Let’s be real – books are amazing: they are these tiny little packets of dead trees that transport you to another world. Literature has long been a place to explore the weird, taboo, and/or morbid, so it’s not too much of a surprise that they attract an eclectic crowd.
Any English major can tell you: the life of an author is usually as interesting as anything they’ve written, and often a lot more surreal. The girls of literature in particular are brilliant, badass, and have a habit of throwing convention to the wind.
These ladies are three of the best: they’re testaments to saying “screw it” to the social constructs of the world. Their work is incredible on its own, don’t get me wrong, but writers can be a work of art all on their own.
#1 – Tamora Pierce
Known for: The Lioness Quartet
Strong female protagonists are on the rise (we’re slowly getting the hang of this whole equal-portrayal thing in books and media) but I still have yet to find an author who can write a female character like Tamora Pierce.
Pierce grew up reading Tolkien and Arthurian legends, writing fan fiction, and befriending pigeons. She crochets. She is, to be blunt, one of us. So when she noticed a lack of good female characters in the works she enjoyed, Tamora Pierce decided to thoroughly deconstruct gender roles in her own writing.
Alanna: The First Adventure was published in 1983 and was (along with Disney’s Mulan ) the introduction to cross-dressing for an entire generation of young girls. For someone like me, who grew up with a huge assortment of dead white men for heroes, it was a refreshing change.
Gender discrimination was a very real thing in Pierce’s world, but the picture she painted was far from hopeless. Discrimination was oppressive, but her characters faced it head-on and kicked its butt. This was not limited to women: The Lioness Quartet‘s main character has a twin brother who escapes the masculine future of the knighthood to become a scholar and mage instead.
I know I’m not the only one out there with Pierce-inspired childhood stories. There isn’t a female writer born after 1980 who hasn’t admired elements of her work: everyone should aspire to challenge the status quo as thoroughly as she does.
#2 – Maya Angelou
Known For: I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings
A ridiculous number of people know Maya Angelou by nothing more than her poetry. A few of her tamer poems get tossed around classrooms as examples of black culture every February, picked apart, and promptly forgotten. This has its merits. Way too many people don’t appreciate poetry. But it means the actual reasons to celebrate her life are completely whitewashed.
Maya Angelou was, over the course of her lifetime, a poet, a dancer, a prostitute, a journalist, a playwright, an essayist, an actress, a director, and a civil rights leader. She was a friend of both Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. She endured racism, divorce, sexism, and even rape.
She was mute for five years of her life as a result of trauma, and once she recovered she spoke loudly and clearly for the rest of her life. She’s also a fairly serious addition to a somewhat lighthearted article, and the least-obviously-geeky of the three.
Maya Angelou should be right up there on the required reading list with Douglas Adams. There is no writer in the world who portrays passion, the driving force of nerd girls everywhere, as well as she does. You can’t read a word she writes without feeling your own voice get a little stronger.
#3 – Mary Shelley
Known for: Frankenstein
The best zombie story ever written was written by a 19-year-old girl in a cabin, surrounded by a bunch of poets, over a rainy summer.
She had just lost a child, run away with a married man, and (according to her own writing) she felt pretty inferior to the literary giants she was hanging out with: Lord Byron and her then-boyfriend Percy Shelley. When Lord Byron suggested they have a ghost-story contest, she spent the first few days at a loss for ideas.
Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein that summer. She blew them all away.
Mary was a writer from youth and raised by her father. She believed in free love and ran away at seventeen to practice it. She was the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, an amazing first-wave feminist, and it is a shame the two never got to know each other. She once caught smallpox helping a lesbian couple run away together.
Shelley played gender roles like a violin. Where most of her contemporary female writers focused on a female narrator (not a bad thing), Mary flipped convention the bird and wrote Frankenstein with a male protagonist.
Not from a male perspective, mind: there are a lot of feminine undertones when you deal with the creation of life, not to mention the themes of ostracization and family life that seem pretty heavy for a horror novel. If you don’t aspire to live a life as chaotic as hers, take inspiration from that self-awareness: there are so many layers in Shelley’s writing it’d make an onion cry.
Mix that up with a voice inspired by Angelou while you challenge the status quo like Pierce, and nothing in the world can stop you.
Alex is currently enjoying a longtime addiction to stories, which she feeds through books, tabletop RPGs, and an excessive collection of video games. She’s currently seeking to publish a novel about a bookshop that gets abducted by aliens, loves to crochet, and blogs about it all over at https://alexpenland.wordpress.com/. You can follow her on Twitter @AlexPenname, where she spends two hours every Saturday livetweeting whatever books strike her fancy.