Inspirational women writers - an IWD reading list

06 March 2017

In honour of International Women’s Day 2017, we’ve put together a collection of female writers who never fail to inspire us, along with a recommended reading list.

The theme for this year’s Women’s Day is #BeBoldForChange, so join us in celebrating these bold women who changed the way we see the world.

Have we missed your favourite? Tell us about the female writers who have inspired you on Twitter at @PicadorBooks.  

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 Afro American identity.

Must read: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

A powerful autobiographical tale of Angelou’s childhood and adolescent battle with racism and trauma in Arkansas.


Margaret Atwood 

1939 –

Raised in the backwoods of Quebec, Atwood conjures a distinctive fairytale feel in her writing, as well as a futuristic dash of what she terms ‘speculative fiction’ (as opposed to science fiction).

Must read: Cat’s Eye

Painter protagonist Elaine Risley flashbacks to childhood and teenage memories of Toronto in this exploration of identity and gender.


Angela Carter

1940 – 1992

A true original, Carter plunges her readers into a parallel enchanted universe of bawdy pantomime and fantastical feminism.

Must read: Wise Children

A magical mythical novel exploring the rambunctious lives of twin chorus girls.



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.

Must read: Jane Eyre

Religion and romantic love guide the fortunes of governess Jane, in this most intense tale of subjugation, Gothic passion and liberation.


Carol Ann Duffy

1955 –

The first female Poet Laureate, Duffy’s subject matter includes gender and her 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.

Must listen: ‘Mrs Tiresias’ from The World's Wife

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


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.

Must read: The Mill on the Floss

Mill girl Maggie Tulliver grows up with a deeply spiritual longing for opportunity and education, and her relationship with adored brother Tom grows more troubled.


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.

Must read: The Woman Warrior

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


Jackie Kay

1961 –

The Scottish Makar (Poet Laureate), 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. 

Must read: Red Dust Road

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. 


Doris Lessing

1919 – 2013

Nobel Prize winner 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.

Must read: The Golden Notebook

The notebooks of protagonist Anna Wulf document marriage, love, Africa, childbirth and mental fragility.


Ursula K Le Guin

1929 –

This American fantasy author writes for adults and children of future worlds, environmental, gender and religion. She is a Grandmaster of Science Fiction, one of the few women to have been granted this honour.

Must read: The Earthsea Cycle

A classic series from one of the greatest fantasy storytellers. These books introduce us to dragon lord Ged as he begins his journey from humble village boy to become the most famous wizard of his age.


Hollie McNish 

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. 

Must watch: 'Embarrassed'

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


Toni Morrison

1931 –

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

Must read: Beloved

A searing and strange story set in the wake of the American Civil War: a former slave is haunted by the vengeful spirit of the daughter she killed rather than see captured.


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.

Must read: We Should All Be Feminists

What does 'feminism' mean today asks Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in this personal, eloquently-argued essay – 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.




This lyric poet from the isle of Lesbos wrote of desire, spite, celebration, remembrance and erotic love between women, around 150 years after Homer's Iliad. Little remains today of her writings, which are said to have filled nine papyrus rolls in the great library at Alexandria some 500 years after her death.

Must read: 'Ode to Aphrodite' from Stung with Love: Poems and Fragments of Sappho

A light and lyrical ode to a beloved, written in the form of a prayer to the goddess of love, with strong echoes of Homer.


Mary Shelley

1797 – 1851

The daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft and wife of 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.

Must read: Frankenstein

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.


Zadie Smith

1975 –

Londoner Zadie has emerged as an important voice in black British writing, with White Teeth receiving many garlands including the Guardian First Book Award and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize.

Must read: White Teeth

This bold first novel describes the family lives and loves of two English and Bangladeshi friends in London.


Virginia Woolf 

1882 – 1941

Modernist novelist and lynchpin of the Bloomsbury set, Woolf continues to inspire generations of readers with her dazzling plunges into the interior world of her characters.

Must read: Mrs Dalloway

Clarissa Dalloway prepares for a society party is the broad but deceptive outline of this story, which employs a highly original fusion of memory, dialogue and stream of consciousness.

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