Hello ladies, gents, and non-binary pals. For this article, I’m gonna let y’all in on the skinny about these female authors that flipped the script (literally in some cases) and told the stories that needed to be told.
We’re celebrating women that have continually changed the trajectory of the literary world. That’s why we’re schooling y’all on some phenomenal female authors you may or may not have known about. Of course, there are millions of exceptional female writers that deserve to be mentioned, but for now, we’re highlighting just a select few to whet your appetite.
Let’s dive in, shall we?
Aphra Behn (1641-1689)
Aphra Behn was one of the first female authors that made a living solely off her writing. She was also known to have her fingers in a few pies. She wrote plays, poems, and prose pieces. One of her more well-known pieces was Oroonoko, AKA, The Royal Slave. It tells the tale of an African Prince, Oroonoko, that was sold into slavery by his own father. The story is an account of Oroonoko’s life, the good and the bad.
What makes this particular work of Behn’s so unique is that she didn’t demonize the black people she wrote about. Pretty revolutionary for an author in the 17th century.
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1648-1695)
I think it’s fair to say that Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz was nothing short of a prodigy. She learned to read at age three, started writing poetry at age eight, and then she began learning Latin at age nine. Cruz’s writing specialty included poetry, plays, and essays; all of which were inspired heavily by Mexican and Greek philosophy.
Since Cruz was a nun, her creative expression drew a lot of criticism from her peers. A bishop even attacked her in a letter when she criticized one of his sermons. She responded with what can be considered the first feminist manifesto, Respuesta a Sor Filotea.
Eliza Haywood (1693-1756)
Eliza Haywood was the first female author to have her work published in a newspaper. But, real talk, Haywood loved herself a good ol’ juicy scandal. She took a lot of her inspiration from real-life scandals that involved authority figures in London. One of her works, The Female Spectator, was about women doing things that were considered highly inappropriate. For example, one of the women in The Female Spectator had an affair and got pregnant as a result!
Of course, Haywood’s works were met with some pretty harsh criticism from her male colleagues. It didn’t really matter, though. Haywood proved she could be just as critical towards men. She wrote a satirical piece, The Anti-Pamela, in response to Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, which was about an overly pure, underaged girl that endures sexual abuse from her so-called love interest.
Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784)
Phillis Wheatley is the first African-American female poet to be published. Her owners, the Wheatleys, taught her to read and write— she was able to read Greek and Latin as an added result. Wheatley wrote and published her first poem at age 14 and, a few years later, was able to publish her first collection of poems.
Unfortunately, Wheatley’s works have been proven to be quite controversial in black history. Yes, Wheatley was a slave, but her experiences were very different from a typical slave’s treatment. Wheatley was given an education and was treated with affection. That might be the reason why she implied that she was grateful for slavery in her poem, On Being Brought from Africa to America. She even suggested that her African roots were something that needed reform.
Sarah Winnemucca (1844-1891)
Sarah Winnemucca was a Native American activist and author. She started out as an interpreter and possibly began her writing career by accident. She had written a letter to the Indian Affairs for Nevada, detailing the suffering her people were enduring. Before she knew what was happening, her plea was published in several prominent newspapers. She made a career out of giving lectures about the struggles the Native American people face. In 1884, she published her autobiography, making her the first Native American woman to do so.
Did you enjoy the mini history lesson? Be sure to check out this article about Fat Women’s Right to Love in Fiction.