Discover Six Major Voices of Feminist Literature

by Linda Napik*

Is your personal library lacking in feminist authors? Do you need some recommendations? If you're eager to discover the major voices of feminism in your reading, these six writers will get you off to a good start.

1. Doris Lessing

lessing2Doris Lessing, born in 1925, had British parents but grew up in colonized southern Africa, living in what was then Rhodesia. She later became involved with politics, and her first novel, The Grass is Singing, dealt with the social injustice of apartheid. The Golden Notebook, published in 1962, is her most famous work. Even though she herself did not describe it as a feminist novel, it explores themes of consciousness-raising and the layers of women's lives that are often repressed. Lessing is also the author of multiple short stories that reveal questions of fulfillment and identity. Her other books include The Good Terrorist, The Memoirs of a Survivor and The Fifth Child. Lessing won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2007.

3. Audre Lorde

audre-lordeAudre Lorde's evocative, haunting poetry and prose weave together self-exploration and truth-telling while decrying racism, sexism, classism and homophobia. She was an activist in the Civil Rights Movement, feminism and the anti-Vietnam War protests, among other political causes, and her later poetry identified her as a lesbian and advocate for gay rights. Lorde's books of poems include Cables to Rage, Coal and The Black Unicorn. Her prose can be found in Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, The Cancer Journals and Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches.

5. Alice Walker

alice-walker2Several of Alice Walker's books have become bestsellers, but she is best known for The Color Purple, which won the Pulitzer Prize and was made into an Oscar-nominated film. Her other novels include The Temple of My Familiar, Meridian and Possessing the Secret of Joy. Walker is also a poet, essayist and activist. In her book In Search of Our Mother's Gardens: Womanist Prose, she introduced the term "womanist" as an expansion of feminism from its concerns that focused on white, middle-class women into a wider world of black feminism, women of color, diverse voices and a concern for the well-being of humanity.

2. Adrienne Rich

richa1Adrienne Rich is an award-winning poet known for her activism on behalf of feminism and gay rights, as well as her poetry. Her 1973 book Diving Into the Wreck won the National Book Award, which she accepted with co-nominees Audre Lorde and Alice Walker on behalf of women in a statement of solidarity against patriarchal hierarchy and competition. Rich is also the author of The Dream of a Common Language, An Atlas of the Difficult World and Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution, among other works.

4. Germaine Greer

greerIs Germaine Greer Australia's most famous feminist? She may be the most controversial. Greer's writing has sparked much debate over the years, ever since her 1970 book The Female Eunuch variously shocked and galvanized the public. Her opinions are often at odds with other feminists as much as with patriarchal society, but she is a successful author, journalist, lecturer and academic who continues to write and offer commentary on social issues. Greer's later books include Sex and Destiny: The Politics of Human Fertility, The Change: Women, Ageing, and the Menopause, The Whole Woman, The Beautiful Boy, Shakespeare's Wife and White Beech: The Rainforest Years.

6. bell hooks

bellhooks1The lowercase spelling of her pen name is just one example of bell hooks' distinctive and thoughtful approach to her postmodern work. The author and feminist theorist has published poetry, academic articles and books; among her famous works are Ain't I a Woman?: Black Women and Feminism and Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center. She is known for examining racism in the women's movement and the struggles black women have faced in combating both racism and sexism. In writing, teaching and public speaking, she has encouraged audiences to reject traditional, conformist, colonialist and patriarchal hierarchies.

Get started on your feminist reading with these six women and you are sure to come across some writing that is devastating or uplifting -- or both. These writers have catalogs of work that go back decades, so there is plenty from which to choose. Their expressions of thoughtful, piercing truth reflect both feminism and their individual, illuminating views of the world. ♦


* Linda Napik is a writer, editor, and ESL teacher with professional experience in many areas, including: journalism, public radio, human rights, literature, theater, feminism, editing, coffee and travel. She is a dedicated reader of classic novels and an enthusiastic world traveler. After recent ESL-teaching experiences in Korea, Thailand, Mexico, and China, she is currently living in Chicago.