Other Gals Who Climbed to the Top Pt. 1

By Preus museum – Flickr: Alexandra David-Neels, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14876154

Fifty years earlier, Arlene Blum would not have been allowed in certain areas in the Great Himalayan range. It was an entirely different kind of explorer who helped open those gates. In 1924, spiritual seeker Alexandra David-Neel was the first Western woman to visit Tibet’s “Forbidden City,” Lhasa, in its mountain perch. Dressed as a beggar and traveling so light that they didn’t even have blankets, the fifty-five-year-old Alexandra and a young monk, made the perilous climb up 18,000 feet to the holy city. Her travelogue is one of the most treasured resources in Asian studies, published as My Journey to Lhasa.

Opera singer turned scholar, the intrepid Frenchwoman also has the honor of being the first Western woman to have an audience with the Dalai Lama in his Indian exile. Alexandra never did anything halfway and found the study of Buddhism so appealing that she moved into an ascetic’s snowy cave, and undertook the studies and spiritual practice of a Buddhist nun. She became such an adept that she reportedly was able to control her body temperature through meditation, and there are legends of levitation and other psychic phenomenon. Poo-poohing “the supernatural,” her explanation for these matters is simple and practical: she learned from the Tibetans that it is all a matter of management of natural energies. One of the world’s earliest scholar’s in Eastern Studies and Oriental mysticism, Alexandra David-Neel’s unique combination of daring and curiosity made her one of the most fascinating women in any part of the world.

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.

SUZANNE COLLINS the Mockingjay’s maker

Born in 1962, Suzanne Collins grew up in the Eastern US in a military family that was always moving. She graduated from a theater arts high school and went on to earn a BA with a double major in theater and telecommunications at Indiana University and an MFA in dramatic writing at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts in 1989. She started out as a writer for children’s television shows, including several on Nickelodeon. While working on Generation O!, a show on Kids WB, she met the children’s illustrator and author James Proimos and was inspired to try writing children’s books herself. She came up with the idea for Gregor the Overlander, the first book in her well-received Underland Chronicles series, by considering how a great many people in cities were more likely to tumble down a manhole than down a rabbit hole as in the classic Alice in Wonderland; between 2003 and 2007, she wrote the five books of the Underland Chronicles, as well as a rhyming picture book about a boy obsessed with computer games, When Charlie McButton Lost Power.

From there, Collins’ writing took an interesting turn: her next book was 2008’s The Hunger Games, partially inspired by the Greek myth of Ariadne, Theseus, and the Minotaur, and she followed it with two sequels forming the Hunger Games trilogy, Catching Fire (2009) and Mockingjay (2010). She has said that hearing about her father’s military tour of duty to Vietnam when she was six made an impression on her concerning the plight of poor and starving people in a war-torn country; this provided grist for the creative mill when she wrote the trilogy. Writing for young adults was a game changer for her writing career; The Hunger Games spent over a year on the New York Times bestseller list, and within fourteen months, 1.5 million copies of the first two books in the series were in print in North America alone. When Lionsgate Entertainment acquired the film rights for The Hunger Games, as a seasoned writer for the small screen, Collins wrote the film adaptation herself. Catching Fire and Mockingjay were also adapted into films, with Mockingjay split into two separate movie installments.

The cinematic appeal of this young adult series transcended its intended demographic: the 2012 film The Hunger Games, starring Jennifer Lawrence as protagonist Katniss Everdeen, broke multiple box office records and went on to become the fourteenth highest-grossing North American release of all time on its way to earning nearly $700 million in international release. Catching Fire likewise became the highest-grossing US release of 2013 and the tenth highest- grossing US film release of all time. Mockingjay Part 1 and Part 2 each took in gross earnings in excess of half a billion dollars worldwide. The films featured well-known faces including Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, and Lenny Kravitz as supporting actors and launched the careers of several actors of lesser fame into the stratosphere.

