In 1987, Congress designated March as Women’s History Month. That feels significant to me since it’s the same year I learned to read. It was also the same year I learned that if I got into enough trouble at school in the mornings, the teacher would punish me by taking away recess. After lunch, the troublemakers had to (shamefully) walk back to the classroom and read quietly while everyone else was on the playground. It took more than a month for my brand-new teacher to figure out why I only acted up in the mornings. Eventually, a truce was brokered between the teacher and my mother: if I didn’t misbehave at all, I would be allowed to stay in the classroom and read through recess and lunch. I was ecstatic. The following semester, I was awarded the class citizenship certificate for perfect conduct.
Even now, I’m proud of that initial sacrifice for reading. Admittedly, being chased around the playground by first grade boys wasn’t much to give up. But getting in trouble every morning was both stressful and humiliating. At only six years of age, I recognized the intrinsic value of a half hour of quiet time and a stack of books. Long before I understood the concept of sacrifice, I sensed that literature deserved concessions of time, attention, and thoughtfulness.
In return, the authors of all those stories opened me up to new ways of seeing, feeling and being. Early fiction taught me how to find joy in a world where things weren’t always what they appeared to be. As my reading progressed, I learned how to navigate a life in which circumstances were generally unfair and sometimes unlucky. Later, I learned to embrace unresolved feelings and unsatisfactory endings. As an adult, novels taught me to accept that certain experiences can never be adequately explained or understood. Fiction (as much as experience) helped me to understand that people are complicated and rarely predictable, and also, that even the most imperfect character has a story worth telling. In a good author’s hands, that story is worthy of empathy. In a great author’s hands, a hopelessly-flawed character becomes worthy of love.
The power of a great author transcends the printed page by elevating the reader to a more significant understanding of the human experience. This year, in anticipation of Women’s History Month, I’ve prepared a list of some of the greatest authors I’ve read. Through their craft, these authors have promoted equality for women in literature and, by extension, in society. But make no mistake: This isn’t a list of women’s fiction. This is a list of great fiction written by women. It is neither a perfect list nor a comprehensive list, but I’ve selected one title that for each year that Women’s History Month has been nationally recognized. I hope you (or a reader you know) might enjoy these selections.
1. A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams 2. Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder 3. Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan 4. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume 5.Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery 6. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle 7.To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee 8. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott 9. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte 10. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith 11. In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez 12. The Awakening by Kate Chopin 13. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood 14. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros 15. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand 16. The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse by Louise Erdrich 17. Possessing the Secret of Joy by Alice Walker 18. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver 19.
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf 20. Everything That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O’Connor 21. March by Geraldine Brooks 22. Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro 23. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout 24. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri 25. Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward Commonwealth 26.A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan 27. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie 28. Someone by Alice McDermott 29.The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt 30. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara 31. Commonwealth by Ann Patchett