50 Women You Need to Read Before You Die

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AnnaMarie Houlis
AnnaMarie Houlis
May 18, 2024 at 7:37PM UTC
Looking for new books to add to your reading list? There's a gamut of female authors — both classic and modern writers — from whom to choose. If you can't decide which books to read for yourself, we've narrowed your author options down to 50. 
To follow are 50 iconic female authors you really should check out sometime soon, if you haven't already. When it comes to choosing which of their texts to dive into first, well, that's for you to decide.

Female Writers to Read

1. Toni Morrison

Best Known For: Beloved
Toni Morrison wears many hats. She's an American novelist, essayist, editor, teacher and more. She won the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award in 1988 for Beloved, which was later adapted into a film of the same name a decade thereafter. She was also awarded the Novel Prize in Literature in 1993.

2. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian novelist and writer of short stories and nonfiction. She's the author behind Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun, The Thing Around Your Neck, Americanah and We Should All Be Feminists, all of which are phenomenal reads with some of the most iconic feminist quotes.  Her work is so well done, it's been translated into over thirty languages and has appeared in various publications.

3. Kate Millet

Best Known For: Sexual Politics
Kate Millett was an American activist and writer known for her influence on second-wave feminism, which began in the 1960s and focused heavily on domestic violence and sexual assault. She's written tons of books defending feminism. Her most notable text is Sexual Politics, which looks at patriarchy in everyday life — from literature to politics and beyond.

4. Simone de Beauvoir

Best Known For: The Second Sex
Simone Lucie Ernestine Marie Bertrand de Beauvoir was a French political activist, existentialist philosopher, social theorist and writer who had a significant impact on feminist theory. As an author, she's most well-known for her 1949 book, The Second Sex, which she wrote in about 14 months at 38 years old. The book dives into the treatment of women throughout history and is published in two volumes, Facts and Myths and Lived Experience.

5. Marilyn Frye

Best Known For: The Politics of Reality
Marilyn Frye, an American philosopher and feminist theorist,  is well-known for her theories on sexism, racism, oppression and sexuality. She's famous for her birdcage metaphor, which she uses to describe the oppression of women and marginalized groups. Her book, The Politics of Reality, features essays that unpack topics like sexism and the gay rights movement.

6. Sheryl WuDunn

Sheryl WuDunn is a Pulitzer Prize winner and business executive who co-authored the book, Half the Sky, with her husband, New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof. WuDunn focuses on alternative energy and women's entrepreneurship. It only makes sense, then, that her book dives into the lives of women across Africa and Asia who've made economic, social and political transformations in their lives and the lives of women in their communities. 

7. Betty Friedan

Best Known For: The Feminine Mystique
Betty Friedan is a widely-recognized feminist in American history, who dedicated her life to activism. She actually co-founded the National Organized for Women and even organized the nationwide Women's Strike for Equality in 1970. Her book, which she's well known for, The Feminine Mystique, chronicles the lives of 1950s housewives looking for more meaning and independence in their lives. The book actually began as an article that the mainstream media had rejected, so she turned into what's now become one of the most iconic feminist books of all time, credited with inspiring the second-wave feminist movement.

8. Angela Y. Davis

Angela Y. Davis is an activist who began her career during the Civil Rights Movement by leading the Communist Party USA, committed to fighting racism. Her most recent work is what she's largely known by today, Freedom Is a Constant Struggle. But she's also edited a collection of essays, If They Come in the Morning, which was published in 1971 and has been banned on tons of lists.

9. Naomi Klein

Naomi Klein is a Canadian activist, filmmaker and author committed to fighting corporate capitalism and ensuing climate change. She is best known for her books The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism and, more recently, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. She's also currently the Gloria Steinem Chair in Media, Culture and Feminist Studies at Rutgers University.

10. Rachel Carson

Best Known For: Silent Spring 
Rachel Carson is an early activist, marine biologist and conservationist who was heavily involved in the global environmental movement. She's known for her work fighting against the use of synthetic pesticides, which she delves into in her 1962 title, Silent Spring. Her work is largely credited with inspiring the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Rachel Carson
Rachel Carson

Self-Help Writers to Read

11. Carol Dweck

Carol Dweck is the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. She's most notably known for her self-help book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, in which she expounds much of her knowledge. She spent a year at Standford conducting research on the theory of mindsets and this book is the result.

