Late last year we asked you, our loyal customers and keen bibliophiles, to name the greatest living female author. We knew J.K. Rowling would lead the votes after the final count, which she did by a country mile, but it was intriguing to see who would be next.
In short, it was Canada who ran closest to the Harry Potter creator, with Margaret ‘Peggy’ Atwood at No. 2 and Alice Munro at three. American Toni Morrison was in fourth place.
Rowling, Atwood, Munro and Morrison garnered the vast majority of the votes between them and there was some distance between them and Joyce Carol Oates, who is followed by Harper Lee, Joan Didion and Zadie Smith. Hilary Mantel and Barbara Kingsolver round out the top 10. Lee makes the list with just a single book to her name, To Kill a Mockingbird published in 1960.
Customers could vote for any living female writer, regardless of genre or standing or her number of published works, so this list is broad and stretches from bestsellers you find by the supermarket checkout to Nobel Prize winners and authors whose books are studied in universities. A number of these authors have been writing for decades and we should applaud the likes of Atwood, Morrison, Munro, Oates, Ursula Le Guin, Penelope Lively and PD James for their ability to regularly produce books that people want to read.
The 75 Greatest Living Female Authors
1. J.K. Rowling – no introduction needed but she is also Robert Galbraith.
2. Margaret Atwood – Canadian icon known for Handmaid’s Tale, Edible Woman.
3. Alice Munro – another Canadian, queen of short stories and Nobel winner.
4. Toni Morrison – Nobel winner in 1993, Beloved, The Bluest Eye and more.
5. Joyce Carol Oates – more than 40 novels since the 1960s.
6. Harper Lee – a true one-hit wonder but what a one-hit wonder!
7. Joan Didion – non-fiction, fiction, screenplays. She can do it all.
8. Zadie Smith – the top-ranked non-Rowling Brit, White Teeth put her on the map.
9. Hilary Mantel – double Booker winner and undisputed queen of historical fiction.
10. Barbara Kingsolver – fiction and non-fiction, Poisonwood Bible and more.
11. Marilynne Robinson – won Pulitzer in 2004, written four outstanding novels.
12. Anne Rice – Gothic fiction and erotica, and lots of die-hard fans.
13. Louise Erdrich – 14 novels with The Round House winning a National Book Award.
14. Anne Tyler – 20 novels including The Accidental Tourist.
15. Jhumpa Lahiri – short stories and novels make her a rising star.
16. Ursula Le Guin – prolific author of science fiction and fantasy, a legend.
17. Annie Proulx – Best known for Shipping News and the Brokeback Mountain short story.
18. Connie Willis – Hugo awarding-winning science fiction.
19. Maya Angelou – seven autobiographies including I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
20. Rose Tremain – written 13 novels since the 1970s.
21. Isabel Allende – the pride of Chile but adored throughout South America.
22. Alice Walker – always remembered for The Color Purple from 1982.
23. Gillian Flynn – Only written three novels but Gone Girl was a bestseller.
24. Donna Tartt – slow but good, just three novels published in three decades.
25. Amy Tan – six novels exploring mother-daughter relationships.
25. Suzanne Collins – young and old are hungry for the Hunger Games trilogy.
26. Elizabeth Gilbert – Eat, Pray, Love has sold and sold and sold.
27. Beverly Cleary – bestselling children’s books with vibrant characters like Ramona Quimby.
28. Geraldine Brooks – Australian journalist with four successful novels.
29. Tamora Pierce – loved by teenagers for her feminist-themed fantasy.
30. Diana Gabaldon – genre-crossing writer famous for the Outlander series.
31. P.D. James – the English crime writer who created Adam Dalgliesh.
32. Sarah Waters – carved her own niche of Victorian-Lesbian fiction.
33. Anne Enright – nurse-turned-novelist best known for The Gathering.
34. Anne Perry – prolific writer of historical detective fiction.
35. Jeanette Winterson – burst onto the scene with Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit.
36. Nadine Gordimer – South African writer known for her political activism.
37. Anna Quindlen – former journalist who writes fiction and non-fiction.
38. Maggie O’Farrell – Northern Irish author of six novels.
39. Eleanor Catton – Her second novel, The Luminaries, won the 2013 Man Booker Prize.
40. Pat Barker – best known for her Regeneration trilogy.
41. Karen Russell – her debut novel, Swamplandia!, was widely acclaimed.
42. Kathy Reichs – a much-loved crime writer and forensic scientist.
43. Ruth Ozeki – Canadian-American novelist known for Tale of the Time Being.
44. Sue Grafton – American detective novelist best known for the Kinsey Millhone series.
45. Edna O’Brien – Irish novelist, memoirist, playwright, poet and short story writer.
46. Miriam Toews – Canadian author with six books to her name.
47. Philippa Gregory – historical novelist famous for the Tudor series.
48. Louise Penny – another Canadian, who pens compelling mystery novels.
49. Ann Patchett – best known for Bel Canto and State of Wonder.
50. Kate Atkinson – Life after Life won the Costa Prize in the UK.
51. Nora Roberts – the No. 1 name in romance (also writes as J.D. Robb).
52. Mary Roach – writes non-fiction with titles like Bonk, Stiff and Spook.
53. Laura Hillenbrand – memorable non-fiction like Seabiscuit and Unbroken.
54. Stephenie Meyer – the Twilight author captured the teen market.
55. Emma Donoghue – seven novels since 1994 but Room is the most popular.
56. Janet Evanovich – sells oodles of Stephanie Plum mysteries.
57. Sue Monk Kidd – Her first novel, The Secret Life of Bees, got her noticed.
58. Judy Blume – someone who has sold 80 million books can’t be bad.
59. Diane Setterfield – this British author is best known for The Thirteenth Tale.
60. Tracy Chevalier – historical novelist with seven books.
61. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – one of Africa’s brightest star with four novels.
62. Penelope Lively – too many books to mention, won Booker in 1987.
63. Mary Higgins Clark – ex-air stewardess who became a bestselling suspense writer.
64. Naomi Klein – three major non-fiction books including No Logo.
65. Jennifer Egan – A Visit from the Goon Squad won the 2011 Pulitzer for Fiction.
66. Kristine Rusch – talented writer of science fiction, fantasy, mystery and romance.
67. Deborah Harkness – professor of history who has written three novels.
68. Tanith Lee – British writer of sci-fi, horror and fantasy. 90+ novels.
69. S.E. Hinton – she wrote The Outsiders in high school.
70. Ruth Rendell- mystery writer who created Chief Inspector Wexford.
71. Cheryl Strayed – she walked to redemption with Wild.
72. Margaret Weis – expert creator of fantasy worlds.
73. Meg Cabot – best known for the The Princess Diaries.
74. Jodi Picoult – over 20 books and more in the pipeline.
75. Danielle Steel – a woman who needs no introduction.
Notable female writers who did not make the top 75 include Mary Stewart, Donna Leon, AS Byatt, Margaret Drabble, Anita Brookner, PC Cast, Lois Lowry, Joanna Trollope, Jane Urquart, Kate DiCamillo, Kiran Desai, Diana Wynne-Jones and Patricia Cornwell.