Great Female Writers to Read

Celebrate women writers with a few of our favourites

Picture / Babiche Martens

LENA DUNHAM
“Something weird has happened to me as I near my forties. Where once I believed Girls Could Do Anything (the catchphrase growing up in the eighties and nineties) I suddenly look around and realise things aren't that evolved at all. I see male CEO after male CEO as talking heads on TV, male producers and directors making incredible TV shows, films and music, male restauranteurs dominating our food culture. As I get older I am starting to feel like women are more and more invisible. Subsequently, I want to burst into song and dance in celebration of Lena Dunham and her Lenny Letter. This smart, feminist writing feeds my soul and gives me hope.

"One of my favourite pieces of writing this year was her essay on what has happened to pop star Kesha; a tale so twisted and revolting that I wasn't sure I understood it correctly. Many celebrities had tweeted their support via 40 characters but Lena took the time to give Kesha a voice, in the process showing she's not afraid of standing up to one of the biggest companies in the entertainment industry - in response to Sony's explanation that Kesha would not be let out of her contract with her alleged abuser as her contract had been 'heavily negotiated' Lena responded: “Guess what else is heavily negotiated? The human contract that says we will not hurt one another physically and emotionally. In fact, it's so obvious that we usually don't add it to our corporate documents”. — Rebecca Wadey, wellbeing editor

Must-read: Why Kesha's Case Is About More Than Kesha.

KATHERINE MANSFIELD
“Risk! Risk anything! Care no more for the opinions of others, for those voices. Do the hardest thing on earth for you. Act for yourself. Face the truth.”

"I am as intrigued by the woman as much as by her writing. Passionate, witty, evocative, sensitive, with a delight in the detail… Katherine Mansfield’s stories are informed by her unconventional approach to a life which was full of love and loss.

"Her desire not to conform, saw her leave colonial New Zealand for the stimulation and “cultural  richness” of England where she lead a bohemian lifestyle. Intelligent, brave, true to herself – she epitomised the journey generations of New Zealand women have taken – to explore the world and themselves. And reinforces there is nothing like experience to give you a greater insight to life and thus make you a better writer.  Her works capture life as a modern woman in the early 1900s, in a way that ensures they still resonate today. I love that New Zealand recognises her as an icon, that you can visit her birthplace in Tinakori Rd, Wellington, while a street in Menton, France, where she lived and wrote, is named after her and a Fellowship is offered to New Zealand writers to work at her former home, the Villa Isola Bella. Plus, New Zealand's pre-eminent short story competition is also named in her honour." — Amanda Linnell, managing editor

Must-read: The Collected Letters of Katherine Mansfield (Oxford University Press), edited by Vincent O’Sullivan and Margaret Scott.

READ: Broadcaster Noelle McCarthy's latest favourite reads

MIRANDA JULY
"Based purely on the fact that her novel The First Bad Man was one of my favourite books of last year, and led me to her equally strange film, You and Me and Everyone We Know, not to mention a seemingly sycophantic New York Times article in which she nonetheless manages to have an intellectual discussion with Rihanna of all people, I’d have to go with Miranda July. She’s weird, dark and hilarious.

"An example of her unusual style: protagonist Cheryl takes the lift to see her colour therapist, “pressing twelve with a casual, fun-loving finger. The kind of finger that was up for anything”. Ask me tomorrow and I’d probably pick a local writer: Elizabeth Knox, Fiona Kidman, Emily Perkins." — Rebecca Barry Hill, writer

Must-read: The First Bad Man.

ARIEL LEVY
“I discovered Ariel Levy’s writing through her brilliant 2005 book Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture, and quickly devoured her back catalogue for New York magazine. There she wrote profiles on everyone from artist Dash Snow to designer Donatella Versace, before moving to the New Yorker in 2008 where she continued to surprise with her stories and subjects (Nora Ephron, social media and the Steubenville rape case, Bengal cats, Alber Elbaz). But it was a piece from 2013 that has stayed with me: a deeply personal and graphic essay on her late-term miscarriage while on assignment in Mongolia (“I had been so lucky. Very little had ever truly gone wrong for me before that night on the bathroom floor.”). Ariel rarely turns her pen towards herself; this piece completely shattered me.” — Zoe Walker, associate editor

Must-read: Thanksgiving in Mongolia.

DONNA TARTT
"Pulitzer Prize-winning Donna Tartt is easily my favourite author, not only because of her intellectual writing style, but also her use of complex and interesting female characters." — Jessica Beresford, digital producer

Must-read: The Secret History.

READ: Why we love library books

NANCY JO SALES
“Nancy Jo Sales has this uncanny ability to capture pop culture perfectly and her feature stories for Vanity Fair in particular have been some of my favourite reads over the years. They run the gamut from the bizarre world of Haul Vloggers to following Hugh Hefner around the Playboy Mansion. Her most prolific story is from 2010, chronicling the celebrity burglaries that occurred in the mid-2000s and the subject of Sofia Coppola's 2013 film The Bling Ring. The story zeros in on a time when that whole TMZ culture began to take off. Sales does what any good feature writer does and  lets the subject do all the talking to highlight their ridiculousness. It's a great read of a moment in time that's both fascinating and repulsive.” — Dan Ahwa, fashion editor

Must-read: The Suspects Wore Louboutins.

HADLEY FREEMAN
“Ahhh I've missed having people yell at me about my column all day when they haven't bothered to read the column. IT'S GOOD BE BACK, PEOPLE,” wrote Hadley Freeman on Twitter this week. The New York-born Guardian columnist and features writer has written a number of books, and I delight in how smoothly and humorously she can jump from writing about fashion to commenting on Donald Trump to Tinder, private schools to birthing. Her Ask Hadley column is a must read, and after a six month hiatus is finally back.” — Rosie Kelway, writer

Must-read: Gucci Geek Chic is as Close as Fashion gets to Feminism.

READ: What the designers behind Twenty-seven Names are reading

JACQUELINE WILSON
“I’m sure any 10 to 14 year old girl growing up in the 2000s would have read at least one of her novels. She got me through my teenage years and taught me a lot about life and about being a women. I still enjoy flicking through her book Love Lessons eight years later.” — Tessa Stockdale, social media producer

Must-read: Love Lessons.

JACKIE COLLINS
Jackie Collins literally coined the term Lady Boss, with her third book in the Lucky Santangelo series. In Jackie's world females are fearless ball breakers with an insatiable sexual appetite who get whatever and whoever they want. They run huge corporations and play by their own rules. Part of the beauty of Collin's was just that - her beauty, and the glamorous world she inhabited. She was so far removed from the stereotypical feminist of the 70s that people didn't consider her work in that manner, thus normalising the situations she depicted. Reading Hollywood Wives, Lucky et al in my teens (OK, and on the odd tropical beach holiday many times since!) I imagined this was the world I would be living in as an adult. It shocks me that I’m not.” — Rebecca Wadey, wellbeing editor

Must-read: Lucky, the second book in the Santangelo series.

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