12. Gabriele Oettingen

Gabriele Oettingen is a Professor of Psychology at New York University and the University of Hamburg. Her work focuses on how people think about the future — and how their thinking impacts cognition, emotion and behavior.  In her book, Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation, she explores the notion of mental contrasting and develops a visualization technique called WOOP: Wishing, imagining the Outcome, thinking about the Obstacles, and finding a Plan to overcome them.

13. Kate White

Best Known For: The Gusty Girl Handbook
Kate White is a New York Times bestselling author and the former editor-in-chief of Cosmo. She's also written her career manifesto I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This and Why Good Girls Don’t Get Ahead But Gutsy Girls Do. In her latest handbook, however, she divuldges nine core principles that have guided her throughout her career to inspire you to achieve success in your own.

14. Kristin Neff

Kristin Neff is an associate professor at the University of Texas, where she's researched the value of self-compassion. She wrote all about it in Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself. And she also created the Self-compassion Scales. 

15. Jen Sincero

Best Known For: You Are a Badass
Jen Sincero is most famous for her book, You Are a Badass. The California-bred author left home in 2011 to travel the world, and now she encourages readers to go of their fears and live the life of which they've always dreamed. She doubles as a success coach, communicating with clients through email, public appearances and newsetters while she's on the road.

16. Brené Brown

Best Known For: Rising Strong
Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston, where she holds the Huffington Foundation — Brené Brown Endowed Chair at The Graduate College of Social Work. She's well known for her book, Rising Strong, which shares stories of all types of people — CEOs of Fortune 500 companies to stay-at-home mothers — to suggest that there's power in emotion. Brown is an author who challenges readers to write their own life stories.

17. Julia Cameron

Best Known For: The Artist’s Way
Julia Cameron's The Artist’s Way was published over two decades years ago, and when it first came out, it was touted as an inspiration for many creative types. Her book leads readers on a 12-week program designed to help them recover their creativity. Cameron is also a creative type herself, as a poet, novelist, playwright and songwriter.

18. Elizabeth Lesser

Elzabeth Lesser is the co-founder and senior adviser of Omega Institute, the nation's largest adult education center focusing on health, wellness, spirituality and creativity. She's also the author of Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow. Her book dives into how periods of transition can make us stronger — at least when we understand that we always have a choice to make in how we face challenges.

19. Gretchen Rubin

Best Known For: Better Than Before
Gretchen Rubin is the author of several highly acclaimed books, including the New York Times bestsellers, Better Than Before, The Four Tendencies, The Happiness Project and Happier at Home. Her books have sold three million copies worldwide, in more than thirty languages. Her weekly podcast Happier with Gretchen Rubin, was also named in iTunes’s lists of “Best Podcasts of 2015” and in the Academy of Podcasters “Best Podcasts of 2016.”

20. Lynn Grabhorn

Lynn Grabhorn was a bestselling author of a self-help book, Excuse me, Your Life is Waiting, on top of being an internationally sought-after seminar leader. Her book lets readers know that they don't have to ignore their feelings. Rather she recognized that there's power in feelings. Her book sold more than 151,000 copies.
Lynn Grabhorn
Lynn Grabhorn

Memoir Writers to Read

21. Malala Yousafzai 

Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani author and activist for female education. She began her career as a pseudonymous blogger for the BBC, writing about her experiences living under the Taliban occupation. When the Taliban found out, they shot her on her school bus. She survived, and has since become the youngest-ever winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

22. Rigoberta Menchú Tum

Best Known For: I, Rigoberta Menchú
Rigoberta Menchú Tum is a Guatemalan political activist. She writes about the rights of indigenous feminists in her country and has spent her life campaigning against human rights violations during the country's civil war. Today, she serves as a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador and is a Nobel Peace Prize winner for forging peaceful relations between her country's indigenous people and the government at large. 

23. Shirin Ebadi

Shirin Ebadi is the founder of the Defenders of Human Rights Center in Iran. She's also a Noble Peace Prize winner for defending women's, children's and refugee' rights in Iran — though the government seized her prize. She's been living in the United Kingdom in political exile due to her resistance work against the current regime.

