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.

Edwidge Danticat immigrant author, mother, daughter, lover


Edwidge Danticat is a Haitian American short story writer and novelist; born in 1969, she started writing while in Haiti before coming to the US at age twelve to live in a Haitian neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. As a disoriented teenage immigrant, she found solace in literature. At Barnard College in New York City, she originally intended to study nursing, but ended up graduating with a BA in French literature before going on to earn a master’s degree in creative writing from Brown University in 1993. Her master’s thesis formed the basis for her novel Breath, Eyes, Memory (1994), which became an Oprah’s Book Club selection in 1998.

Her novels since include Krik? Krak!, The Farming of Bones, The Dew Breaker, Create Dangerously, and Claire of the Sea Light, as well as her youth fiction works Anacaona, Behind the Mountains, Eight Days, The Last Mapou, Mama’s Nightingale, and Untwine. Her memoir Brother, I’m Dying won the National Book Critics Circle Award for autobiography in 2008. She has edited several collections of essays and authored a travel narrative, After the Dance: A Walk Through Carnival in Jacmel, Haiti, which gives readers an inside look at the cultural legacy of the land of her birth. Danticat is best known for her exploration of the developing identity of Haitian immigrants, the politics of the diaspora, especially as related to the experience of women, and mother/ daughter relationships. Since the publication of her first novel in 1994, she has consistently won accolades for her literary accomplishments.

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

NNEDI OKORAFOR courageous weaver of cultures


Nnedi Okorafor is an internationally known award-winning author of science fiction, fantasy, and works of magic realism incorporating African culture, characterization, and settings. She was born in 1974, the daughter of Nigerian Igbo parents who came to the United States to further their educations and were stranded in America when the Nigerian Civil War broke out. Her father was a heart surgeon. From an early age, young Nnedi often visited Nigeria. She went on to become a nationally known track and tennis star for Homewood- Flossmoor High School in Illinois, as well as achieving academic success in science and mathematics; she planned to pursue a career in entomology. But when she was nineteen, a preexisting scoliosis condition worsened, and though surgeons tried to straighten and fuse her spine, she experienced a rare complication following the operation and ended up paralyzed from the waist down.

It was at this point that she began for the first time to write little stories—‘little’ in a literal sense, as she inscribed them in the margins of one of her science fiction books. With intensive physical therapy the following summer, she was able to literally get back on her feet, but her career as an athlete was finished, as she needed a cane even to walk. A close friend suggested that she take a creative writing course; by the end of the semester, she had begun to write her first novel. She went on to earn a number of writing-related degrees: a master’s in journalism from Michigan State, and both a master’s and PhD in literature and creative writing from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She also graduated from the Clarion Writers Workshop in Lansing, Michigan, in 2001. During her sophomore undergraduate year, she wrote her first serious story, which she set in Nigeria. She wanted to set stories in Africa because so few stories used it as a setting, and she wanted people of color and girls to play important parts in her narratives, since previously most important characters in speculative fiction had been white and male. She also cites Nigeria itself as her “muse,” since she has been deeply influenced by Nigerian folklore, mythology, and mysticism. She also married and had a daughter (Anyaugo, or Anya) during these years of academic study.

In 2001, she received the Hurston-Wright award for her story “Amphibious Green”; since then, many of her short stories have been published in myriad anthologies and magazines, as well as in her own short story collection, Kabu Kabu (2013), which includes a foreword written by Whoopi Goldberg. Following her first short story award, she went on to write two prizewinning young adult books, Zahrah the Windseeker (2005) and The Shadow Speaker (2007), and a children’s book, Long Juju Man (2009). When she tackled writing a novel for adults after the passing of her father with Who Fears Death (2010), the book won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel for 2011 as well as other accolades; it is currently in development as an HBO drama series with George R.R. Martin of Game of Thrones fame on board as executive producer. Her reputation continued to grow with the Akata series for young adults, followed by two novels for adults: Lagoon (2014) and The Book of Phoenix (2015), a prequel to Who Fears Death that the New York Times called a “triumph.” That same publication once profiled Okorafor’s work under the title, “Weapons of Mass Creation.”

Okorafor is perhaps best known for her Binti trilogy; it began with the novella Binti (2015), which won both the Nebula and Hugo Awards for best novella in 2016. Sequels Binti: Home (2017) and Binti: The Night Masquerade (2018) were both finalist nominees for the Hugo Award in the same category. Concurrent with these releases, a Nigerian film company optioned a hybrid short story of hers involving both witchcraft and science for adaptation as a short film titled Hello, Rain, which premiered at the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen in 2018. She has also written a number of comic books for Marvel based on Black Panther, including 2018’s Wakanda Forever and Shuri, focusing on the title character, a princess of the fictional land of Wakanda. New York Times writer Alexandra Alter said of Okorafor that her work frequently examines “weighty social issues: racial and gender inequality, political violence, the destruction of the environment, genocide, and corruption” using “the framework of fantasy.” Nnedi Okorafor is an associate professor at SUNY in Buffalo, New York, and splits her time between Buffalo and Illinois.

