Throughout history, women have had a significant impact on literature, although they have not always been recognized for their contributions. Female authors have touched upon a variety of subjects, from global warming and the environment to slavery and human rights, romance, economic and political views, and more. In addition, female writers continue to leave their mark on literature and the world at large. Each writer brings a unique perspective on life that readers find to be a valuable part of their reading experience. Edith Wharton, Ayn Rand, Toni Morrison, Barbara Kingsolver, Sylvia Plath, Jane Austen, Margaret Atwood, Charlotte Bronte, and Louisa May Alcott are just some of the many women who have had a great influence on the world of modern literature.
Edith Wharton, born in 1862, was the novelist behind the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Age of Innocence. The American novelist, who herself was an aristocrat, wrote predominately about the American upper class. Her first story was privately printed when she was only 16 years old, and her first published novel was released in 1902 and called The Valley of Decision. In 1905, she released The House of Mirth, which garnered much attention and examined the topics of class and social change. Over the course of her career, she would write dozens of books, including an autobiography called A Backward Glance. The author is most famous for Ethan Frome. Not only did she receive the Pulitzer Prize in 1921, but she was also the first woman to do so. In addition, she was also the first woman to receive an honorary Doctorate of Letters from Yale University. She was awarded a full membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Wharton died in August 1937.
Born in 1905 as Alisa Zinov'yevna Rosenbaum, Ayn Rand was the eldest daughter in a Jewish family that lived in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Around the time that she graduated from Petrograd State University in 1924, she chose to adopt the name Ayn Rand as her professional identity, and in 1926, she came to the United States. Her first literary success was a screenplay titled Red Pawn, which she sold to Universal Studios in 1932. Her first worldwide success as a writer came when she wrote The Fountainhead, released in 1943 and made into a film in 1949. It championed the virtues of individualism over collectivism while taking the reader through the adventures of Howard Roark, a modernist architect. Her magnum opus, the novel Atlas Shrugged, was published in 1957 and focused on a group of top innovators in science, industry, and art, led by protagonist John Galt, who abandoned their work and went on strike in protest against the welfare state. While the world collapsed in their absence, they developed a small civilization of their own in a rural area called Galt's Gulch. The book was an international success. She created the philosophy of objectivism, which states that reality transcends consciousness and that the pursuit of an individual's own happiness, or rational self-interest, is the highest moral imperative. Her philosophy of individual rights and laissez-faire capitalism above all other virtues has been an inspiration for the libertarian and conservative movements worldwide. She died in 1982 at the age of 77.
Toni Morrison was the second child of four born to a working-class family in 1931 in Lorain, Ohio. She attended Howard University starting in 1949 and graduated with a bachelor's in English in 1953, then earned a master's from Cornell University in 1955. In 1967, she became the first black woman to serve as a senior editor at Random House in New York City, where she was instrumental in bringing mainstream attention to black authors' work. Angela Davis and Toni Cade Bambara are two African-American authors who were discovered by Morrison, along with Wole Soyinka from Nigeria and Athol Fugard from South Africa. At 39, she wrote her first novel, The Bluest Eye, about a young African-American girl growing up during the Great Depression and her struggles with internalized racism, among other problems. Song of Solomon, her third book, was published in 1977, and this book was cited by the Swedish Academy when Morrison won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993. She wrote numerous other popular novels as well, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Beloved, based on the story of a slave woman named Margaret Garner who was forced to kill her daughter to save her from slavery. Talk show host Oprah Winfrey featured Morrison's books on her show, bringing them further into the mainstream. Morrison was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters by Harvard University in 1989, Oxford University in 2005, and the University of Geneva and Rutgers University in 2011 as well as the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012 by President Barack Obama, among many other accolades she has earned during her career.
Born in Maryland in 1955, Barbara Kingsolver earned a bachelor's degree in biology at DePauw University in 1977 and a master's and an honorary Doctor of Letters from the University of Arizona. In the 1980s, she began a career writing science articles, and her first award for writing fiction came from a short-story contest held by a newspaper in Phoenix. Her literary works include The Bean Trees, a novel written in 1988 about Native Americans and their rights as parents; Animal Dreams (1989), about struggling with Alzheimer's disease; The Poisonwood Bible (1998), a story centered around four daughters living in the midst of the troubles in the 1960s in the Belgian Congo; and Flight Behavior (2012), about an unhappy housewife on a farm in Tennessee who discovers the adverse effects of climate change on monarch butterflies. She has received a number of honors, including the Bellwether Prize for Fiction in 2000, the National Humanities Medal which she received from President Bill Clinton in 2000, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and the Edward Abbey EcoFiction Award.
Novelist and poet Sylvia Plath was born in Massachusetts in 1932 and enrolled at Smith College in 1950, where she served as editor for The Smith Review. She became a guest editor at Mademoiselle magazine during her third year. Her struggles with depression and treatment after her first suicide attempt in 1953 inspired her only novel, titled The Bell Jar, which was published in 1963. She also wrote a collection of poems called The Colossus. Plath died by suicide in 1963, and a second book of poems, entitled Ariel, was published posthumously in 1965. Later, her husband published two additional posthumous volumes of her work, Crossing the Water (1971) and Winter Trees (1971). Plath won a number of awards, including the Pulitzer Prize (posthumously) in 1982 and the Glascock Prize in 1955, and she won many contests while in college.
Jane Austen was born in Hampshire, England, in 1775 to George and Cassandra Austen, the second daughter and seventh child of the family. Her father owned a library with a large amount of literature, which Jane took advantage of. At the age of 11, she began writing poetry and fiction to entertain herself and her family, largely centered around parodies and female empowerment. Eventually, these stories, contained in three notebooks, would be compiled into a collection known as Juvenilia. In 1792, she began the more serious aspect of her writing career, starting the book Catharine or the Bower, which was unfinished but later continued in Lady Susan. She is best-known for six novels, titled Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Persuasion, and Northanger Abbey, her final published work. Austen's works are widely studied and have even inspired movies in the modern age, but she received very little fame while she was alive. Austen died in 1817 in the town of her birth, at the age of 41.
Margaret Atwood was born in 1939 in Ontario, Canada, and is a famous Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning novelist as well as a poet, activist, and inventor. Atwood is famous for inventing a robotic remote writing device called the LongPen that allows someone to speak with people and sign books in ink in another location through use of the Internet and a robotic hand; the device was created to allow a jailed writer to virtually "attend" a book signing. She is also famous for writing speculative and feminist fiction novels, including The Handmaid's Tale (1985), a dystopian story of oppression in a world where most women are infertile. Her novel The Edible Woman (1969) is about a woman who becomes unable to eat because rampant consumerism has caused her to endow food with human-like qualities, while her novel Oryx and Crake (2003) focuses on a post-apocalyptic world and is part of a trilogy. Atwood has taught at a number of universities, including the University of British Columbia, Sir George Williams University, and the University of Alberta.
Charlotte Bronte is the 19th-century author and poet who penned the novel Jane Eyre. Born in April 1816, Bronte published Jane Eyre in 1847. She did not, however, release it under her true name, writing under the pseudonym Currer Bell. Before Jane Eyre, she had received resistance to her writing due to the fact that she was a woman. Jane Eyre was an immediate success, but her publishers did not discover she was a woman until the year following its release.
Louisa May Alcott, who was born in November of 1832, was the author of the popular novel Little Women. As an author, she wrote as herself and under the pseudonym A.M. Barnard. As A.M. Barnard, she penned pulp fictional thrillers, which differed greatly from her works written under her true name, including sequels Little Men and Jo's Boys.