Women are demanding respect, and they are demanding to be heard. And, for what seems like the first time in history, the world is slowly beginning to listen.
This includes the literary world, which despite being suffused with women’s voices – always strong, but rarely acknowledged – is also (slowly) showing signs of change.
The Man Booker International Prize 2019, which celebrates the finest works of translated fiction from around the world, shocked the world when they revealed a shortlist dominated by women.
It’s no secret that female authors, despite selling more books, are under-represented in the literary world in almost every measure: women read more than men and their novels dominate literary bestseller lists, yet books written by female authors are, on average, priced 45 per cent lower than those written by men.
So, in the spirit of female empowerment (and in celebration of 2019 Stella Prize winner Vicki Laveau-Harvie, who won the prestigious prize for Australian female authors for her book The Erratics), we’ve put together a list of five inspirational female Aussie writers and their contribution to women’s lives.
1. Maxine Beneba Clarke
An Australian writer of Afro-Caribbean descent, Maxine Beneba Clarke has edited Growing Up African in Australia, the newest anthology in a series from Black Inc.
A polymath who explores themes of race, cross-culture, family, migration, women, motherhood, race and identity, Clarke’s writing spans poetry, fiction, non-fiction, short stories and picture books.
In 2013, Clarke’s collection of short stories, Foreign Soil, won the 2013 Victorian Premier’s Unpublished Manuscript Award, the 2015 ABIA for Best Literary Fiction, the 2015 Indie Award for Best Debut Fiction, and was shortlisted for the 2015 Stella Prize.
Her memoir The Hate Race won the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Award.
2. Bri Lee
Brianna “Bri” Lee is an Australian writer, editor and women’s rights activist based in Brisbane.
She rose to prominence after her first book Eggshell Skull – an exploration of the justice system in relation to sexual assault, based on Lee’s own experience – was listed for a variety of literary awards, including the 2019 Stella Prize, the 2019 Indie Book Awards and the 2019 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards in non-fiction.
She also won the 2019 People’s Choice Award and the 2018 People’s Choice at the Nib Awards for research in writing.
Lee is a passionate advocate for women’s rights and has used her legal training to shed light on judicial injustices, such as the fact that juries are often prejudicial.
She has also spent a year as a judge’s associate for the District Court of Queensland and is qualified to practise law but chooses not to.
3. Alice Pung
Alice Pung is a qualified lawyer and still works as a legal researcher in the area of minimum wages and pay equity. Her latest book, Close to Home, explores themes of home, family, culture and identity.
An important voice for women and the migrant community, Pung first came onto the Australian literary scene in 2006 after publishing her memoir, Unpolished Gem, about growing up Chinese-Australian.
She has been the recipient of multiple awards, including the Australian Book Industry Newcomer of the Year Award and the Western Australian Premier’s Award for Non-Fiction, and been shortlisted for the Victorian, NSW and Queensland Literary Awards.
Over the years, Pung has spoken out passionately about racism in Australia, writing in The New York Times that “the discussion around race and immigration has deteriorated to the point where many politicians no longer appear to believe that assimilation is even possible”.
4. Clementine Ford
Clementine Ford is an Australian feminist writer, broadcaster and public speaker. She is a powerful voice and prolific producer of strong feminist content, and – as is evident in all her online and freelance activities – does not suffer fools lightly.
Ford’s debut into books began with Fight Like a Girl, a memoir-cum-call-to-arms for women to reject patriarchal constraints, gender roles and to live a life unencumbered by male expectations.
Over the past decade, Ford has tackled online trolls and misogynists, highlighting the inequalities suffered by women all around the world in her columns.
Her second book, Boys Will be Boys, explores the concept of toxic masculinity and its impact on both men and women.
5. Zoya Patel
Her latest book, No Country Women, deals with the complexities of culture, migration, as well as the pitfalls of seemingly progressive politics.
Patel’s contribution to literature, women of and to the discourse of identity has seen her named ACT Young Woman of the Year in 2015.
TELL US: Do you know of any extraordinary female authors that have enriched your reading? Share your suggestions in the comments section below.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on April 17, 2019 but has since been updated to include new content.