Must-Read Feminist Authors

From Angelou to Woolf, no two feminist authors are quite the same

Zora Neale Hurston
Zora Neale Hurston. Fotosearch/Archive Photos/Getty Images

What is a feminist writer? The definition has changed over time, and in different generations, it can mean different things. For the purposes of this list, a feminist writer is one whose works of fiction, autobiography, poetry or drama highlighted the plight of women, or societal inequalities that women struggled against. Although this list highlights female writers, it's worth noting that gender isn't a prerequisite for being considered "feminist." Here are some notable female writers whose works have decidedly feminist viewpoint.

Anna Akhmatova

(1889-1966)

Russian poet recognized both for her accomplished verse techniques and for her complex yet principled opposition to the injustices, repressions, and persecutions that took place in the early Soviet Union. She wrote her best-known work, the lyric poem Requiem, in secret over a five-year period between 1935 and 1940, describing the suffering of Russians under Stalinist rule.

Louisa May Alcott

(1832-1888)

Feminist and transcendentalist with strong family ties to Massachusetts, Louisa May Alcott is best known for her 1868 novel about four sisters, Little Women, based on an idealized version of her own family.

Isabel Allende

(born 1942)

Chilean-American writer known for writing about female protagonists in a literary style known as magical realism. She's best known for novels The House of the Spirits (1982) and Eva Luna (1987).

Maya Angelou

(1928-2014)

African-American author, playwright, poet, dancer, actress, and singer, who wrote 36 books, and acted in plays and musicals.

Angelou's most famous work is the autobiographical I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969). In it, Angelou spares no detail of her chaotic childhood.

Margaret Atwood

(born 1939)

Canadian writer whose early childhood was spent living in the wilderness of Ontario. Atwood's most well-known work is The Handmaid's Tale (1985) It tells the story of a near-future dystopia in which the main character and narrator, a woman called Offred, is kept as a concubine ("handmaid") for reproductive purposes.

Jane Austen

(1775-1817)

English novelist whose name did not appear on her popular works until after her death, who led a relatively sheltered life, yet wrote some of the best-loved stories of relationships and marriage in Western literature. Her novels include Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1812), Mansfield Park (1814), Emma, (1815), Persuasion (1819) and Northanger Abbey (1819)

Charlotte Brontë

(1816-1855)

Her 1847 novel Jane Eyre is one of the most-read and most-analyzed works of English literature. The sister of Anne and Emily Bronte, Charlotte was the last survivor of six siblings, the children of a parson and his wife, who died in childbirth. It's believed that Charlotte heavily edited Anne's and Emily's work after their deaths.

Emily Brontë

(1818-1848)

Charlotte's sister wrote arguably one of the most prominent and critically-acclaimed novels in Western literature, Wuthering Heights. Very little is known about when Emily Bronte wrote this Gothic work, believed to be her only novel, or how long it took her to write.

Gwendolyn Brooks

(1917-2000)

First African American to win the Pulitzer Prize, in 1950, for her book of poetry Annie Allen. Brooks' earlier work, a collection of poems called, A Street in Bronzeville (1945), was praised as an unflinching pottrait of life in Chicago's inner city.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

(1806-1861)

One of the most popular British poets of the Victorian era, Browning is best known for her Sonnets from the Portuguese, a collection of love poems she wrote secretly during her courtship with fellow poet Robert Browning.

Fanny Burney

(1752-1840)

English novelist, diarist and playwright who wrote satirical novels about English aristocracy. Her novels include Evelina, published anonymously in 1778, and The Wanderer (1814).

Willa Cather

(1873-1947)

American writer known for her novels about life on the Great Plains. Her works include O Pioneers! (1913), The Song of the Lark (1915), and My Antonia (1918). She won the Pulitzer Prize for One of Ours (1922), a novel set in World War I.

Kate Chopin

(1850-1904)

Author of short stories and novels, which included The Awakening and other short stories such as A Pair of Silk Stockings, and The Story of an Hour, Chopin explored feminist themes in most of her work.

Christine de Pizan

(c. 1364-c. 1429)

Author of The Book of the City of Ladies, de Pizan was a medieval writer whose work shed light on the lives of medieval women.

Sandra Cisneros

(born 1954)

Mexican-American writer best known for her novel The House on Mango Street (1984) and her short story collection Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories (1991).

Emily Dickinson

(1830-1886)

Recognized among the most influential of American poets, Dickinson lived most of her life as a recluse in Amherst, Massachusetts. Many of her poems, which had strange capitalization and dashes, can be interpreted to be about death. Among her most well-known poems are Because I Could not Stop for Death, and A Narrow Fellow in the Grass.

George Eliot

(1819-1880)

Born Mary Ann Evans, Eliot wrote about social outsiders within political systems in small towns. Her novels included The Mill on the Floss (1860), Silas Marner (1861), and Middlemarch (1872).

