I’ve Been Wondering….

about American women writers. Why don’t I read them? Why has their legacy not remained strong? I’ve been thinking about this on and off ever since reading the brilliant book A Jury of Her Peers by Elaine Showalter. I’ve mentioned this book before, I think. I recently checked it out from the library for the kajillionth time (I really need my own copy).  I find it extremely fascinating reading about so many women authors who I, and probably most people, have never heard of. Women who had to find time to write while raising children, enduring abusive  marriages, laboring on farms and in large households, scrabbling for a living in big cities, and while suffering the hardship of prejudice. A limited number of these women received recognition in their lifetimes, a few who did are Louisa May Alcott, Edith Wharton, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Willa Cather. Hundreds of others are not remembered and, sadly, not read. The creative efforts of so many female authors are lost to time and to disinterest and contempt. Reading their stories in Showalter’s book makes my heart ache for them and makes me want to revive their contributions to literature by reading them and telling others about their work. Of course, academics have studied these women and debated their merits, reprinted many of their works and written articles dissecting their achievements. I’m just a normal reader, but I too want to read the stories of my countrywomen and honor the heritage of American literature through them.

So, you’ll be seeing a lot more books by American women here on Gudrun’s Tights during the rest of the year. I am going to start where I am and read some of the books I already have on my shelves. Most of the titles are fairly contemporary.

Books like these.

And these.

But I have plans to find and download to my Kindle many of the more obscure titles by authors from the 19th century.

I am excited to read more of the literature of my native land and to find out about the sensational American ladies who’ve written this literature.

I hope you enjoy following along with me on my journey.

Do you have a favorite female American author? Are there any American women writers you’d like to recommend?

22 comments / Add your comment below

  1. I like Louisa May Alcott, Margaret Mitchell, Laura Ingalls Wilder & Emily Dickinson – so far. I’m planning on reading A Jury of Her Peers as well as A Literature of Their Own (British women writers) later this year.

    1. A Jury of Her Peers is so good, Jillian! A must read as far as I’m concerned.
      I will definitely read all of the authors you mentioned on my quest to read American women – I’m looking forward to it!

  2. This book sounds so interesting – and challenging! I am putting it on my reading list. At least I recognize most of the authors on the books above, though I haven’t read most of them.

    You might want to look at Sarah Orne Jewett, I love her short stories & novellas. If non-fiction counts, then I’d add Anne Morrow Lindbergh & Helene Hanff. And there are lots of mystery writers – would they count?

    This will be a great project – I’ll be looking for recommendations.

    1. I am so looking forward to starting my project! Thank you for your recommendations – I will add them to my list. And I do plan to read some mystery authors. I just finished a book by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding called The Blank Wall. Have you read her? She’s pretty amazing.

  3. I can see that my book list is going to expand wildly on your journey. I’m going to have to get the Elaine Showalter one for a kick off. I enjoyed The Lacuna, I like Annie Proulx, Cather, Wharton, Ursula Le Guin and I can’t think of any others so I obviously need to read more!

    1. I’m always glad to inspire new book purchases 🙂 I am frightened of Proulx, but determined to read her as she writes so eloquently about the West.

  4. I consult A Jury of her Peers regularly in the library, but I’m not brave enough to bring it home. A few of the American author’s I love have been mentioned already, but I can add Alice Hoffman.

  5. Ooh a post after my own heart! I keep borrowing this from the library, too, although I think Showalter probably gives too much focus to Cather and Wharton and not enough to Tyler, Proulx, Erdrich and only one measly mention of Betty Smith! Will follow your progress with Pearl S Buck with interest as I’ve not read her.

    1. I should have credited you in my post, Nicola, because you are part of my inspiration for doing this project! I love reading your posts about Anne Tyler and Louise Erdrich and realized that I need to read more of them, too.
      I’m looking forward to reading The Good Earth. I’m not sure how I got through school without reading it!

  6. How could I forget Betty MacDonald – not just the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books, though they are wonderful – but her memoirs: The Egg & I [marriage & chicken farming], The Plague and I [a stay in a TB sanitarium, trust me, it’s wonderful], and best of all, Anybody Can Do Anything [job-hunting in Seattle in the Great Depression – anything but depressing].

    I haven’t even heard of Elisabeth Sanxay Holding!

    Since you mentioned that you haven’t read the Little House books, I am also pointing out here that that brings out my book evangelism 🙂

    1. Betty MacDonald’s books sound wonderful! And I will read the Little House books. They are such a big part of American children’s literature that I can’t ignore them any longer.

  7. I loved The Good Earth. That’s the only one in your cute stacks of books pics I’ve read. It has been a while, but I still ponder some of the images left my head, especially the last ones.
    I am on a frenzy of reading trash right now. Like dark chocolate stuffed with creamy centers bad for you, but so delicious. I’ll get back to the good stuff eventually, broccoli is delicious too, and I was an English major. I should bow my head in shame.

    1. Never apologize for your reading taste, Marie! That is a famous librarian quote that I totally agree with. I read Mary Stewart in the evenings and she is not the highest literature. We all need escape sometimes. You can’t always read the classics – your head would explode!

  8. I don’t know if Cornelia Otis Skinner and Emily Kimbrough are forgotten or loved, but their book Our Hearts were Young and Gay was just delightful, and easily the funniest book I have read in years.

  9. On the more modern side of things, I feel like Ann Patchett and Barbara Kingsolver are two of the most consistent American women writers. I loved The Lacuna, which I see is in your To Read pile, so I’m looking forward to hearing what you think of it. On the older side of things, it would be wonderful if some publisher did what Persephone books does for British writers, and reissues lesser known works by American women writers.

    1. Miss B, I have often fantasized about just such a publisher myself! I really wish that something like Persephone will come to pass someday for American fiction.
      I have never read any Kingsolver or Patchett and know I am in for a great experience with them. I can feel it!

    1. I started Olive Kitteridge the other day and, though it is melancholy, it is lovely.
      I’ve read Housekeeping by Robinson ( a really outstanding book) and also want to read Gilead.

  10. I loved “The Gate at the Stairs” by Lorrie Moore. I also read “Olive Kitteredge” which was very good. I don’t know why American women writers seem to get so little attention. I loved the suggestion of Miss Bibliophile for a publisher like Persephone (the American version) to reissue some of the great books by American women writers. Thanks for a fascinating post!

    1. I think Miss B’s suggestion is wonderful and I dream of the day when that happens!
      I wish I had connections and a pot of money and I’d do it myself!
      Olive Kitteredge is good, but I am reading it in small doses as I also find it sad.

Thank you for reading and commenting.

%d bloggers like this: