In honour of International Women’s Day (March 8th) here is a list of extraordinary women writers who blazed a trail for the rest of us.
Enheduanna: First woman writer (possibly the first writer of any gender).
The Akkadian poet and high priestess lived two thousand years BCE and is thought to be the first writer known by name. She was responsible for creating poetry and prayers that might have influenced the psalms and hymns of ancient Greece and the Hebrew Bible. Her work (see image on the left) was discovered in 1927.
Flora Nwapa: First African woman to publish a novel.
Ogbuefi Florence Nwanzuruahu Nkira Nwapa Nwakuche, otherwise known as Flora Nwapa, was the first African woman to have a novel published. In 1966 her book Efuru was published under the Heinemann African Writer’s Series.
Phillis Wheatley: First published African-American poet.
Phillis Wheatley (1753 – 1784) was born in West Africa and sold into slavery at age seven. The family that bought her taught her to read and write. She was the first slave to have a book of poetry published, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, in 1773.
Mary Shelley: Mother of science fiction.
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1797 – 1851) is known for writing the classic novel Frankenstein. Published in 1818, it was one of the earliest, if not the earliest, science fiction novel.
Agatha Christie: Best-selling novelist in history.
Agatha Christie (1890 -1976) was a British author best-known for her crime novels featuring the detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. She still holds the record of bestselling novelist. (The title of bestselling fiction author overall goes to Shakespeare.)
Ann Petry: First bestselling black woman writer.
Ann Petry’s novel The Street (published in 1946) was the first novel by a black woman writer to sell over a million copies. She also wrote Country Place and The Narrows.
J.K. Rowling: First billionaire writer.
J.K. Rowling rose to fame as the author of the much-beloved Harry Potter books, and was widely credited with helping to create a shift in children’s literature that encouraged kids to enjoy reading again.
And last but definitely not least:
Botswana Women Write: First anthology of women’s fiction in Botswana.
This ambitious anthology, featuring everything from fiction and poetry to court documents, was co-edited by Dr. Mary Lederer, Professor Maitseo Bolane, Dr. Leloba Molema and Dr. Connie Rapoo and published in 2019.