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Ten Female Authors Who Left a Lasting Legacy

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by Marisa Quinn-Haisu (subscribe)
My name is Marisa. I am a fiction writer, a blogger, and a freelance journalist.
Published August 8th 2020
A word after a word after a word is power - Margaret Atwood
Ten Female Authors Who Left a Lasting Legacy
Joanne Rowling is author of the Harry Potter series

Is there any children's author in the world more well known than British author J.K Rowling? Joanne Rowling is famous for writing the Harry Potter fantasy series under the pen name J.K Rowling. Harry Potter was a record-breaking success, selling more than 500 million copies, winning multiple awards, it was adapted into a popular film series and holds the title of being the best-selling book series in history.

In December 2019, J.K Rowling caused headlines when she tweeted her support for Maya Forstater, a British woman who lost her employment tribunal case against her former employer after her contract was not renewed due to her making controversial comments towards transgender people. On 6 June 2020, Rowling attracted more attention on Twitter, when she criticised an article that used the gender-neutral phrase "people who menstruate" instead of "women". Rowling went on to make controversial comments about gender, sex, and same-sex attraction. Her comments angered many and attracted a lot of criticism.

On 10 June 2020, Rowling went a step further and published a 3,600-word essay on her website in response to the criticism she had received for her views on trans rights. Rowling spoke about how she was a survivor of domestic abuse and sexual assault and expressed concern about allowing trans women to access women's toilets and other single-sex spaces meant for women. Rowling has been labelled a "trans-exclusionary radical feminist" (TERF) for her comments about trans-rights, which is a label she rejects. Her opinions on trans people have gained support from some of her fans and other members of the community who share similar thoughts about trans people and women's rights.

On 6 July 2020, one of her supporters caused a stir when they put out a tweet that argued that before J.K Rowling wrote and published Harry Potter, women writers were largely unheard of and suggested that people should be grateful for the groundwork she laid. The tweet caused outrage and stirred up a massive debate online. There is no denying that J.K Rowling is a once-in-a-lifetime rags-to-riches success story and that she has had a positive impact on children's literature and encouraging children to develop a love of reading. Harry Potter changed publishing forever and will be remembered for generations to come. But to state that before she published the first Harry Potter book in 1997 women writers were largely unheard of is just untrue. For as long as man has been scribbling down stories, there have been women writers. In fact, there are so many great women writers, I can't list them all here. All of the women included in this list worked hard at their craft and to succeed in a publishing world dominated by men. They helped to lay the groundwork for future women writers to succeed in publishing. The legacies that they leave behind will echo for years to come.

1. Margaret Atwood

Ten Female Authors Who Left a Lasting Legacy
Margaret Atwood is famous for writing The Handmaid's Tale

Born: November 18, 1939 Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Genre: Historical fiction, speculative fiction, science fiction, dystopian fiction

Notable Works: Surfacing (1972), The Handmaid's Tale(1985), Cat's Eye(1988), Alias Grace (1996), The Blind Assassin (2000),Oryx and Crake (2003), The Testaments (2019).

Memorable Quote:

"Nothing changes instantaneously: in a gradually heating bathtub you'd be boiled to death before you knew it."

Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale

Margaret Atwood is an award-winning, highly respected Canadian poet, novelist, literary critic and essayist. Since the 1960s, she has published a number of works, including multiple books of poetry, novels, books of non-fiction, collections of poetry and short fiction, children's books, graphic novels, television scripts and more. Atwood has received a number of awards and honours for her writing, such as the Booker Prize (twice) and the Companion of the Order of Canada, and many of her works have been adapted for film and television. Margaret Atwood is arguably most well known for her book The Handmaid's Tale which is set in Gilead, a totalitarian state which overthrew the United States government, and has stripped women of all of their freedoms and rights. The book follows Offred, a woman who is forced to work as a handmaid, which is a social class made up of fertile women who are forced to conceive and carry the babies of powerful men.

2. Daphne du Maurier

Ten Female Authors Who Left a Lasting Legacy
Daphne du Maurier's short story The Birds was the inspiration for the Alfred Hitchcock film

Born: 13 May 1907 London, England

Died: 19 April 1989 (aged 81) Fowey, Cornwall, England

Genre: Literary fiction, thriller, mystery, horror, romance

Notable Works: Rebecca (1938), The Scapegoat (1957), The Birds (1952), Jamaica Inn (1936), My Cousin Rachel (1951).

