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8 female authors who changed the literary world

Colourful illustration of lots of women of different age and ethnicity.
08 March 2021

We’re always excited to see how female authors are challenging and influencing the literary world, so for March’s Women’s History Month we’ve been looking back through time to find some of the most amazing female authors who have shaped literature. There is simply not enough space to celebrate them all individually so we have narrowed the extensive list down to just 8. When we say the final decisions were difficult it’s an understatement, so keep searching for more influential female writers and tweet us your favourites @EssexLibraries.


Sappho: 625 – 570 BCE

It’s incredible to think our celebrations begin back in Ancient Greece. Amongst the greats of Homer and Plato, a true beauty was sharing her poetic gift with the world. Sappho was born on Lesbos to a noble family and is often thought to be one of the earliest poets to write emotional poetry in the first person. Her works often included themes of love amongst women and strength of the female form.

Find out more about Sappho from the Brooklyn Museum. 


Murasaki Shikibu: 978 – 1014

Murasaki Shikibu was a Japanese writer and lady-in-waiting in the court of the empress Jōtō mon’in. Shikibu wrote The Tale of Genji, thought to be the world’s oldest full novel! Though the author’s real name is unknown, her work gives insight and knowledge into her life.

Read about Murasaki Shikibu on Britannica.


Mary Wollstonecraft: 1759 – 1797

Mary Wollstonecraft was one of the best-known female political writers in Europe in the 1790s. Her pamphlet, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, went on to become a best-seller and one of the most important works of the early feminist movement.

Find out more about the life and writings of Mary Wollstonecraft on Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.


Phillis Wheatley: 1753 – 1784

Kidnapped and sent into slavery in 1761, Phillis Wheatley began working for the Wheatley household. They treated her kindly and upon recognising her creative talents, allowed her to learn to read and write. Just six years after joining the Wheatley’s her first poem was seen in print. Though she never lived an illustrious life, her work is still considered to be of huge importance to black history.

Find out more about Phillis Wheatley on Britannica.


Jane Austen: 1775 – 1817

One of the most well-known and loved authors in British history, Jane Austen is known for her classic romances and explorations into high society living. Though her novels usually show dependency of marriage, as was expected of the time, her heroines are usually portrayed as feisty and outspoken, a somewhat less desirable trait in women of the age.

Find out more about Jane Austen on Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.


Mary Shelley: 1797 – 1851

Daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley followed in her mother’s footsteps to create iconic and influential work, her most recognisable being Frankenstein. Initially, critics thought Frankenstein was written by a man and would comment on its political visions and unique considerations of society. Once it was revealed that a woman had penned the novel, many critics then disregarded these concepts in favour of themes deemed more feminine, such as romance.

Find out more about the life and work Mary Shelley on Oxford Dictionary of National Biography:


Maya Angelou: 1928 – 2014

From a child of abuse to being awarded the Presidential Medal of freedom, Maya Angelou’s story of strength and resilience continues to inspire people across the globe. Her poetry, autobiographies and screenplays explore the themes of economic, racial, and sexual oppression.

Read more about her life and extensive works on Britannica.


Toni Morrison: 1932 – 2019

In 1993 Toni Morrison became the first African-American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Her novels pushed the boundaries to expose the harsh realities of the Black American experience. She was also awarding the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction in 1988, one of only 30 women who have won the prize since it’s conception in 1917!

Find out more about Toni Morrison on Britannica.


Needless to say women have always, and will always challenge the literary world, and honestly, we’re excited to see what the future of female authors brings! Girl Power!