Celebrating Women Writers

In recognition of Women's History Month, we feature a list of titles that explore women writers across a wide variety of fields.

book covers

Bryant, Marsha. Women’s poetry and popular culture. Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. 235p ISBN 9780230609419, $85.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE March 2012

Bryant (Univ. of Florida) offers a lively interrogation of “women’s poetry” situated within and outside of constructions of popular, contemporary Western culture. Coalescing the poetry of H.D., Stevie Smith, Sylvia Plath, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Carol Ann Duffy with the complexities of a mainstream market comprising domestic advertising, juvenile literature, film, and tabloid journalism, Bryant’s provocative work refutes historical conceptions of women’s poetry as oppositional to popular culture. Rather, this refreshing fusion of feminist and cultural studies probes the dynamics of women infusing popular culture with poetry written by “cultural insiders” to chronicle this delicate and complex interplay of popular culture and women’s poetry. Summing Up: Essential. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty. —M. L. Mock, University of Pittburgh at Johnstown

Davin, Eric Leif. Partners in wonder: women and the birth of science fiction, 1926-1965. Lexington Books, 2005. 431p ISBN 073911266X, $110.00; ISBN 0739112678 pbk, $28.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE May 2006

Using a cultural-studies approach, Davin (history, Univ. of Pittsburgh) calls the “male-dominated” field of science fiction a “contested terrain” with another tale to tell. The amount of fiction by women he unearths in SF magazines before 1960 is phenomenal, even shocking. Perhaps because many writers he discusses never produced books, their presence has been overlooked, including by feminist critics of SF, who tend to start at the point Davin’s study stops. Davin brings the reader’s attention to a treasure trove of material in need of consideration, but he is hostile to previous accounts, and his combative tone may prevent his message from being heard. That would be a shame, since his coverage is exhaustive and his bibliographies are virtually complete. He even identifies men who used women’s names, and women who used men’s names. The appendixes with bibliographies and capsule biographies of early women science fiction writers are helpful but occasionally in error (e.g., Joanna Russ’s On Strike against God, 1980, is a novel, not criticism). Anyone interested in science fiction must read this book. Summing Up: Essential. Lower-/upper-division undergraduates; researchers and faculty; practitioners; general readers. —M. J. Emery, Cottey College

Duncan, Patti. Tell this silence: Asian American women writers and the politics of speech. Iowa, 2004. 274p ISBN 0877458561, $34.95. 
Reviewed in CHOICE May 2004

The women’s movement focused heavily on the breaking of silence as a means to empowerment and political voice. Although women of color have criticized many of the assumptions underlying the movement, the concept of silence as oppressive has retained tacit approval. Anyone who has worked with teenagers, however, knows that silence is not simple passivity. In this admirable and exceptionally well written and well researched book, Duncan (Portland State Univ.) dissects the notion that silence is quiescence, indicating its special relevance to Asian American women writers. She explores the many different meanings that silence can have in their lives, in cultural and historical contexts and, of course, in their literature. Taking cues from King-Kok Cheung’s Articulate Silences: Hisaye Yamamoto, Maxine Hong Kingston, Joy Kogawa (1993), Trinh T. Minh-ha’s Woman, Native, Other (1989), and a broad range of contemporary theory and criticism, Duncan argues for a more careful, informed, and nuanced reading of silence. Texts treated include standard offerings like Kingston’s Woman Warrior and Kogawa’s Obasan, but also expand to the often-overlooked Dictée, by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Comfort Woman, by Nora Okja Keller, and Red Azalea, by Anchee Min. Summing Up: Essential. All Asian American studies collections serving upper-division undergraduates and above. —J. Tharp, University of Wisconsin Colleges

De Veaux, Alexis. Warrior poet: a biography of Audre Lorde. W.W. Norton, 2004. 446p ISBN 0393019543, $29.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE September 2004