In September 2013, Collins released an autobiographical picture book illustrated by James Proimos, the author who had inspired her to write for young people, entitled Year of the Jungle; it dealt with the year her father was deployed to Vietnam when Suzanne was six from a child’s-eye view. It garnered a positive reception from critics and has been distributed internationally and translated into eleven languages. Her books have sold a total of over a hundred million copies worldwide. As of this writing, Collins has announced that a prequel to the Hunger Games trilogy will be released in 2020. The prequel’s plot is based on the failed rebellion that forms the background to the trilogy, and it is set seventy-four years earlier.

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women Writers by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.

AMY TAN generational and cultural worlds apart, captured

Amy Tan grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, the daughter of Chinese immigrant parents; she lived in a dozen different homes before graduating from high school. After her older brother and father both died of brain cancer, her mother, who feared the family was jinxed, moved them to Europe, finally settling in Montreaux, Switzerland. Despite experiencing a number of hair- raising teenage escapades, Amy still managed to complete high school one year early.

Back in the US, Amy attended a succession of colleges, finally earning a BA and then a MA in linguistics from San Jose State University. After college, she worked at county and federal jobs serving developmentally disabled children under six years old. In 1983, she started doing freelance technical writing
for companies like AT&T and IBM but soon decided to try writing fiction.
She honed that skill via the Squaw Valley Community of Writers and in a writers’ group led by author and writing teacher Molly Giles. Her first work was published in 1986, then reprinted by Seventeen magazine and Grazia. Though literary agent Sandra Dijkstra offered to represent her, Amy was not yet committed to a fiction-writing career.

In 1987, after returning from a visit to China with her mother, Tan discovered that she’d received offers to publish a book of short stories about Chinese immigrants, based on three that she’d already written. This resulted in The Joy Luck Club (1989), which remained on the New York Times bestseller list for over nine months. She hit the bestseller list again with her novels The Kitchen God’s Wife (1991), The Hundred Secret Senses (1995), The Bonesetter’s Daughter (2001), Saving Fish from Drowning (2005), and The Valley of Amazement (2013). She was coproducer and coscreenwriter for the highly successful 1993 film adaptation of The Joy Luck Club, and she wrote the libretto for the operatic version of The Bonesetter’s Daughter. Her other works include two illustrated children’s books, The Moon Lady (1992) and Sagwa and The Chinese Siamese Cat (1994), and two memoirs, The Opposite of Fate: A Book of Musings (2003) and Where the Past Begins: A Writer’s Memoir (2017). Amy Tan lives in New York and California with her husband and their two dogs.

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women Writers by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.

DONNA TARTT enigmatic author of cult classics

Donna Louise Tartt, born in 1963 in Greenwood, Mississippi, is an American novelist particularly known for her debut novel, 1992’s The Secret History,
and her third book, The Goldfinch (2013), which won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Tartt grew up as a bookish child in the small town of Grenada, Mississippi. When she was only five years old, she wrote her first poem, and at thirteen years of age, she wrote a sonnet which was published.

From 1981 to 1982, Tartt attended the University of Mississippi. Her writing soon impressed Mississippi writer Willie Morris. Morris recommended her work to Barry Hannah; at the time, Hannah was writer in residence at the university. Both writers encouraged her to gain wider experience, and in
1982, she transferred to Vermont’s Bennington College, where she befriended other budding writers, including Bret Easton Ellis, Jonathan Lethem, and Jill Eisenstadt, while completing a bachelor’s degree in 1986. It was there that Tartt began work on her first novel, The Secret History.

Tartt’s debut novel was set at a fictional Vermont college and was described as a “murder mystery in reverse,” in which the details of the murder were revealed in the early pages of the work. The book was on the New York Times bestseller list for three months. It was a decade before Tartt published her eagerly awaited second work, The Little Friend; set in the South, it follows a twelve-year-old girl in her quest to avenge the death of her brother. Its feel, setting, and plotline are just about the opposite of her first novel. The Little Friend won a WH Smith Literary Award in 2003.

