In the words of the American Women's History Initiative, Women’s History Month is meant to “encourage the study, observance and celebration of the vital role of women in American history.” To honor the celebration constructively and steer clear of literary sexism, here are some contemporary feminist writers worth checking out.
Rachel Kushner is no stranger to feminist literature; she was told to straighten and alphabetize the shelves of a feminist, lesbian bookstore in Eugene at just 5 years old. Thirty odd years later, she began publishing feminist narratives of her own, illustrating female protagonists with deep flaws, lofty goals and unwavering strength.
Her second novel, “The Flamethrowers,” was a finalist in the 2013 National Book Awards for Fiction. Kushner’s characters thematically navigate the excruciatingly patriarchal nature of places like women’s prisons in the United States and the male-dominated art scene of the 1970s. In her regular life, she teaches writing courses and does readings at women’s prisons. She’s a champion of motherhood and representation of incarcerated women.
Anne Helen Petersen
While Anne Helen Petersen may be another white, middle-class feminist writing for BuzzFeed, her latest book, “Too Fat Too Slutty Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman,” does a brilliant job examining the misogynistically rooted criticisms of female rule-breakers — particularly high-profile, successful women (see: Kim Kardashian, Hillary Clinton and Serena Williams).
Petersen openly recognizes how her privilege inherently limits the lens of her work. In this latest book, she divides each chapter into essays covering different unruly women, along with an in-depth analysis of the criticism they receive over time. These observational essays are bold, smart and convincing. As an experienced culture writer with a doctorate in media studies, Petersen crafts a compelling fusion of celebrity gossip and sharp feminist criticism.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is the author of “We Should All be Feminists,” “Americanah” and “Half of a Yellow Sun.” She writes about the intersection of race and gender in her most recent book, “Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions.”
Her 2009 TED Talk, “The danger of a single story” is one of the most viewed TED Talks of all time with almost 5 million views. In the talk, Adichie discusses the importance of writing about what she personally identifies with, as opposed to what much of Western literature has empirically focused on. With the belief that black women are particularly vulnerable to erasure or simplification in Western literature, her works focus on stigma-shattering POC representation.
If you’ve ever used the verb “mansplaining,” you may want to check out the author who defined the word back in 2014 in her insightful collection of essays “Men Explain Things to Me.” Rebecca Solnit, a historian and activist, has published over twenty books on Western Indigenous history and feminism.
She’s worked on a multitude of environmental and human rights campaigns since the 1980s, which she goes into detail about in her books “Savage Dreams” and “Hollow City: The Siege of San Francisco and the Crisis of American Urbanism.” Her most recent collection of essays, “Call Them by Their True Names,” urges accountability among those who are protesting injustices and calling examples of racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia exactly what they are.
Could any list of contemporary feminist authors be complete without essayist, commentator, professor and human-rights champion Roxane Gay? Gay is the author of the New York Times bestselling book “Bad Feminist and Difficult Women,” along with a memoir, “Hunger,” which is essentially about being an overweight woman in a world obsessed with diet culture and fat-phobia.
Her prose and cultural criticism are sharp, insightful and deeply empathetic. She’s currently working on several forthcoming books and a film project — all while tweeting out high quality content seven days a week.