Must-read Books By Women Writers

August 8, 2011

I remember raising my hand in 8th grade history in Mr. Dunn’s class and asking, “What were all the women doing? We never hear about what the women were doing.”

I got strokes for asking that question. I was also encouraged to find out the answer to the question since the history books ran low on accounts of exactly what the women were doing.

One way I have found out what the women were doing over the years has been through books written by women. Sometimes these books are stories like Sula by Toni Morrison, sometimes they are nonfiction like I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, sometimes these books are collections of short stories or poems.

Maybe I felt compelled to round up this list because I work with mostly women writers, who are also moms. Maybe I felt compelled to create it because my daughter will be going to high school in the not-so-distant future, and I want to be ready. For sure, I wanted to offer these ideas to my husband, an English teacher, to encourage him to include more women writers in his classes.

One thing is for sure: this list is not yet complete. I’d love for you to help me complete it by commenting in the comments section.

I decided to include a few contemporary best-sellers like Harry Potter and Twilight because I think that reading more books by women is better than not reading enough books by women.

So don’t feel like you have to stick to the most literary books. I have also tried to include some humor, because let’s face it, some of the early literature by women can get a little heavy if you don’t mix it up with some lighter stuff.

Keep in mind that this list is NOT only meant for high-school girls, it’s also meant for high school boys and high school teachers…and then offer your suggestions in the comments!

Also, please feel free to point out any errors I’ve made. Thanks for your help!

Check out these sources:

Erica Jong from The Nation article about which women writers deserve to be on a list of best novels

75 Books By Women Whose Words Have Changed The World from the Women’s National Book Association

500 Great Books By Women by Erica Bauermeister, Jesse Larsen, and Holly Smith.

Let’s Hear It For The Girls by Erica Bauermeister and Holly Smith


The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Sula by Toni Morrison

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

How The Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents Julia Alvarez

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Herland and Selected Stories by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (compiled by Barbara H. Soloman)

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Emma by Jane Austen

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

Two Kinds by Amy Tan

The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Villette by Charlotte Bronte

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin

Desiree’s Baby by Kate Chopin

Anthem by Ayn Rand

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmerala Santiago

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

The Outside Boy by Jeanine Cummings

Wild Life by Molly Gloss

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

County of the Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne Jewett

Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

The Joys of Motherhood by Buchi Emecheta

The Slave Girl by Buchi Emecheta

The Diviners by Margaret Laurence

The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

Fever by Laurie Halse Anderson

Secret Keeper by Mitali Perkins

Copper Sun by Sharon Draper

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison

The Giver by Lois Lowry

My Antonia by Willa Cather

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Women Who Run With The Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, PhD

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Joy in the Morning by Betty Smith

The Last Thing He Wanted by Joan Didion

The Border of Truth by Victoria Redel

The Keep by Jennifer Egan

Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

Yellow Woman by Leslie Marmen Silko

The Gaia Websters by Kim Antieau

Ammonite by Nicola Griffiths

Heartburn by Nora Ephron

Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin

Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel

The Fountain Overflows by Rebecca West

We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates

Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

Ten Little Indians by Agatha Christie

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko

Waterlily by Ella Cara Deloria

Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeannette Winterson

Dive by Stacey Donovan

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith

Summer by Edith Wharton

The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields

Contemporary/Popular Fiction of Note

We Are All Fine Here by Mary Guterson

Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella

The Divine Secrets of the Yah-Yah Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells

I Don’t Know How She Does It by Allison Pearson

Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding

Eating Heaven by Jennie Shortridge

When She Flew by Jennie Shortridge

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling

Lark and Termite by Jayne Anne Phillips

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Room by Emma Donoghue

The Way the Crow Flies by Anne-Marie MacDonald


The Influencing Machine by Brooke Gladstone

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia E. Butler

The Gate To Women’s Country by Sherri S. Tepper

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks byRebecca Skloot


“Everything Had a Name” from The Story of My Life by Helen Keller

Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer’s Life by Pamela Smith Hill

One Writer’s Beginning by Eudora Welty

A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls

An American Childhood by Annie Dillard

James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon by Julie Phillips

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Gift From The Sea Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank

Bird By Bird: Some Instructions On Writing And Life by Anne Lamott

Short Stories

The Collected Short Stories of Dorothy Parker by Dorothy Parker

Ship Fever, Stories by Andrea Barrett

The Unknown Sigrid Undset (“Jenny” and other stories) by Sigrid Undset

“American History” by Judith Ortiz Cofer

“The Best Gift Of My Life” by Cynthia Rylant

“Women” by Alice Walker

“Ain’t I a Woman?” by Sojourner Truth

“Boys and Girls” by Alice Munro

“Nisei Daughter: The Second Generation” by Rose Furuya Hawkins

“Courage” by Anne Sexton

“Mushrooms” by Margaret Atwood

“A View From The Woods” by Flannery O’Connor

“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson

“Who Do You Think You Are” by Alice Munro

Poems By

Maya Angelou

Erica Jong

Emily Dickenson

Elizabeth Barret Browning

Jane Kenyon

Anne Carson

Christina Rossetti

Marianne Moore

Amy Lowell

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Adrienne Rich

Kay Ryan


Lillian Hellman

Laraine Hansberry

Suggest Books For These Authors

Please make book suggestions for these authors or any authors in the comments, below:

Simone du Beauvoir

Johanna van Zanten

Jane Smiley

Erma Bombeck

Louise Erdrich

Jane Goodall

Gertrude Stein

Anne McCaffrey

George Eliot

Judy Blume

Edna O’Brien

I am a veteran journalist, author and coach with over a decade and a half of experience and a wealth of techniques to share. I am focused on making the world a saner, more expressive place. I help folks become more creative for personal enjoyment, professional development and transformational growth. Whether you are a professional creative or hope to become one some day, I can help you embrace your personal strengths, explore your creative possibilities, and evolve incrementally into your most inspiring self. If you are ready to achieve creative consistency in your life and career, email me about monthly coaching calls. To learn more about increasing your creative confidence, please check out my online school. Stay tuned for ways to save money by becoming a Beta User for my next new course by subscribing to The Prosperous Creative. And don’t forget to get these blog posts delivered to your inbox, so you never miss a post. If you appreciate my work—school, products, blog and social media posts—you are welcome to make a contribution of any size at any time. Thank you for your support!