Calling All Literary Women: I Need To Borrow Your Brains

by @thewritermama on July 11, 2011 · 61 comments

Okay, so here’s the deal. If you visit your average American high school, you might think, since this is 2011 and not 1911, that you would find that about half of the literature being assigned as mandatory reading would be by women. Right?

I mean there is plenty of great literature out there by women. And women constitute half of the population. So it stands to reason that half of the books getting assigned on the high school level would be by women.


And sadly this is just not what is happening. And I think I have figured out what the problem is. The problem is the moms are not speaking up. We are not insisting and demanding that women writers get read at the high school level. We are not voicing our clear opinion that literature by women is just as important as literature written by men. We are not making it clear to our daughter’s and son’s teachers and administrators that we don’t just want this level of equality in the classroom, we think that it is way overdue.

There is no definitive list of women authors who are age-appropriate at the high school level, at least not one that I am aware of. So, in conversation with my husband, a high-school English teacher who has had to listen to me complain year-after-year about the lack of women being studied in his and other teachers’ classrooms, we came up with this plan.

I would post my opinion on my blog: my opinion that women writers deserve to be read at the high school level just as much as men writers, in case you missed it.

And I would solicit input from all of my intelligent women friends as to which books she be added to “The List.”

I’m not sure just yet what exactly I plan to do with “The List.” But I think the first step is to create the list and to share it with other concerned women and then take it from there.

So…which books belong on “The List” of women writers worthy of high school assigned reading your opinion?

I have some ideas. I’ll add my ideas in the comments below along with everyone’s ideas.

Go team! Let’s co-create a new high school reading list, starting right here, right now. Thanks for your input!

[Added: Yes! Let’s includes the names and authors of important short stories as well as books.]

[Added later: Let’s also include plays, poems, and anything literary enough to endure time that made an impact on you as a young woman.]

[Ooo, another juicy idea is to include well-written biographies of women writers. And I think it’s great to include memoirs with these suggestions so long as they are well written.]

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  • all of those are on the AP English list or commonly used.  Some more modern stuff is what we English teachers are always looking for.  Also classic is JANE EYRE and THE AWAKENING.

  • Thank you kindly, Calvin, and very nice topic here, I hope you’ll publish your list for us. I think our mutual friend & colleague Guy Gonzalez (@glecharles) might find it interesting for his library/educational circles, you know. 

  • Aliza Libman Baronofsky

    My husband suggests books by Jane Smiley. I would agree that teachers should use caution when teaching sexually explicit material. Part of what bothers me about most contemporary literature is that all of “the good stuff” is far more sexually explicit than I’d prefer to read.

  • Aliza Libman Baronofsky

    My husband recommends Jane Smiley. Not to veer too far off topic, but I agree that teachers need to use caution when selecting sexually explicit books for reading. I am bothered by the trend that good contemporary literature needs to be sexually explicit.

  • Michelemthornton

    Christina never suggested that the list was focused on women’s issues, but on women authors and literature written by women, and I think we are both on the same page on that point. You’re the one who equated that with a focus on women’s issues..perhaps that isn’t what you meant to say. 

  • that’s the great thing about sci-fi/ fantasy, it usually doesn’t have that!

    Also, I really believe in the reader’s right to choose and if it’s a book that has content that is offensive to the reader, there should be an alternative to choose from.

  • Julee Adams

    Speaking of SF/Fantasy:
    KINDRED or BLOODCHILD AND OTHER STORIES by the late great Octavia E. Butler
    THE GATE TO WOMEN’S COUNTRY by Sherri S. Tepper
    Vonda McIntyre edited a collection of SF by women authors, but I’m pretty sure it’s OOP. These are some of the books I would have read if they were published when I was in HS many, many moons ago!

  • Marcid17

    I am a high school English teacher. The English textbook we have has many works by female authors. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee is a required novel. I also include Anthem, by Ayn Rand.

    We have read excerpts of Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley,
    Maya Angelou’s, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,
    Amy Tan’s, Two Kinds. 
    We also read”
    Judith Ortiz Cofer, “American History”
    Cynthia Rylant, “The Best Gift of My Life,”
    Emily Dickenson, (many poems)
    Alice Walker, “Women”
    Sojourner Truth, “Ain’t I a Woman?”
    Alice Munro, “Boys and Girls”
    Helen Keller, “Everything Had a Name,” from The Story of My Life
    Rose Furuya Hawkins, “Nisei Daughter: The Second Generation”
    Anne Sexton, “Courage”
    Margaret Atwood. “Mushrooms”

     I would love to have the students read Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl.
    I think Barbara Kingsolver’s Poinsonwood Bible is an excellent book–yet is is quite long, so I would advise reading excerpts of it. I like Speak, by Laurie Halse Andersen. I know they read The Giver, by Lois Lowery, in middle school.
    I also like “Yellow Woman,” byLeslie Marmen Silko.

    The students really enjoy reading the Twillight books by Stephenie Meyer, and they read other series such as this also (and several female authors write these).
    I think in three of the four English textbooks women are duly noted; however, the senior English textbook is heavily outweighed by male authors.

  • dawntreude

    I have to say that in the last two years, my 18 year son read not only women authors, but also authors of color in his AP English classes. I believe there has been improvement in this area, but I also know that our HS has a Girsham book in stock as well. It’s not a perfect system.

  • Christa Allan

    As a high school English teacher for 23+ years in public high schools in Louisiana, my hands are tied by the “approved” list, which consists mostly of DWM (dead white men).

    The change, at least in my parish, has to originate from the school board curriculum gurus who decide who reads what and when.

    I’ve received parent complaints about novels I’ve assigned or suggested, and parent trumps teacher (and sometimes administrators) almost every time. For example, I would love to include Margaret Atwood. But, no.

    So…while I am fully supportive of this initiative and will happily contribute to the list, I would encourage parents to become involved at the local decision-making level as well.

  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
    The Gaia Websters by Kim Antieau
    Ammonite by Nicola Griffiths

    I think one of the greatest outcomes of including more female authors would be opening boys to hearing what women authors, filmmakers, and television writers have to say. It drives me crazy when men refuse to watch a movie that has a female protagonist simply because “that is a girl movie.” We women have grown up experiencing the world the male lens, and it is time that the lens expands to include more viewpoints. This could apply to race, too. Most television content is written by whites and stars whites; I’d like to see more popular art that includes all races, genders, religions, and sexual orientations.

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