50 Excellent Novels by Female Writers Under 50 That Everyone Should Read

My new to-read list:


It’s pretty much been settled that everyone should read more books by women. But when looking for recommendations, it’s often all Woolf, Morrison, Lessing, Austen, Brontë. Of course, these are essential authors for a reason, and you should definitely read all of their books. That said, there’s something to catching a writer at the beginning of her career and following her for years that is supremely satisfying — not to mention the fact that young female writers need readers rather more than Jane Austen does. So in an effort to get you in on the ground floor (or at least, like, the third floor), after the jump you’ll find a compendium of 50 novels written by 50 female novelists under 50 that are worth your time. But these aren’t the only 50 books that fit this description! Read through and add on as you will in the comments.

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Sharon Venezio, Guest Blogger: Writing Process Blog Tour

Since I tagged Sharon Venezio in this writing process blog tour when she does not have a blog, I invited her to guest blog here.

First,  a recap of what the writing process blog tour is:

A writer answers a few questions about how and why and what they write, and then they ask a pal or three to do the same, and as the weeks go by, more and more of us share our precious secrets about the creative process, until eventually, probably in like mid-September, we all simultaneously self-actualize.

Here are her answers to the questions.

What are you working on?

Faith. I’m working on having faith that I will find my way back to a writing practice. After my first book came out all of my creative energy disappeared. Poof. It went silent. That might not be entirely true, but any poem that tried to worm through the thick fallowness got stifled by my overcritical internal editor. I didn’t write for many months, perhaps even half a year, and when a poem did finally surface it sounded too familiar and I’d beat myself up over it. I wanted a new voice for the next manuscript. I believe a writer’s voice is fluid, not something we arrive at, yet I still kept getting hung up on the idea of voice within my new poems. I felt I was writing the same poem I’ve been writing for a decade, the same emotion turned over and over, the same book. So writing became a bit of a battle of wills. I often think of Louise Gluck who has long stretches of silence between books, sometimes lasting seven or more years, and Richard Siken, author of Crush, who, in a recent interview, said he turned to painting after his first book because he couldn’t use the medium of words anymore (his second book is forthcoming, ten years later). Ocean Vuong writes about preferring the practice of letting a poem gestate, not pushing his writing into a forced daily practice, letting poems drift within us and surface at will. There are many different ways to approach the practice of writing and I don’t believe it’s one-size-fits-all, though I do believe regular practice is a great way to continually evolve and be a master of the craft, but it’s something I’ve always struggled with. I had many moments where I feared I had nothing left to say, that my first book wrote it all out and there’s nothing left. But I decided to let it go, to simply have faith that things are happening within me, preparing for a new season. Nature always restores me, so I look toward nature to remind me that everything is cyclical, even this. Most all of the poems I’ve written in the past year are likely not going to end up in my second manuscript, but I have a handful that seem to be talking to each other, and this is the thread I am following, still not sure exactly what it is, but I have a sensation of what it is, a soft focus of meaning. I’m not writing daily, but I am trying to get back to a regular practice, and like most people, I have to find the space amongst all the other daily responsibilities. And even though I’m not writing daily, I read poetry regularly and still feel its presence on a daily basis, even if it’s just a nagging voice in the back of my mind. But really I believe poetry goes beyond the writing, too, and we can tap into it in different ways. Perhaps these cycles of non-writing are as essential as the cycles of writing. I suspect that entering into a second manuscript is the difficult part, but once I’m in it, once it’s latched itself inside me, there will be a return of that thing, that pull, that energy. Right now I’m listening and trying to be patient.


How does your work differ from others of its genre?

This is a tough question. That’s what we want in poetry, isn’t it, to approach a subject, even a common one, with a unique voice (there’s that word again). For me, it all comes down to language. It’s not so much what we say but how we say it. I don’t know what makes me unique, if anything, but I strive to find a balance between narrative and abstraction and I hope to land in a place that can be a middle ground between these two things. I don’t think language poetry and narrative poetry need to be enemies. My first book had sections that were quite different in tone and style. I also love lyric, and even though it doesn’t seem very popular these days, I can’t help but return to it again and again.


Why do you write what you write?