As authorized biographer for this important African American writer and activist (1934-92), De Veaux (women’s studies, SUNY, Buffalo) had access to a wealth of material, everything from Lorde’s 60 journals to the “yellow and white Chinese chiong som” dress she wore at her wedding to legal-aid attorney Edwin Rollins. De Veaux’s resources for understanding the “brilliant, intimidating, visionary” feminist include crucial interviews with Rollins; the couple’s two children; sociologist Gloria Joseph, Lorde’s companion; and such writer friends as Adrienne Rich, Michelle Cliff, and Diane di Prima. Determined to do “justice” to Lorde and also to the “historical record,” De Veaux relates both the great generosity and the many infidelities of the charismatic essayist, poet, speaker, and “biomythographer.” De Veaux’s decision to conclude her account in 1986, six years before Lorde died, seems questionable, although she explains that Lorde’s “spiritual homelessness” ended that year when she joined Joseph in the Virgin Islands. De Veaux admits her own unwillingness to “overemphasize the cancer” that overshadowed the author’s final years; Lorde herself wrote unflinchingly about her disease in The Cancer Journals (1980). The fullest available discussion of Audre Lorde, this is an absorbing book. Summing Up: Essential. All collections. —J. W. Hall, University of Mississippi

Gadsby, Meredith M. Sucking salt: Caribbean women writers, migration, and survival. Missouri, 2006. 225p ISBN 082621665X, $39.95; ISBN 9780826216656, $39.95. 
Reviewed in CHOICE May 2007

This study is a tour de force. Gadsby (Oberlin College) reveals early in the text her ability to thread personal and academic vantage points through the same needle, a skill that results in an informed and informative examination of migration, its impact on Caribbean women, and its exposure through the art of Caribbean women writers. Dividing her discussion into six chapters and a postscript, Gadsby provides sufficient historical and cultural background material to enable even the novice reader to navigate this still relatively new scholarly terrain. “Sucking salt” carries “a simultaneously doubled linguistic sign of adversity and survival,” and Gadsby works the metaphor throughout the text. This study makes a significant addition to the existing literature on Caribbean women and migration. Both the bibliography and index are well constructed and highly useful as research aids for readers at all levels. Summing Up: Essential. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —E. A. Williams, Savannah College of Art & Design

A History of early modern women’s writing, ed. by Patricia Phillippy. Cambridge, 2018. 441p bibl index ISBN 9781107137066, $135.00; ISBN 9781108642279 ebook, $108.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE February 2019

An inclusive study of women’s writing in the early modern period, this collection is an important addition to the literature. Focusing on writers from the Tudor era through the Restoration, the book covers critical approaches and methodologies used in scholarship from the beginning of the turn to women’s writing to the present day. The inclusive approach is helpful in that it points to interesting intersections and to authors and genres of which readers may not be aware. The collection goes beyond the familiar topics of poetry and plays to include histories, autobiography, medical recipes, and funeral monuments and epitaphs. In addition, major authors, including Aphra Behn, Aemilia Lanyer, Katherine Philips, and Mary Wroth, are discussed alongside less-studied writers. The scholarship and insights in the book push scholarship into new avenues while providing a necessary overview of this continuously growing field of study. Summing Up: Essential. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers. —J. D. Sharpe, LeTourneau University

Keepers of the morning star: an anthology of Native women’s theater, ed. by Jaye T. Darby and Stephanie Fitzgerald. UCLA American Indian Studies Center, 2003. 386p ISBN 0935626565 pbk, $25.00. 
Reviewed in CHOICE April 2004

At last a collection of drama to complement the important collections of poetry, stories, and nonfiction edited by contemporary Native women–e.g., A Gathering of Spirit, ed. by Beth Brant (1984), and Reinventing the Enemy’s Language, ed. by Joy Harjo and Gloria Bird (CH, Oct’97). Darby and Fitzgerald gathered plays that were organized under the umbrella of the UCLA American Indian Studies Center Native American Theatre series–works written by contemporary playwrights working in the warp and weft of urbanization, tradition, and acculturation. For instance, Annette Arkeketa’s Ghost Dance deals with the problems of repatriation of Native American remains, but the ancestors are fully present in the narrative. Marge Bruchac, Diane Glancy, and suzan shown harjo contribute interesting and insightful dramas honoring the traditions of their people and “interrogating Western (mis)appropriation” of tradition (the introduction). The editors include an artist’s statement at the beginning of each play, which proves most useful in understanding and interpreting the work. In addition, Ann Haugo contributes an excellent and complete bibliography of published plays by Native women playwrights. This collection will be an important component of any survey of Native American literature, and absolutely invaluable in courses on American Indian women writers. Summing Up: Essential. All collections supporting study of Native American literature. —R. M. Bredin, California State University–Fullerton

