The best female authors of all time

Best women writers
Illustration by Jane Mount of Ideal Bookshelf

When looking at the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, America's National Book Award, and the Booker Prize, you will notice that the female winners are densely packed into the last 30 years. While that could be seen as a sign of promise, the imbalance is still glaringly obvious which strikes me as odd considering the wealth of literary talent among women. I set out to create a list of 50 essential female authors, and upon hitting 50 in under five minutes I decided to shoot for 100. It wasn't a hard list to fill - what was hard was choosing just 100. I cringe to think of the names that were omitted.

How do we change this? We start with the obvious - we read women. If that's step one, then step two is to talk about them - to review them, to critique them, to press their books into the hands of our book-loving friends. Whatever stage you're at in the endeavor to read more women, here are 100 talented female authors to get you started or keep you going.


Shop for books by female writers

Virginia Woolf, author of Room of One's Own, is considered a pioneer in the use of stream of consciousness as a narrative device.
Before publishing her iconic book Little Women in 1868, Alcott wrote under the pen name A. M. Barnard, which hide her gender.
The literary icon made famous for her classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird about Scout, Atticus Finch and racism in a small American town.
The eldest Brontë sister and author of Jane Eyre first published her works under the pen name Currer Bell.
Loved for her critique of British society, Jane Austen is the iconic author of Pride & Prejudice and Emma, and her appeal will never fade.
Wuthering Heights, Emily's only novel and a staple of English Literature, was originally published under a male pen name Ellis Bell.
American author best known for her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Olive Kitteridge.
The author of Beloved has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize for Literature. In 2012, Barack Obama presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The Australian journalist and author received a Pulitzer Prize for her novel March.
Mary Anne Evans, known by her pen name George Eliot, was an English writer best known for her novel Middlemarch.
A prolific author, poet, and essayist, Canada's Margaret Atwood is best known for novels including The Handmaid's Tale and Alias Grace.
The American expat molded young writers and artists including Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Picasso. Her most famous work is The Autobiography of Alice B. Tolkas.
Her novel The Age of Innocance won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1921, making Wharton the first woman to receive the award.
American author best known for her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Goldfinch.
Made famous for her creation of literature's favourite wizard, Rowling branched out with The Casual Vacancy.
Prolific American author best known for her National Book Award-winning novel Them and bestselling title, We Were the Mulvaneys.
The American novelist, short-story writer, and literary critic as awarded the Pulitzer Prize for her 1989 novel Breathing Lessons.
The American novelist is best known for her books Brokeback Mountain and The Shipping News.
The Canadian short story writer won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2013.
The recipient of multiple Hugo and Nebula awards, Butler was also the first science fiction writer to receive the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship.
The American novelist and activist is best known for her award-winning novel, The Color Purple.
American abolitionist and author best known for her iconic novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin.
The children and YA novel writer addressed taboo topics like birth control and menstration in books like Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.
Best known for her 2005 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Gilead.
Phyllis Dorothy James was an English crime writer best known for her series of detective novels starring police commander and poet Adam Dalgliesh.
The English historical romance and detective fiction writer invented the Regency Romance genre.
The American writer was known for her novels of frontier life on the Great Plains, including O Pioneers!
The British writer is best known for her award-winning debut novel White Teeth, published in 2000.
The Nigerian author and recipient of the MacArthur Genius Grant is best known for her novel Americah and essay We Should All be Feminists.
Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Lessing is best known for her novels The Grass is Singing and The Golden Notebook.
Born in 1797, iconic for her creation of Frankenstein.
American author best known for her YA book A Wrinkle in Time.
The American writer and professor is best known for her short story collection Bad Feminist and memoir Hunger.
English novelist, short story writer and journalist, known for her feminist, magical realism wroks including Nights at the Circus.
The Italian writer's works have been translated into many languages. She is best known for her novel, My Brilliant Friend.
A screenwriter, fiction, and nonfiction writer best known for A Book of Common Prayer, The Year of Magical Thinking, and the film As it Happens.
This British writer was made famous by her 1985 memoir book, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, of a painful childhood.
Lucy Maud Montgomery, the iconic Canadian author, is best known for creating the beloved children's series, Anne of Green Gables.
Historical fiction writer best known for her Booker-winning novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies.
