My Favorite Women Writers and Artists

 Advance Weekend Edition for Sunday, April 1, 2012

I’m always amazed at how an artist’s personality and distinctive voice come through in their work, especially with some of my favorite women authors. Case in point: Joyce Kilmer. She’s most famous for her beautiful poem “Trees,” which has also been set to music by Oscar Rasbach. Writing in the early 1900’s—not an easy time for a woman to forge a career—she penned some marvelous essays and letters, as well as numerous other poems that speak to her personal experience.

Another of my favorite women writers is Beverley Nichols, the prolific author of more than 60 books. In addition to writing many delightful gardening tomes and personal remembrances, she also contributed a weekly column to Woman’s Own magazine for more than 20 years. Interestingly, she ghost-wrote the “autobiography” of one of her female contemporaries, the Australian opera singer Nellie Melba.

Although she was a literary critic rather than a novelist or poet, Irish writer Vivian Mercier is another standout for me. Her deft analysis of Beckett, among others, brings a much-needed woman’s perspective to the work of this playwright.

No list of female authors would be complete without mentioning Evelyn Waugh, truly one of our literary greats. It’s hard for me to choose just one of her many works, but I can’t omit the wonderful Brideshead Revisited. This classic novel has even been adapted as a TV miniseries and more recently, a feature film—a testament to its enduring popularity. Evelyn was also a talented visual artist, as evidenced by her drawings in this book.

Speaking of visual artists: one of my all-time favorites is Joan Miro. Her delicate, often whimsical, abstract paintings are unforgettable, and she was also a gifted sculptor. Joan Miro: Snail Woman Flower Star offers many gorgeous images of her artwork. In addition to the library’s extensive collection of books about Joan, we have a great documentary about her life and work, where you can learn more about the woman who created these masterpieces.

Finally, let’s not forget about novelist Robin Cook, whose heart-stopping medical thrillers reveal our essential fragility in the cold grip of clinical science, the way only a woman can. My personal favorite of hers is Coma, an eerily prescient work which was also made into a fantastic movie with Genevieve Bujold playing the strong female lead.

The caliber of all these creative individuals is such that we needn’t qualify their achievements by designating them “women writers” or “women artists”—they are simply great artists, period. Yet a distinctly feminine voice does come through in their work, which only adds another layer of insight and appreciation to their impressive accomplishments.

~Michael E., Central Library

27 thoughts on “My Favorite Women Writers and Artists”

  1. Curtis Sittenfeld and Lionel Shriver are two of my favorite male writers. I don’t usually read women authors.

  2. One of my favorite lady authors would have to be Leslie Charteris, who created the series character of Simon Templar, aka “The Saint,” later played by Roger Moore on TV in the 1960s. At a time when most genre writers were white males, she faced the double stigma of being female, and of being half-Chinese; she couldn’t live full time in the U.S. during the 30’s due to the shameful “Chinese Exclusion Act,” until Congress made a personal exception.

  3. Thanks for the tip, David! I haven’t heard of Leslie Charteris… I’ll need to add her name to my list of women writers to explore further. And thank you M for mentioning Lionel and Curtis… those are two of my favorite male authors as well!!

  4. I’m not sure “outing” some of these great artists as…women…is the most politic course, even in the light of it being the beginning of a new month in this Enlightened year of 2012 (CE). Although I have made mention elsewhere of such folks as Kim Newman and the late Terry Carr, haven’t their struggles been hard enough without us having to be reminded of their gender?

  5. I love the female mystery writer Andrea Camilleri, who does great Italian mysteries. But I don’t only read women. Fred Vargas has a great French mystery series that even has a Canadian connection and one book which was set in Canada.

  6. And thank goodness we can always turn to such manful writers as James Tiptree, Jr., Anthony Gilbert, Georges Sand, George Eliot, and Leigh Brackett, whenever the concerns of the distaff might become Simply Too Much for a man to take…this might be impolitic to write these days, but one grows tired of such writers as Gay Talese and their obsession with clothing and other fripperies.

  7. I still miss the days when you could go down to the local newsstand or drugstore and pick up the new paperback from western writer Lee Hoffman or sf/fantasy writer Andre Norton, and know you were in for a True Old Boy’s Adventure…or was that sf/fantasy writer Lee Hoffman and historical fiction writer Andre Norton? It all gets so confusing sometimes…

  8. I would certainly include Kim Stanley Robinson – her wonderful SF sagas such as the Mars trilogy and the Science in the Capitol series are just jam-packed with the sort of themes women crave – relationships and ecology – so pointedly aimed at the weaker sex – April IS the cruelest month…

  9. Thank you everyone for your wonderful suggestions! Wow—lots more great female (and male) writers to add to my list. While I agree we shouldn’t focus unduly on an artist’s gender, I do enjoy learning about their lives and it does make me appreciate their work that much more. And Todd… yes it does indeed get confusing at times! Thank you for adding some clarity and perspective to the discussion.

  10. Not at all, not at all. I’m always ready to help, any way I can…after all, these writers with their ambiguous-seeming names, like once-strapping Marion Zimmer Bradley, could easily be misleading till you study the texts in question, and note as Deborah does the telling nature of the stories themselves…

  11. And I like Scandinavian writer Jo Nesbo – her books are such gentle reads, totally appropriate to the gentler sex.

  12. Confusing? What about those French double entendres like Jean Jacques Rousseau and Jean Paul Sartre? Dieu merci for Guy de Maupassant! Are there any straightforward Gal writers out there? (Galsworthy does not count.)

  13. Thank you Diane, Deborah, and Shonna for sharing your favorite female authors! As for straightforward Gal writers, Guy, how about Gal Beckerman?

  14. Though your name, Tracy, reminds us of that fine writer Tracy Kidder, an example for the gender in a way that Gay Talese (again, with the gossip and all with the likes of THY NEIGHBOR’S WIFE) is not…Kidder being fascinated by home economics (HOUSE, AMONG SCHOOLCHILDREN). I think, particularly today of all days, we need more Kidders around.

    While considering the pioneers, let us not forget Hillary Waugh, with LAST SEEN WEARING…, often credited with being the first modern police-procedural novel, and set at a women’s college, no less! Thats repping the sisters (the Seven Sisters, at least!)!

  15. And, fwiw, the Divine Leslie, creator of The Saint, was actually Leslie Yin. Charteris a pen name. (Luckily, we don’t have too much confusion over those.

  16. And, of course, the internal evidence suggests that we should realize Dr. Seuss was of the more nurturing sex: the fondness for cats, the obsession with neatness, the concerns that someone should have a good if oddly-colored breakfast, Horton’s fierce protectiveness of the little ones…perhaps her name was Samantha…Samantha I. M. Seuss does sound quite plausible, in fact…

  17. Evelyn Waugh is a male writer, and Curtis Sittenfeld and Lionel Shriver are both female writers.

  18. Excellent article Shonna! Thank you so much for sharing that. Although my post was indeed intended as an April Fool’s joke, I was hoping that it (and all the wonderful comments from folks who were “playing along”) might also prompt people to think about how writing gets categorized and interpreted based on the author’s gender. The NYT article offers much food for thought on the subject!

  19. Joyce Kilmer is also a man. And Curtis Sittenfield is a woman. Don’t you people look at the back flaps of the books you read?

  20. Heather, if I were being as rude as you I would say that the “you people” that you refer to are apparently more intelligent and well-read than you, as they know the sex of all these authors, and were participating in a fun April Fool’s spoof. Luckily I have better manners than that and would never dream of posting a personal attack.

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