Memorable Quote:

"Then he saw them. The gulls. Out there, riding the seas.
What he had thought at first to be the white caps of the waves were gulls. Hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands... They rose and fell in the trough of the seas, heads to the wind, like a mighty fleet at anchor, waiting on the tide. To eastward, and to the west, the gulls were there. They stretched as far as his eye could reach, in close formation, line upon line. Had the sea been still they would have covered the bay like a white cloud, head to head, body packed to body. Only the east wind, whipping the sea to breakers, hid them from the shore."

Daphne du Maurier, The Birds

Daphne du Maurier (13 May 1907 – 19 April 1989) was an English author and playwright who was popular for writing historical fiction with romantic and gothic undertones. Her 1952 short story The Birds is considered one of her most well-known works. It tells the story of a farmhand, his family and his community, who find themselves under attack by flocks of birds. The Birds was the inspiration for Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 film of the same name.

3. Mary Shelley
Ten Female Authors Who Left a Lasting Legacy
Mary Shelley is the author of the iconic gothic novel Frankenstein

Born: 30 August 1797

Died: 1 February 1851

Genre: Gothic fiction

Notable Works: Frankenstein (1818)

Memorable Quote:

"Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful."

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

Mary Shelley was an English novelist who created one of the most iconic figures in gothic literature - Frankenstein. Shelley wrote Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus as it was originally called in 1818. The first edition was published anonymously in London on 1 January 1818. She was twenty years old at the time. The first print run consisted of 500 copies. Shelley published the book anonymously because there was a belief at the time that female authors would not be accepted by the public. The first edition of the book received positive reviews from critics. In 1823 a second edition was released, this time revealing Mary as the author. Once she was outed as the author, some critics panned her work, criticised her for being a woman and associated flaws in the narrative with the "gentleness" of her sex. Despite the mixed reviews, Frankenstein achieved significant success, became the topic of literature discussion, and was the inspiration for numerous films, plays, and television adaptations. The 200th anniversary of the publication of Frankenstein was celebrated on 1 January 2018.

4. Louisa May Alcott
Ten Female Authors Who Left a Lasting Legacy
Louisa May Alcott is the author of Little Women

Born: November 29, 1832 Germantown, Pennsylvania, U.S.

Died: March 6, 1888 (aged 55) Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.

Genre: Poetry, prose, coming-of-age fiction, romance, children's literature

Notable Works: Little Women (1868), Little Men (1871), Jo's Boys (1886), Eight Cousins (1875)

Memorable Quote:

"I like good strong words that mean something…"

Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

Louisa May Alcott was an American novelist, short story writer, and poet famous for penning the novel Little Women in 1868. Little Women tells the story of four sisters - Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy - as they grow from children into womanhood. The protagonist of the book is Josephine "Jo" March. A hot-tempered tomboy, Jo has no interest in romance and marriage and has dreams of pursuing a literary career. Little Women was an immediate commercial and critical success. The novel was praised for how it tackled themes like marriage, women's rights, domesticity, work, and true love. Little Women had a massive influence and impact on little girls after its release. It was a coming-of-age story about young women questioning their place in the world. The book normalised the idea of ambitious women, encouraged individuality, and challenged social constructs and gender norms put on women.

5. Shirley Jackson

Ten Female Authors Who Left a Lasting Legacy
Shirley Jackson is famous for penning The Lottery and the Haunting of Hill House

Born: December 14, 1916 San Francisco, California, US

Died: August 8, 1965 (aged 48) North Bennington, Vermont, US

Genre: Horror, Mystery, Gothic

Notable Works: The Lottery (1948), The Road Through the Wall (1948), Hangsaman (1951), The Bird's Nest (1954), The Sundial (1958), The Haunting of Hill House (1959), We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962)

Memorable Quote:

"Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone."

Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House

Shirley Jackson was an American writer known for her works of horror, gothic, and mystery. Jackson had a writing career that spanned two decades during which time she wrote six novels, two memoirs, and more than 200 short stories. Jackson rose to fame in 1948 when she gained public attention for her short story The Lottery which was published in an issue of The New Yorker on 26 June 1948. The Lottery told the story of a small fictional town in America which observed an annual rite called "the lottery", which a member of the town would be selected to be stoned to death, to ensure the continued well-being of the community. The New Yorker and Shirley Jackson received a lot of negative letters from readers after The Lottery was published, who were disturbed by the violence and disturbing themes in the story. The Lottery went on to become the inspiration for several radio, television and film adaptations. It has been the subject of critical, sociological and literary analysis and has been described as one of the most famous short stories in the history of American literature. In addition to The Lottery, Jackson is also well known for writing and publishing a gothic horror novel in 1959 called The Haunting of Hill House. The Haunting of Hill House has been called one of the best ghost stories of all time and has been labelled one of the finest horror novels of the late 20th century. The Haunting of Hill House been adapted into two feature films, a play and a Netflix series.