Louise Erdrich

(born 1954)

Writer of Ojibwe heritage whose works focus on Native Americans. Her 2009 novel The Plague of Doves was a finalist for the Pulitzer prize.

Marilyn French

(1929-2009)

American writer whose work highlighted gender inequalities. He best-known work was her 1977 novel The Women's Room.

Margaret Fuller

(1810-1850)

Part of the New England Transcendentalist movement, Fuller was a confidant of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and a feminist when women's rights were not robust. She's known for her work as a journalist at the New York Tribune, and her essay Woman in the Nineteenth Century.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

(1860-1935)

Feminist scholar whose best-known work is her her semi-autobiographical short story The Yellow Wallpaper, about a woman suffering from mental illness after being confined to a small room by her husband.

Lorraine Hansberry

(1930-1965)

Author and playwright whose best known work is the 1959 play A Raisin in the Sun. It was the first Broadway play by an African-American woman to be produced on Broadway.

Lillian Hellman

(1905-1984)

Playwright best known for the 1933 play The Children's Hour, which was banned in several places for its depiction of a lesbian romance.

Zora Neale Hurston

(1891-1960)

Writer whose best-known work is the controversial 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God

Jewett, Sarah Orne

Sarah Orne Jewett

(1849-1909)

New England novelist and poet, known for her style of writing, referred to as American literary regionalism, or "local color." Her best-known work is the 1896 short story collection The Country of the Pointed Firs.

Margery Kempe

(c. 1373-c. 1440)

Medieval writer known for dictating the first autobiography written in English (she could not write). She was said to have religious visions which informed her work.

Maxine Hong Kingston

(born 1940)

Asian-American writer whose work focuses on Chinese immigrants in the U.S. Her best-known work is her 1976 memoir The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts,

Doris Lessing

(1919-2013)

Her 1962 novel The Golden Notebook is considered a leading feminist work. Lessing won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2007.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

(1892-1950)

Poet and feminist who received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1923 for The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver. Millay made no attempts to hide her bisexuality, and themes exploring sexuality can be found throughout her writing.

Toni Morrison

(born 1931)

The first African-American woman to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature, in 1993, Morrison's best-known work is her 1987 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Beloved, about a freed slave haunted by her

Joyce Carol Oates

(born 1938)

Prolific novelist and short-story writer whose work deals with themes of oppression, racism, sexism and violence against women. Her works include Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? (1966), Because it is Bitter, and Because it is My Heart (1990) and We Were the Mulvaneys (1996)

Sylvia Plath

(1932-1963)

Poet and novelist whose best-known work was her autobiography The Bell Jar (1963). Plath, who suffered from depression, also is known for her 1963 suicide. In 1982, she became the first poet to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize posthumously, for her Collected Poems.

Adrienne Rich

(1929-2012)

Award-winning poet, longtime American feminist and prominent lesbian. She wrote more than a dozen volumes of poetry and several non-fiction books. Rich won the National Book Award in 1974 for Diving Into the Wreck, but refused to accept the award individually, instead sharing it with fellow nominees Audre Lorde and Alice Walker.

Christina Rossetti

(1830-1894)

English poet Known for her mystical religious poems, and the feminist allegory in her best-known narrative ballad, Goblin Market.

George Sand

(1804-1876)

French novelist and memoirist whose real name was Armandine Aurore Lucille Dupin Dudevant. Her works inlcude La Mare au diable (1846), and La Petite Fadette (1849).

Sappho

(c 610 B.C.-c. 570 B.C.)

Most well-known of the ancient Greek women poets associated with the island of Lesbos. Sappho wrote odes to the goddesses and lyric poetry, whose style gave name to Sapphic meter.

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

(1797-1851)

Novelist best known for Frankenstein, (1818); married to the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley; daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton

(1815-1902)

Suffragist who fought for women's voting rights, known for her 1892 speech Solitude of Self, her autobiography Eighty Years and More, and The Woman's Bible.

Gertrude Stein

(1874-1946)

Writer whose Saturday salons in Paris drew artists such as Pablo Picasso, who painted a p and Henri Matisse. Her best-known works are Three Lives (1909) and The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933). Tolkas and Stein were longtime partners.

Amy Tan

(born 1952)

Her best-known work is the 1989 novel The Joy Luck Club, about the lives of Chinese-American women and their families.

Alice Walker

(born 1944)

Her best-known work is the 1982 novel The Color Purple, winner of the Pulitzer prize, and for her rehabilitation of the work of Zora Neale Hurston.

Virginia Woolf

(1882-1941)

One of the most prominent literary figures of the early 20th century, with novels like Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse (1927). Her best-known work is her 1929 essay A Room of One's Own.