Women around the world have contributed immensely to culture in terms of art, literature and music. Yet, in spite of their creative labor, women often remain overlooked as artists, authors and composers in their own right. As such, in honor of Women’s History Month, I’ve gathered pieces of women’s literature to share with our readers a cross-cultural selection of women writers whose work advances us in the global movement for women’s liberation.
“Woman at Point Zero” [1975 (Arabic); 1983 (English)]
By Nawal El Saadawi
“Now there was no room for illusions,” Firdaus thinks to herself. “A successful prostitute was better than a misled saint. All women are victims of deception.” Saadawi’s novel explores the life of Firdaus, an imprisoned woman awaiting execution for murder. Before her imprisonment, Firdaus recounts her life story to Saadawi, describing in detail her trials from girlhood to womanhood experiencing genital mutilation, forced marriage, rape and prostitution. In the novel, Saadawi exposes the double moral standards that ensnare girls and women and limit the fullest expression of their humanity.
“Purple Hibiscus” (2003)
By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
“Fear. I was familiar with fear, yet each time I felt it, it was never the same as other times, as though it came in different flavors and colors,” Kambili thinks to herself. Adichie’s novel “Purple Hibiscus” exposes the authoritarian dynamics of the man-made family in which the father rules over his wife and children with discipline, intimidation and violence. His daughter Kambili struggles to achieve self-possession and self-realization distinct from her father’s totalitarian control of her body and her mind.
“The House of the Spirits” [1982 (Spanish); English (1985)]
By Isabel Allende
“Reality seemed blurred to her, as if the same implacable sun that erased all colors had also deformed the world around her, transforming even people into silent shadows,” Allende wrote. In her novel “The House of the Spirits,” Allende focuses on the interrelationships among men and women, exploring sexual violence and gender roles, as well as considering socioeconomic class differences and the rise of authoritarianism. Allende breathes life into the women of her novel, particularly in characters like Rosa the beautiful and Clara the clairvoyant, both of whom exhibit Allende’s writing in the style of magical realism.
“Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic” (2006)
By Alison Bechdel
“What’s lost in translation is the complexity of loss itself,” Bechdel wrote. Infused with literary references from Oscar Wilde’s “An Ideal Husband,” to Virginia Woolf’s “Orlando,” “Fun Home,” a graphic novel, immerses the reader in Bechdel’s family life as she ages from childhood to adolescence and into adulthood. Although she writes about her brothers and mother Helen, Bechdel particularly discusses the ambiguity of her father Bruce with his “suspension of the imaginary in the real.” Her sexuality emerges as his life comes to an end, but, especially after his death, Alison discovers more about her deep identification with her father.
“Água Viva” [1973 (Portuguese); 1978 (English)]
By Clarice Lispector
“What I write to you does not come gently, slowly rising to a peak before dying away gently,” Lispector wrote. “No: what I write you is aflame like fiery eyes.” In this experimental work, which brings language in closer union with the body, Lispector explores the writing process as a process of living, merging the writer with the written. A praised novel in the French feminist Hélène Cixous’ work, Lispector’s “Água Viva” embodies, in its content and form, écriture féminine, or “women’s writing.”
“Last Days at Hot Slit: The Radical Feminism of Andrea Dworkin” (2019)
By Andrea Dworkin
Edited by Johanna Fateman and Amy Scholder
Author and Black feminist Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt once referred to Andrea Dworkin as “the Malcolm X of the women’s movement,” a warrior for her sisters of the world. Recently released, this collection of radical feminist writing gathers her decades of work in the women’s liberation movement. Editors Fateman and Scholder draw from Dworkin’s nonfiction works such as “Woman Hating: A Radical Look at Sexuality” (1974), “Our Blood: Prophecies and Discourses on Sexual Politics” (1976), “Pornography: Men Possessing Women” (1981) and “Intercourse” (1987).
“In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose” (1983)
By Alice Walker
“For her, so hindered and intruded upon in so many ways, being an artist has still been a daily part of her life,” Walker wrote. “This ability to hold on, even in very simple ways, is work Black women have done for a very long time.” From her essay on the wealth of experiences possessed by the Black Southern writer to her writing about the search for Zora Neale Hurston and our forgotten Black feminist foremothers, to her criticisms of sadism and war, Walker delivers a hearty dose of passion with her womanist prose.
“Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches” (1984)
By Audre Lorde
“To refuse to be conscious of what we are feeling at any time, however comfortable that might seem, is to deny a large part of the experience, and to allow ourselves to be reduced to the pornographic, the abused, and the absurd,” wrote Lorde in “Uses of the Erotic.” This collection of Lorde’s essays and speeches includes her work on poetry, language, women-identified women, anger and fighting intersecting oppressions. Two particularly notable works include “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action” and “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.”