From Sappho to Roxane Gay, female authors have been blazing trails for millennia. In honor of International Women’s Day, we’ve assembled a list of 10 contemporary authors you need to read from around the globe. Curious about Iranian graphic novels or interconnected short stories on the Indian-American experience? Searching for a British-Nigerian author’s reimagined fairy tales or hankering for a Mexican writer’s take on crowd-sourced literature? Look no further; these dames know damn well how to weave a yarn.
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1. Elena Ferrante
Perhaps the greatest literary talent to emerge in decades, Italian novelist Ferrante is best known for her four-book Neapolitan series about the lifelong friendship of two women in Naples. Published under a nom de plume (she has remained anonymous since her debut novel hit shelves in 1992), Ferrante remains an avid writer and cultural critic. When asked about the state of "female fiction" in an interview with The Paris Review, Ferrante responded, "Writers should be concerned only with narrating what they know and feel—beautiful, ugly or contradictory—without succumbing to ideological conformity or blind adherence to a canon. Writing requires maximum ambition, maximum audacity and programmatic disobedience."
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2. Jhumpa Lahiri
Born in London and raised in Rhode Island, Indian-American author Lahiri dazzled the literary world with her Pulitzer Prize-winning short story collection, Interpreter of Maladies. While Interpreter explores immigration and identity, her other works--Unaccustomed Earth, The Namesake and The Lowland--examine India, Indians abroad and the Indian-American/Bengali-American experience. Lahiri, who previously wrote in English, now writes in Italian and examines her passionate love of the language in her newest book, In Other Words. Curious about going full native to pursue a new language? Read Lahiri's essay in The New Yorker.
(Author Photo from Facebook)
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3. Yiyun Li
A native of Beijing, Li moved to the United States in 1996 as a graduate student to study immunology. But after completing her master's degree, Li switched gears and earned two MFA degrees in fiction and creative nonfiction writing. She kicked off her prolific career by winning the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award for her debut collection of stories, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, and has since published two novels (The Vagrants, Kinder than Solitude) and one more short story collection (Gold Boy, Emerald Girl). A MacArthur fellow and one of The New Yorker's top 20 writers under 40, Li has consistently proven over the past decade that she possesses a literary voice worth celebrating.
(Author Photo from the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)
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4. Valeria Luiselli
Mexican author Luiselli shot onto the literary scene with her sensuous, intellectual novel Faces in the Crowd, which won the LA Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction. Her latest hit, The Story of My Teeth, grew out of a commissioned piece of writing to accompany a Mexico City art show at Galeria Jumex. Written with feedback from juice factory workers, Teeth explores the life of an auctioneer traipsing through Mexico City. Those in search of the next literary phenomenon should keep Luiselli's bright star on their radar.
(Author Photo by Alfredo Pelcastre)
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5. Caitlin Moran
For a crass, courageous comrade-in-arms, look no further than British iconoclast Moran. Her advice has rendered her a sort of doula for any gal looking for guidance along the rocky road that is the female experience. From her spirited memoir (How to Be a Woman) to her semi-autobiographical novel (How to Build a Girl), Moran proves that, when in doubt, "fake it till you make it" serves as a successful mantra for almost anyone in every state of life.
(Author Photo by Mark Harrison)
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6. Chinelo Okparanta
Born in Nigeria, a country that has criminalized same-sex relationships, Okparanta has taken to humanizing the lives of gay and lesbian characters in her fiction. Her debut short story collection, Happiness, Like Water, features a tale about a long-distance lesbian relationship, and her most recent novel, Under the Udala Trees, follows a closeted lesbian trapped in a heterosexual marriage. In an interview with The Rumpus, Okparanta reminds readers that violence and discrimination against the LGBTQ community exist in both her native Nigeria and the U.S.: "We conveniently forget that there are others, sometimes our very own next-door neighbors, who suffer in ways that we do not. I think [Under the Udala Trees] is a testament to this: a reminder that just because we perceive ourselves free does not mean that everyone is indeed free."
(Author Photo by Kelechi Okere)
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7. Helen Oyeyemi
The book world's equivalent of a child prodigy, Nigerian-British author Oyeyemi published her first novel, The Icarus Girl, at the tender age of 19. At present, she's a cool 31 and has five well-received novels to her name (plus a short story collection, What is Not Yours is Not Yours, released today). An aficionado of fairytales, Eastern Europe and collecting teapots, Oyeyemi's life and work appear somewhat blurred and entirely dreamy.
(Author Photo by Piotr Cieplak)
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8. Arundhati Roy
Indian writer Roy won the Man Booker Prize in 1997 for her first--and only--novel, the gorgeous, lyrical The God of Small Things. Roy has since shelved her fiction in favor of nonfiction writing and political activism. Decimating the war cries of empires past and present in her speech "Public Power in the Age of Empire," Roy asserts: "Colorful demonstrations and weekend marches are vital but alone are not powerful enough to stop wars. Wars will be stopped only when soldiers refuse to fight, when workers refuse to load weapons onto ships and aircrafts, when people boycott the economic outposts of Empire that are strung across the globe."
(Author Photo by Sarah Lee)
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9. Marjane Satrapi
Iranian-French author, illustrator and director Satrapi is best known for her Persepolis graphic novel memoirs. Delivering memories of times past, Satrapi's books are poignantly rendered examinations of her youth in Iran during the Cultural Revolution as well as her travails to fit in with a culture whose rigidity she rejected. Through exploring her graphic novels, readers experience the story of a young girl attempting to make her way in a world at odds with her desire to revel in the joy of youth.
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10. Zadie Smith
British author Smith entered the lit scene in 2000 with her insta-classic White Teeth, which won numerous awards and garnered a spot in Time's list of the 100 best English-language novels published between 1923 and 2005. With four novels to her credit and a fifth (Swing Time) expected this fall, Smith has earned her place as a literary tastemaker and an admired cultural critic with her glittering prose.
(Author Photo by Dominique Nabokov)