Read Women

8 queer women writers you should be reading all year long

We all know it’s important to decolonize our bookshelves, and part of that mission involves de-centering cis, white male novelists in favor of diverse women writers. Because as reading lovers know, the more expansive your bookshelf is, the bigger your world will become. While the American education system would have us believe that white dudes wrote everything, it’s simply not the truth: and honestly, thank God for that. This Women’s History Month, if you’re looking for an eye-opening, entertaining, and deeply moving read, we’ve got a few suggestions to start you off in the right direction.

Anita Cornwell

A chronicler of Black lesbian life in Philadelphia, Anita Cornwell made history in 1983 by publishing the first-ever collection of essays and fiction by an out-gay Black woman. Her first and only book, Black Lesbian in White America, published by the sapphic-led Naiad Press, is an important, entertaining, and deeply resonant collection of writings about queer life written about, by, and for Black lesbians. In its pages, Anita (nicknamed “Neet”) chases straight girls, deals with tragedy, and finds pleasure and sustenance in a community of Black women coming to terms with their sexuality.

Sylvia Townsend Warner

The 1920s lesbian writer Sylvia Townsend Warner flaunted convention in many ways: first through her writing, which dove into concepts of feminism, bodily autonomy, and queer life openly, and also in her everyday life. The author of the groundbreaking 1926 novel Lolly Willowes—about a single woman who decides to become a witch to get away from her obnoxious straight family—also lived openly with her partner, a transmasc poet named Valentine Ackland, for almost 40 years. In Warner’s 1936 novel Summer Will Show, she dealt with the subject of lesbian life as openly as she could, and the result is a poignant exploration of what happens when hidden desire rises to the surface.

Nalo Hopkinson

A queer writer of complex, gripping sci-fi often set in the Caribbean, Canadian writer Nalo Hopkinson earned the title of Grand Master Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in 2020, becoming the first Black queer writer to do so. In Hopkinson’s post-apocalyptic tales, traditional folklore and fairy tales are turned on their heads, becoming unsettling visions of horror that are meant to deepen a reader’s understanding of the genre. Whether she’s writing about shape-shifters or subverting the lesbian fiction of the past, Hopkinson’s dramatic instincts make every last one of her works a page-turner in the truest sense.

Ann Allen Shockley

Black fiction writer and journalist Ann Allen Shockley set the standard for Black sapphic fiction with her 1974 debut Loving Her, and she pulled zero punches. Considered to be the first mainstream work with a Black lesbian protagonist, Loving Her focuses on all the obstacles Renay, a talented musician, must face when she decides to leave her abusive husband for Terry, a white lesbian from a privileged world. This work is not for the faint of heart, with its depictions of homophobia, domestic abuse, and anti-Black racism, but it’s an important milestone that charts just how difficult it was for Black women to enjoy the promise of women’s liberation enjoyed by their white counterparts in the 1970s. An influential work that inspired future Black sapphic writers like Jewelle Gomez and Alice Walker.

Qiu Miaojin

Taiwanese lesbian writer Qiu Miaojin led a tragically short life marked by pain, but somehow, she managed to leave behind more than one masterpiece. During a time when being out as a lesbian in China meant scandal, Miaojin published fascinating, pithy works about gay life and yearning in a world that forbid her to be who she was. With 1994’s Notes of a Crocodile and the posthumously published Last Words from Monmartre, Miaojin created tales of lesbian longing marked by intense, existential sadness. These works are painful and no easy reads, but they’re brimming with honesty about what lesbian life was like during a time of increased anti-gay sentiment. When Miaojin committed suicide at the age of 26, she left behind a body of work unlike any other.

Darcie Little Badger

Lipan Apache tribe member and ace writer Darcie Little Badger writes about vampires, ghosts, and climate change with fascination and fearlessness. In a landscape where asexual teens have to work hard to find characters to relate to, Little Badger’s queer heroines stand out. Whether they’re solving a murder, as in Little Badger’s 2017 debut Elatsoe, or moving 40 Mars-bound chihuahuas across the interplanetary highway, these characters are bracing real, funny, and unforgettable.

Raquel Willis

If you’re not aware of Raquel Willis by now…honestly, what are you doing? A Black trans changemaker, activist, and journalist hailing from the South, Willis has written in her 2023 memoir The Courage It Takes to Bloom about the importance of storytelling to her growing up. “When I was in journalism school, Laverne Cox hadn’t been on ‘Orange is the New Black’ [and] Janet Mock hadn’t released her powerful memoirs, and so I knew that there was a space to tell the story of coming into my womanhood and my identity,” Willis told INTO in an interview. Willis’s own work now stands not only as part of the the “trans tipping point,” but as a powerful tool for dismantling toxic, outdated notions about transness, womanhood, and belonging.

Cristina Peri Rossi 

Uruguayan poet, novelist, and journalist Cristina Peri Rossi has been bending peoples’ minds with her experimental works since the 1970s. An outspoken activist as well as a writer, Peri Rossi’s works tackle queerness, language, and oppression during a time when the Latin American literary landscape was dominated by men. In her poems and fiction, she explored the freedom of WLW-culture while furthering the legacy of experimental women writers like Norah Lange and Clarice Lispector.

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