And Now, an Incomplete List of Women Writers Who Inspire Me

Click on the picture to be taken to the story on Jezebel.

“Incomplete” because I’m doing it off the top of my head. Also, in no particular order. Ready? Here we go:

Dorothy Parker
Molly Ivins
Elaine May
Madeleine L’Engle
Nora Ephron
Susan Cooper
Hannah Arendt
Ursula Le Guin
N.K. Jemisin
Beverly Cleary
Sheri Tepper
Jenny Lawson
Kelly Sue Deconnick
Emma Thompson (Yes, she’s a writer. Won an Oscar for it, too)
Caroline Thompson (no relation to above)
Amy Wallace
Melissa Matheson
Erma Bombeck
Mallory Ortberg
Pauline Kael

There are more, but as I said: Off the top of my head. And these are just the ones I find inspiring — that is, the ones whose work I looked at some point or another in my life and came out of the experience wanting to write and/or to have my own work to be better. If you were to ask for the list of women writers who I like, enjoy or admire, well. We’d be here all day. And that, again, would be for the ones I could list right off the top of my head.

Which is the point. Gay Talese couldn’t think of a single woman writer who inspires him or whose work he loves. That unfortunate man. Maybe he needs to read more widely. For a start.

Update: Mr. Talese attempts a clarification.

103 Comments on “And Now, an Incomplete List of Women Writers Who Inspire Me”

  1. I should also note this list doesn’t include women songwriters. I could name a few of those as well.

    Also, to anyone tempted to start a comment with “You forgot [name of writer]”:

    1. It’s off the top of my head (as I noted several times);
    2. It’s my list, not yours.

    The thing about the list is I could reel off 20 inspiring women writers without breaking a sweat. It shouldn’t have been that difficult for Mr. Talese to come up with one.

  2. John, thank you so much for mentioning Erma. I attended the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop in Dayton this past weekend, and saw the play Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End by Allison Engel and Margaret Engel, as well as analyzed some of Erma’s essays in class sessions. The woman was scary and brilliant and honest (as well as hilarious) — and she was willing to make her ideas accessible to anyone who bought a newspaper.

    I’d like also like to nominate Jo Walton for your list.

  3. Just a few that have ‘wowed’ and inspired me recently off the top of my head:

    Margaret Atwood
    A.S. Byatt
    Ann Leckie
    Octavia Butler
    N.K. Jemisin
    Catherynne M. Valente

    Seriously sad/funny that he couldn’t think of just one, in any genre or media publication.

  4. Karen Anderson:

    I admire Jo and her writing a great deal, but I don’t personally find her inspiring in the way I find the women writers above inspiring. But you can certainly nominate her for your list!

  5. Even if the question is confined to the sort of narrative non-fiction for which Gay Talese is held in high regard, there’s so many great writers he could’ve named. The first one I thought of was Anne Fadiman, for The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down.

  6. That list pretty much echoes mine. I’ll add my grandmother, Roma Rudd Turkel, who was a prominent Catholic non-fiction writer in her time, she inspired me to write at a very young age.

  7. Thank you, John! My list would include many writers from your list and also (incomplete, likewise):
    Phoebe Gilman
    Cat Valente
    Jane Austen
    Ann Radcliffe
    And on and on except I have to feed a toddler supper!

  8. Love this. I’ve been going on a binge through some old classics to get through a touch of writing block, and I’m realizing how much of an impact writers like Patricia C. Wrede had on my ability to see myself as an author one day. Ursula K. LeGuin shook my foundations. Margaret Atwood gave me words I didn’t know I needed. J. K. Rowling lit a path from my childhood to adulthood in which I never had to put away my books in order to grow up. Thanks for this.

  9. CJ Cherryh for her many excellent, yet very different, books set in the same universe. Because you just get a glimpse of a ship here and a world there, it makes her universe feel unspeakably vast.

  10. Just limiting myself to women I found inspiring when I was a young tween and teen (just to make it a little more challenging to resurrect such a list 4 decades later):
    Harper Lee
    Andre Norton
    Louisa May Alcott
    Laura Ingalls Wilder
    Frances Hodgson Burnett
    LM Montgomery
    Madeline L’Engle (I know she’s on OGH’s list, but she deserves to be listed twice)

  11. Julian May, for God’s sake! I think she has a case for best SF writer of the past fifty years of any gender. (Sorry, John – but you’re young yet.)

