Women’s Equality Day: Female Writers Who Broke Barriers

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women's equality day: female writers who broke barriers

Let’s celebrate the female writers who came before us. The women who opened doors for us to pursue our dreams.

Women’s Equality Day is officially celebrated every August 26th in the U.S. We say, let’s celebrate it year round. In a field dominated by men, there have been many notable firsts for female writers. However, many are unknown to the female writers who follow in their footsteps. For example, did you know that the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry was Edith Wharton?

Women accomplish a lot in the world of writing. little infinite’s not letting those accomplishments get overlooked. So, we are showcasing some of those impressive firsts and celebrating the women who made them.

Sara Teasdale – First Woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry

Sara Teasdale was an American poet born in 1884. In 1917 she wrote a collection of poems titled “Love Song.” This collection won both the Columbia Poetry Prize and the Poetry Society of America Prize in 1918. The Columbia Poetry Prize has since become the Pulitzer Prize. She later published three more collections, which are considered to be her best work.

While the first official Pulitzer Prize in Poetry wasn’t handed out until 1922, Teasdale is considered to have won the first version of the prize in 1918. This only won the award once but opened the award up to future female writers.

The Collected Poems, By Sara Teasdale

The Collected Poems, By Sara Teasdale

Considered one of the best lyrical poets of the early twentieth century, Sara Teasdale published a number of beautiful poems during her lifetime. This book includes five of her collections all in one place. While suffering from bad health growing up in St. Louis, she looked to poetry as a way to showcase her pain. After her initial success, she moved to New York and found herself among the literary elite. Her stunning and lyrical poems continued to examine topics such as love and loss.

Rita Dove – First Black Female Poet Laureate USA

Both a poet and a novelist, Rita Dove has a number of works under her belt. Her work takes a hard look at historical and political events, as well as her own personal experiences. You could read a poem about racism in one collection, then a poem about ballroom dancing in another. Her collection Thomas and Beulah, however, won her a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1987.

In 1986, Congress created the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. It wasn’t until 1993 that Dove became the first African American to hold the position, as well as the youngest. While she was not the first female writer to hold the position, she was the second.

Mother Love, by Rita Dove

Mother Love, by Rita Dove

Written at the end of her term as Poet Laureate, this collection weaves together mythology and family. Dove uses the relationship between Demeter and Persephone to represent a mother and a daughter. The two constantly feed off each other in a never-ending cycle. She focuses on the special kind of love between a mother and a daughter. Every mother knows what it means to be a daughter, while every daughter has the potential to be a mother.

Edith Wharton – First woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for Literature

Early in life, Edith Wharton put her pen to paper to write stories and poems. At 15 she published a poem in a German newspaper. However, her parents looked down on her writing. Female writers were discouraged from publishing.

Best known for her novella, Ethan Frome, Wharton wrote a number of novels, novellas, and poetry. She helped pave the way for female writers during a time when a woman should not want anything more than a husband. Finally, in 1921, she became the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for Literature for her novel, The Age of Innocence.

The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton

The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton

Countess Ellen Olenska returns to her family home after fleeing from her terrible husband back in Europe. As dramatic as it sounds, that is only the beginning of Ellen’s rebellious adventure. After returning home, she meets the handsome Newland Archer, who becomes completely enthralled by her. Sadly, however, he is engaged to Ellen’s cousin, May Welland. Needless to say, drama ensues. Wharton’s novel is full of drama, wit, and a well-painted view of society at the time. With all the qualities of a great romance novel, this story balks at the idea of marriage and it’s impossible constraints.

Gabriela Mistral – South America’s first-ever Nobel Laureate

Lucila Godoy y Alcayaga, born in Chile, was the daughter of a poet. She began writing while working as a school teacher and gave herself the pseudonym Gabriela Mistral. While she published her first poems in a local newspaper, it wasn’t until 1922, when she published her first collection, Desolation. Her writing allowed her to become an advocate for improving education in Mexico and Chile.

Working as a diplomat and activist for years, Mistral was able to bring attention to South American female writers. In 1945, Mistral became the first South American person to ever win a Nobel Prize. This opened the door for future South American winners, like Pablo Neruda. She won for literature.

Madwomen: The "Locas Mujeres" Poems, by Gabriela Mistral

Madwomen: The “Locas Mujeres” Poems, by Gabriela Mistral

Loss is an important theme in Mistral’s poetry. It is especially important in her collection of Mujeres poems. Mistral explores the complex and compelling facets of catastrophe and the mourning that follows. Using dark humor, folklore wisdom, and her ballad-like lyrics, her poems paint the image of a “madwoman” who is anything but mad. This collection includes poems from Mistral’s final collection, as well as poems published after her death.

Alice Walker – First black woman to win a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award

By slipping her poems under her professor’s office door, Alice Walker put in motion the beginning of her writing career. Since her years in college, Walker published several novels and poetry collections throughout her career. But what she is best known for outside of writing is activism.

Walker continues to raise her voice against racism, sexism, and war. Published in 1982, her most well- known novel The Color Purple calls attention to racism, sexism, and abuse. It also won both the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction and the National Book Award, making her the first Black woman to win both. Her work continues to inspire female writers today.

Revolutionary Petunias, By Alice Walker

Revolutionary Petunias, By Alice Walker

Walker’s second collection of poetry takes place after the Civil Rights Movement. In every poem, it’s clear that the movement shaped her, and these are her reactions to it. While she fought alongside so many others during the movement, it was clear that she felt alone. These poems are for those who fought alongside her who remained committed to love and beauty.

Maya Angelou – First African American woman to have a feature-length screenplay produced.

In 1972, Maya Angelou’s screenplay Georgia Georgia became a feature film. This opened the door for many Black writers and directors who now had a foot in the door. But while this is a historic first, it isn’t what Angelou is most famous for.

Best known for her novels and poetry, Angelou as been a spark of inspiration for generations of black female writers. She has received countless awards and recognition for her work, including a Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama. She also has the honor of being the second poet to deliver a poem at a presidential inauguration, and the first-ever African American poet to do so.

The Complete Poetry, by Maya Angelou

The Complete Poetry, by Maya Angelou

For years, Maya Angelou has inspired poets around the world. Her poem “Still I Rise” empowers women during difficult times still today. This collection contains all of her powerful and poignant poems. From the pages of her Pulitzer nominated collection Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Die, to the inauguration poem she wrote for Bill Clinton, On the Pulse of Morning, this collection honors the life of this amazing poet. For new and returning fans of her work, this collection should be a part of every personal library.

In honor of Women’s Equality Day, we say thank you to these women. Each of them opened a door for future female writers to pursue their dreams. But, these are only a few women who have helped break barriers for us. which female writers do you think should be included in our list? Let us know on social media.

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Writer, editor, and proud nerd. Co-host of Wit Beyond Measure, a Jane Austen podcast. A reader of books, binger of Netflix, and knitter of scarves. Her cat is probably yelling at her right now.