WSU English Recommends: Women Writers

WSU English Recommends: Women Writers

WSU English Recommends: Women Writers

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Women’s History Month is over, but that’s no reason to stop reading great women writers!  See below for a list of women writers recommended by members of the Department of English, both students and faculty.  Why not check one or more out when you are in a reading slump or want something new to read?

emily m. danforth, Plain Bad Heroines

Recommended by Erika Carbonara: “Plain Bad Heroines is a brilliant novel that weaves together the narratives of a multitude of queer women whose stories span the Victorian era to modern day. Both a horror novel and a love story, danforth's meta historical fiction is shockingly compelling and poignant.” 

Elena Ferrante, The Neapolitan Novels: My Brilliant Friend (2012), The Story of a New Name (2013), Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay (2014), and The Story of the Lost Child (2015)

Recommended by Lisa Maruca: “I love these immensely readable, can't-put-down novels for their exploration of the complexities of female friendship and how that can evolve over time. I am also smitten with their setting in 1950s-70s Naples and Rome. However, what really stands out about them for me is their close study of class mobility, especially the possibilities and poignancy of transcending economic limitations through education. The novels show that this is a fraught process: the question of who gets selected to succeed is revealed as often unfair and arbitrary, and those who do ‘make it’ often feel uncomfortable in their new environments yet alienated from their families and old neighborhoods (attentive readers will notice the important role of dialect in all of this). Thus, despite bring rooted in a specific time and place, Elena Ferrante's quartet conveys themes that have wide-ranging resonance.”

Angela Flournoy, The Turner House

Recommended by Brandon Brown: “I think this book provides an interesting commentary on the relationship dynamics of Black families while being rooted within the unique places that Detroit has to offer.”

Olivia Gatwood, New American Best Friend

Recommended by Roxanne Finniss: “I’m recommending this book because Olivia Gatwood captures emotion and sexual violence in a perfect light. She even wrote a poem about that crush you would have on the girl that bullied you in elementary school.”

Zora Neale Hurston, Dust Tracks on a Road

Recommended by Kelly Plante: “In Dust Tracks on a Road, acclaimed fiction writer Zora Neale Hurston applies her masterful portraiture skills to her personal and professional life, tracing scenes from her childhood in Florida that stay with you after you put the book down (such as the bedroom in which she witnessed the death of her mother and her imaginative speculation that an older male neighbor would transform into an alligator at night), to her experience as an author, folklorist and anthropologist. More recent editions have reinserted previously deleted passages to make the book more closely reflect Hurston’s original composition, which publisher-enforced changes had previously obscured.”

Robin Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass

Recommended by Rachael S.: “Kimmerer offers us, in her own words, ‘a braid of stories meant to heal our relationship with the world.’ The stories in this book have brought me so much joy through Kimmerer’s beautiful and thoughtful reflections on nature.”

Jordan Kisner, Thin Places: Essays from In Between

Recommended by Donovan Hohn: “Forced to pick one, I’d probably go with Kisner’s Thin Places: Essays from In Between, a debut collection that exhibits all the splendid formal and stylistic variety the essay--or as we sometimes call it ‘creative nonfiction’--permits and invites. Kisner can do the detached documentary prose of literary journalism, heavy on the reportage, and she can do the intimate soliloquizing of the personal essay. In subject, the essays play variations on the theme the title points toward. A thin place, in Celtic folkore, is a place where the boundary between the physical and the spiritual, material and immaterial, is a sort of semi-permeable membrane between worlds. The thin places Kisner's essays explore, crossing from one side to the other and back again, include the boundaries of identity (her maternal grandparents were Mexican immigrants but Kisner's last name and appearance mask that inheritance), or of consciousness. One essay, on a colony of aspen trees, explores the boundary between the individual and the collective. Many explore the boundary between her youthful religiosity and her subsequent faithlessness. She identifies an ache suffered by many apostates—‘the phantom limb syndrome of the soul,’ she calls it.”

