Inspirational women writers you need to read

To mark International Women’s Day on 8th March, we celebrate some incredible female writers, from bestselling authors to rising literary stars.

03/03/2020

International Women’s Day is a day dedicated to achieving gender equality around the world. What better way to mark the occasion than by celebrating some of our favourite female writers? From activists like Mariam Khan to bestselling authors like Danielle Steel and Margaret Atwood, here are the women you should be reading.

Melinda Gates

1964 –

For twenty years Melinda Gates has co-chaired the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with her husband Bill. Her goal has been to find solutions for the people with the most urgent needs around the world. Through her work she came to the realisation that to lift a society up, you must invest in women.

In her first book, the candid and inspiring The Moment of Lift, Melinda explains how she reached this realisation, highlights the huge opportunities for change that exist right now, and offers simple and effective ways that you can make a difference. From family planning to job equality and the elimination of gender bias, Gates has campaigned on the global stage for a range of issues, and introduces us to her personal heroes in the movement towards equality.

The Moment of Lift

by Melinda Gates

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In The Moment of Lift, Melinda Gates shares what she has learnt and discovered in her ongoing work towards achieving women’s global empowerment, as well as disclosing personal insights from her own journey towards equality. This moving book demonstrates the power of lifting women up, rather than holding them down.

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Angela Carter

1940 – 1992

A true original, Angela Carter plunges her readers into a parallel enchanted universe of bawdy pantomime and fantastical feminism. She is best known for her collection of short fiction, The Bloody Chamber, which contains stories based on traditional fairy tales but with an explicitly feminist slant. 

Mariam Khan

1993  – 

Mariam Khan is a British writer and activist, and editor of It’s Not About the Burqa, a collection of essays written by Muslim women, about Muslim women.  In 2016, Mariam read that David Cameron, then British Prime Minister, had allegedly suggested that ‘traditional submissiveness of Muslim women’ was a leading factor in the radicalisation of young Muslim men. Frustrated, and knowing the truth to be so far to the contrary,  Mariam was determined to give Muslim women, a community too often unheard, the space to discuss the truth about what it means to be a Muslim woman in the West today; about love, sex, wavering faith, mental health, and so much more. Find out more about It’s Not About the Burqa in our video with Mariam and some of the book’s contributors.

It's Not About the Burqa

by Mariam Khan

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It’s Not About the Burqa represents the voices you don’t see represented in the media – seventeen Muslim women speaking frankly and honestly about the hijab and their faith; love, sex and divorce; intersectional feminism; queer identity; racism and facing a disapproving community. A must-read for feminists everywhere.

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Margaret Atwood 

1939 –

With a writing career spanning over fifty years, Margaret Atwood needs no introduction. Probably best known for her dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale, which was adapted into the TV series of the same name starring Elisabeth Moss, Atwood is equally at home writing novels that deal with sexual politics and speculative fiction.

Virginia Woolf 

1882 – 1941

Modernist novelist and lynchpin of the Bloomsbury set, Virginia Woolf continues to inspire generations of readers with her dazzling plunges into the interior world of her characters. Her essay A Room of One's Own argued for financial independence and freedom for women writers was a seminal feminist text. 

Mrs Dalloway

by Virginia Woolf

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Bold and experimental, Virginia Woolf's story of one day in the lives of Clarissa Dalloway, a fashionable, wealthy and accomplished hostess; and Septimus Warren Smith, a shellshocked survivor of the Great War, is a landmark in twentieth-century fiction.  

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Maya Angelou

1928 – 2014

Angelou’s remarkable life was a journey from nightclub dancing and sex work to journalism, civil rights activism and prolific lecturing and writing. She remains a central figure in discussions of African American identity. She is best know for her seroes of autobiographies which focus on her childhood and early adult years. 

Carol Ann Duffy

1955 –

The first female Poet Laureate, from 2009 to 2019, Carol Ann Duffy’s subject matter includes gender and lesbian identity and – in her official role – MP’s expenses, banker bonuses and David Beckham’s Achilles heel. Her writing is vigorous and straightforward but sensitive.

The World's Wife

by Carol Ann Duffy

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Carol Ann Duffy's poetry often has feminist themes, but The World’s Wife in particular is a feminist classic, which gives voice to the wives of famous historical and fictional heroes.  

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Doris Lessing

1919 – 2013

Nobel Prize winner Doris Lessing wrote of Africa and the UK in novels, poetry, plays and short stories. A powerful female perspective is central to her work, as well as impassioned explorations of sexuality and desire.

Elizabeth Macneal

1988  – 

Born in Scotland and now living in East London, Elizabeth Macneal is not only a writer but a talented potter. The first draft of her debut novel, The Doll Factory, won the Caledonia Novel Award, and is to be published by Picador in May this year. A thrilling, and often dark story of love, art and dangerous obsession, The Doll Factory follows Iris as she breaks free of the restraints of Victorian gender roles to pursue a life of freedom and creativity.

Read Naomi Frisby on the male gaze in ​The Doll Factory, art and society

The Doll Factory

by Elizabeth Macneal

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Elizabeth Macneal’s enthralling novel follows Iris Whittle as she breaks free of the staid gender expectations of the 19th century to follow her heart and pursue a new life full of art and love. But after a chance meeting, collector Silas develops a dark obsession with Iris which could threaten her new found freedom forever. Battling gender stereotypes and male entitlement, Iris is undoubtedly a Victorian heroine for the 21st century.