  12. Mine:

    Rachel Neumeier (especially The City in the Lake)
    J.K. Rowling
    Catherynne M. Valente
    Nnedi Okorafor
    N.K. Jemisin
    Mary Shelley
    Elizabeth Bear
    Charlie Jane Anders
    Lana Wachowski & Lilly Wachowski (do screenwriters count here…?)
    Kameron Hurley
    Nalo Hopkinson
    Linda Sue Park
    Holly Black
    Cornelia Funke
    Mary Pope Osborne
    Suzanne Collins
    Mur Lafferty
    Grace Llewllyn (nonfiction, mainly educational reform stuff)
    Seanan McGuire
    Amelia Atwater-Rhodes (been a long time since I read an AA-R novel, but I remember it fondly)
    Anya Kamenetz
    Amal El-Mohtar
    Karen Lord
    Janet Evanovich
    Nancy Yi Fan (published at age twelve–impressive!)
    Stacy Morrison (my delightful aunt, a journalist, former Redbook editor, and author of Falling Apart In Once Piece; I actually bought her ex-husband-and-still-good-friend a copy of Redshirts this past Christmas)
    Becky Abertalli
    Jenny Hubbard (author of Paper Covers Rock and And We Stay, as her name is similar to that of Jennifer Hubbard, with whom I’m only vaguely familiar)
    Siobhan Vivian
    Jenny Han
    Gail Carson Levine
    Emily Asher-Perrin
    Mary Robinette Kowal
    Lauren Beukes
    Desirina Boskovich
    Andrea Gibson
    Ilsa J. Bick
    Robin Hobb/Megan Lindholm
    Marjane Satrapi

    …I’m sure I’ll think of more, but these came to mind.

  13. Lois McMaster Bujold, Colleen McCullough, Pat Cadigan, Gail Simone, Banana Yoshimoto (japanese writer of short stories), Colleen Doran… just to name some women in my list.

  14. Erma Bombeck, Elaine May, Dorothy Parker and Molly Ivins – that explains a lot about you, John, in a totally fantastic way.

    Kudos to you and your list. A great big raspberry to Mr. Talese

  15. Some good writers on those lists! I like how it covers quite a bit of style and time too.

    As a 5th grade teacher, my favorite book I get to teach is Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt. Beautifully written with a strong message about life.

  16. Hmmm…..just a quick list;

    Margaret Weis
    Sara Douglass
    Barbara Hambly
    Melanie Rawn

    Added to many of the other names indicated above.


  17. Although Le Guin is considered the master, it was James Tiptree, Jr., Julian May and C. J. Cherryh who opened my eyes to Science Fiction as more than a “boy’s club”.

    Outside of Sci Fi- Rachel Carson! Her “Sea” trilogy is amazing, especially for its time, but “Silent Spring” was a courageous work that began the environmental protection movement.

  18. Am I only one here who’s reaction was “That’s really sad, and who on earth is Gay Talese?”

    Off the top of my head:
    Judy Blume
    Beverly Cleary
    Erma Bombeck
    Dorothy Parker
    Mary Shelly
    Ursula LeGuin
    Octavia Butler
    and many more, who’s names are escaping me right now. (I don’t do off hand lists well.)

  19. James Triptree Jr
    Anne McCaffrey
    Marion Zimmer Bradley
    Catherine Asaro

    The list of female writers just goes on and on. How could he not have ONE name??

  20. I had to look up about half the writers on your list, and learned that I’m not very familiar with writers in and on film. If there weren’t so many wonderful things to learn I might try harder to rectify that :)

    On the flip side, before I started the list I thought of Dorothy Parker and Molly Irvins in addition to Le Guin and L’Engle, and was delighted to see The Blogess on the list. Because 15th anniversary is giant metal chickens:

  21. I can’t tell you how pleased I am to see Susan Cooper on your list. She’s underappreciated and has been inspiring me since I was a child.

  22. Alice Munro
    Donna Tartt
    Flannery O’Connor
    Kate Atkinson
    S.E. Hinton
    Shirley Jackson
    Joyce Carol Oates
    Annie Proulx

  23. *Pokes around kindle and bookshelves*
    *Facepalms over some of the writers she forgot and comes back*

    J.D. Robb (aka Nora Roberts)
    Susanna Kearsley
    J.K. Rowling
    Margaret Atwood
    Angela Carter

  24. GT definitely needs to get out more. Or at the very least read more. I had to stop to think about it as I don’t tally my writers by gender, rather by whether I like them, which for me means I found them inspiring.

    How about adding,

    Jane Rule,
    Tanya Huff
    Elizabeth Moon
    Fiona Patton
    Anne Rice

    and then by reading above so many names were women I like as writers, Cleary, Hinton, MZ Bradley, Blume, Rowling etc

  25. I’m going to put in a good word for (less de-)humanizing language choices: John is a man and a male novelist (not a Man Writer); likewise, the women he reads are female writers. Cheers!