I write poetry and have never really attempted any other genre. The only other genre I may attempt at some point is the essay, but I don’t imagine venturing anywhere else. I also have a very short attention span. When I was younger I read a ton of literature and philosophy, but I think my brain cells are fading and I no longer have the patience for some of the longer, dense stuff I used to read. But mainly poetry appeals to me because of how it uses language, how I feel when I’ve just read a great poem, the way something shifts inside and the whole world is slightly atilt. I’m always struck by how dramatic people are when they talk about poetry, as if it has the power to alter reality, and sometimes that seems absurd, but other times I know it to be true. When I’ve read a great poem I feel that everything inside has been burst open, sparked. Besides falling in love, there’s not much else that can do that to me. Maybe that’s it – every time I read a great poem, I fall in love. Writing takes me outside of myself (strangely, because it also requires such intense inward focus) and I like things that take me out of my own head.


How does your writing process work?

My writing process is a bit noncompliant. I wish I had it in me to write the way Cherrie Moraga urged women to write – on the bus, while doing laundry, while sweeping the floor, while on the job, to hear the words chanting in the body, but, it seems I do need a room of my own in order to really write, and I’m privileged enough to have that space. I suppose if I didn’t have that I would learn to write in coffee shops or wherever I had a free moment. But I have trouble with distraction and can’t really get deep into writing unless I am alone, even if that just means sitting alone in another room. I do sometimes write with poet friends, but that usually ends up being notes for writing, research, or revision; I rarely get much creative writing done in that context. I really need silence, both external and internal, to write, and when I’m writing in a group I can’t quite access what I need to get deep into a poem. This isn’t always true, but often. I remember writing a poem while at a conference, sitting in a very crowded space, and that poem ended up in my book, so it does happen. What I’ve learned helps me is to link physical movement with writing, so I try to write after doing yoga or other forms of movement that tend to clear my mind and silence all the typical distractions. I believe meditation serves the same purpose, but I’m not a big meditator in the typical sense. After all procrastination has been achieved, I read poems to help me get into the language of poetry and I write on my laptop while at my desk or kitchen table. I do a lot of driving for work so my car is an extension of my home, and I tend to write in my car a lot. Sometimes I will get lines and then sit down to see how they fit together and what they want to say, other times I write a poem straight through in one sitting and return to it over the course of a week for revision, then possibly more revision after getting feedback. I rarely spend more than a few weeks on a poem, for better or worse. Again, I think it has to do with attention. I tend to want to move on. I have friends who awake in the middle of the night with a poem pouring out of them, but my process is much more painstaking and usually involves pliers. It’s an evolving process and I have a long way to go.


Who is next?

Thank you to Lisa Cheby for asking me to take part in this blog tour and for generously posting my reply on her blog.  ​I am tagging Martina Reisz Newberry, a talented writer who recently released a book of poems.

Writing Process Blog Tour

A few weeks ago, the brave, lyrical, and all-around fabulous essayist/poet/dear friend, Jacqui Morton, tagged me to continue this tour.  I am sure she thought since I was on summer vacation I would promptly meet the one week deadline to post, but without a daily schedule I lost track days and weeks.  I also have this other graduate program (MLIS) and important vacation obligations to meet, like jet skiing with my sister and brother-in-law and visiting my nephew in Orlando.

What is a blog tour?  Here are the instructions that were passed on to me:

“A writer answers a few questions about how and why and what they write, and then they ask a pal or three to do the same, and as the weeks go by, more and more of us share our precious secrets about the creative process, until eventually, probably in like mid-September, we all simultaneously self-actualize.

Indeed, weeks have gone by.  I can’t wait for mid-September.  In the meantime, here what I do to justify calling myself a poet/writer.

1.  What are you working on?

I am working on the final touches to my chapbook manuscript, Love Lessons from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, due out in November from Dancing Girl Press.  I am also working on new poems (less love lessons and more political) to go along with the love lessons to make a full-length manuscript of poems all somehow filtered through Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  I also have an essay I am working on, which I may or may not decide to share publicly.   Also part of the writing work, the end of the writing process, is trying to get my first manuscript published.  Finally, there are some miscellaneous newer poems from April’s poem-a-day challenge that at least give me hope I will have new projects in the future.

2.  How does your work differ from others of its genre?

It is very difficult for me to be objective about my work in this way.  I would say that, looking at both manuscripts, the style and voice are quite different, as are the themes and subject matter, so maybe the range of my work is something that is different.  My first book (yet to find a publisher) is much more personal, about my heritage and family, about illness and death and identity.  The Buffy poems are much more bold and witty (or so I like to think, perhaps), utilizing syntax, slang, and imagery from the show.  They voice is less easy to pin down which reflects the looser form (the first book contains more formal poems).  Though I often will read poems years later and catch myself in my own delusion, perhaps something that makes my work different is its honesty, or at least the sincerity of the struggle to be honest, to get to the marrow of the matter (whatever that matter is).

