I have always loved to read. One of my favourite early memories is of going to the local library on a regular basis to pick out new books to explore. I’ve always admired authors for being able to create such amazing stories from their imaginations or remember such amazing details from their lives when writing non-fiction. I’ve also always been a little bit envious; what am amazing privilege to be able to have a story to share AND be able to share it.
I’m particularly drawn to strong female authors; there are often a few more obstacles that a woman author has to navigate to get her story told. So much so that historically, many women would write under a male pseudonym just to get their stories published (and even one woman on this list chose to do that in more recent years for other reasons).
In honour of International Women’s Day (March 8th), I decided to reflect and compile a list of some of my favourite badass women writers.
If you have not read any Jodi Picoult stop reading this blog post immediately and google her books. She is truly brilliant. The story you are likely most familiar if you have heard of her is My Sisters Keeper which was adapted into a film in 2009 (and, like most movie adaptations of books, did not do the story justice). Picoult writes stories about fascinating and challenging topics; she meticulously researches and respects the professionals who work in the fields she writes about. She does not shy away from controversial topics and has written stories on suicide, terminal illnesses, murders, ghosts, school shootings, the Holocaust, racism and so much more. She’s even written freakin’ Wonder Woman comics!! I actually the opportunity to see her speak and read from her book Leaving Time while on a book tour in 2014, which was a pretty cool experience.
- Small Great Things
- The Storyteller
- Leaving Time
- House Rules
Full disclosure, I am a total Potter-head. I have read the books and watched the movies umpteenth times; I know which house I am in at Hogwarts and have considered a Deathly Hallows tattoo. But putting all that aside, regardless of how you feel about YA fiction, the Harry Potter series or J.K. Rowling herself, she’s broken down a lot of barriers for female writers, especially in the fantasy genre. She definitely is the epitome of the “rags to riches” story and has given away a large portion of the money she has made from the Harry Potter series to charity.
No stranger to the issues facing women in the publishing industry, Rowling actually chose to publish her novels under the initials J.K. because she felt young boys (a large part of the target audience for Harry Potter) would not want to read a book written by a woman. Her first name is Joanne and she added the K for Kathleen, her maternal grandmother, because she herself does not have a middle name (hell yeah, me either sister!). Later, she adopted the pseudonym Robert Galbraith for her Cormoran Strike series. It wasn’t until after Cuckoo’s Calling debuted that people starting noticing similarities in the writing and questioning who the truth author was. I can’t really find a straight answer as to why she chose to do this but my guess is similar to selecting J.K., she probably figured people wouldn’t want to read a gruff detective story written by a women and she also probably wanted to distance herself from the Harry Potter circus.
Rowling is also not afraid to fight for issues she is passionate about and will often use Twitter to express her distaste for current hot topics in politics and the world.
Rowling has written strong female characters such as Hermione Granger, Luna Lovegood, and Professor McGonagall. And, despite the fact that her main protagonist in Harry Potter is male, when we look deeper into the stories, it’s clear he wouldn’t have been successful in his endeavours without the support of these badass women (I mean, who are we kidding, Hermonie is the brains of the entire operation) . She also encouraged an entire generation and beyond to fall in love with reading again, encourages young women to embrace their intelligence, and she does not romanticize the “bad boy” – in another f’d up world, Hermonie would of fallen for Draco Malfoy or something.
If you’re not into Harry Potter, I do recommend the Coromoran Strike Series (which has also been adapted to a great series for the BBC and on HBO in Canada)
- Cuckoo’s Calling
- The Silkworm
- Career of Evil
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard of Mindy Kaling. She wrote for the American adaptation of The Office – initially as the only female writer – for all eight seasons and her character, Kelly, was grossly hilarious. She also wrote and starred in The Mindy Project which was a silly, warm-hearted sitcom, that references a lot of romantic comedy cliches, which Kaling herself has always professed her love for. In this series, Kaling plays a OB-GYN, which was inspired by her mother.
In addition to her television and film writing (she has a new film coming out this summer called Late Night starring Emma Thompson for which she wrote the screenplay), Kaling has published two best selling memoirs – Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) and Why Not Me? – that highlight her life experiences and observations.
What I love about both of Kaling’s memoirs is that they are so honest and sensitive. She has a certain vulnerability that is so relateable but also intelligent and funny. Of course, the media obsesses more about her weight and who the father of her baby is than they do about her pure talent and brilliance (but that’s a whole other post). She is also a reader and shares her love of books on her instagram page (check out this article on some of her recommendations).
- Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)
- Why Not Me?
Elizabeth Gilbert became a household name back in 2010 when Julia Roberts (starring as Gilbert) and Ryan Murphy (directing) paired up to adapt her 2006 memoir, Eat Pray Love, for the screen. The book (and film) highlights Gilbert’s journey of post-divorce self discovery as she travels to Italy, India and Bali over the course of a year. While there were broad reviews of the book (and the film), the truth is it spoke to many people and helped them recover from their own trauma and emotion pain. Negative reviews claim it reeks of privilege and lacks a self-awareness around the financial barriers of many in our society (how many people can afford leave their job to travel and find themselves for year) but I think the message behind her experience is an important one and she definitely isn’t saying that everyone needs to travel to such extremes to heal. In fact, if you read or listen to Gilbert speak about her infamous memoir, she wrote it just for herself, without expecting it to be so popular – and as of now, none of her other books have been as successful in the same way.
I am currently reading her book, Big Magic: Creative Living Without Fear, which I am loving! Is it the best written book? Not really. BUT the message is so powerful! I am so passionate about creativity and doing creative things, I am surprised it took me so long to find this book (originally published in 2015) but I suppose I wasn’t ready for it until now. She provides such beautiful insight on taping into your creative purpose and how to unleash it – not for praise or fortune or any recognition – but just for yourself. The purpose of creative living is to create; anything else that comes out of it is just a bonus.
- Big Magic : Creative Living Without Fear
- Eat Pray Love
Margaret Atwood is truly a Canadian treasure. She has published so many novels, poems, short fiction and non-fiction works that there truly is something for everyone. Many of her books and stories highlight Canadian themes and identity, issues around feminism and social realism (her own words). I first read some of Atwood’s novels many years ago, but struggled with the complex nature of some of her stories. I think they were beyond my understanding of literature and the world at the time.
Atwood has also been a strong advocate for libraries and access to the written word. She famously butt heads with former Toronto Mayor, Rob Ford and his brother (and current premier of Ontario – wtf!?), Doug, back in 2011, when the City was looking to cut funding and close libraries and Ford claimed there were more libraries than Tim Horton’s in his Etobicoke Ward. She is not one to shy away from a conflict and, like Rowling, is a avid user of Twitter and social media, to support her cause.
Her most notable work (currently) is likely The Handmaid’s Tale as it was adapted into a television series in 2017 starring Elisabeth Moss. This is a brilliant television series and a good adaptation of the novel (despite some variations and deviations that we often see for the screen). I enjoyed the first season so much that I went back and re-read the book (in full this time because I don’t think I previously got through it). It is such a well written and painful story, and, in our current political climate around women’s health and reproductive rights, particularly in the United States, is not feeling so dystopian or speculative as it should be.
- The Handmaid’s Tale
- Alias Grace
Erin Morgenstein – The Night Circus
Jen Sincero – You Are A Badass
Ann Marie MacDonald – Fall On Your Knees
Do you have a favourite woman writer? Share in the comments below! I love new book recommendations… despite a long list of books to read!
Much love and namaste.