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

MARGARET MEAD no stopping her


Margaret Mead still stirs controversy in some circles for her pioneering work in social anthropology. Like Rachel Carson, she wrote a scientific study that crossed over into the general population and became a bestseller. For this, she received derision from the academic community. But that didn’t bother this free spirit, who was one of the first women to earn a PhD in anthropology.

Margaret was fortunate to be born in 1901 into a family of academics who disregarded convention and put learning and involvement in the world ahead of society’s rules. The firstborn of five children, Margaret was the child of Edward Mead, a professor who taught finance and economics at the University of Pennsylvania, and Emily Fogg Mead, a teacher, sociologist, and ardent feminist and suffragist. Margaret was homeschooled by her very able grandmother, a former teacher and school principal.

Margaret’s apple didn’t fall too far from the tree when she started The Minority, an anti-fraternity at DePauw University, where she was attending. Bored, she transferred to Barnard College, where the academic standards were more in accordance with her needs. Originally an English major, in her senior year Margaret attended a class given by anthropologist Franz Boas, a virulent opponent of the school of racial determinism. She also met Ruth Benedict, then Boas’ assistant, who encouraged Margaret to join her at Columbia under Boas’ instruction. Margaret agreed and went on to graduate school after marriage to a seminary student, Luther Cressman. Soon after, true to her heritage as a freethinking Mead, Margaret went against her mentor Boas’ urgings that she do fieldwork with America’s First Nations peoples, a pet project of his; instead she followed the beat of her own drum, setting off for Polynesia to explore island cultures. She reasoned that the islanders were better subjects because they had been less exposed to outside cultures and were therefore less assimilated than Native Americans.

She was absolutely right. She wrote her field studies after living with and working alongside the Samoans for three years. The date was 1926. Divorcing Luther, she married Reo Fortune, and in 1928 published Coming of Age in Samoa, a groundbreaking work that shocked some circles with its frank and completely objective report of, among other things, sexual rituals and practices among the Samoans. Nearly overnight, Margaret was a superstar, which was fairly rare for anthropologists and even rarer for twenty-seven-year-old female anthropologists!

After a stint at the American Museum of Natural History, Margaret headed
to New Guinea. Her resulting book, Growing Up in New Guinea, was another huge hit in both academic and popular circles. While in New Guinea, Margaret met and fell in love with fellow anthropologist Gregory Bateson; after her second divorce, she and Gregory married, and she gave birth to a daughter, Mary Catherine Bateson. Margaret and Gregory worked together in New Guinea, but ultimately Gregory claimed she was stifling his creativity, and they divorced in 1943.

Margaret Mead spent the rest of her life working full tilt in anthropology. She was astonishingly prolific, publishing forty-four books and more than a thousand articles and monographs, as well as working as a curator at the American Museum of Natural History between trips into the field. She also sought to support the work of young anthropologists. At the core of all her work was an analysis of childhood development (she was the first anthropologist ever to study child-rearing practices) and gender roles, overturning many timeworn assumptions about personality and place in society for both sexes. Again and again, her studies demonstrated that there is nothing natural or universal about particular “masculine” or “feminine” roles; rather, they are culturally determined.

In her later years, she wrote a wonderful autobiography, Blackberry Winter, that contains her reflections on her childhood as well as on the fieldwork methods she developed. Through her prodigious output, average people came to read about and reflect on the lives of those they had previously considered “strange.”

I have spent most of my life studying the lives of other peoples, faraway peoples, so that Americans might better understand themselves.

Margaret Mead

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

ANNA AKHMATOVA brilliance unbowed

The painting is located in the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia

A poet and writer of the highest personal and literary standards, during her lifetime, Anna Akhmatova was denied her deserved international reputation as one of Russia’s greatest writers. Of noble birth, Anna Gorenko was born in Odessa, Ukraine, in 1889. In an indication of the independent nature that became her hallmark, she changed her name when she was seventeen. She went on to study law at university, but always wrote poetry. During this time, she met Nikolai Gumilev, a poet and literary critic with whom she shared a love of literature. They married in 1910 and together threw themselves into Acmeism, a literary school dedicated to clear and tightly constructed verse in reaction to the ruling style of the day, Russia’s popular symbolism. Gumilev, a romantic figure with distant dreams, took off for Africa, leaving his new bride on her own for great stretches of time. Focused on her poetry, Anna had her first book, Evening, published to high praise in 1911. A striking Tartar beauty, Akhmatova developed a great following and read to doting crowds at an underground cabaret, the Stray Dog café. That same year, she gave birth to son Lev. Domesticity was not Anna’s destiny, however, and Gumilev’s mother, who despised Anna, took Lev from her.