6. Ursula K. Le Guin

Ten Female Authors Who Left a Lasting Legacy
Ursula K. Le Guin is a writer known for her works of speculative fiction

Born: Ursula Kroeber October 21, 1929 Berkeley, California, U.S.

Died: January 22, 2018 (aged 88) Portland, Oregon, U.S.

Genre: Science fiction, fantasy, realistic fiction, literary criticism, poetry essay

Notable Works: The Earthsea series (1964–2018), The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), The Dispossessed (1974)

Memorable Quote:

"I had forgotten how much light there is in the world, till you gave it back to me."

Ursula K. Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea

Ursula K. Le Guin was an American novelist known for her works of fantasy, science fiction, and speculative fiction. Le Guin's literary career spanned over sixty years, during which time she wrote more than twenty novels, over a hundred short stories, a number of children's books, and works of poetry, literary criticism and translation. Ursula K. Le Guin has been credited for helping to shape and bring attention to the genre of speculative fiction and to help writers of genre fiction receive more recognition. Her most well-known work is her 1960 novel A Wizard of Earthsea which has been described by critics as a "masterpiece" and a "well-spring" of the fantasy genre. The book is considered among many to be a children's literature and fantasy classic and has been compared to J.R.R Tolkien's Lord of the Rings series and L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Over the course of her career, Le Guin received critical praise and numerous awards for her work, including eight Hugos, six Nebulas, and twenty-two Locus Awards. Ursula K. Le Guin has been called "the greatest American writer of her generation".

7. Beatrix Potter

Ten Female Authors Who Left a Lasting Legacy
Beatrix Potter is the author of the famous children's book Peter Rabbit

Born: 28 July 1866 2 Bolton Gardens, West Brompton, London, England

Died: 22 December 1943 (aged 77) Near Sawrey, Lancashire, England

Genre: Children's Literature

Notable Works: The Tale of Peter Rabbit (1902)

Memorable Quote:

"Once upon a time there were four little Rabbits, and their names were--Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, and Peter."

Beatrix Potter, Peter Rabbit

Beatrix Potter was an English writer and illustrator. A natural scientist and conservationist, Potter wrote and illustrated a number of books that featured animals. Potter grew up in an upper-middle class household being educated by governesses. She spent a lot of time holidaying in Scotland and in the Lake District as a child. Her time spent in the countryside made her develop a love of landscapes, flora and fauna, which she later learned to paint. During her career as a writer, she wrote over thirty books, including over twenty-three stories for children. Her most notable work is the children's book The Tale of Peter Rabbit which follows the adventures of a mischievous and disobedient young rabbit named Peter Rabbit as he gets into mischief in the garden of Mr McGregor. Potter was inspired to write and illustrate the book after hearing a story that was written in 1893 for the five-year-old son of one of her former governess. After several rewrites and rejections, Potter self-published The Tale of Peter Rabbit in 1901. It was later printed and released in a trade edition by Frederick Warne & Co. in 1902. The Tale of Peter Rabbit has remained one of the most popular books for children more than a century after its publication. Since its debut, it has sold over 45 million copies, has been translated into 36 languages and has been adapted into television shows and feature films and expanded through new book editions.

8. Anne Frank

Ten Female Authors Who Left a Lasting Legacy
Anne Frank became famous for her wartime diary after her death

Born: 12 June 1929 Frankfurt, Prussia, Weimar Republic

Died: February or March 1945 (aged 15) Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, Eastern Hanover, Nazi Germany

Genre: Autobiography

Notable Works: The Diary of a Young Girl (1947)

Memorable Quote:

"I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn."

Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl

Has there ever been a diary more famous than Anne Frank's? Anne Frank is one of the most famous Jewish victims of the Holocaust that occurred during World War II. Anne Frank was a German-Dutch aspiring writer and diarist who spent 1942 to 1944 hiding from the Nazis with her family in an attic during the German occupation of the Netherlands in World War II. It was during her time in isolation that Anne kept a diary detailing her thoughts, feelings, experiences and her aspirations for the future. The occupants of the secret annexe were able to evade detection for years until they were discovered and arrested by the Gestapo in August 1944. Anne and her sister, Margot, were imprisoned in the Auschwitz to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, and later died there. Anne's father, Otto, was the only member of the family to survive the war. After the war ended, he returned to Amsterdam and discovered that Anne's diary had been saved by his secretary, Miep Gies. Otto read the diary from start to finish and decided to honour Anne's wish to be a published writer by working to get it published. The first edition of Anne Frank's diary was published in Dutch in 1947. The first English translation was published in 1952 as The Diary of a Young Girl. In the years since its publication, Anne's diary has been translated into over 70 languages, and it has been praised for its literary merits and for Anne's unique insight into life during the Nazi occupation. Anne Frank left behind a legacy as a respected writer, a symbol of the Holocaust, a victim of persecution, and as one of the heroes and icons of the 20th century.

9. Harper Lee

Ten Female Authors Who Left a Lasting Legacy
Harper Lee is the author of the award-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird which is considered a classic book of American literature.

Born: April 28, 1926 Monroeville, Alabama, U.S.

Died: February 19, 2016 (aged 89) Monroeville, Alabama, U.S.

Genre: Literature, fiction

Notable Works: To Kill a Mockingbird (1960), Go Set a Watchman (2015)

Memorable Quote:

"Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don't eat up people's gardens, don't nest in corncribs, they don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."

Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

Harper Lee is an American novelist and the author of the 1960 literary masterpiece To Kill a Mockingbird. The book is told through the perspective of Scout Finch, a young girl growing up in a rural town in Alabama during the Great Depression with her older brother and her widowed father Atticus Finch who works as an attorney. A judge assigns Atticus to defend a black man, Tom Robinson, of raping a white woman. Finch agrees to defend Robinson to the best of his ability; meanwhile, Scout and her brother Jem are terrified and fascinated by an elusive neighbour. Lee loosely based the plot and characters of To Kill a Mocking Bird off an event that occurred in her hometown in 1936 when she was ten years old and observations that she made of her family and neighbours. The book explores attitudes towards race and class in the Deep South in the 1930s through the eyes of a child. To Kill a Mockingbird was a massive success and catapulted Harper Lee into literary stardom. It was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and is considered a classic of American literature. In 2007 Harper Lee was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her contribution to literature. To Kill a Mockingbird has sold 40 million copies since its publication and it has been translated into over 40 different languages.

10. Agatha Christie

Ten Female Authors Who Left a Lasting Legacy
Agatha Christie was an esteemed writer and is considered a master of suspense, plotting, and characterisation. She is credited with starting a literary movement known as The Golden Age of Detective Fiction.

Born: Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller 15 September 1890 Torquay, Devon, England

Died:12 January 1976 (aged 85) Winterbrook House, Winterbrook, Oxfordshire, England

Genre: Murder mystery, detective story, crime fiction, thriller

Notable Works: Murder on the Orient Express (1934), The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926), Death on the Nile (1937), The Murder at the Vicarage (1930), Partners in Crime (1929), The A.B.C. Murders (1936), And Then There Were None (1940) and The Mousetrap (1952)

Memorable Quote:

"The body—the cage—is everything of the most respectable—but through the bars, the wild animal looks out."

Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express

Agatha Christie was an English novelist, short story writer, playwright, poet and memoirist known for her works of murder mystery, detective stories, crime fiction, and thriller. During her career as a writer, Christie wrote sixty-six detective novels and fourteen short story collections, many of which revolved around her fictional detective characters Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, and six novels under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott. She is the writer of the world's longest-running play, The Mousetrap, which opened in 1952 and closed in 2020. Agatha Christie is one of the best-selling authors in history, with her works selling more than two billion copies worldwide. Her books have been translated into over 102 different languages making her one of the most translated authors of all time. Her 1939 novel And Then There Were None also holds the record of being one of the highest-selling books of all time with 100 million sales. Agatha Christie won a number of awards for her work as a writer. In 1955 she became the first recipient of the Mystery Writers of America's Grand Master Award and in 1971 Christie was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) for her contributions to literature. Agatha Christie's contributions to fiction have been credited with starting a literary movement known as the Golden Age of Detective Fiction which was an era of classic murder mystery novels that was predominant in the 1920s and 1930s. Christie's works have been adapted into television shows, radio broadcasts, video games, graphic novels and more than thirty feature films. She has been called the "Duchess of Death", the "Mistress of Mystery", and the "Queen of Crime".

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