Known for her portrayals of Native peoples and culture, Erdrich was awarded the National Book Award for The Round House.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning author is best known for her story collection The Interpreter of Maladies and novels The Namesake and The Lowland.
Her 1993 novel Doomsday Book won numerous awards, including The Hugo and Nebula awards.
The Chilean-American writer is best known for her magic realist writing including The House of the Spirits. She is a recipient of the Presendential Medal of Freedom.
The author of the famous memoir Eat, Pray, Love broke into fiction in 2013 with The Signature of All Things.
The American author is best known for the Outlander series.
The Welsh novelist is known for her Victorian novels with lesbian protagonists.
Her second novel, The Luminaries, won the Man Booker Prize in 2013.
The South African writer and political activist received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1991.
The author of Swamplandia!, Russell received the MacArther Foundation Genius Grant in 2013.
The American-Canadian author of A Tale for the Time Being and other novels is also a filmmaker.
The novelist, memorist, playwright, poet and story writer is the recipient of Irish PEN Award.
Best known for her novels A Complicated Kindness and All My Puny Sorrows.
Award-winning British author best known for Life After Life and Behind the Scenes at the Museum.
Best known for her award-winning novel, Bel Canto.
Irish-Canadian writer best known for Room, a novel about a captive woman and child.
The prolific American author best known for The Poisonwood Bible and The Lacuna founded the Bellwhether Prize to support literature of social change.
The Queen of Crime wrote more than 60 detective novels.
Best known for The Invention of Wings and The Secret Life of Bees.
The award-winning British author writes for both children and adults.
Best known for her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad.
The Indian author is best known for her 1997 book, The God of Small Things.
Award-winning writer known for Possession and Babel Tower.
The Indian writer won both the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Cirlce Fiction Award for The Inheritance of Loss.
The New Zealand writer won the Man Booker Prize in 1985 for her only novel, The Bone People.
Booker Prize-winning author best known for The Blue Flower and The Bookshop.
Born in 1919, the writer and philosopher wrote about good and evil, sexual relationships, and the power of the unconscious.
The author of The Vacationers and Modern Lovers and owner of Books Are Magic, a bookstore in New York.
Yaa Gyasi is a Ghanaian-American novelist known for her award-winning debut novel Homegoing.
Canadian author best known for her 2014 apocolyptic novel Station Eleven.
The American poet, novelist, and short-story writer was best known for her coming-of-age novel, The Bell Jar.
American writer best known for her 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God.
The American writer is best known for her 2015 novel, Fates and Furies.
Best known for her hilarious book Where'd You Go, Bernadette?
The historical fiction writer known for The Birth House, The Vigin Cure, and The Witches of New York.
The Scottish writer is known for her award-winning novel How to Be Both.
Best known for The Interestings, The Ten-Year Nap, and Belzhar.
Author, film director, and artist best known for her novel The First Bad Man.
The award-winning author of Silver Sparrow, Leaving Atlanta, The Untelling, and most recently, An American Marriage.
The award-winning British novelist is best known for her 2013 novel Boy, Snow, Bird.
The award-winning author and playwright best known for her novels Rebecca and Jamaica Inn.
The Zimbabwean author is known for her 2013 debut novel, We Need New Names.
The American author won the Booker in 2011 for Salvage the Bones, and again in 2017 for Sing, Unburied, Sing.
Best known for her National Book Award-winning debut novel, Three Junes.
Primarily known for her powerful essays, Sontag also wrote novels including 1992's The Volcono Lover.
Best known for Charming Billy, winner of the 1998 National Book Award for Fiction.
The prolific American writer is best known for her short story collections including A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories.
Anglo-Australian writer best known for her award-winning novel, All the Birds, Singing.
Best known for her 2011 award-winning novel All That I Am.
Canadian writer best known for Fall on Your Knees and The Way the Crow Flies.
American author best known for her 2014 novel Ruby.
Best known for her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Stone Diaries.
Best known for her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, A Thousand Acres.
Awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Literature for her 1984 novel Foreign Affairs.
The award-winning Haitian-American author writes stories, novels, essays, and children's books.
Best known for her 2013 novel The Flame Throwers.
Best known for The Emperor's Children and The Woman Upstairs.
Best known for The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan's works explore mother-daughter relationships and the Chinese-American experience.
Best known for her 2014 debut novel Everything I Never Told You.
Known for As Close to Us as Breathing, the 2016 novel about grief and family.
A Grandmaster of Science Fiction, Le Guin won multiple Hugo and Nebula Awards and is best known for her fantasy Novel, A Wizard of Earthsea.

More essential reading lists

By Katie Yakovleva
June 15, 2021
At AbeBooks, we believe there is something special about reading. And we don’t just love to read books. We love to talk about them.
February 15, 2022
From Silent Spring to Gorillas in the Mist, this list features books published between 1911 and 1999 that highlighted environments and species in danger.
June 03, 2021
This list celebrates African American writers from both the past and present, from Maya Angelou and Langston Hughes to Colson Whitehead.
1 Min Read