Add these women writers to your to-read list.
By Ariel Parrella-Aureli
We are barely into 2020 and there are already dozens of women writers with compelling work that deserve recognition. While some of these books have already been published, they have received widespread local and national attention this year from media, podcasts, book clubs and events around the country. These refreshing perspectives, many of which are debut works, are incredibly vital in the 21st century. As we celebrate Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, let’s remember the power that we hold and the influence we can have. From memoirs, poetry collections, novels and a personal anthology, we picked six diverse women making a splash in the literary scene that deserve your attention and encompass what it means to be a strong, authentic female voice.
Carmen Maria Machado
Author Carmen Maria Machado comes out of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and received mainstream attention when, in 2018, The New York Times listed her 2017 story collection Her Body and Other Parties as a member of “The New Vanguard,” one of “15 remarkable books by women that are shaping the way we read and write fiction in the 21st century.” The queer author has received numerous awards, fellowships and residencies and is a refreshing new LGBTQ Latina voice in modern literature.
Recommended Reading: In the Dream House
Machado is hitting 2020 with her debut memoir In the Dream House, released in late 2019. Its fame rose quickly: it’s been named one of the best books of the year by The New York Times, NPR, New Yorker and more; it has received honorable mentions in the nonfiction realm and has even been named Best Book of the Decade by LitHub, Paste and Autostraddle. Machado’s raw yet humorous ability to take you under her wing and fly open the doors on a toxic relationship gone bad is simultaneously captivating, uncomfortable and illuminating. In the Dream House challenges the stereotype of lesbian relationships as safe and utopian, looks at the history of abuse in queer relationships and reinvents the wheel of nonfiction.
Britteney Black Rose Kapri
The brilliant Young Chicago Authors poet and teacher Britteney Black Rose Kapri is “pro queer, pro black, pro hoe” and writes about her experiences with sexuality, men, women, body image and all the in-betweens. Her tough character peels off the page and scurries in between the personal, the relatable and the stereotype of black women and sexuality — shattering it in more places than I can count.
Recommended Reading: Black Queer Hoe
I got to see Britteney read from her collection at a poetry open mic in February and was smacked with her raw storytelling and vivid poetic images. Her stories highlight a unique, hard-hitting, hilarious and painful perspective that will leave readers with a greater sense of understanding, empowerment and grit. Britteney was just at the AWM in February also, where she performed alongside poet Danez Smith.
Alexis Schaitkin has had work published in Ecotone, Southwest Review,The Southern Review, TheNew York Times and other places. She received her MFA in fiction from the University of Virginia, where she was a Henry Hoyns Fellow. She’s not new to the literary scene and her grabbing new thriller is proof of her talent.
Recommended Reading: Saint X
Saint X marks Schaitkin’s full-throttle dive into the novel world. Her fictional thriller is told from multiple perspectives, which is a style that always grabs me. The story starts with Claire, who was just a child when her older sister, Alison, was killed on a family vacation to the Caribbean island Saint X. Now grown, Claire has a chance encounter with Clive, one of the men accused of killing Alison, which propels her to find out more about a sister she never truly knew. Saint X tells the story of obsession, grief, race, and privilege that leaves an emotional mark and displays the honest complication of relationships.
Writer Kiley Reid is a recent graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop where she was the recipient of the Truman Capote Fellowship. She writes about race, class and money and her debut novel is getting traction on major news media. She was featured on NPR’s Code Switch, Good Morning America and the Daily Show with Trevor Noah. Reid has been called a young powerhouse author and has opened the can on race and privilege through the lens of her novel.
Recommended Reading: Such a Fun Age
Such a Fun Age, which came out on the last day of 2019, has already become a New York Times Bestseller and received applause from NPR, Buzzfeed, Black Girl Magic and Reese Witherspoon’s book club, to name a few. The novel centers around a black babysitter, her relationship to the white woman whom she works for and how they deal with a shocking race-fueled event that is so relevant in our culture today. With empathy and keen social commentary, Such a Fun Age explores the stickiness of transactional relationships, what it means to make someone “family,” and the complicated reality of being a grown-up, which we can all relate to.
Raych Jackson is no stranger to the writing field. The local author, performer, teacher and poet is well established in Chicago’s literary scene. She is the co-founder of a monthly poetry slam, Big Kid Slam, wrote a play about Chicago and has competed on national poetry slam teams and in individual competitions.
Recommended Reading: Even the Saints Audition
Her debut poetry collection called Even the Saints Audition interrogates faith, body, and spirituality through an array of poetry styles. She spins her words into new creation myths that challenge the narratives taught and looks at her relationship to the church, herself and her blackness. She’s currently touring the book nationally and locally. Her collection won Best New Poetry Collection by a Chicagoan in the Chicago Reader fall of 2019.
Born in Veracruz, Mexico in 1982, Fernanda Melchor is widely recognized as one of the most exciting modern voices of Mexican literature. She is the author of the novel Falsa liebre (2013) and the chronicle book Aquí no es Miami (2013). Some of her stories and articles have been published in journals and magazines such as Replicante, Letras Libres, GQ and Vice, as well as in the anthology Mexico 20. Now, her newest novel marks her first work translated to English.
Recommended Reading: Hurricane Season
If you love reading dark thriller stories, this one is for you. It covers controversies surrounding the discovery of the Witch’s body, whose death becomes a catalyst for gossip, speculation and personal narratives that each touch on the Witch’s life. This book explores femininity and living in a community left behind by global capitalism. It also features magical themes as well as Mexican superstitions such as “malas vibras.” The only catch: you have to wait until the end of the month to read it — but with all the buzzing it has received by The Guardian, Publisher’s Weekly and others, it’s worth saving it in your reading list.
Our Women on the Ground
Essays by Arab Women Reporting from the Arab World
What better book celebrates women empowerment, history and authentic storytelling than Our Women on the Ground, my favorite book of 2019. The collection features 19 essays by Arab journalists who have, and are, reporting from the Arab world and for the first time are sharing their stories with an honest, unfiltered, personal and sometimes terrifying voice. Edited beautifully by Lebanese journalist Zahra Hankir and with a forward by CNN Chief International Anchor Christine Amanpour, the essays uncover the truths of what it’s like reporting from the Arab world. Journalists from NPR, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Financial Times and freelance journalists, photographers and more share their stories that will help you gain a stronger understanding of the complexities women journalists face in the Middle East, how they cope with violence they’ve witnessed and the little-known advantages over male counterparts. The book shatters stereotypes about the often misunderstood region while providing a vital perspective very much needed in our modern world.
Ariel Parrella-Aurelli is a freelance journalist in Chicago and the editor-in-chief of the hyperlocal news site LoganSquarist, dedicated to the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago. She is also a digital content producer at WBBM Newsradio. She writes for Chicago Magazine, Block Club Chicago, Sojourners and has been published in the Chicago Reader, Psymposia, Univision Chicago, Streetsblog Chicago, Curbed, Newcity and more.