3.  Why do you write what you write?

Usually I don’t know really know.  Later, after I wrote it, it is because I needed to — I needed to release it, understand it, figure it out, hold up the beauty of it — or the horror of it — whatever it is.   That said, there is a lot that is written that no one will ever see.  Which makes it sound salacious, but really, when I die, it is more likely if anyone looks at it the hard drive will be thrown in the trash that with everything else no one can figure out why I saved.  I am okay with that.

4. How does your writing process work?

To some extent, I honestly do not know.  I am big on revising and not so great with starting new poems, so when I look at poems that are published or that I am working on now, sometimes I don’t know how they started.   Again, it goes back to that need to work something out or capture the awe or awfulness of something, to illuminate or transform it.    Since, like with most writers, writing is what happens between all the other obligations of being a human (work, other studies, interacting with others, trying to be healthy and interact with the world around me), I find the writing process works best when it becomes part of the routine, when I do not “wait” for inspiration, but summons it by showing up regularly.  Starting about January of 2014, to my own shock, I became the writer who got up before dawn to write before the rest of the day started.  It is only about 45 minutes or an hour, but it is daily and it is done for the day.  It worked really well, but ironically, since summer break started, I stopped getting up early and the writing has been more sporadic.  Now I am traveling and I don’t get writing done when I travel.  I also spent the last two Aprils doing the poem-a-day challenge which generated some interesting new work and opened new directions in voice/style/subject matter using various prompts (so I guess prompts are a stimulus for new poetry).  I will say, regarding prompts, I am not good at following the rules and usually like to combine two so they don’t sound like a-poem-from-a-prompt.  And also so I can write what I want and how I want, but a prompt gives an edge to leverage against when starting out from scratch.  The process is like this response — you set a destination to get you on the road, but end up where you least expected.

I now pass this on two women I admire greatly as writers, women who inspire, support, challenge, and astound me:  Tisha Reichle and Sharon Venezio.  I am also going to pass this on to my co-conspirator, the talented and prolific, Ashley Perez.  Like me, they may not meet the one week deadline, but I look forward to self-actualizing with them in September.   And read their work (and Jacqui’s).  Buy Sharon’s book (which I reviewed at The Rumpus) and follow Tisha so you can pre-order her book when it comes out.

Happy, National Poetry Month (not for April’s Fools)!

I have a group of poets who, once again, are attempting various forms of the National Poetry Month Poem-A-Day Challenge.   Some will do a poem a day, some will simply aim to write everyday.

For me, this is the time of year I turn to new prompts.  Here are some I found for the 2014 Challenge (and a few old favorites, perhaps):

Oulipost from Found Poetry Review

NaPoWritMo I might use this first one everyday … could be an interesting series.

Poetry Asides

Poetry Is Everything

WXW 30/30



Top Lit Mags that REALLY do publish emerging writers

This is a great acknowledgement of LitMags that really are working to bring established and emerging writings together. I am also reblogging it so I can reference it later. Thanks, Michaelalexanderchaney!


If you appreciate this article, please

Check out my handmade oil paintings  and other fine art prints

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Baltimore Review It is always nice to see a prestigious journal publish fresh, new voices. Such is the case on a routine basis for the Baltimore Review. Most recently, you can check out Priyatam Mudivarti’s “Blue Flame.”  It’s a beautifully weird and hauntingly rich story about aging, photography, and death:

At ninety-two, when I close my eyes and suck my breath, I see fire and ash, playing in smoke.

At the count of one hundred: a mountain, the remains of the cut down trees, a man with a beard and without any clothes, rotting under his limbs.

At one hundred and one, my body grows fiery, as if a log from the pyre rolled into my spine and burned my chest.

One hundred and seven. My heart comes to a…

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The Next Big Thing

Author of  the memoir, Thinking Up a Hurricane, Martinique Stilwell, pass on The Next Big Thing baton to several in a women writers listserv we share.  This interlinked blog invites writers to answer questions about their latest book or next big thing:

What is your working title of your book?

The Pictures We’ll Never Print

Where did the idea come from for the book?

As a book of poems, the idea for the book was discovered as I put together my manuscript for my MFA.  I was shocked to realize had over 50 poems from my time in the program and before, mostly about my parents’ illnesses and deaths.  I found that when arranged in certain ways, I had been writing about excavating the questions I never got questions to about my personal history and  about figuring out who I am without the resistance of parents to push back against or to be that loving/nagging voice in your ear.   My mentor at the time, Doug Kearney, was key in teaching me how to create various stories through the sequencing of the poems.

I guess the idea for the poems came out of my grieving.  I started the MFA a year after my mother died.