Eleven years later, The Goldfinch was released. The title refers to a small but magnificent 1654 painting by the seventeenth century Dutch artist Carel Fabritius; the painting serves as the plot device driving the story. The work was a significant addition to literature concerning trauma and memory as well as a contemplative journey into art itself. The novel won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, with the Pulitzer jury acclaiming it as an eloquent coming-of-age story with superbly delineated characters in which a boy mourning a loss encounters a small yet famous painting that had managed to escape destruction. In addition to winning the Pulitzer, that same year, Tartt also won the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction for The Goldfinch. Despite some critics’ dissent with the Pulitzer jury’s choice, The Goldfinch was adapted for the big screen as a major motion picture released in 2019 starring Nicole Kidman and Ansel Elgort.

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women Writers by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.

REBECCA WELLS divine inspiration

In recent publishing history, nothing, with the exception of the Harry Potter series, has garnered as much enthusiasm and fan devotion as two books about
a group of Southern women—Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and Little Altars Everywhere. Inspired by the antics of the group of women in the book, thousands of women across the country formed official Ya-Ya groups to, in the words of author Rebecca Wells on her official website, “eat and drink and dance and scream and squeal and above all: PAINT YOUR TOENAILS!!!!!” Let’s hope fans of Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies don’t take up all of the habits of the characters from that novel.

And what of the woman who started the ruckus? Rebecca Wells is no ordinary Southern belle. While she was raised in central Louisiana, where her family has been since 1795, as a young adult, she traveled the country. In Colorado, she studied Buddhism with the Tibetan master Chögyam Rinpoche at the Naropa Institute. A lifelong interest in theater led her to pen and perform in a number of very successful plays. Activism in the antinuclear movement took her to Seattle, where she still lives.

But the novels she’s written are firmly rooted in the South. Her first novel, Little Altars Everywhere, won the Western States Award when it was first published in 1992. It caught on by word of mouth, fueled by both critical and reader acclaim. But it wasn’t until Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood that the Ya-Ya craze went full steam ahead. Indeed, many readers began by reading the second novel and then returned to the first. Both books are full of unforgettable characters who know how to have fun and support one another through thick and thin. As Tom Robbins said of Divine Secrets, “This is the sweet and sad and goofy monkey-dance of life, as performed by a bevy of unforgettable Southern belles in a verdant garden of moonlit prose. Poignantly coo-coo, the Ya-Yas… will prance, priss, ponder, and party their way into your sincere affection.”

And indeed they have. Readers love Vivi and her daughter Siddalee and Vivi’s gaggle of girlfriends who’ve been friends since childhood and carouse through motherhood, shocking the small community they live in. Wells followed her first two bestselling titles with 2005’s Ya-Yas in Bloom and then The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder in 2009, which is set in the 1960s and introduces a whole new set of characters.

I don’t know what will happen to Vivi and Sidda in the next Ya- Ya book, any more than I know what my own mother and I will do at lunch tomorrow…. My fictional characters…have their own rare airwave that, when I’m lucky, I can tune into.

Rebecca Wells

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women Writers by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.

ANNE RICE queen of the damned

What would make a good Irish Catholic girl write about vampires, modeling her main bloodsucker, Lestat, on a male version of herself, and in her spare time write some of the steamiest sadomasochistic erotica on the market? It might have started as a reaction to being pegged with the name Howard Allen Frances O’Brien by her loving parents, but then again, this was not all that unusual
for someone growing up in New Orleans. Before she was ever humiliated on the playground, Anne Rice dumped the ‘Howard Allen,’ and after a few years
of rapid name change experimentation, finally settled on just plain Anne. But since then she’s done a fine job of proving there is nothing plain or ordinary about Anne Rice—and there’s nothing ordinary about how rabid her fans
are, either.

