Women writers Hall of Fame

Three centuries of a few of the women who have heavily shaped the literary world.

More stories from Amanda Krupp

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  • CHARLOTTE BRONTE 19TH CENTURY: Jane Eyre (1847) Shirley (1849) The Professor (1857)

  • EMILY DICKINSON 19TH CENTURY: Because I could not Stop for Death (1890) I’m Nobody! Who are you? (1891) Hope is the Thing with Feathers (1891)

  • JANE AUSTEN 19TH CENTURY: Sense and Sensibility (1811) Pride and Prejudice (1813) Persuasion (1818, published posthumous)

  • AGATHA CHRISTIE 20TH CENTURY: Murder on the Orient Express (1934) And Then There Were None (1939) Crooked House (1949)

  • MAYA ANGELOU 20TH CENTURY: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969) And Still I Rise (1978) Phenomenal Woman (1995)

  • SYLVIA PATH 19TH CENTURY: Mad Girl’s Love Song (1951) The Bell Jar (1963) Lady Lazarus (1965)

  • VIRGINIA WOOLF 20TH CENTURY: Mrs. Dalloway (1925) To the Lighthouse (1927) A Room of One’s Own (1929)

  • CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE 21ST CENTURY: Half of a Yellow Sun (2006) Americanah (2013) We Should All Be Feminists (2014)

  • GILLIAN FLYNN 21ST CENTURY: Sharp Objects (2006) Dark Places (2009) Gone Girl (2012)

  • J.K. ROWLING 21ST CENTURY: Harry Potter series (1997-2007) The Casual Vacancy (2012) The Cuckoo’s Calling (2013)

  • ZADIE SMITH 21ST CENTURY: White Teeth (1999) On Beauty (2005) Swing Time (2016)

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With the upcoming release of the new film “Book Club”, a story about lifelong friends who come together each month to reminisce and chat about their favorite books, the subject of female authors who have had a major impact on the literary scene comes to mind. While there have been a multitude of women who have influenced change and inspiration around the world, there are a few in particular who have had a substantial influence on the literary world from century to century. Just like the women in “Book Club”, these women illustrate a sense of boldness and authenticity, forever changing what we read and have been able to write.

In the 1800’s, women were called upon to be the face of the family. They were expected to smile and harbored the daunting responsibility of putting all of the pieces together without a single complaint or worry. Emily Dickinson, on the other hand, was an up and coming writer who believed something different. She broke out of that classic mold and decided to bring forth a different idea of the way a woman should be able to present herself to the world. She wrote about the life that she wanted, rather than what was wanted for her. She conveyed the need to resist being bogged down by society’s standards, and she did so through detailed imagery and sentiment. The majority of her poetry centered around loneliness, which, at the time, was not something talked about in detail by women. Instead, she spoke through the heart and with stern honesty, and introduced writing that was dictated by pure emotion.

“Dickinson was always someone I enjoyed reading growing up. I feel like her novels paved the way for many writers in the future,” Emma Williams, DePaul student said.

To this day, Dickinson’s words are something that have transcended the test of time and remain a viable outsource of material for women who are growing and changing.

Perhaps somewhat inspired by Dickinson was Charlotte Bronte, whose most famous piece of work “Jane Eyre” is an exemplary addition to Dickinson’s string of storytelling. When the novel was initially published it was done so under Bronte’s male pseudonym in order to get more attention and recognition for the work. The novel was groundbreaking in the sense that (similar to Dickinson’s viewpoints), the main character wanted to be presented in a different light in society, and stood on her own.

“Her [Bronte] novels were my favorite from this time period. I always loved reading her books in school,” Zach Miller, student, said.

This rebellious nature in novelists only began here and grew in the 19th century, showing how influential these women really were.

Another instance of impact in the 1800’s would be Jane Austen, who was so invested in telling stories throughout her life that she decided to write her own. Austen always resisted the idea of losing yourself in another when you were in love, and wrote according to that viewpoint. With “Love and Friendship”, she created a satire on what would typically be considered a romantic novel, therefore breaking the boundary of how people looked at or read about love stories. Some of her most popular books have even turned into films, like “Sense and Sensibility”, “Pride and Prejudice”, and the hit movie “Clueless”, which is based off of “Emma”.

“These movies [based off of Austen’s novels] had a huge impact on me while growing up and helped me to become the woman I am today,” Grace Jones, student, said.

Agatha Christie’s book was set up by the women in her past, and propelled the same notions forward in the 1900’s. With her most famous book “Murder on the Orient Express,” she dove into the world of mystery and suspense and changed the genre forever. No longer being bogged down by writing romantic novels, Christie helped open many different genres for future novelists to come. Many of her books have also turned into successful movies, such as the most recent iteration of “Murder on the Orient Express” starring Daisy Ridley, Johnny Depp and Michelle Pfeiffer.

Sylvia Plath was also a product of her environment in the early 1900’s, particularly in the political arena. When she was growing up, war was a big topic of conversation in films and books. While she had been publishing poems since she was a child, she grew into her own during this time period by publishing works on the matter at her school. Throughout her career, she wrote about resisting what life already wanted from her, and continuously noted that she wanted to love her life the way she wanted. Even if that meant not getting married, and even if it meant having different viewpoints on almost anything.

 As time has gone on, inclusiveness has been a motto by many female novelists, particularly Maya Angelou. In the 1900’s, Angelou’s most famous poem, “The Caged Bird”, was released and has been admired and analyzed ever since. The poem speaks on this very idea, and further speaks on the notion of being able to be yourself. J.K. Rowling would later pick up on this idea in her life.

Throughout the 21st century, the “working woman” was an image that many now recognize, but also one that was not always fully accepted. J.K. Rowling revolutionized what it meant to be a female writer (and a working mother all at the same time) with the “Harry Potter” series. To this day, Rowling is an outspoken advocate for many things, but also for women’s rights. She frequently tackles the notion of women having to prioritize work over family, or vice versa, and praises those who do both. With over 400 million copies sold, Rowling changed what it meant to be a working mother and quickly became an inspiration to parents who have had to juggle the multiple responsibilities that many others face as well.

Gillian Flynn is another example of a female novelist who has thrived in recent years, with her most popular book “Gone Girl” becoming a best seller and a hit movie. What makes that story special would be the idea of the flawed woman. The book presents a main character who can be seen as either the protagonist or the antagonist, depending on what you take away from the story. This is important because it provides a dynamic and complex female character that is not only interesting, but can be relatable to those who are not the picture perfect idea that others want them to be, which can only be reflected on the early writers from the past.

Another current novelist who provides a different outlook on characters we are used to seeing is Zadie Smith. Particularly in “White Teeth”, we see two mixed-raced friends who have known each other since childhood and both teach each other about their lives and cultures along the way. Through her stories, she is able to portray different lifestyles in an understanding way that may be able to provide some insight to those who are unaware of various cultures. This author in particular takes control of pre-existing genres and creates a teachable and genuine story that paves the way for other authors wanting their stories to be told.

“Book Club” features a cast of characters who come from all walks of life, but they all have one thing in common. They, just like Emily Dickinson and J.K. Rowling, are strong and confident women who face the same hardships and struggles that any other woman faces. However, their body of work and testament to their own moral compass prove that their impact on this world is greater than they could have ever imagined, and will always be an inspiration to those who are growing and finding their own voice.