While the couple explored their craft, chaos surrounded their home in St. Petersburg. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, Russia’s tsars had been under attack politically, and parties formed illegally in opposition to the royal rulers. One such party was the Social Democratic Party, a faction of which was led by Vladimir Lenin. Lenin’s sect, the Bolsheviks, were fairly radical in their fervor to effect the overthrow of the tsar, seemingly by any means.

Anna’s second book, Rosary, debuted in 1913 to even greater fervor, so much so that the book inspired a parlor game in which each person took turns quoting a verse until the entire book was finished.

Anna’s success caused strife at home; her husband was quite jealous, and they both began relationships outside the marriage. The two writers eventually divorced, and Anna married Voldemar Shileiko, but she and her first husband maintained a friendship. Anna suffered a severe shock when the Bolsheviks executed her first husband in 1921 over a trumped-up charge of a plot to overthrow the government. Anna’s book Anno Domini came out the following year. She in turn suffered at the Bolsheviks’ hands and became something of a pariah.

This was a time of great hardship when Anna’s household rarely had enough to eat or fuel for heat. Most of their friends left Russia during this terrible time of persecution. By 1924, in the wake of Lenin’s death, Stalin took power and wreaked even greater terror upon the Russian people. During his “purges,” millions of people were killed and imprisoned, including any writer who didn’t bow to the dictates of the new regime. Anna’s son Lev was arrested in 1933 and 1935, and her writings were banned from 1925 to 1940. She turned to literary criticism and translation and Pushkin scholarship. During the 1930s, she courageously composed an epic poem, “Requiem,” in honor of Stalin’s victims, which went unpublished in Russia until 1987. In 1940, an anthology of her poetry, From Six Books, was published, only to be withdrawn a month later.

During Germany’s siege of the Soviet Union in 1941, Anna urged the women of Leningrad, formerly St. Petersburg, to be brave during this war. Astoundingly, the government, aware of her status as a beloved and respected figure in Russian culture, had asked her to do this even though they forbade the publication of her writing.

The postwar period found Anna briefly enjoying popularity once again, but Andrei Zhadanov, Secretary of the Central Committee, soon removed her from the Writer’s Union and decreed a ban on her writing, destroying a book of her poems and decrying her as “half nun, half harlot.” Expulsion also lost Anna her ration card and any means of access to food and supplies, forcing her to ask for support from friends until the end of her life. in 1949, Lev Gumilev was arrested again and imprisoned for seven years, until Nikita Khrushchev took leadership of the party, denounced Stalin, and released prisoners.

Anna’s poetry was published in the late 1950s with heavy-handed censorship. Now a legend to the youth of Russia for her staunch idealism and enduring dedication to poetry, budding Russian literati including Joseph Brodsky sought her out as a connection to pre-Communist Russia. A great admirer of the great lady of letters from the “Silver Age” of Russian poetry who had survived the devastation of the Communist holocaust, Brodsky named Anna Akhmatova “the muse of keening” for her elegies for the dead and for a dying culture.

We thought: we’re poor, we have nothing, but when we started losing one after the other
So each day became remembrance day.

Anna Akhmatova, from In Memoriam, July 19, 1914

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

NALO HOPKINSON fabulous fabulist of Caribbean culture


Nalo Hopkinson, born in Jamaica in 1960, is a Canadian speculative fiction author and editor who has also been a professor of creative writing at UC Riverside since 2011; her teaching focuses on the fantasy, science fiction, and magic realism genres, and she is a member of a faculty research cluster in science fiction. Her writing draws on myth and folklore as well as Caribbean language, history, and storytelling traditions.

Her family moved around quite a bit; as a child, besides Jamaica and Canada, Nalo also lived in Trinidad, Guyana, and the United States. Her mother worked in libraries, and her father was a playwright, actor, and poet from Guyana who also taught both Latin and English. Literacy came early for her, despite learning disabilities that were only diagnosed when she was an adult; by age three, she could read, and at ten, she was reading Kurt Vonnegut and Homer’s Iliad. From the beginning, she preferred fantastical fiction, including “everything from Caribbean folklore to Ursula K. Le Guin’s science fiction and fantasy.” Nalo had a firsthand experience of culture shock when her family moved from Guyana to Toronto, Canada, when she was sixteen, and she has stated she is “still not fully reconciled” to that shift. She lived in Toronto before attending Seton Hill University in Pennsylvania, where she earned an MA in the writing of popular fiction.