Lewis, Janaka Bowman. Freedom narratives of African American women: a study of 19th century writings. McFarland, 2017. 176p bibl index ISBN 9781476667782 pbk, $55.00; ISBN 9781476630366 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE October 2018

In this compelling book, Lewis (Univ. of North Carolina, Charlotte) explores freedom narratives written by African American women from 1861 to the 1890s. Unlike narratives of emancipation, written to support the cause of abolition before the Civil War, and not what Angelyn Mitchell has called “liberatory narratives,” written to explore the complexities of slavery by later generations, freedom narratives asserted African American women’s national citizenship by writing that citizenship into the national discourse. Freedom narratives were, Lewis argues in the introduction, above all an articulation of authors’ “freedom to choose their paths and to tell their own stories, in their own words and on their own terms” during the second half of the 19th century, when the terms of African American women’s citizenship were matters of intense political debate. To make her case, Lewis moves across a variety of narrative genres, including diary, autobiography, and fiction. She carefully analyzes works by authors such as Charlotte Forten, Elizabeth Keckley, Frances E. W. Harper, and Anna Julia Cooper. Crucially contributing to feminist recovery work and scholarship in African American studies, Freedom Narratives of African American Women is required reading for those interested in 19th-century America. Summing Up: Essential. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty. —G. E. Bender, SUNY Cortland

Socarides, Alexandra. In plain sight: nineteenth-century American women’s poetry and the problem of literary history. Oxford, 2020. 224p bibl index ISBN 9780198855521, $80.00; ISBN 9780192597649 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE November 2021

Socarides (Univ. of Missouri) begins her work with a simple yet intriguing question: Why have 19th-century women poets who were so visible in their time become so invisible now? Socarides says that sexist 19th-century practices are not to blame, nor are experimental 20th-century reception practices, which draw the poets out of their time and refuse their own agency. She proposes that the authors’ own poetic constructions and conventions contributed to their erasure from literary history. The author draws on work by Meredith McGill (American Literature and the Culture of ReprintingCH, Jun’03, 40-5669), Virginia Jackson (Dickinson’s MiseryCH, Jul’06, 43-6387), and others to reestablish the complicated literary marketplace of the 19th century, paying close attention to the relationships between material culture and poetic form in order to reveal the ways in which market conventions produced such conditions of invisibility. Studying conventions such as the anthology, the preface, the collaboration, and the ballad, Socarides attends to how such conventional practices defined these writers and then explains how Emily Dickinson’s conflicted position in this marketplace led to her canonization in American literature. Socarides remaps the 19th-century literary landscape, and her work is sure to stimulate other scholarship on 19th-century American literature and on women writers. Summing Up: Essential. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —D. E. Magill, Longwood University

This Book is an action: feminist print culture and activist aesthetics, ed. by Jaime Harker and Cecilia Konchar Farr. Illinois, 2015 (c2016). 250p bibl index afp ISBN 9780252039805, $95.00; ISBN 9780252081347 pbk, $28.00; ISBN 9780252097904 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE June 2016

This excellent collection considers (as the editors write in their introduction) the “distinctive feminist culture of letters” of the 1960s and 1970s, arguing that second-wave women’s writing was an activist intervention in US politics.  Though it includes work on prestigious literary and postmodernist fiction (Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing and The Edible Woman, Bertha Harris’s Lover), the collection pays special attention to other categories, including best sellers (Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying, Anne Roiphe’s Up the Sandbox), genre fiction (Sara Paretsky’s Indemnity Only), lesbian drama (plays by Jane Chambers), and nonfiction publishing practices (newsletters, journalism, and publishing outside the mainstream).  Especially admirable are an essay by Yung-Hsing Wu on the centrality of close reading to feminist critique and Phillip Gordon’s audacious reading of Alice Walker’s The Color Purple as “the first American AIDS narrative.”  The contributors offer a significant corrective to contemporary US feminist theory by looking closely at second-wave writers rather than basing their commentary on third-wave accounts of their feminist predecessors’ shortcomings. Summing Up: Essential. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers. —R. R. Warhol, Ohio State University