What genre does your book fall under?

Poetry.  Confessional, lyrical, some are formal and others are experimental.   It is a representation of the working out of identity.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

My mother would be played by Shirley MacLaine, because my loved her and would want that.  My father by Javier Bardem, mainly so I could get a chance to meet him, but really, he, more than any other actor, can morph himself into anyone.  The I of the book would be portrayed by Holly Hunter because she could bring the right mix of strength and vulnerability.

Perhaps this will be the first poetry book made into a movie.  Has that been done?

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

An orphaned 1st generation Hungarian-American sifts through the legacies of grief and illness to redefine herself.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? 

I am seeking a publisher by submitting to various poetry book contests and small presses.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I was just updating my acknowledgements page and the first poem from the manuscript to be published was three years ago.  I started many of the poems, or other versions of them, as my mother was dying and that was six years ago this weekend.

I’ve spent the last two summers in major revisions.  I really love revising, so likely, if I don’t find a publisher this summer, it may once again become a different story.  Just when I think I got it done, I surprise myself by writing a new poem or expanding poems or cutting poems.

But this asked about the first draft.  It is such its own living organism, I don’t know when the first draft came together.  Three years sounds about right.  Plus three years of revising.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

It feels like hubris to compare my work to the poets I so admire.  Moreover, the influences are so varied and subtle, it is difficult to untangle them. Poets I turned to in order to learn how to write about grief and hope include Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, Sharon Olds, Marie Howe (What the Living Do), and Terry Blackhawk (The Dropped Hand).  I also read a lot of fiction that inspired me to try to get to the root of experience and emotion, such as The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano and Love Begins in Winter by Simon Van Booy.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I started writing, just writing not this book necessarily, just before my mother died.  I wrote because I did not know what else to do and realized that the passion and the creative outlet I had been seeking much of my life is writing, specifically writing poetry.  This manuscript is a sort of artifact of processing loss (not just my mother’s death, but many losses left undigested) and falling in love, in this case, with writing.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Though many of the poems have been revised extensively, I think the collection of poems from such a vast period of my writing life reflects the arc of the book, as much as a poetry book might have an arc.  While there are themes and imagery that weaves the poems into a book, the forms and styles are quite varied.   It will either please or frustrate formalist and free-verse poets equally.   Hopefully it will open the readers’ own unhealed place of mourning and let them know that healing it is possible, though not easy.  Not that I have special insight into this realm of experience, but, like in a yoga class where a teacher asks you to consider a pose in a new way or from a new perspective and suddenly this pose you thought you knew and had mastered opens up in a new way, at once becoming more difficult and more liberating.


This post is something like tag or a relay race and probably has some special internet name I don’t know about (today I learned that FML means more than fix my lighthouse).   Read about the Next Big Thing for these talented writers:   Khadija Anderson and Heather Luby.

What Poet-Librarians do on Vacation

I think I took Patty Tokahuta-Kelsey’s message at the 8:15 service on Sunday a bit too literally.

She talked about how we clear space in our lives for God, the need for rest, for retreating to our own personal desert.

So, I spent Sunday afternoon clearing space.

I started with a project that I’ve been longing to do for a while: consolidating and alphabetizing all my poetry books onto one bookcase.  Before, I had the books I have not read downstairs on a high shelf (every time I read one poem or get a recommendation for a new poet, I’d buy a book; poetry books are savored as much as read, often need to be read in bites, a poem at a time, hence, many remain unread), and the rest scattered between several shelves on various bookcases (I have a total of 6 bookcases in my studio), so that when I thought of a poet and want to find their book, it took time.  I want to be able to quickly find the poet I am looking in one place easily, just like in the library (well, if my students would master the dewey decimal system).  Now they are all here:

Yes, these are all my poetry books, except for anthologies (what?  poetry comes in something other than an anthology!) and critical work about poetry/writing.   Those are mostly here (along with the graphic novels, which are another kind of poetry):

This led to a complete re-organization of everything from my other bookshelves — — and closet (no, not putting those pictures up … trust me, it is immaculate).  Resulting in a pile to give to GoodWill  or other charities:

And the fortuitous recovery of my vintage phone:

Fortuitous because my cordless phone can no longer hold a charge (not that many call on the landline).  Still, this lovely, non-electronic phone works like a charm.  Better than most cell phones.  And if some natural disaster occurs, when electricity is out (but not phone lines –is that possible these days?) and your cell has died, I will let you all come use my phone.

I would find a picture, evidence of its vintage status, of it in my college dorm room, but I have to go pick-up another bookcase.