  26. Recent conversations and other book-related stuff online has led me to realize that I don’t read anywhere near as many woman writers as I do man writers. I’ve been working on amending that, and while I haven’t found one who’s absolutely enthralled me and become one of my favorites, I’m enjoying trying to find one who does. ^_^ For example…

    Marie Brennan and Naomi Novik do some great stuff with dragons. I’ve only read two of Catherynne M. Valente’s books, but they were captivating and I need to get more. Erin Morgenstern’s “The Night Circus” is beautiful and wondrous. And I’m in the middle of Cherie Priest’s “Maplecroft”, and it’s teaching me everything I might ever need to know about writing Lovecraftian horror.

    And I hadn’t even considered woman songwriters, ye gods. I’d be here all day if I tried listing them.

  27. I cry at the loss of Molly Ivans (and I’m a native Texan, so I claim her as my own) and I can only imagine what she’d write about the current political situation. She was a gem and is SORELY missed.

    As for other female writers .. so many of the above mentioned and more. I can’t even begin to list them.

  28. The best sci fi novel of 2015 was Claire North’s The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August. I certainly was enthralled. It won a well-deserved John W. Campbell Memorial Award.

  29. Yep, @Alea and dann665, it sounds like one issue with this question and response was that the question was unclear, and the moderator was asleep at the switch.

  30. You can give him some leeway, he is really really old; my guess is he grew up in a sheltered world where the only female writers he had heard of were Bronte, Parker and Dickinson and he may only have ever read one of them. Its not much of an excuse , I’m only really old but I know if I hadn’t gone out of my way I would have read none of those

  31. Gotta show some love for some of my favorite female crime fiction writers:
    Patricia Highsmith
    Dorothy L. Sayers
    Laura Lippman
    Val McDermid
    Megan Abbott
    VIcki Hendricks
    Toni (T.M.) Causey
    Tasha Alexander
    Tana French
    Barbara Seranella
    Zoe Sharp
    Margaret Maron
    Alexandra Sokoloff
    Katy Munger

    There are a lot more who I like, but these are the ones who’ve encouraged, challenged, and inspired me.

  32. If you are into history, Barbara Tuchman is a great historian and an even better writer. A Distant Mirror (Medieval France), The Guns of August (run up to WWI) and The March of Folly (the own goals of history) are all fantastic.

  33. Yeah, well, his writing doesn’t inspire me either. :)

    But it sounds like he reads very narrowly, which is a shame in a journalist, and has a very short list of what constitutes inspiring writing, which is even sadder. I mean, it’s one thing for him to like what he likes ( I don’t like Hemingway, which regularly gets me roundly told off, and possibly rightly so), but quite another to ascribe to gender preferences the qualities of “good” writing.

    I suppose it’s too patronising to go “Oh, look; old white guy acts old, white; is a bit of a dudebro. Bless his heart.”

  34. “As a reporter, covering a span of more than a half-century, I always made it clear to interview subjects what we were discussing; but on the stage of Boston University on Saturday at noon, the existence of my reputation was tarnished by the irresponsible form of journalism on the internet these days that reaffirms my lack of respect for what and how things are being reported there,” Talese wrote. “In my case, the truth concerning me and my journalism was distorted and widely circulated.”

    -Gay Talese

  35. A few years ago I realized my personal list of faves was filled with men, so I decided to seek women writers. Now my faves are mostly women.
    My guess is people just don’t notice if they read mostly men, or white people, or americans/europeans. But, once you start paying attention to who you’re reading, it’s easy (and a hell of fun) to seek out the writers you’re missing.

  36. Okay, so he says no women journalists before his time were inspiring, b/c they didn’t do any “serious journalism”. That they didn’t tackle “unpleasant” subjects.

    Apparently he never heard about Nellie Bly getting herself committed to an insane asylum to show how terrible the system was. Sounds “serious and unpleasant” to me. Before that, she was a foreign correspondent in Mexico during the Diaz dictatorship.

    Geez, Gay, it was in all the papers.

  37. God, I miss Molly Ivins. Were she around today, she’d know what to make of the Republican nominating fiasco, provided she could stop laughing long enough to write about it.

  38. Toss me in with the others wishing Molly Ivins was still with us. I’d go back to buying actual news papers just to read what she had to say about this crazed election cycle. She’d probably go through several livers just trying to squeeze all the bile out to keep up with the likes of Trump and Cruz. But oh the razor sharp and very pointed humor and snark. I may have to re-read Bushwhacked and insert newer names. LOL

  39. I wish desperately that Molly Ivins had survived all the Bush years, had been around during the Grossly Obstructionist Period of the last 8 years, and could take on the current electoral insanity. The world might have been a little better place. I wish I’d known about her years earlier.

    And I’d like to add Leigh Brackett to the list.

  40. Mr Scalzi, ever read Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. I am not a writer but that book inspired me to read many more women writers works. Also, Hope Mirlees’s Lud-in-the-Mist – and this one is a gem of adventure, intrigue, philosophy and rewarding prose.

