So it’s International Women’s Day, a day in which we are encouraged to celebrate the many contributions women have made in all aspects of life, both public and private. Those of us in the UK may think of Emmeline Pankhurst, the leader of the suffragette movement in the UK and the leading figure in the fight to win women the vote. But whether a figure for women’s rights or not, all women the world over should be celebrated for succeeding in a world that remains to this day unfairly orientated towards men. As Seal once famously sang: “This is a man’s world, but it would be nothing without a woman.” So to mark International Women’s Day I thought I’d compile a short list of some of my favourite female writers, both past and present.
Malorie Blackman currently holds the position of Children’s laureate in the UK. I first encountered her as a child when I read her stunning novel Noughts and Crosses, a story set in a dystopian world in which white people are the oppressed race. Though this is essentially a kid’s/teenager’s book, it is unapologetically hard-hitting in its portrayal of racism and inequality. She manages to combine excellent story telling with a universally controversial issue to create a book that is instantly enjoyable and also introduces a young audience to such a pressing issue. Highly recommended.
I have written quite a lot about PJ Harvey before, but this post would be incomplete without mentioning her name. Harvey is a force to be reckoned with. Exploding onto the rock/grunge scene in the early 90s, her music has evolved from riot grrrl rage into a more mature style, meticulously researching and documenting the horrors of war. Though Harvey has always been cagey about the feminist label, her work often distinctly addresses gender inequality and women’s suffering, be it through the highly ironic retelling of Jane’s experiences with Tarzan in Me-Jane, to haunting tales of motherhood and abortion. Never one to shy away from a controversial theme, I await Harvey’s next move with great anticipation.
Akhmatova was a prominent figure in pre-revolutionary Russia, writing popular poems about beauty and love. Her role changed somewhat, however, during the years of Stalin’s terror, when she adopted the role of documentor to the horrors around her. Her most famous poem, Requiem, is an emotional elegy to women who have had their loved ones taken from them. No stranger to this herself, her son was arrested and sent to the gulag, Akhmatova’s work is charged with female suffering and makes for a deeply touching read. She fiercely rejected the label ‘poetess’, not agreeing that her gender should dictate her title, and despite eventually being banned from publication, made huge waves across the Soviet Union.
Lorde is the new kid on the block. The 17 year old burst onto the pop music scene in 2013 with her smash hit Royals, a song that attacks the lavish and luxurious lifestyles of the rich and famous. Her debut album, Pure Heroine, has also gone on to achieve huge success thanks to its original, subtle sound and is an antidote to the slew of overproduced, vacuous music taking over the charts. David Bowie has said that listening to her music is like “listening to tomorrow.” Lorde is a proud, self-proclaimed feminist and has spoken at length about the vicious ways women in the media are treated. While Beyonce’s questionable brand of feminism seems to involve shedding her clothes and performing for dictators, Lorde prefers to keep her clothes on and let her music do the talking. Undoubtedly an important figure in the future of pop music.
Ah, of course. No list of accomplished women writers would be complete without this generation’s Austen. Not only has Rowling turned an entire generation to reading, but she has done so through books that, unlike Twilight and its copycats, portray female characters in powerful, convincing roles. Hermione Granger is a fiercely intelligent, ambitious girl who guides Harry and Ron through their mission to defeat Lord Voldemort. Without her help, the franchise would have ended after the first book, when Harry and Ron would almost certainly have been mauled to death by Fluffy, the guarder of the philosopher’s stone. Hermione isn’t the only interesting female character we find throughout the series, however. We have the deadly Bellatrix Lestrange, non-conformist Luna Lovegood, loathsome Dolores Umbridge and lovable matriarchs Molly Weasley and Professor Mcgonagall. Through her range of unique and convincing female characters, Rowling has redefined how we read, and write about, contemporary women.
Who would you add to my list? Let me know in a comment below!