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Please begin with an informative title:

"Great" is a lot to live up to. If you don't want to make a definitive pronouncement, then Who is Your Favorite Woman Novelist since 1950?

I have one favor to ask you. Please leave a comment: put the name of the Greatest (or your Favorite) Female Novelist as the subject; in the body of the comment, write a sentence or a paragraph explaining why you picked them You could name the qualities of their writing that you enjoy/admire; any books of theirs that shine for you; anything they captured best, or first, in Novel form; a character or part of a book that enchanted you; how many books of theirs you've read, or re-read . . .

We're gathering names and ideas here, and sharing them. It's a hard question, with a lot of strong competition. What I hope to find is not one clear winner, but dozens of strong alternatives. Of course, if you don't have a strong opinion, or a favorite, contemporary woman writer, then you should comment on your actual favorite, no matter when she wrote. I'm asking especially about more recent writers because I have a pretty good idea already who the strongest women novelists were from long ago. But the field in the last 60 years, and especially among women writing novels today, is much larger and much harder to judge the best among.

It's far easier, looking backward in time. Many women have great writing ability. But the world has run on chauvinist principles for millennia, and only a minute fraction of the women who could write good novels have managed to do so, and then get them published. At the end of the diary you'll find a poll for the Greatest Woman Novelist before 1950. I could whittle down the entire field to 15 contenders, partly because so few women from previous centuries had books published and saved for posterity, and partly because a few generations does lend a much clearer view, to see who out of the contenders achieve the first rank. Even so, it's arrogant of me to attempt a definitive pronouncement, and you're welcome to tell me that I'm completely mistaken in my list.

Intro

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The world is still pretty chauvinist. We live in a country where the sexes are relatively equal, and there's unfairness all around us, built into our culture in dozens of ways and, sadly, internalized in most young girls as they grow. But our culture, and the world of publishing, have come a long way.

In 113 years of The Nobel Prize for Literature, 110 were awarded (7 years had non - mostly because of wars; 4 years had 2). Only 13 women have won; 4 of those were in the last 10 years. When the Nobel prizes began, they were stodgier than society in general - they were almost exclusively given to Europeans, they were biased towards Scandinavia, and they were chauvinist. Of the first 24 Nobels in Literature, 6 were given to Danes, Swedes and Norwegians - but only 1 to a woman (from Sweden).

Women who have Won the Nobel Prize since 1950:

'66: Nelly Sachs
'91: Nadine Gordimer
'93: Toni Morrison
'04: Elfriede Jelinek
'07: Doris Lessing
'09: Herta Müller
'13: Alice Munro

The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (given for "The Novel" until 1947) has been given 86 times, over 97 years (there were 13 years when nobody won). Of those 86 prizes, 29 went to women. But the Pulitzers show that women had already made huge strides in the hundred years before they were first given (in 1917). Of the last 21 Pulitzers, women won 8 - but of the first 21 Pulitzers, women won 11. Why they only won 10 of the 44 Pulitzers in-between is beyond me. And 7 of the last 20 Booker Prizes have been won by women (2 by Hilary Mantel).

Women who have Won the Booker Prize (started in 1969):

'70: Bernice Rubens
'74: Nadine Gordimer
'75: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
'78: Iris Murdoch
'79: Penelope Fitzgerald
'84: Anita Brookner
'85: Keri Hulme
'87: Penelope Lively
'90: A. S. Byatt
'95: Pat Barker
'97: Arundhati Roy
'00: Margaret Atwood
'06: Kiran Desai
'07: Anne Enright
'09 & '12: Hilary Mantel
'13: Eleanor Catton

Women who have Won the Pulitzer Prize since 1950:

'61: Harper Lee
'65: Shirley Ann Grau
'66: Katherine Anne Porter
'70: Jean Stafford
'73: Eudora Welty
'83: Alice Walker
'85: Alison Lurie
'88: Toni Morrison
'89: Anne Tyler
'92: Jane Smiley
'94: Annie Proulx
'95: Carol Shields
'00: Jhumpa Lahiri
'05: Marilynne Robinson
'06: Geraldine Brooks
'09: Elizabeth Strout
'11: Jennifer Egan
'14: Donna Tartt

I think, a century from now, women will be winning half the big prizes, if not more. I have no evidence to say that women are better at writing novels than men are, but they may be more interested. Do women read books more than men? They take more writing and English classes and majors than men do in college. Perhaps a century from now women will be better supported and encouraged by our culture to study science and engineering, so less women will be studying English. Do you think that women are more interested in writing novels than men are, or are naturally better at it?

In olden days a woman wasn't really supposed to read or write, because her purpose on earth was to have children, and look after them and the cooking and cleaning. But some women were of a class where they got away with writing; some - like the Brontës and Mary Shelley - were born into enlightened families; and some just had the grit to overcome all the obstacles society put in their way. And kudos to every last one of them.

Some of the greatest are in the poll below. If you're upset that I left out Kate Chopin, Agatha Christie, Madame de Lafayette, Gertrude Stein, Rebecca West, or any other contenders, please mention them in a comment below. Comments are free. Leave as many as you like. Every woman writer deserves her props, and we want to hear them.

Extended (Optional)

Originally posted to Readers and Book Lovers on Fri Jun 14, 2013 at 05:20 PM PDT.

Also republished by Progressive Friends of the Library Newsletter.

Poll

Who was the Greatest Woman Novelist before 1950?

1%1 votes
45%45 votes
3%3 votes
2%2 votes
9%9 votes
11%11 votes
1%1 votes
7%7 votes
0%0 votes
4%4 votes
4%4 votes
2%2 votes
1%1 votes
2%2 votes
8%8 votes

| 100 votes | Vote | Results

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