By KATE SCHATZ
e first known author was an ancient Sumerian priestess named Enheduanna. The first novel was written by Murasaki Shikibu, a lady-in-waiting at the Imperial Court in Japan. Women wrote plays in ancient Greece, poems in ancient Persia. Fast forward some centuries, and five of the world’s top ten bestselling authors are women. Women from all over the world have been creating, influencing, and contributing to literature since its inception. Yet google “greatest writers” and you still get this:
(If you scroll the right for a while you eventually get to Virginia Woolf, then Jane Austen. J.K. Rowling, one of those top-selling authors, eventually appears as well. Out of, like, sixty dudes.)
It’s probably not a huge shock to see a slew of white, male, American/British/Russian faces here — but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating. So, to counteract that in some small way, I want to bring attention to just a few of the women writers from around the world who have produced or are producing beautiful, necessary works of literature. (And I really mean just a few. It’s a good thing I have a wordcount and a deadline, because this could be very, very long.) I’ve kept it to twentieth- and twenty-first-ccentury fiction writers (rad women poets is another article entirely), and have included writers who write in English and those whose works have been translated. These are women whose novels and stories show us worlds, cultures, lives, and truths that need to be known.
As a monolingual person, I experience a particular sadness when I think about the many stories I won’t get to know. A New York Times study found that less than four percent of the new adult fiction published in the U.S. is in translation. That’s a huge loss, especially when you consider the wise words of Susan Sontag: “To have access to literature, world literature, was to escape the prison of national vanity, of philistinism, of compulsory provincialism, of inane schooling, of imperfect destinies and bad luck. Literature was the passport to enter a larger life; that is, the zone of freedom… Literature was freedom.” With that in mind, read on.
Elena Ferrante, Italy
“Elena Ferrante” is the pseudonym of the Italian novelist responsible for captivating much of the reading world for the past several years with her incredibly intense, complex, and heart-wrenching Neapolitan novels. The four books (My Brilliant Friend; The Story of a New Name; Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay; and The Story of the Lost Child) track the passionate and overwrought friendship of two Italian women as they grow up, come of age, and navigate adulthood in a violent, impoverished section of Naples. They give depth and legitimacy to platonic female friendship in a way that feels unprecedented. Prior to the Neapolitan novels, Ferrante published several other novels, and has most recently published a children’s book. Despite the dogged and often invasive pursuit of journalists, Ferrante maintains her anonymity, explaining that “books, once they are written, have no need of their authors.”
Rad Reads: all four books in the Neapolitan novel series