Authors weigh in on their favorite female writers


Last week, I asked authors, “Who are your favorite female authors?” It’s always interesting to see who has influenced an author or who they like to read. Here are their responses. (In a reversal of custom, men first.)

Kris Jansma (The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards, Why We Came to the City): I think Lorrie Moore is probably my favorite of all time, but among contemporaries I have to go with Karen Russell!

Jonathan Evison (The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, West of Here, Lawn Boy): Shirley Jackson

Jamie Ford (Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Love and Other Consolation Prizes): Ursula K. LeGuin

David Cheezem (poet and former owner of Fireside Books, Palmer, Alaska): I stumbled upon a book of short stories by Susan Sontag in the late 70s/early 80s and it changed my life, especially “Debriefing,” which was beautifully disjointed & lyrical. It became an annual re-read for me. It was never the Sontag that critics celebrated or even argued about, but I’ve always loved that book.

Mary Morris (Gateway to the Moon, The Jazz Palace, Nothing to Declare: Memoirs of a Woman Traveling Alone): Willa Cather, Joyce Carol Oates, Grace Paley

Angie Kim (Miracle Creek): So many, so I’m going to choose female authors who’ve written multiple books that I’ve loved: Jennifer Egan, Laura Lippman, and Kate Atkinson.

Julie Zuckerman (The Book of Jeremiah): Can I have a three-way tie? Edith Pearlman, Margaret Atwood, and Jhumpa Lahiri.

Hilary Zaid (Paper is White): This is a horrible game. I hate playing favorites! A very small subset of mine includes: Laurie Colwin, Rachel Hall, Lesley Nneka Arimah, Alice McDermott, Nayomi Munaweera, Elizabeth Onusko, R. L. Maizes, Heidi Julavits, Nicole Dennis-Benn, Naomi Williams, and so many others!

Jennifer Banash (Silent Alarm, White Lines): Carole Maso, Kate Braverman, Claire Dederer, Gina Frangello, Darcey Steinke, Rachel DeWoskin

Melissa Duclos (Besotted): I’m choosing my favorites from among only women writers I don’t actually know. Otherwise this would be impossible! Siri Hustvedt, Joan Didion, Ann Patchett.

Colette Sartor (Once Removed, due this fall): Toni Morrison, Alice Munro, Jhumpa Lahiri, Margaret Atwood, Tana French, Ann Patchett, and Elizabeth McCracken.

Phyllis Watt Jordan (Taking the Waters): My first thoughts were my two favorite mystery writers: Laura Lippman and Elizabeth George. I also like Ann Patchett.

Barbara Ridley (When It’s Over): Impossible to give just one. But sticking with those I don’t know personally, I would have to have Ann Patchett, yes, and Barbara Kingsolver and Penelope Lively and Zadie Smith in the mix.

Garine Boyajian Isassi (Start with the Backbeat): Too many current authors to name! Among the more “famous” and older group are Julia Alvarez, Barbara Kingsolver, Amy Tan, Carrie Fisher, and Gloria Naylor … it looks like this might be a diversity post as well as a women author post.

Caitlin Hamilton Summie (To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts): I can’t choose! I can’t choose! Barbara Pym, Jane Austen, Louise Erdrich.

Mary Kay Zuravleff (Man Alive!, The Bowl is Already Broken): There were life-changing properties for me in Virginia Woolf and George Eliot. And a few years ago, I read Ali Smith’s How to be Both, which I’m still thinking about!

Laura Wolfe (Executive Director, Kern Literacy Council): Barbara Kingsolver, Anne Tyler, Jane Smiley, Daphne Du Maurier, Nora Ephron, Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Not necessarily in that order.

Rabbi Cheryl Rosenstein: Marge Piercy, Louise Erdrich, Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison (photo by Jaclyn Borowski, Bakersfield Californian)

The most detailed answer came from David Abrams, author of Fobbit and Brave Deeds, both based on his experiences in the Iraq War. He also publishes a fantastic blog, The Quivering Pen.

David Abrams: I have a pile (a room’s worth, really) of “favorite” female authors. I’ll begin with Agatha Christie, who was there at the start of my young-adult reading career–and she has continued to be an annual favorite since 1975, when I first read “The Body in the Library.”

Flannery O’Connor was the next to dominate my shelves. When I hit college, she and I eventually found our way to each other and she has been sparking and kicking and prodding me ever since I read her brilliant and bracing first sentence in The Violent Bear It Away: “Francis Marion Tarwater’s uncle had been dead for only half a day when the boy got too drunk to finish digging his grave and a Negro named Buford Munson, who had come to get a jug filled, had to finish it and drag the body from the breakfast table when it was still sitting and bury it in a decent and Christian way, with the sign of its Savior at the head of the grave and enough dirt on top to keep the dogs from digging it up.”

This also happened when I was in college: poet Anne Sexton pulled out a knife and gutted me like a fish, pubic bone to chin.

Edith Wharton has been a reliable tour guide whenever I want to time travel back to my favorite, dreamt-about era: the turn of the 20th century. Though I’m still working my way through her canon, one of my favorites is the short, usually overlooked novel Summer. Like Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, Wharton’s Summer caused quite a stir when it was first published in 1917, primarily because it’s about sex and the enjoyment thereof. Supposedly, Wharton called it her “hot Ethan.” It’s hot and good.

When it comes to contemporary authors, some of my favorites include Kate Atkinson (Life After Life), Lee Smith (all of them are good, but I’m keen for Family Linen and Oral History), Tea Obreht (The Tiger’s Wife for the win!), Bonnie Jo Campbell (especially the short stories in Mothers, Tell Your Daughters), and Dani Shapiro (her memoirs are revelations–about herself and ourselves).

As for my next favorite female author? She’s out there right now–I can sense it–writing a book that I’ll love sometime in the next three years.

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