24. Gloria Steinman

Best Known For: My Life on the Road
Gloria Steinem is recognized for her work that inspired second-wave feminism. She founded the feminist magazine, Ms., and co-founded the Women's Media Center. Her memoir, My Life on the Road, details her life as an organizer, activist and writer

25. Tara Westover

Best Known For: Educated: A Memoir
Tara Westover was 17 years old the first time she went to school. She never saw a doctor, as her father didn't trust the medical establishment. And she lived with a violent older brother. Her memoir chronicles her life teaching herself enough to take the ACT, getting admitted to Brigham Young and educating herself.

26. Cheryl Strayed

Cheryl Strayed is an American memoirist, novelist, essayist and podcast host. She's authored four books, most notably, Wild. The book details her 1,100-mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail in 1995 as a journey of self-discovery. It reached No. 1 on the New York Times "Best Seller" list, and was the first selection for Oprah's Book Club 2.0.

27. Susanna Kaysen

Best Known For: Girl, Interrupted
Susanna Kaysen is an American author, best known for her 1993 memoir Girl, Interrupted. Her memoir delves into her experiences as a woman in a psychiatric hospital in the 1960s after she was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. She spent about two years in a ward for teenage girls.

28. Piper Kerman

Best Known For: Orange Is the New Black
Piper Eressea Kerman is an American writer who was indicted in 1998 on charges of felonious money-laundering activities. She was sentenced to 15 months' detention in a federal correctional facility, where she ended up serving 13 years in total. Her book was later adapted into a television series, as well.

29. April Ryan

Best Known For: Under Fire
April Ryan is an American journalist who has served as a White House correspondent since 1997. She's also bureau chief for American Urban Radio Networks and, in 2017, she joined CNN as a political analyst. She penned her own memoir, Under Fire, which covers what it's really like to be inside the administration.

30. Lisa Brennan-Jobs

Best Known For: Small Fry
Lisa Brennan-Jobs is the daughter of Steve Jobs, though, for several years, Jobs denied paternity. She eventually moved in with her father after a fallout with her mother and, in her memoir, Small Fry, she gives readers a closer look at her family relations. Readers get an inside look at what it's like growing up in the Silicon Valley.
Lisa Brennan-Jobs
Lisa Brennan-Jobs

Non-Fiction Writers to Read

31. Michelle Alexander

Best Known For:  The New Jim Crow 
Michelle Alexander is the former director of the Racial Justice Project at the ACLU. A civil rights activist, she's dedicated to speaking out against racial profiling, and has worked as a litigator in class action lawsuits against race and gender discrimination. Her book, The New Jim Crow, introduces readers to the men who live in America's prison system, who've been targeted for arrest and incarceration based on their skin color.

32. Winona LaDuke

Winona LaDuke is an American environmentalist, economist and writer dedicated to her work on tribal land claims and preservation. She's also focused on sustainable development efforts, and has published a number of books. Her titles include All Our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life , The Militarization of Indian Country , Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide  and Grassroots: A Field Guide for Feminist Activism.

33. Claudia Rankine

Claudia Rankine is an activist, poet and writer. She's the author behind five volumes of poetry, two plays and various essays. In 2014, she was nominated for the National Book Award in Poetry.

34. Ann Jones

Ann Jones is a journalist focused on humanitarian and women's rights issues around the world. Her work is focused on war, domestic violence and the oppression of women, and she's traveled across the globe, from Africa to East Asia and the Middle East, for her reporting. Her book, War is Not Over When It’s Over, is the expansion from a photography project that shows the results of warfare.

35. Morgan Jenkins

Morgan Jenkins is a Harlem-based writer with a collection of essays on feminism, black history, misogyny and racism. She's got a Bachelor's in Comparative Literature, specializing in late nineteenth century Russian literature and post-war Japanese literature, and an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars. Her work has been featured in The New Yorker, The New York Times, Rolling Stone, ELLE, The New Republic and The Atlantic, among many others.

36. Kayleen Schaefer

Kayleen Schaefer is an American journalist who interviews more than one hundred women about their best friends. Her book, Text Me When You Get Home: The Evolution and Triumph of Modern Female Friendship, is a personal and sociological examination and celebration of female friendships. "For too long, women have been told that we are terrible at being friends, that we can't help being cruel or competitive, or that we inevitably abandon each other for romantic partners," her website reads. "But we are rejecting those stereotypes and reclaiming the power of female friendship."