Born in 1941, Anne had the good fortune of being brought up in one of the most uniquely interesting cities in the world, haunted by its charm and mystery. In 1956, when she was just a teenager, her mother died of alcohol abuse. After a brief stay in Texas, where her father had relocated, she met poet Stan Rice, whom she married in 1961. From 1964 through 1988, she lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, alternately writing, working odd jobs, soaking up the West Coast’s version of quirk and old-world charm, and going to school.

In 1972, her daughter Michele (affectionately called “Mouse”) died of leukemia. During the seven years that followed, Anne worked on Interview with the Vampire—a novel featuring child vampire Claudia, a character based on
her deceased daughter. After repeated rejection, the novel was finally published in the mid-1970s to wild acclaim. The mix of horror, blood, sexual tension, and romantic settings proved a potent, wealth-producing combination, and
the prolific Anne has continued to crank out several bestselling series of books dealing with vampires, witches, demons, mummies, and ghosts. Her books have given her the opportunity to revisit her beloved characters as well as her hometown again and again. In addition, under the pen names Anne Rampling and A.N. Roquelaure, she has also dabbled in erotica, penning such works as Exit to Eden (which found its way to the silver screen in 1994 and was well received) and The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty.

Her penchant for having a good time has included a season of book-signings where she wore wedding dresses to all of her appearances, including a special affair in New Orleans where she arrived via coffin in an Old Quarter-style jazz funeral procession. But more often than not these shenanigans have resulted
in the media’s glossing over the deeper, more penetrating and powerful themes found in her work. This distresses her, because as she once pointed out in her fan club newsletter, she uses her “otherworldly characters to delve more deeply into the heart of guilt, love, alienation, bisexuality, loss of grace, [and] terror in a meaningless universe.”

Her fame is extraordinary. She created quite a stir a few years ago when she criticized the casting of Tom Cruise as Lestat in the movie version of Interview with the Vampire (though she later recanted). Recently, she bought the former St. Elizabeth’s Orphanage, a massive old structure that takes up an entire square block in New Orleans, and has brought it back to life in a new incarnation as one part home, one part museum, and one part funhouse.

In 1995, she hosted the annual coven party started by her legion of fans from the Vampire Lestat Fan Club at her “orphanage.” With a little luck, inspired by our fascination with the unknown and propelled by a multitude of fans worldwide, Anne Rice will continue to turn out her luminous, demon-filled view of the world for years to come.

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women Writers by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.

ALICE WALKER the color of passion

Though she currently lives in California, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker has never forgotten her rural Georgian roots. “You look at old photographs of Southern blacks and you see it—a real determination and proof of a moral center that is absolutely bedrock to the land,” she once said. Certainly that strength, particularly in Southern Black women, is brilliantly displayed in her most famous novel, The Color Purple, which also draws on her memories of the landscape and language of the South.

Walker was born in 1944, the eighth child of poor sharecroppers in Eatonton, Georgia. Her mother encouraged her writing, even going so far as to buy her a typewriter, although she herself made less than twenty dollars a week. In 1967, after college, Walker married a white man, and the duo lived in Mississippi as the first legally married interracial couple in the state. Her marriage, she claims, had a negative effect on her career because it angered Black reviewers, who ignored her earlier works, including In Love and Trouble and Meridian.

It was her third novel, The Color Purple, that rocketed her to fame in 1983 (winning both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award) and embroiled her in controversy, particularly with the male members of the African American community, who claimed the work reinforced negative stereotypes about
Black men. The subsequent movie by Steven Spielberg in 1985 only fanned
the flames of the imbroglio. However, women of all races strongly embraced the novel and identified with Celie, a fourteen-year-old girl who is repeatedly raped by the man she believes to be her father. The children of this union are adopted by a missionary family in Africa. The novel takes the form of letters between Celie and her sister Nettie, who works for the family that has adopted Celie’s children.