After working in various civil service positions dealing with the arts and in libraries, Hopkinson began to write speculative fiction in her early thirties; by the time she participated in the Clarion Science Fiction Writing Workshop at Michigan State University in 1995, she had already sold a couple of short stories. Two years later, her magical realism and folklore-inflected novel Brown Girl in the Ring won the Warner Aspect First Novel Contest; the prize included publication of the work by Warner Aspect. Her debut opus also won the Locus Award for Best First Novel. Her 2003 work Skin Folk garnered a World Fantasy Award and a Sunburst Award for Canadian Literature of the Fantastic, and 2004’s Salt Road won a Gaylactic Spectrum Award for positive exploration of queer issues in speculative fiction. Her novel The New Moon’s Arms drew both the Prix Aurora Award of Canada and a Sunburst Award, making Hopkinson the first author ever to receive the latter prize twice.

Despite this success, Hopkinson endured major financial difficulties when serious illness struck and she was unable to work for a lengthy period. She suffers from fibromyalgia and went through periods of acute anemia brought on by fibroids as well as serious vitamin D deficiency; due to these health challenges, she was unable to write or publish for a period of six years. She was even without housing of her own for a couple of years before beginning to teach at the University of California.

Hopkinson has written nine novels and about a dozen published short stories, as well as House of Whispers (2018), a graphic novel set in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman universe that draws on Caribbean mythic, magical, and spiritual traditions. She has also edited a number of anthologies, including Whispers from the Cotton Tree Root: Caribbean Fabulist Fiction (2000); Mojo: Conjure Stories (2003); and So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction & Fantasy (2004). Besides folklore and Caribbean traditions, she incorporates feminist awareness and historical consciousness in her writing, often focusing on social issues and race, class, and sexuality. She draws inspiration from eclectic sources such as songs; her 2013 novel Sister Mine was inspired by Christina Rossetti’s poem Goblin Market.

Professor Hopkinson says of herself that she loves “bopping around in the surf” and enjoys sewing, fabric design, and crafting objects in various media; she dreams of “one day living in a converted church, fire station, or library…or in a superadobe monolithic dome home.”

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

Melissa Etheridge: The Mouth That Roared

By Angela George, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Melissa is beloved for the great music she makes, but she achieved eternal sheroism with her album “Yes, I Am,” a public coming-out and celebration of her lesbianism. An ebullient spirit who can sing, play killer guitar, and write hit songs by the droves, Melissa Etheridge hails from Kansas and at thirty-six, embraced the shared motherhood with her child and with her partner of ten years, film maker Julie Cypher. Melissa’s personal shero is Janis Joplin, and she’s developing a film project in which she hopes to portray the Texas rock legend. Etheridge, who has enjoyed the changing tide for women in the music industry, delights in the success of musicians she respects: Edie Brickell, Tracy Chapman, Toni Childs, Natalie Merchant, Michelle Shocked, and the Indigo Girls, all who sell records by the millions. Even a few years ago, Etheridge remembers that rock radio jocks claimed they could only play one woman a day of risk losing their male listeners. “All of a sudden the whole lid was blown off…people were coming to our concerts, and they were requesting our songs on the radio, and radio changed. That’s the way America works. The public ultimately says ‘This what we want.’ The world was ready for strong women’s inspired music.” And Melissa Etheridge was at the forefront of the revolution!

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

Of Cockpits, Cocks and Bulls, and Other “Ladylike” Pursuits Pt. 2

By Manon_Rheaume2.jpg: Tsunami330derivative work: TFCforever (talk) – Manon_Rheaume2.jpg, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Hockey is certainly no sport for lightweights. For many, taking shots from a bunch of big men with sticks might seem like a risky business, but to French Canadian Manon Rheume, it’s the sport she loved. She is goalie for the Atlanta Knights and, as such, is the first woman to play professional hockey in the men’s leagues. At five feet six and 135 pounds, Manon is slight compared to many of her team members and opponents, but she has proven her ability to stop a puck. The world is finally taking none of women’s ability to play this sport overall; in the year 1998, women’s ice hockey became a full medal sport at the Winter Olympics, no small thanks to Manon and others like her.

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

Of Cockpits, Cocks and Bulls, and Other “Ladylike” Pursuits Pt. 1

By Penny Richards – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Shirley Muldowney, born Belgium Roque, took on one of the last bastions of machodom—drag racing—and came up a winner. She fell in love with cars at the age of fourteen in Schenectady, New York, racing illegally “when the police weren’t looking.” At fifteen, she married mechanic Jack Muldowney, and they became a hot-rodding couple. Shirley put up with enormous hostility from race fans and outright hatred from fellow drivers. In 1965, she became the first woman to operate a top-gas dragster and went on to win seventeen National Hot Rod Association titles, second only to Don Garliz, Queen of the cockpit, Shirley Muldowney became an internationally famous superstar with the critically acclaimed film about her life and achievements, “Heart Like a Wheel.”

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

Other Gals Who Climbed to the Top Pt. 1

By Preus museum – Flickr: Alexandra David-Neels, CC BY 2.0,

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.