I have been reading since age six, and since then I have enjoyed getting lost in other worlds and other lives. The first female author I remember reading is L.M. Montgomery. I began reading the Anne of Green Gables series sometime around age 9 and by 11 I had read the entire series in two languages. I go back to those books often. I had always seen myself as an Anne Shirley, a hopeless romantic with a wild imagination with unruly red hair. Well, I don’t have red hair, but I remember wishing I did. L.M. Montgomery shaped my worldview like no other author. She made me start thinking about this whole writing thing. And my first love was Gilbert Blythe (played by Jonathan Crombie in the movie).
Other writers that hold a special place in my heart are Lois Lowry (The Giver) and Harper Lee (To Kill A Mockingbird). I read both of those books sometime around age 13, and I feel both have affected my ethics and outlook. They are quite different books and teach different things, but fortunately they can be encompassed in one person, if that makes sense.
I spent the longest time studying the poetry of Emily Dickinson. I don’t remember when I first began reading her. I do remember being in 7th and 8th grade and already enjoying her work. By the time I was 16, I had several of her poems memorized. She holds a special place in my heart.
I began reading Maya Angelou while still in grade school. There’s a lot that I realize now that I didn’t get. Despite that, I still felt her words spoke to me directly. I too knew why the caged bird sang. She was a phenomenal woman, a phenomenal human being, full of wisdom, who had gone through many hardships in life. I hope I will one day be half that wise.
Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say, it’s in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
In high school, I discovered Sylvia Plath, which led to a minor obsession. I read the Bell Jar with academic earnest. I studied her poetry and her life. I poured over her unabridged journals. Her confessional and confrontational tone (in her poetry) allured me. I wanted to uncover her secrets, and I couldn’t get over her tragedy. I can relate to her deepening depression that soon enough overtook her, and I see her as a lesson. I think about her children, the ones she left at such young ages. I see them in my son’s eyes. Maybe her final act of self-destruction has helped keep me from mine.
Growing up in Chicago with literary and poetic ambitions, it was hard not to know the work of Gwendolyn Brooks. She was still alive when I was in high school, so to me she was a living legend. She wrote about social problems, especially those affecting the black poor. Even though I was a white inner city girl in the 90s, I was acutely aware of the race issues in Chicago. I found her work relatable because of the emotions. Emotions don’t know race or skin color.
Sometime around age 16 was a burst of literary discovery for me. I was reading a lot, going to readings and performances. Around this time, I discovered Margaret Atwood. I began with Surfacing and slowly made my way through a portion of Atwood’s books. The last book I read before moving to Poland was Oryx and Crake. Nowadays, Margaret Atwood is THE writer to emulate. She has written so much, spanned various genres, and keeps going with no sign of stopping. She’s a smart writer writing for intelligent readers.
While in college (at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago), I took a reading class that focused on writing around WWII, or something like that. In that class, we read Marguerite Duras’ The War. Even though that was a decade ago, I can still recall many details from that book. I loved her voice, which, of course led me to search for other books available in English. The school library had a few, and there was always Myopic Books, where I stocked up for cheap.
I could probably write several posts about Myopic Books in Chicago. It was one of my favorite places since I was 15 years old. I miss its smell, the whole laid-back vibe, and leafing through books for hours.
This is not meant to be the most inclusive list, just the writers I feel influenced me the most as a human being, who gave me some direction in life, with whom I connected in some way. I spent plenty of my preteen and teen years reading typical books like the Babysitters Club and Judy Blume’s books.
So there you have it, the female writers that influenced me the most. What writers influenced you the most?