possibilities for women writers.

Toni Morrison. Picture from usatoday.net.

Toni Morrison. Picture from usatoday.net.

12. Toni Morrison

You know you’ve made it as an author if your work ends up on the “banned books” list, and Toni Morrison’s work The Bluest Eye has kept her on that list for many years. Morrison is a great writer for several reasons. She has never been afraid to show the “ugly” in the world through her work. Released in 1970, The Bluest Eye deals with the incestuous rape of a young girl named Pecola, whose one desire in life is to have blue eyes. An innocent girl who is brutalized at every turn, Pecola has no chance at happiness, and hope continuously eludes her. Like The Bluest EyeBeloved has also appeared on “banned books” lists. In Beloved, Morrison weaves together a tale that shifts from past to present illustrating along the way how slavery continued to destroy the lives of many former slaves, even years after the horrible institution ended. For her efforts as a writer, Morrison has won some of the most prestigious awards any author can aspire to, including the Nobel Prize for Literature. Truly a gifted writer, Toni Morrison continues to inspire and enlighten her readers.

Anne Rice. Picture from www.npr.org.

Anne Rice. Picture from www.npr.org.

13. Anne Rice

Even if you don’t want to, you cannot help but love Lestat, Anne Rice’s protagonist in her Vampire Chronicles. On its release in 1976, Interview with a Vampire introduced readers to a whole world inhabited by vampires; they’re simply everywhere. With the exception of their blood lust and superhuman capabilities, Rice’s vampires have many human characteristics: neediness, vanity, greed, lust, and obsession. In addition to twisting our minds with vampires, Rice completely warped our brains with some of the first erotica written by a female author. In the mid-80s, Rice released three novels featuring fairytale princess Sleeping Beauty, who becomes a sex slave for her Prince. Fifty Shades of Grey has nothing on Rice’s Beauty works. Rice has also written extensively about her faith, which adds a third dimension to her abilities. An artist in any genre she selects, Anne Rice impresses, horrifies, and bewilders readers everywhere.

Emily Dickinson. Photo from theguardian.com.

Emily Dickinson. Photo from theguardian.com.

14. Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson is a groundbreaking poet in both her style and content. Although death is a frequent theme in her work, she also focuses a great deal on her faith. Considered a “no hoper” because she would not openly declare her faith during her time at Mount Holyoke, Dickinson has often had the label of “atheist” attached to her name. Anyone who actually reads her poetry, though, will quickly recognize that Dickinson was a believer, but she did not like organized religion. In addition to her remarkable content, Dickinson’s style is uniquely her own. Her use of dashes to offset ideas and phrases was almost edited out of her works by those who gathered it for printing. Thankfully, the dashes were restored, for the meaning of her poetry changes without them. During her lifetime, only a handful of her approximately 1,800 poems were published, but now she is studied throughout the world and is recognized as a major American poet. My favorite of her poems is “Some keep the Sabbath going to church.”

Lillian Hellman. Photo from pbs.org.

Lillian Hellman. Photo from pbs.org.

15. Lillian Hellman

Having a degree in theater means I simply could not allow this list to stand without including at least one playwright. Although plays are meant to be experienced live instead of being read, there’s something beautiful even in the reading of Lillian Hellman’s works. In her play The Children’s Hour, the two headmistresses of an all-girls school are suspected of a lesbian affair; this inaccurate accusation destroys their school, their careers, and their lives. In The Little Foxes, a dysfunctional Southern family self-destructs as readers learn that wealth and greed can destroy and consume people who supposedly love each other. Controversy is the centerpiece in most of Hellman’s plays, but art often imitated life, for controversy followed Hellman, especially in her political beliefs. During the 1940s-1950s, she was blacklisted by the House Committee of Un-American Activities (HUAC), who charged her with Communist affiliations. Although Lillian Hellman was blacklisted, she never fell into obscurity, and she kept plugging away at her craft.

So that makes 15! Who will round out my list of the 20 Best Female Authors? Check back next week to see who makes the cut in the final installment of this series.

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Beloved (Paperback)

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Sleeping Beauty Trilogy Box Set (Paperback)

By (author): A. N. Roquelaure, Anne Rice

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Six Plays by Lillian Hellman (Paperback)

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Mollie Smith Waters

Mollie Smith Waters teaches American literature, theater, and speech at a small community college in rural Alabama. Her hobbies include reading, writing, traveling, and walking.