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