Illustration by Jane Mount
Since its inaugural year in 1948, the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction has been awarded to a woman 18 times. America's National Book Award, launched in 1950, shares the same number, while the Man Booker, beginning in 1969, boasts 16. As of February 2018, that makes the number of times one of these prestigious literary awards has been awarded to a woman just one in four (or, a whopping 26.9% of awards granted, to be exact).
Something I noticed while tallying the winners is that, for the most part, the share of female winners is densely packed into the last 20 years. While that could be seen as a sign of promise, the imbalance is still glaringly obvious which strikes me as odd considering the wealth of literary talent among women. I set out to create a list of 50 essential female authors, and upon hitting 50 in under five minutes I decided to shoot for 100. It wasn't a hard list to fill - what was hard was choosing just 100. I cringe to think of the names that were omitted (please, tell us in the comment section).
How do we change this? We start with the obvious - we read women. In 2014 writer Joanna Walsh launched The Year of Reading Women (#readwomen2014). What started as a nudge encouraging friends to read female authors became a powerful movement to raise awareness in the book industry and encourage publishers, distributors, and promoters to pull women writers into the spotlight so readers like you and I could better discover them. If step one is to read women, then step two is to talk about them - to review them, to critique them, to press their books into the hands of our book-loving friends.
Whatever stage you're at in the endeavor to read more women, here are 100 talented female authors to get you started or keep you going. We suspect the list will grow longer in the comments section, so please do give those a read and leave your own suggestions!
A Grandmaster of Science Fiction, Le Guin won multiple Hugo adn Nebula Awards and is best known for her fantasy Novel, A Wizard of Earthsea.
The author of Room of One's Own is considered a pioneer in the use of stream of consciousness as a narrative device.
Before publishing her iconic book Little Women in 1868, Alcott wrote under the pen name A. M. Barnard.
The eldest Bronte sister and author of Jane Eyre first published her works under the pen name Currer Bell.
Wuthering Heights, Emily's only novel and a staple of English Literature, was origianlly published under a male pen name Ellis Bell.
Loved for her critique of British society, Austen is the iconic author of Pride & Prejudice, Emma, and more.
The author of Beloved has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize for Literature. In 2012, Barack Obama presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The Australian journalist and author received a Pulitzer Prize for her novel March.
Mary Anne Evans, known by her pen name George Eliot, was an English writer best known for her novel Middlemarch.
Prolific Canadian author, poet, and essayist best known for novels including The Handmaid's Tale and Alias Grace.
The American expat molded young writers and artists including Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Picasso. Her most famous work is The Autobiography of Alice B. Tolkas.
Her novel The Age of Innocance won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1921, making Wharton the first woman to receive the award.
Made famous for her creation of literature's favourite wizard, Rowling branched out with The Casual Vacancy.
Prolific American author best known for her National Book Award-winning novel Them and bestselling title, We Were the Mulvaneys.
The American novelist, short-story writer, and literary critic as awarded the Pulitzer Prize for her 1989 novel Breathing Lessons.
The American novelist is best known for her books Brokeback Mountain and The Shipping News.
The recipient of multiple Hugo and Nebula awards, Butler was also the first science fiction writer to receive the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship.
The American novelist and activist is best known for her award-winning novel, The Color Purple.
American abolitionist and author best known for her iconic novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin.
The children and YA novel writer addressed taboo topics like birth control and menstration in books like Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.
Phyllis Dorothy James was an English crime writer best known for her series of detective novels starring police commander and poet Adam Dalgliesh.
The English historical romance and detective fiction writer invented the Regency Romance genre.
The American writer was known for her novels of frontier life on the Great Plains, including O Pioneers!
The British writer is best known for her award-winning debut novel White Teeth, published in 2000.
The Nigerian author and recipient of the MacArthur Genius Grant is best known for her novel Americah and essay We Should All be Feminists.
Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Lessing is best known for her novels The Grass is Singing and The Golden Notebook.
The American writer and professor is best known for her short story collection Bad Feminist and memoir Hunger.
English novelist, short story writer and journalist, known for her feminist, magical realism wroks including Nights at the Circus.
The Italian writer's works have been translated into many languages. She is best known for her novel, My Brilliant Friend.
A screenwriter, fiction, and nonfiction writer best known for A Book of Common Prayer, The Year of Magical Thinking, and the film As it Happens.
The iconic Canadian author is best known for creating the beloved children's series Anne of Green Gables.
Historical Fiction writer best known for her Booker-winning novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies.
Known for her portrayals of Native peoples and culture, Erdrich was awarded the National Book Award for The Round House.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning author is best known for her story collection The Interpreter of Maladies and novels The Namesake and The Lowland.
Her 1993 novel Doomsday Book won numerous awards, including The Hugo and Nebula awards.
The Chilean-American writer is best known for her magic realist writing including The House of the Spirits. She is a recipient of the Presendential Medal of Freedom.
The author of the famous memoir Eat, Pray, Love broke into fiction in 2013 with The Signature of All Things.
The South African writer and political activist received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1991.
The author of Swamplandia!, Russell received the MacArther Foundation Genius Grant in 2013.
The American-Canadian author of A Tale for the Time Being and other novels is also a filmmaker.
The novelist, memorist, playwright, poet and story writer is the recipient of Irish PEN Award.
Award-winning British author best known for Life After Life and Behind the Scenes at the Museum.
The prolific American author best known for The Poisonwood Bible and The Lacuna founded the Bellwhether Prize to support literature of social change.
The Indian writer won both the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Cirlce Fiction Award for The Inheritance of Loss.
The New Zealand writer won the Man Booker Prize in 1985 for her only novel, The Bone People.
Born in 1919, the writer and philosopher wrote about good and evil, sexual relationships, and the power of the unconscious.
The author of The Vacationers and Modern Lovers and owner of Books Are Magic, a bookstore in New York.
Yaa Gyasi is a Ghanaian-American novelist known for her award-winning debut novel Homegoing.
The American poet, novelist, and short-story writer was best known for her coming-of-age novel, The Bell Jar.
The historical fiction writer known for The Birth House, The Vigin Cure, and The Witches of New York.
The award-winning author of Silver Sparrow, Leaving Atlanta, The Untelling, and most recently, An American Marriage.
The award-winning author and playwright best known for her novels Rebecca and Jamaica Inn.
The American author won the Booker in 2011 for Salvage the Bones, and again in 2017 for Sing, Unburied, Sing.
Primarily known for her powerful essays, Sontag also wrote novels including 1992's The Volcono Lover.
The prolific American writer is best known for her short story collections including A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories.
The award-winning Haitian-American author writes stories, novels, essays, and children's books.
Best known for The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan's works explore mother-daughter relationships and the Chinese-American experience.
Book shelf illustration by Jane Mount of Ideal Bookshelf.