Now formally led by the United Nations, to shine a spotlight on gender inequities in the labor force and women’s unique lives related to motherhood and wage discrimination among other challenges, International Women’s Day 2015 gives us opportunity to consider some of our most important women writers working today. Many distinguished women’s books speak to the pains and injustices of women and people around the world, but also to their triumphs and achievements as human beings.
The theme for International Women’s Day 2015 is #MakeItHappen, so be encouraged to empower women writers you may have never heard of or only know a little about. Here is a list of diverse women writers around the globe, many of foreign descent but living and writing in the United States. Whether writing explicitly about women’s oppression and political unrest in literary fiction or veiling such concerns within the conventions of popular genres, these voices from the mainstream margins are central figures within their own cultures and among women writers everywhere.
Michelle Cliff (b. 1946, Jamaica): Writing since the 1970’s, Michelle Cliff’s work examine sensitive matters of adolescence and homophobia in the Caribbean with entertaining insights into post-colonialist identity and immigration to America. Cliff first resided in America in New York City, where she moved with her family as a young girl. Despite her American upbringing her work is decidedly focused on the Caribbean: its countryside, political struggles, popular culture and homophobic reputation. Her most famous works include the coming-of-age tale Abeng (1984) and No Telephone to Heaven (1987).
Maryse Conde (b. 1930, Guadeloupe): Conde’s fascinating transnational biography begins with her birth in Guadeloupe in 1930, her education in Paris at The Sorbonne and University of Paris, her academic teaching career beginnings in Africa, and Fulbright Scholarship win to teach in America where she was a popular literature professor at such schools as University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University in New York where she retired from in 2004. She broke out as a novelist with Segu (1984) and I, Tituba: Black Witch of Salem (1986). Segu is an epic tale of an 18th Century African community of warriors, griots and rivaling families as they grapple with the severe changes to their culture brought by the slave trade and Islam’s arrival to their land. Conde published her last book in 2010 and continues to speak and guest lecture today.
Tstitsi Dangarembga (b. 1959, Zimbabwe): After spendingNervous Conditions (1988) was the first novel in English ever written by a black Zimbabwean woman. It won the African section of the Commonwealth Writers Prize in 1989. Dangarembga continued her education later in Berlin at the Deutsche Film und Fernseh Akademie. She made the film “Everyone’s Child,” shown worldwide including at the Jameson Dublin International. She wrote a sequel to Nervous Conditions in 2006.
Carolina Garcia-Aguilera (b. 1949, Cuba): One of American writing’s best kept secrets, Garcia-Aguilera’s very strong women characters are popular among audiences of all backgrounds. She was born in Cuba but immigrated to the United States in 1960 with her family, to settle in Florida and later New York City. Her body of work includes 7 Lupe Solano mysteries as well as entertaining freestanding novels which earned her The Miami Times “Best Author” Award in 2013. To better research her mystery novels, Garcia-Aguilera added “private investigator” to her impressive professional and educational background, which includes an MBA as well as current PhD studies towards a PhD in Latin American affairs.
Lori Lansens (b. 1962, Ontario, Canada) One of Canada’s most beloved new contemporary fictional novelists, Lansens mined her background living in a town known for saving many African-American lives on The Underground Railroad (a secret route of assisted passage from slavery to freedom) to create her bestselling novels which feature strong women characters and integrated casts. Her most popular book, Rush Home Road (2005), takes up the life of a neglected 5-year old girl left on the steps of a mobile home in a trailer park, to be raised by a loving woman who remembers her own childhood and past pains through the experience.
Wendy Law-Yone (b. 1947, Burma): Due to her prominent and politically active father’s imprisonment under the military regime of former Burma, Law-Yone was restricted from educating herself but she could not leave the country.
Andrea Levy (b. 1956, Jamaica): Levy’s parents immigrated from Jamaica to Great Britain when Levy was a small child, and during a time when writing about the Black British fiction was scarce. Levy is a trailblazer of such fiction, with her bestselling and Orange Prize-winning work Small Island (2005) as a semi-autobiographical novel and love story of immigrants to Britain from Jamaica. Known for her warm and entertaining talks as well as her gentle but powerful criticisms of post-colonialist oppression and marginalization of Black lives in Britain, Levy’s latest work is Six Stories and an Essay (2014).
Bharati Mukherjee (b. 1940, Calcutta, India): Critics, scholars and booklovers often cite Mukherjee as a favorite for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Her writing career dates back to the early 1970’s, when her lush and controversial novels broached such taboo subjects as women’s subjection in India and oppressive rites of passage. Her short story, “The Management of Grief,” is a classic taught often in schools and universities around the world. Today, Mukherjee teaches at Berkeley in the United States, where she continues to write stories and essays.
Achy Obejas (b. 1956, Havana, Cuba) Achy Obejas lived in Indiana after her family came to the United States when she was 6. She is a multigenre Cuban-American writer whose body of prolific work spans journalism, poetry, memoir, essay, short fiction, novels, literary criticism and translation. Although she has a vast academic teaching background and was part of a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism team, Obejas is most-known for her critically acclaimed novels Ruins (2009) and Days of Awe (2001) and We Came All The Way From Cuba So You Can Dress Like This? (1994). She translated Junot Díaz’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao into La Breve y Maravillosa Vida de Óscar Wao. She is a graduate of Warren Wilson’s M.F.A. program, helped found the Creative Writing faculty at the University of Chicago and is currently the Distinguished Visiting Writer at Mills College in Oakland, CA.
Sister Souljah (b. 1964, Bronx, New York) : Sister Souljah’s phenomenal background includes tough beginnings in New York’s projects before moving with her family to New Jersey’s suburbs at age 10. While in college at Rutgers University she worked in a medical center in Mtepa Tepa, Zimbabwe, assisted refugee children from Mozambique, and also traveled to South Africa and Zambia. Her 1999 novel The Coldest Winter Ever ignited an explosive movement among African-American readers and writers, to document and narrate the struggles and threats of the inner city to Black Americans. The novel is the coming-of-age story of Winter Santiago, who finds herself swept away into a troubling odyssey of survival once her family falls apart after her wealthy drug-dealing father’s arrest. Souljah used her platform created by the novel to become one of America’s most sought-after speakers and reach an entire generation of reluctant readers who found her novel. In 2009, she began to publish follow-ups to The Coldest Winter Ever featuring characters from the original book.