To celebrate Women’s History Month, we’re honoring some of the incredible literary women who’ve graced our shelves. From lab scientists to poets to those stealing the show in front of (and behind) the camera, these seven badass authors have inspired us, and we hope they’ll inspire you too.
Even though Hope Jahren is a brilliant, award-winning geobiologist and three-time Fulbright scholar, she opens her memoir by assuring her readers that anyone can be a scientist. Since I haven’t taken a science class since I was 17, I was intrigued by that promise and kept reading. I absolutely fell in love with the pages that followed: Jahren’s journey from her father’s lab in rural Minnesota through the incredible strides she’s made in her male-dominated field were inspiring, and though she opens up about some of her darkest struggles, there were so many moments of tenderness and humor that stuck with me. I told all my friends that by the end of this book, they’d be crying about trees. So just don’t say I didn’t warn you.
While other books on this list showcase historic moments in science history, this is a memoir by a woman working in science today. Acclaimed scientist Hope Jahren has built three laboratories around the study of trees, flowers, seeds, and soil, but this book is also a meditation on work, love, and passion.
No list of badass women in literature would be complete without Roxane Gay, bestselling author of BAD FEMINIST, frequent New York Times contributor, and much more. She’s able to break down complex issues regarding race, gender, sexuality, and body image into brilliant pieces that help her readers make sense of a world that’s confusing and cruel. In her 2017 memoir, HUNGER, Gay opens up about the trauma of her past, examines how it affected her physically and emotionally, and explains the agonizing reality of living in an “unruly body” in our fat-phobic society. Her incredible bravery matched with her mesmerizing writing create an unforgettable memoir. As Ann Patchett said, “Roxane Gay shows us how to be decent to ourselves and decent to one another.”
Laura Bates is a Guardian columnist and the founder of the Everyday Sexism Project: an online catalogue (and now, a book) for instances of sexism experienced on a day-to-day basis by women around the world. Bates’s GIRL UP is pretty much one long love letter from the cool big sister you never had. It’s full of vital info about sex, social media, body image, and more, plus warnings about all the overt and subtle ways that misogyny affects us, and what we can do about it. If I could, I’d give every teenage girl a copy of this book.
Patrice Banks is on a mission to empower women through their cars. Even with a successful career in engineering, Banks was once an “auto airhead” like so many of us, praying that whatever problem the dashboard light signaled would simply fix itself. But once she realized that women are routinely ripped off by male mechanics—even though, statistically, we’re the automotive industry’s number one customers—she knew she needed to make a change. Now, Banks owns and operates the Girls Auto Clinic: a full-service auto repair shop in Philadelphia with all female mechanics and an attached hair and nail salon. Her first book, the GIRLS AUTO CLINIC GLOVE BOX GUIDE, is the easy-to-use resource for car maintenance, repair, and roadside assistance that every driver should own.
Rupi Kaur is “Instagram’s favorite poet,” and MILK AND HONEY is the debut collection that brought her powerful work from your iPhone screen to bookshelves everywhere. Tackling themes of femininity, abuse, love, and loss, Kaur’s poems have resonated with millions, and she published a brand new collection, THE SUN AND HER FLOWERS, in 2017. Of course, we love to see a fresh female voice at the top of the bestseller list, but here’s the most badass thing of all: Kaur is breaking poetry out of its ivory tower, and, in the process, inspiring women everywhere to write.
MILK AND HONEY is a collection of poetry and prose grounded in the everyday experiences of women and bears witness to both the beautiful and the brutal sides womanhood. Every word feels genuine and evokes such strong feeling. I sobbed on the subway reading this collection for the first time.
Don’t be fooled by the playful title and endorsement from comedian Chelsea Handler. Gabrielle Union is not messing around in this sharp, powerful essay collection. Sure, there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments (one story opens as Union and her husband sit parked in a Walgreens parking lot, arguing over who will go in to buy tampons), but Union is unflinchingly honest about some of her most painful memories, and how racism and sexism continue to affect her experiences—even with all the fame and success she’s earned. Reading WE’RE GOING TO NEED MORE WINE feels like a therapy session in the best possible way.
In her first book, award-winning executive producer and queen of Thursday nights Shonda Rhimes shares the six words, spoken by her sister, that changed her life forever: “You never say yes to anything.” This cut her to the core the way only family can, and for the year that followed, Rhimes forced herself to venture outside her comfort zone and just say “yes.” I’ll leave you with a favorite quote: “I am not lucky,” Rhimes writes. “You know what I am? I am smart, I am talented, I take advantage of the opportunities that come my way, and I work really, really hard. Don’t call me lucky. Call me a badass.”
Shonda Rhimes delivered some tough love in her Dartmouth commencement address saying, “dreamers often end up living in the basements of relatives.” Rhimes’s book YEAR OF YES offers inspiration for the dreamers who need to take action. Her straight-forward advice for living out your dreams boldly? Say “yes.”