The literary heir of Zora Neale Hurston and Flannery O’Connor, the prolific “womanist,” as she calls herself, has penned novels, short stories, poetry, and essays—seventeen volumes in all so far. Each reveals her deep commitment to social justice, feminism, and particularly, African American women, as seen through her unique inner vision, a vision she has said she began to develop after she became blind in one eye when one of her brothers accidentally shot her with a BB gun. The loss of sight in one eye forced her inward, and she began to carefully observe the people around her. By writing, she has noted, “I’m really paying homage to the people I love, the people who are thought to be dumb and backward but who taught me to see beauty.”

She believes strongly in the power of art to help change the world and the artist’s responsibility to that power—ideas she expressed in her collection of essays, In Search of Our Mother’s Garden. In an audiotape entitled My Life as Myself, she spoke of her activism: “My way of fighting back is to understand [injustice] and then to create a work that expresses what I understand.”

I think there is hope in the South, not in the North.

Alice Walker

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women Writers by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.

LAURA INGALLS WILDER home on the prairie

On February 7, 1867, Laura Elizabeth Ingalls was born near Pepin, Wisconsin, the site of Little House in the Big Woods, the first of her many beloved books. Laura’s pioneer family, her parents Charles and Caroline Ingalls, and sisters Mary, Carrie, and Grace, would be immortalized in Laura’s memoirs of her family’s travels and adventures. Brother Charles Frederick was never a character in Laura’s books, although he was a figure in the television series Little House on the Prairie, which was based on the book series.

The family moved from Wisconsin to Missouri, Kansas, Minnesota, and Iowa, finally settling in De Smet, South Dakota. Each move provided more insight into pioneer life in the growing United States. Seven books—Little House in
the Big Woods
(1932), Little House on the Prairie (1935), On the Banks of Plum Creek (1937), By the Shores of Silver Lake (1939), The Long Winter (1940), Little Town on the Prairie (1941), and These Happy Golden Years (1943)—chronicle Laura’s journey from a backwoods Wisconsin girl to a woman ready to create her own happiness in the harsh lands of South Dakota.

Wilder would use her life in all of her writing, covering her adulthood, including meeting and marrying Almonzo Wilder in The First Four Years (1971), On the Way Home (1962), and West from Home (1974). On the Way Home, edited by Laura’s only daughter Rose Wilder Lane, and West from Home, edited by Roger Lea McBride, were written after Laura and Almonzo left De Smet and began crisscrossing the United States, finally settling in Mansfield, Missouri, in 1894. Farmer Boy (1933) was written about Almonzo’s boyhood.

But it was young Laura’s recollections of her family’s adventures that would stand the test of time and attract a following of devoted young fans from
all over the world. Laura’s books have been translated into forty languages, including Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Japanese, Spanish, and Swedish.

One fan recounts this story: “My father was in the Army, and moving around was just something my family did. When I was eight, we received moving orders for Germany, and we were to leave halfway through my year in second grade. We had Christmas early so that the presents could be packed with the rest of the household goods and shipped off to our new home. My grandparents, God bless them, gave me the yellow-boxed set of the Little House on the Prairie books. I had never read them before, but I was hooked.

“The box held eight books, one for each of my birthdays, and it was heavy. But I would not let the movers take it; I had to read each one right away. I knew I could never wait for the books to arrive with our furniture. I pleaded, begged, and cajoled my parents—and walked onto the long flight to Germany the happiest little girl in the world, waddling onto the plane with the heaviest package I had ever carried. Those books helped me ‘pioneer’ my way through many moves. How could I complain? Laura never did about moving. She

saw the world as a place to grow and expand. She saw moving as an exciting adventure, an exploration into the unknown. I spent the rest of my time as a ‘career army brat’ looking forward to the next move, and whatever changes would come.”

Laura Ingalls Wilder died February 10, 1957, at age ninety, in Mansfield, Missouri, the last surviving member of her pioneering family.