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Sally Rooney

1991 –

With two novels published to serious acclaim and one longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, all before the age of thirty, Sally Rooney is certainly an author to watch. Nicknamed ‘the Salinger of the Snapchat generation’ Rooney excels at writing about modern relationships and the power struggles and imbalances inherent therein. Her debut novel Conversations With Friends follows friends, ex-lovers and performance poets Frances and Bobbi as they become increasingly entangled with an alluring older couple, while Normal People charts the relationship between Marianne and Connell as they navigate their teens and early twenties.

Jackie Kay

1961 –

The Scottish Makar (Poet Laureate), Jackie Kay is the child of a Nigerian father and Scottish mother, and was adopted by a white Scottish couple. She writes with wit and warmth about her family, sexuality and class. 

Red Dust Road

by Jackie Kay

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Red Dust Road is an autobiographical piece about finding her father in Nigeria. In a book remarkable for its warmth and candour, Kay discovers that inheritance is about much more than genes: that we are shaped by songs as much as by cells, and that what triumphs, ultimately, is love. 

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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

1977 –

An Angolophone novelist from eastern Nigeria who writes of feminism, Africa, and her country’s diaspora. Purple Hibiscus was voted best first book in the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. She is arguably now best known for her personal, eloquently-argued essay We Should All Be Feminists – adapted from her much-viewed Tedx talk of the same name. With humour and levity, Adichie offers readers a unique definition of feminism for the twenty-first century – one rooted in inclusion and awareness.

Hollie McNish 

1984 –

Hollie McNish has thrilled and entranced audiences the length and breadth of the UK with her compelling and powerful performances, and her poetry videos have attracted millions of views worldwide. 

Plum

by Hollie McNish

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Diaries, poems and stories form this voyage of discovery about pregnancy, birth and modern motherhood.

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Ursula K Le Guin

1929 – 2018

Ursula K. Le Guin wrote of future worlds, environmental issues, gender and religion for both adults and children. She was awarded the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, one of the few women to have been granted this honour.

Jessie Burton

1982 

Jessie Burton’s first novel The Miniaturist was a literary sensation; it has been translated into over thirty languages, has sold over a million copies around the world and was adapted into a BBC One miniseries. Jessie writes fascinating, complex female characters who aren’t defined by what the men in their life are doing.
Jessie’s third novel, The Confession, tells the story of three women and the complex connections they share through decades and across continents.

The Confession

by Jessie Burton

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The highly anticipated third novel from million-copy bestselling author Jessie Burton is a powerful and deeply moving story about secrets, motherhood and friendship. In 1980 Elise meets Constance, a successful writer, and quickly falls under her spell, moving to LA to be with her. Three decades later, Rose Simmons is looking for answers about her mother, who disappeared after she was born. When she learns that reclusive novelist Constance Holden was the last person to see her mother alive, she is drawn to her door in search of a confession . . . 

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George Eliot 

1819 – 1880

Born Mary Ann Evans, Eliot adopted a man’s name to avoid being bracketed with female romantic writers. Her epic works are studies of the social and emotional lives of characters in rural and small town England.

Mary Shelley

1797 – 1851

The daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft and wife of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary famously conceived Frankenstein in Switzerland as a result of a contest between her, Shelley, Byron and John Polidori as to who could write the most horrifying yarn.

Frankenstein

by Mary Shelley

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Published anonymously in 1818, Frankenstein is the story of a man who creates a monster he cannot control. It is the ultimate Gothic horror story, and a precursor of modern science fiction.

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Toni Morrison

1931 – 2019

Toni Morrison’s genius saw her become a Nobel Laureate in 1993. More than just a chronicler of the African American experience, Morrison was also its poet, her work soaring into mystic realms of folklore, loss and pain.

Charlotte Bronte 

1816 – 1855

Brought up in Haworth Parsonage in Yorkshire in a family which included genius sister Emily and errant brother Branwell, Charlotte endured the torments of a brutal girls’ school and the humiliation of being a governess, experiences central to the emotional life of her heroine Jane Eyre.

Jane Eyre

by Charlotte Bronte

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When orphan Jane Eyre takes a position as governess at Thornfield Hall, the last thing she expects is to fall in love with the brooding master of the house. An enduring love story and undisputed classic, Jane Eyre is full of passion, mystery, tragedy, and a strong-willed and beloved heroine.

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Danielle Steel

1947 – 

Danielle Steel is one of the world’s most popular authors, and has sold over 650 million copies of her novels around the globe. Her many international bestsellers include Moral CompassBeauchamp Hall and Lost and Found

For more on Danielle’s bestselling books, new releases and what’s coming soon, click here.

Moral Compass

by Danielle Steel

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This highly topical, thought-provoking novel from Danielle Steel is set in Saint Ambrose Prep, which has been the school of choice for the sons of the great and the good for over a century. Then Saint Ambrose enrolls its first female students. When one of these students is attacked after a Halloween party, the students who were there close ranks. As parents, staff, students and the media try to find out what happened, no-one will escape the fallout.  

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Maxine Hong Kingston

1940 –

Feminist novelist Kingston uses memory and folk tales to spin stories which connect Chinese American characters with their heritage and the horrors of communist China.

The Woman Warrior

by Maxine Hong Kingston

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When we Chinese girls listened to the adults talking-story, we learned that we failed if we grew up to be but wives or slaves. We could be heroines, swordswomen.

Eastern folklore and autobiography blend in this compelling study of the Chinese diaspora.

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For more inspiring recommendations, don't miss this episode of Book Break all about feminist books where women take over.