Toni Morrison, God Help the Child

Recommended by Caroline Maun: “I recommend this book because it is a deep engagement with fable that centers on how a community of women can work together to heal someone broken by lifelong, multiple traumas. When I finished it, I'd grown, and had to go back to the beginning to read it again, changed by what I'd learned.”

Hiroko Oyamada, The Hole

Recommended by A. L.: “In just 112 pages of meticulously controlled prose, this book utilizes conventions of absurdism and surrealism to make an astute commentary on the expectations we associate with the concepts of womanhood, family, and obligation.”

Sylvia Townsend Warner, The Corner That Held Them

Recommended by Jaime Goodrich: “Those who know me will be unsurprised that I am recommending a book about nuns, but this remarkable novel deserves a wide audience. Chronicling a fourteenth-century convent’s day-to-day life (both eventful and uneventful), this book offers a powerful meditation on life, including sex, insanity, plagues, female community, and male privilege.  I didn’t want it to end, and you won’t either!”

But wait—there’s more! Additional recommendations

Recommended by Natalie Bakopoulos

Sigrid Nunez’s What Are You Going Through  is both warm-blooded and earthy and deeply philosophical; I felt I was in the presence of a sharply intelligent, benevolent sensibility.  

Chia-Chia Lin’s powerful novel The Unpassing  is set in Alaska and follows a Taiwanese American family as they deal with loss and grief and exile. “Now we yearned for all places and found peace in none,” she writes. 

Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s A Girl is a Body of Water is set against the backdrop of Idi Amin’s reign in Uganda, and this gorgeous novel intertwines myth and history, as well as ideas of silence, seeing, storytelling, and both small and large shifts of power that affect a friendship, a place, a life. 

Sing, Unburied, Sing, by the inimitable Jesmyn Ward. I didn't read it this year, but reading two-time National Book Award Winning Jesmyn Ward is absolutely essential. Set in Ward's fictional Bois Sauvage, structured around a road trip,this novel is a magnificent intergenerational story about uncertainty and hauntings and history and love.

Amina Cain’s Indelicacy feels both super contemporary and also removed from time, narrated by a young woman who works as a cleaner in a museum and grows into her writer-self. 

Mieko Kawakami’s Breasts and Eggs (translated by Sam Bett and David Boyd) is keenly focused on the patterns and nuance of language, physical spaces, and the female body. 

Raven Leilani’s tender and raucous and innovative Luster  follows twenty-something Edie as she navigates her world, exploring shifting power dynamics, and is ultimately about the female artist growing into herself.  

Ayşegül Savaş‘s Walking on the Ceiling is one of my favorite kinds of novels: a novel about walking, about friendship, and about narration: the stories we tell, how we tell them, and what we might eclipse in the process. 

Hiromi Kawakami’s Strange Weather in Tokyo  (translated by Allison Markin Powell) takes place primarily in a particular bar in Tokyo, and in movements throughout the city, as two unlikely people are drawn together. It’s a smart and charming exploration of intimacy and loneliness and the melancholy joy of getting to know someone. 

Elizabeth Ames’sThe Others’ Goldis the perfect college novel, following a group of four friends from the time they meet as roommates through young adulthood.

Stephanie Soileau’s Last One Out Shut Off the Lights is a brilliant collection that focuses primarily on  the particularities of place—in this case, Southwest Louisiana—and the emotional and environmental damage and precarity of its characters. And it's also about longing and hope.

And though not a work of fiction, Paisley Rekdal’s Appropriate is addressed to a young writer and is a must-read for any fiction writer, any artist really, exploring issues of cultural appropriation and imagination. 

Recommended by Donovan Hohn

Little Labors, Rivka Galchen
Dreaming of Ramadi in Detroit, Aisha Sabatini Sloan
This Is One Way to Dance, Sejal Shah
Animals Strike Curious Poses, Elena Passarello
Slouching toward Bethlehem, Joan Didion
Dispatches from the End of Ice, Beth Peterson

Recommended by renée hoogland

Toni Cade Bambara, Cherry Muhanji, Jamaica Kincaid, June Jordan, Zadie Smith, Danzi Senna—and, of course, the self-evident Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, etc.