Today our way of living and our schools are much different; so many things have made living and learning easier. But the real things haven’t changed. It is still best to be honest and truthful, to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasures and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong. Great improvements in living have been made because every American has always been free to pursue his happiness, and so long as Americans are free, they will continue to make our country even more wonderful.

Laura Ingalls Wilder

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women Writers by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.

MARGARET MITCHELL fame in “the wind”

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection.

The fiery, redheaded, Irish Southern belle, whose family typified the antebellum South, went through a terrible war, saw her hometown of Atlanta burned in an uncontrollable conflagration, and lived to see the day when its streets were filled with soldiers. No, it wasn’t Scarlett O’Hara, but her creator and alter ego, whose family members were central characters in the history of Georgia.

Born in 1900, Margaret Mitchell came of age during the great mobilization of World War I. Her mother was feminist Maybelle Mitchell, a noted suffragist and founder of the Atlanta Women’s Study Club. “Nothing infuriated her so much,” reported Margaret later, “as the complacent attitude of other ladies who felt they should let the gentlemen do the voting.” She immortalized Mama in her famous novel, modeling the character of Rhett Butler after the tough- minded Maybelle.

A former flapper (who used her maiden name in a manner very uncharacteristic of genteel Southern ladies in the early decades of the century), Margaret began writing her epic novel in 1926 after a serious ankle injury ended her brief
career as a columnist for the Atlanta Journal. Never intended for publication, Gone with the Wind was instead viewed by Margaret as a very private exercise where she could weave together many of the stories that surrounded her. The manuscript evolved over a period of ten years into a massive cluttered stack of disjointed papers. She rarely spoke about it to anyone, although after a while, the existence of this huge pile of words became common knowledge among her friends, one of whom was MacMillan editor Harold Latham. In a 1935 visit to Atlanta, Latham asked Margaret if he could take a look at it.

Impulsively, and in retrospect, surprisingly, for someone who considered herself a poor writer and was extremely private about her writing, Margaret bundled up the huge stack of handwritten pages and dumped them onto his lap. Almost immediately she had second thoughts, and when Latham got back to New York, he found a telegram informing him that she had changed her mind and to send the manuscript back. But by then, he had already become ensnared in the saga (even though at the time, it lacked a first chapter and any semblance of order).

The rest, as they say, is history. Gone with the Wind was published in 1936. This huge (over a thousand pages) romantic saga of struggle and perseverance immediately captured the imagination of the Depression-battered public and went on to become a monumental bestseller. It was also the last book Margaret Mitchell would ever write (she had previously written parts of two novellas, Pansy Hamilton Flapper Heroine and Ropa Carmagin, but both remained unpublished and were destroyed after her death by her family). In 1996, Lost Laysen, another lost novella, was published by her estate, but it failed to capture the same attention as her greatest work.

The sheer scope of the impact that Gone with the Wind has made on the American cultural landscape is breathtaking. In many respects, due to its incredibly evocative description of the antebellum South, it has come to represent the exact opposite of what Margaret intended. Instead of a simple story about a young girl learning how to grow into a strong woman with her own identity, who is able to rely on her own wits and succeed, it became for many the one-sided symbol of nostalgia for a particular period in history that existed for a small elite group of slave owners, a way of life not at all typical of most Southerners of the time.

When asked her opinion about what made Gone with the Wind such a success and her fans so fervent, Margaret opined, “Despite its length and many details, Gone with the Wind is basically just a simple yarn of fairly simple people. There’s no fine writing; there are no grandiose thoughts; there are no hidden meanings, no symbolism, nothing sensational—nothing, nothing at all that have made other bestsellers. Then how to explain its appeal from the five-year- old to the ninety-five-year-old? I can’t figure it out.”

Margaret Mitchell, in a fashion true to the free-spirited, strong-willed, independent archetypal female character she created, went on to endow a medical chair providing full scholarships for African American students that has helped to create some of the best doctors in the United States. By the time she was tragically killed by a speeding taxicab on Peachtree Street in Atlanta at the age of forty-eight, Margaret’s greatness, on the basis of one book, was cemented forever in history.

