8 female literary trailblazers to celebrate

Women these days are killing it in the publishing scene. But before they even made it, strong female writers had to break barriers to help them get to where they are today.

This Women’s Month, we’re celebrating the accomplishments of these female literary trailblazers.

Here is a selection of some of the most pioneering female writers in history.

Murasaki Shikibu

Murasaki Shikibu, a lady-in-waiting in the court of Empress Fujiwara during the Heian period (c. 978 – c. 1014), is a literary pioneer as the author of The Tale of Genji, the world’s first novel.

The Tale of Genji follows the life and romantic adventures of nobleman Hikaru Genji, often referred to as the “Shining Prince.” Richly woven with intricate details of court life, relationships, and societal customs of the time, Genji’s story unfolds against the background of the imperial court of Kyoto. 

Also known as Lady Murasaki, the author’s real name is unknown. Historians surmise her pen name refers to a plant known as murasaki, which means violet, also the name of one of the novel’s characters, while the name shikibu refers to her father’s position in Japan’s imperial court.

Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson broke boundaries, establishing herself as one of the most renowned poets in the history of American literature, with her verses still being studied, read, and enjoyed to this day.

Introverted and reclusive, Emily Dickinson’s work—all 1,800 poems—reflected a rich interior world. Delving on themes of spirituality, love, death, nature, and the soul, Dickinson defied restrictions and literary conventions by experimenting with slant rhymes, short lines, original wordplay, abrupt line breaks, and a penchant for using a strong first person. 

Though she was a prolific poet during her time, most of which she spent writing in isolation at their family home in Amherst, Massachusetts, the world would not realize Dickinson’s true artistic talent until after her death in 1886.

Mary Shelley

At a time when the world expected women to stay home and sew clothes, one brilliant and imaginative writer was sewing body parts in her mind instead.

Written in 1816, Shelley’s masterpiece is the fascinating yet frightening Frankenstein, regarded as the world’s first science fiction novel. More than two hundred years later, Frankenstein continues to be dissected by literature students all over the world and has spawned countless retellings, films, and TV adaptations, with Shelley becoming widely known as the founding mother of science fiction.

Not bad for something Mary Shelley wrote to pass the time during a summer vacation in Geneva, when she, her husband, and her friends were trapped indoors due to inclement weather. 

Agatha Christie

In the realm of mysteries, Dame Agatha Christie is indisputably its reigning queen. Born in Torquay, Devon, Christie became, and remains, the best-selling novelist of all time, publishing a total of 66 detective novels and 15 short story collections in her 55-year storied career.

Through her timeless tales of murder, mystery, and suspense, readers have become intimately acquainted with lovable yet flawed characters such as the mustachioed Hercule Poirot, the intrepid spinster Miss Marple, and the married couple Tommy and Tuppence.

Any Christiephile will agree:  Christie singlehandedly blazed the trail for the cozy mystery genre to emerge, paving the way for female authors to follow suit.

Like her books, Christie’s own life could be a plot for a mystery novel. After her husband asked for a divorce, she mysteriously disappeared for nearly two weeks, sparking a nationwide manhunt. Eventually, she was found alive at a spa hotel in Yorkshire, checked in under the name of her husband’s lover, and appeared to have suffered from memory loss. This puzzling incident reportedly inspired Gillian Flynn’s bestselling novel, Gone Girl, as well as an Agatha Christie-centered episode of Doctor Who in 2008

Edith Wharton

Born into a privileged background within the upper echelons of New York society, Edith Wharton appeared destined to follow the prescribed path: to become a society matron, wed a blue-blooded husband, and live a life of leisure. Sounds like the life, right? But Edith, who was a voracious reader and a story writer since the age of four, had other things in mind.

Wharton wrote 40 books in 40 years, including novels, poetry, books on design, travel, literary and cultural criticism, and a memoir. Her masterpiece, The Age of Innocence, a novel that explores love, betrayal, and social convention during the Gilded Age, won the 1921 Pulitzer for Fiction—the very first won by a woman. 

Besides being a prolific writer, Wharton is a magazine feature writer, a reporter for The New York Times, an interior designer, and a humanitarian. 

Eileen Chang

Where to begin with Eileen Chang? To think of her work is to think of her as this larger-than-life persona who became famous both for being herself and for the way she wrote lush and cinematic prose.

Chang was born in Shanghai in the 1920s, the daughter of violent extremes—her mom an aristocratic woman, her dad an opium addict and womanizer. Educated bilingually at an early age, Chang’s college education at the University of Hong Kong was halted by the Japanese invasion. At 23 years old, she married Hu Lancheng, a politician denounced for betraying his country and a hopeless womanizer.

This would damage her reputation as the best-known writer in Shanghai, but this didn’t stop Chang from writing prolifically.

Using vivid prose, and delighting in colors and textures, smells, sights, and sounds, Chang wrote about the tensions between men and women in love, set in cosmopolitan Shanghai and Hong Kong. Her short story, Lust, Caution, was adapted for the screen by Ang Lee, who won a Golden Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival. 

Chang was also a screenplay writer, a translator, and a fashion icon. To this day, Eileen Chang is considered the most respected author of modernist Chinese works of literature.

Doreen Fernandez

Doreen Gamboa Fernandez, a Filipino academic, cultural historian, writer, teacher, and mentor, left an impact that continues to resonate today. She extensively wrote about food culture, exploring the nuances of Philippine cuisine through its people, places, feasts, tastes, textures, and flavors, which helped Filipino food be taken seriously not only in the Philippines but also the world. She’s the most pivotal figure in Philippine gastronomy and  “Filipino food’s greatest champion,” according to a New York Times article.

Full of zest and indefatigable energy, Fernadez authored many books, such as Sarap: Essays on Philippine Food, Lasa: a Guide to 100 Restaurants, Kinilaw: a Philippine Cuisine of Freshness, and Tikim: Essays on Philippine Food Culture, and mentored students through her work as a professor and chair at the Ateneo de Manila University, apart from her work as a newspaper columnist and a board member of various cultural organizations. 

Fernandez passed away in 2002, yet her legacy lives on through her books, essays, and a food writing competition named after her. 

Toni Morrison

In 2019, the whole world mourned the death of iconic author Toni Morrison. The first African-American woman to win a Nobel Prize in Literature, Morrison wrote powerful novels that shed light on the African-American experience, exploring their struggles, race, trauma, identity, and history.  Among her greatest works are The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon, Sula, and her greatest masterpiece, Beloved, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988.

Not only did Morrison break the glass ceiling in literature, paving the way for a generation of writers to follow in her footsteps, but she also broke racial barriers as the first female African-American book editor for Random House, New York, helping other black authors elevate their voices in the literary scene.

This Women’s Month, Fully Booked is turning the spotlight on reads by women throughout generations and across genres. Browse these titles written by literary trailblazers and other books written by women at Fully Booked and Fully Booked Online.

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