March 8th was International Women’s Day – a day to mark the extraordinary and ordinary achievements of women throughout the world. Being a book lover, there’s no better way to celebrate brilliant womanhood than to compile a list of my favourite female writers. It goes without saying that compiling this list was a torturous process. I really had to restrain myself here, so let’s just say this is a fluctuating list. Feel free to comment with your favourite female authors. I’m always up for adding to my list!
DIANA WYNNE JONES
Diana Wynne Jones is the godmother of fantasy novels. Her books are promoted as children’s fiction, but her stories have that rare quality of being appealing to people of all ages.
My introduction to her was through Howl’s Moving Castle. Sophie, timid and unsure of herself, has been put under a curse, and is forced to live out the rest of her days as an old woman. She enlists the help of the wizard Howl to break the curse, but finds that old age allows her to be much more confident than she has ever been. While the main narrative is similar to the film, the characters are vastly different. Book Sophie is much more shrewd, with a capability for magic, while Howl is much less noble, and ridiculously dramatic. It’s a hilarious read that will have you whizzing through the pages.
Perhaps best known for the chilling short story, The Lottery, Jackson has garnered a cult following. She was a master craftswoman, and her stories examine social anxieties, woven with a touch of the occult and the supernatural.
It’s hard for me to pick between my two Jackson favourites, We Have Always Lived in the Castle and The Haunting of Hill House. I’ve gone with Castle as it’s the one I re-read most recently. In Castle, sisters Constance and Merricat Blackwood live an isolated life in their grand family home. Constance, the eldest sister, was on trial for the murder of their family, and while she was acquitted, suspicion still hangs over her and the villagers shun the sisters. Merricat tries all she can to protect them, but when their boorish and greedy cousin Charles shoves his way into their lives, it seems that Merricat must go to extreme lengths to do so.
Okorafor is making a bold name for herself in the world of fantasy and sci-fi. What I like best about Okorafor’s fictional worlds is that you never get bogged down in tedious world-building as happens with many fantasy and sci-fi novels. Her stories are wildly imaginative, and yet the challenges her heroines face are all too relatable.
I recently read her novella, Binti, and immediately fell in love with it. Breaking with years of tradition, Binti is leaving her Himba people, and Earth to attend the finest university in the galaxy, Oomza University. On the journey there the ship is commandeered by the Meduse, an alien race, and whether she will reach her destination becomes uncertain. Even more uncertain is the future of between the Meduse and Oomza University, and whether war will break out. It is impressive how much story Okorafor manages to pack into so few pages. Once you’ve read it, you’ll be hankering for the sequel.
Ah, Austen. What can I say about her that hasn’t already been said? The queen of wit and social satire, Austen knew how to take daily happenings and sketch them into amusing and entertaining literary scenes. Reading her has allowed me to recognise the amusing and the ridiculous outside the pages as well.
Pride and Prejudice is probably the most recommended to newcomers. It is certainly her most “sparkling” one, as Austen herself put it. Everyone knows the story, of course: opposites meet, clash, and then fall in love. The novel’s power, however, is in the details: in its hilarious, and endearing secondary characters, with their ridiculous conversations, as well as their occasional pearls of wisdom.
Morrison doesn’t really need an introduction. She has been gracing the literary scene for years now, her titles have received much acclaim, and she was the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993. Her books examine the social and cultural anxieties of the African American people, shining light on their struggles and their triumphs.
I read Beloved several years ago, but my heart still clenches when I think about it now. It’s the story of Sethe, an African American woman, who has escaped the slavery-ridden North. She has paid a heavy price for it however. In order to ensure that her baby girl would never experience the same horrors that she did, she took her child’s life. Now, Sethe lives in a house haunted by the vengeful ghost of her baby girl. Beloved is not content to stay a ghost and soon takes over Sethe’s life, driving everyone else away. Beloved combines the supernatural with magical realism, and is a beautiful, heart-breaking story about the love of a mother, and the strength of a woman.
Born in Sri Lanka, and raised in the UK Tearne has written several novels set in the place of her birth.
Bone China is my favourite of what I’ve read of hers so far. It is the narrative of a large family in Sri Lanka. Grace, wife to the well-meaning, but bumbling Aloysius, is the one who has to hold the family together. Their idyllic life is shaken by the impending civil war, and soon the family reaps a lot of the damages. If you’re a fan of fictional stories set against historical backdrops then give this one a go.
Makereti a New Zealand writer of short stories, essays and novels. She also teaches creative writing at Massey University.
I stumbled across her novel, Where the Rēkohu Bone Sings awhile back, and fell head over heels for it. Spanning generations of Moriori, Māori, and Pākehā characters, this novel examines a part of New Zealand history that isn’t often discussed. The characters are beautifully rendered, and Makereti’s writing will evoke both pain and pleasure.
For a taste of her writing, you can check out Black Milk, which won the 2016 Commonwealth Short Story Prize.