As Women’s History Month wraps up, I thought I’d offer a countdown of female authors that I love. Then I realized half of them are names most readers have probably heard over and over again: Alice Munro, Toni Morrison, Sandra Cisneros, etc. So instead, here are five female writers who readers are a little less likely to be familiar with, but whom I highly recommend:
- Cristina Garcia: The Lady Matador’s Hotel
Why she’s fantastic: Garcia tackles politics, race and gender norms, and human nature in a way that’s specific yet universal. She’s great at using magical realism elements in her writing without letting them overwhelm the narrative or even be the main focus of her novel.
Why you should read her book: What I admire most about Garcia’s The Lady Matador’s Hotel is the way in which it weaves together the stories of six very different characters, all staying in the same hotel but connected by so much more. Despite juggling all of their complex story lines, she manages to create an original and cohesive narrative in this relatively small novel.
- Karen Tei Yamashita: Tropic of Orange
Why she’s fantastic: Yamashita’s intellect and worldliness are both obvious in her writing, as she writes vastly different characters with vastly different backgrounds and makes me believe each one. She clearly knows her setting and its history, and puts that knowledge to good use.
Why you should read her book: Form is definitely a strength of Yamashita’s novel, and one of the reasons I’m obsessed with it. Contained to the perspectives of seven characters with a daily chapter each across the span of a week, Tropic of Orange is written so that its 49 chapters can be read in a few different orders and still work as a cohesive and insightful novel.
- Ana Castillo: So Far From God
Why she’s fantastic: One of the things I love about Castillo is that she’s unafraid in her writing. Magical realism, experimental writing forms, liberal amounts of codeswitching—Castillo uses all of these things to her advantage to tell a fantastical story.
Why you should read her book: Underneath all of the supernatural elements, So Far from God is firmly rooted in the complexities of family. Through this family, it tackles issues of nationalism, history, and identity with one of the strongest narrative voices that I’ve ever experienced.
- Dorothy Allison: Bastard Out of Carolina
Why she’s fantastic: I recently saw her speak in neighboring Radford and I have to say, she completely won me over. I was a fan of Allison long before attending her reading, but now I’m desperate to read everything she’s ever written. There’s immense depth and passion to her that seeps so clearly into her writing—reading her makes me want to write.
Why you should read her book: Bastard Out of Carolina tackles the tough subjects head on with characters so real that it makes for some truly heartbreaking, powerful reading. The realness of the main character and Allison’s superb use of dialect are two reasons this is a must-read.
- Julia Alvarez: In the Time of the Butterflies
Why she’s fantastic: Before there was Junot Díaz, there was Julia Alvarez. A Dominican-American author, Alvarez was the first Latina writer I ever read and the first writer whose novel made me think of national identity and individually identity as intimately connected. Her writing is accessible and beautiful, and her stories are personal and universal.
Why you should read her book: Based on historical events and real people, In the Time of the Butterflies simultaneously tells the story of four sisters and the story of a nation. Alvarez paints a picture that stays with readers, and depicts a bravery that deserves to be depicted.
-Ana-Christina Acosta Gaspar de Alba