The book lives on. The 1939 movie starring Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable only fueled the flames of fame. And while Mitchell’s estate’s decision to commission a sequel in the 1990s drew controversy, the resulting book, Scarlett, had no dearth of readers. At costume parties, there’s always bound to be a Scarlett or two; even Mattel has a Scarlett Barbie. The passion and power of Scarlett and the romance between the two firebrands is eternally appealing.

The usual masculine disillusionment is in discovering that a woman has a brain.

Margaret Mitchell, in Gone with the Wind

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women Writers by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.

AGATHA CHRISTIE first lady of crime

Another writer with a devoted following is Agatha Christie, whom many fans think of as their cherished Miss Marple. She was born in 1890 to an upper- class family in comfortable circumstances, surrounded by books, notably Sherlock Holmes. She aroused public interest when she was at the center of a mystery of her own as a young woman. She disappeared and then reemerged, never explaining her whereabouts. (This incident recently became the subject of a novel.)

At the age of thirty, she published her first book, The Mysterious Affair at Styles. This was not only Christie’s debut but also the first appearance of Hercule Poirot, one of her detective characters. Poirot would go on to incite fierce loyalty from her readers, though the author herself grew rather tired of him and the droves of fan letters she received for him. “Little they know, I can’t bear him now,” she once remarked. The clever spinster, Miss Marple, actually didn’t enter the literary scene until ten years later in 1930, with the release of The Murder at the Vicarage.

Christie had invented several other sleuths by the time of her death in 1976, but none so popular as these two key figures. While she sometimes felt confined to the genre (penning more than eighty mysteries) and was generally discouraged by her publishers and fans from writing anything else, she did manage to write romantic fiction under the nom de plume Mary Westmacott. Several of her stories were adapted for the theater, including Mousetrap, which for many years held the title of the longest-running play in theater history. Today she remains the most famous author of detective fiction and the most widely translated author in English, who even inspired a fervent fan base in Communist Russia.

But of course, detective stories supported me and my daughter for years, and they had to be written.

Agatha Christie

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women Writers by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.

MARJORIE KINNAN RAWLINGS life in the backwoods

Library of Congress

What child has not read—and loved—The Yearling, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’s sensitive portrayal of life in the Florida Everglades? It is a schoolroom classic.

Born in 1896, as a girl, Marjorie used to play “Story Lady” in Washington,
DC, making up stories to tell the boys from her neighborhood. As an adult, she was a syndicated journalist before she and her husband moved to Cross Creek, Florida. There she fell in love with the unique people of South Florida and their heart in the face of hardship, poverty, and starvation, which she immortalized in her memoir Cross Creek.

Through her writings, Rawlings helped focus the nation’s attention on an
area previously disregarded as a “wasteland.” Through her O. Henry Award- winning short stories, like “Gal Young Un” and “The Black Secret,” and her novels—South Moon Under, The Sojourner, and The Yearling—readers came to appreciate the beauty of this unique ecosystem.

The Yearling shows Rawlings at the top of her craft. With a beautifully rendered story and sense of place, the book won a Pulitzer Prize in 1939. The Yearling was made into a film that received both critical and popular acclaim, cementing Rawlings’ spot in the list of authors of most beloved books.

More recently, Rawlings has gotten a good deal of renewed attention. In 1999, a book of her voluminous correspondence with her editor Max Perkins was published by the University Press of Florida, and Rawlings’s maid, Idella Parker, published her autobiography, full of reminiscences of the hard-living writer who smoked nearly six packs of cigarettes a day. In Max and Marjorie, Rawlings’s and Perkins’s remarkable epistolary relationship is revealed. Perkins was her literary champion, offering editorial opinion, a week-by-week critique of her work, and gossip about the other writers he shepherded, particularly Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Thomas Wolfe.

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women Writers by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.