Pulitzer award-winning writer and Nobel Prize recipient Toni Morrison once said: “We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.” The author of 11 novels passed away peacefully, while surrounded by family and friends, following complications of pneumonia.
A statement released by her family said, “The consummate writer who treasured the written word, whether her own, her students or others, she read voraciously and was most at home when writing. Although her passing represents a tremendous loss, we are grateful she had a long, well lived life.”
We’re highlighting the admirable author as well as turning the spotlight on other inspiring female authors whose books you should add to your reading list. Read on for more.
1. Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison writes across genres, from adult to children’s fiction, and non-fiction. Her debut novel The Bluest Eye explores issues such as racism and its effect on self-esteem, and has been a magnet for controversy — people have objected to it and want the book banned because of the language and portrayal of incest and child molestation in it. However, this was the book that won her the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993. Her 1987 book Beloved, which was set after the American Civil War and tells the story of a runaway female slave, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988. It was also adapted into a film of the same name, starring Oprah Winfrey in 1998.
2. JK Rowling
We know you know about Harry Potter. But did you know that JK Rowling has published five other books that are not set in the Harry Potter universe? There’s The Casual Vacancy, an adult novel that has been adapted into a three-episode British miniseries that aired on BBC One and HBO, and a set of crime novels called the Cormoran Strike series, which she writes under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. The series has four books currently (with rumoured plans for another 10) and has also been adapted for TV (titled Strike and aired on BBC One). All of these have been well-received by critics, which proves that JK Rowling is no one-hit wonder.
3. Danielle Steel
The fourth best-selling author of all time (behind Shakespeare, Agatha Christie, and Barbara Cartland), Danielle Steel most recently made the news when she said in an interview that she clocks two to four hours of sleep a night. The 20-hour work days that the 71-year-old author keeps to may be the reason why she has been able to publish 179 books (and counting). And while we can only admire her discipline from afar (we don’t encourage surviving on so little sleep), there is proof of her abilities as many of her books have been adapted for TV and even won nominations and awards. Her books are usually classified under the romance genre, and they touch on relatable themes and life issues, such as illness, death, and relationships. Her books often make The New York Times‘ best-sellers list, with Blessing in Disguise being one of the latest ones to earn the honour. They have been described as formulaic, so if you want to take it this way, it doesn’t really matter which one you pick up. And it’s always nice to go back to something familiar the next time you want to look for something new (yet not entirely foreign) to read.
4. Michelle Obama
You know her as the first Black First Lady of the US. But Michelle Obama is more than the title that came with her husband Barack Obama’s US presidency. She’s a Princeton University and Harvard Law School graduate, and has worked as a lawyer, associate dean and vice-president for different organisations before Barack Obama became the US president. Her memoir Becoming gives an intimate and inside look into her life (before she became an Obama, their courtship, and her eight years in the White House), and is not only an enjoyable read, but an inspiring one as well, detailing her struggles to overcome stereotypes and juggle her career and family as a working mother.
5. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
You might be most familiar with the words “We should all be feminists”, having seem them emblazoned across a Dior T-shirt. But did you know that it’s actually the title of a book-length essay by Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie? The multi-award-winning author advocates for greater diversity in stories in terms of characters’ backgrounds and histories, and her books are almost always nominated for or winning some literary award, or listed in one or another must-read list because of the intellectualism they offer. A good place to start is Purple Hibiscus, her debut novel which was nominated for globally recognised book prizes such as the Orange Prize for Fiction (shortlisted) and the Booker Prize (longlisted) in 2004.
6. Angela Carter
First of all, we do apologise for the jarring image of a book cover instead of a nicely taken picture of the author. But that’s because British author Angela Carter, who is called “one of the boldest and most original writers of the 20th century” by the British Library Board, passed away from lung cancer in 1992 – a time before lives (and everything) revolved around the Internet (although if you want to see how she looks like, you could visit her website maintained by her estate). We’re spotlighting her because her works (mostly classified under horror and gothic fantasy) represent one of the earlier voices of the third-wave feminism. One of her most successful and prolific works is the short fiction The Bloody Chamber, where she subverts the traditional fairytale of the Little Red Riding Hood by drawing out the undercurrent of sexuality and violence in the story. Fans of shows like Once Upon A Time will want to check out Carter’s works.
7. Pooja Nansi
Poet and musician Pooja Nansi is a recipient of the Young Artist Award and Singapore’s first Youth Poet Ambassador. She is vocal about issues regarding gender and racial stereotypes in our little island, and she is the current head of the Singapore Writers Festival, which adds to her growing influence in the Singlit scene. She has two poetry collections, Stiletto Scars and Love is An Empty Barstool which explores themes that local readers will identify with, such as tradition, family, discrimination, being a woman and, of course, love.
8. Amanda Lee Koe
lost & delirious baby me on deck at zouk, 2013. inexplicably shysheepish to see this now, feels like a lifetime ago! from my LargeHeartedBoy playlist for #DelayedRaysofAStar: “The Knife for me is sharp, mad, jangly, repetitive, weird, ghostly, sad, euphoric. Most people know them for ”Heartbeats”, but I really like their stranger, not-as-melodic, lesser known songs. “You Make Me Like Charity” is my favorite The Knife song. I went through a DJ-ing phase in my mid-20s, and once, when I was spinning at Zouk, I dropped You Make Me Like Charity… and everyone stopped dancing. It was a horrible feeling, saved only by the one heroically unfazed older man who came up to the console, gyrating his hips, asking me who the artiste was.”
Ministry of Moral Panic, Amanda Lee Koe’s debut short story collection, is the winner of the 2014 edition of the Singapore Literature Prize, our most prestigious literary award. The collection was also longlisted for the 2014 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and selected by The Business Times as one of the Top 10 English Singapore books (1965–2015). It has also gained the writer a cult following, because of its evocative and highly relatable stories. Her new book (and first novel) Delayed Rays Of A Star follows three women who were legends in the cinematic arena in the 20th century – Marlene Dietrich, Anna May Wong, and Leni Riefenstahl (these are real women, by the way, and Leni Riefanstahl was even said to be infatuated with Adolf Hitler) – exploring prominent themes of that era, such as war, terror, feminism and politics. It has just hit bookshops and looks set to be another best-seller yet.