37. Beverly Bond

Beverly Bond is a leader in women's empowerment. She's a philanthropist. She's a DJ. She's the founder of Black Girls Rock!. She's a business woman. She's one of Ebony magazine’s "Power 100" list of "Most Influential Blacks in America." And she's the author of Black Girls Rock!: Owning Our Magic. Rocking Our Truth.

38. Jennifer Palmieri

Best Known For: Dear Madam President
Jennifer Palmieri is the former White House Director of Communications and Director of Communications for the Hillary Clinton 2016 presidential campaign. In her book, Dear Madam President, she pens an open letter to the first woman president and, really, all working women. The publisher describes her book as one that  “will turn the results of the 2016 election into something incredibly empowering for future female leaders and independent thinkers everywhere.”

39. Meredith Goldstein

Meredith Goldstein is an advice columnist and entertainment reporter for The Boston Globe. Her love advice column, "Love Letters," appears daily on Boston.com and in the Globe’s print edition every Tuesday, Friday, Saturday and in the Sunday Magazine.  The columnist also penned a book, Can’t Help Myself: Lessons and Confessions from a Modern Advice Columnist.

40. Cecile Richards

Cecile Richards is a pro-choice activist who's served as the president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, as well as the president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund from 2006 to 2018. In 2010, she was elected to the Ford Foundation board of trustees. She was also a featured speaker at the Women's March on Washington. And, in 2018, she authored the book, Make Trouble: Standing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding the Courage to Lead.
Cecile Richards

Fiction Writers to Read

41. Harper Lee

Best Known For: To Kill a Mockingbird
Nelle Harper Lee was an American novelist. She's most notable for her book, To Kill a Mockingbird, published in 1960. The book won a 1961 Pulitzer Prize and has become an iconic piece of American literature.

42. Jane Austen

Best Known For: Emma
Jane Austen was an English novelist who was known for six major novels, such as Emma. Her works have been turned into films, television shows and modern adaptations since. They've also been translated into multiple languages to transcend cultures.

43. Madeleine L'Engle

Best Known For: A Wrinkle in Time
Madeleine L'Engle Camp was an American writer who wrote adult fiction novels such as A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels: A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Many Waters, and An Acceptable Time. Her work is a reflection of her Christian faith and interest in science. She actually produced over 20 novels in her lifetime.

44. Alice Walker

Best Known For: The Color Purple
Alice Walker is an American novelist, short story writer, poet and activist most famous for her novel, The Color Purple. She won the National Book Award for hardcover fiction and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for The Color Purple. Since then, she has gone on to publish several more novels, poetry collections and short stories.

45. Margaret Atwood

Best Known For: The Handmaid's Tale
Margaret Atwood is a Canadian poet, novelist, literary critic, essayist, inventor, teacher and environmental activist. She's most well known for her book, The Handmaid's Tale. The book is a dystopian novel published in 1985 but set in a future New England totalitarian state resembling a theonomy.

46. S.E. Hinton

Best Known For:  The Outsiders
Susan Eloise Hinton wrote her most famous book,The Outsiders, when she was just in high school. In 1988 she received the inaugural Margaret Edwards Award from the American Library Association. The American writer is now known for her young-adult novels set in Oklahoma.

47. Mary Shelley

Best Known For: Frankenstein
Mary Shelley was the woman behind the famous gothic novel, Frankenstein. She was known as an English novelist, short story writer, dramatist, essayist, biographer and travel writer. And her work has been made into several adaptation both in text and on film.

48. J.K. Rowling

Best Known For: Harry Potter
J.K. Rowling was made famous when she first published Harry Potter, which became one of the most famous fantasy series of all time. The British novelist is the ninth-best-selling fiction author of all time. She sold an estimated 500 million copies.

49. Zadie Smith

Best Known For: White Teeth
Zadie Smith is a contemporary British novelist, essayist and short-story writer. Her first novel, White Teeth, became an immediate best-seller and won a number of awards. Most recently, she's also published a collection of essays, Feel Free.

50. Virginia Woolf

Best Known For: Ms. Dalloway
Adeline Virginia Woolf was a British novelist with a number of titles under her belt — most notably, Ms. Dalloway. Woolf was considered to be one of the most important modernists of the 20th-century authors. She also helped pioneer stream of consciousness in literature.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreport and Facebook.

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