  41. The problem I have with such lists is that I always go from the book content, and am frankly not interested in author’s persona overmuch. Name 20 scenes in the books that I liked – sure! Name the names of those books or series – a bit harder. Name authors thereof – uhh… (googling ensues)
    Name those of the authors that happen to be female/male/ of whatever race: Why do I care? They are but labels for the books. Some labels can even have several people of varying gender under them! And several labels can have a same person. All I care is the quality of the book produced, be it by human, machine or sewer-dwelling arachnid. Such is the perception of a simple consumer like this one. (Though not being able to name female authors except maybe Rowling and Novik makes me vaguely feel like failing some school exam)

  42. For me, several female writers are/were unforgettable:

    * Laura Ingalls Wilder:
    (I love her not just because her Little House books were seminal to my learning to read fast for comprehension; try to find her essay “get the habit of being ready,” AKA “you always pay for that need,” which is the clearest explanation of the pioneer “what to leave in/what to leave out” ethic I have ever read.

    *J.K. Rowling: Her sense of world-building mythos and back-story are second only to Tolkin’s in the fantasy realm, (although Pratchett comes close.)

    * Gene Stratton Porter:
    Her “Freckles” may be as close to a perfectly realized, heart-tugging character in fiction as any writer has ever created.

    *Connie Willis: Simply put, with everything she writes, she raises her own bar of masterful plot- and character realization, not to menion coherence with hard-science. All of the Oxford time-traveling- historian books (Blackout/All Clear, …To Say Nothing of the Dog, Doomsday Book) are terrific. Her Bellwether and Passages are underrated gems.

  43. Angela Carter would probably top my list. Connie Willis would also be there: any writer who can do a Lincoln’s Dreams and a To Say Nothing of the Dog can’t be anything but inspiring…

  44. Mr. Talese said a deeply foolish thing, which he now explains as having arisen from his misunderstanding of a question. Seems reasonable to me — and I’m prepared to forgive much from a man who wrote the incredible essay, “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,” in which Harlan Ellison makes a guest appearance. (It’s here, if you’d like to give it a try:

  45. To be honest, I can’t name one individual, male or female, either that would make me say, “Hey, I should write like this person.” Most of the writers that I read, with the exception of yourself and few others, don’t make me want to search out their catalogue of work. But almost to a T, most would inspire me to kick my game up a notch.

  46. I haven’t noticed Josephine Tey mentioned yet, she would be on my list, otherwise known as Elizabeth Mackintosh

  47. I second (and third, and fourth, etc.) comments made about Molly Ivans. The writer I miss the most.

  48. ”The author [Talese] would have clarified that he greatly admired female fiction writers growing up, especially Mary McCarthy and Carson McCullers. Talese also would have gone on to say that he holds many female journalists of today in high regard.

    “I was not commenting on contemporary women who practiced journalism: Susan Orlean, Larissa MacFarquhar (I wrote her a fan letter two weeks ago, praising her piece in The New Yorker on the Ford Foundation), Lillian Ross (whose new collection I blurbed enthusiastically), Katie Roiphe (ditto) and the late Nora Ephron (whom I described with adoration in the new HBO show directed by her son, Jacob Bernstein),” Talese wrote in an e-mail.” –

    So yes, apparently he was not aware of women doing great journalistic feats in his youth (he didn’t say they didn’t exist, just that they didn’t have an impact on him when he was young); that’s a far cry from not recognizing there are women doing great stuff in journalism. And what do you know, here was his own list of inspiring women in journalism. None of whom seem to have been mentioned in this discussion thread yet.

  49. Some writer’s in the science fiction genre that I have not seen mentioned:
    Melinda Snodgrass
    Nancy Kress
    Vonda McIntyre

  50. “For his part, Fiedler tells me he didn’t press Talese further because it was the audience question-and-answer portion of the program. Sitting on stage next to Talese, Fiedler did not sense a controversy in the making, but knowing what he knows now, he would have probed further.”

    Dr. Fiedler is the dean of the College of Communication, and doesn’t think that a famous journalist dismissing outright any female influence would raise a controversy?

  51. I would add that Cherryh is the obvious inspiration for some of the other writers people have listed here. So she’s an ur-inspirer.

    I would have to think about what the word “inspire” means to me. I could list a lot of female writers who I admire or enjoy. I am sadly past the age where I am likely to be inspired by something and when it does happen it probably has more to do with my idiosyncrasies than the source’s quality.

    When I was younger, LeGuin and Hambly certainly qualified as inspirational, just for starters.

  52. Ah, the internet PC echo chamber. You are the modern Fox News.

    My list:

    Carrie Fisher
    Patricia Nell Warren
    Melanie Rawn
    Mercedes Lackey
    Anne Rice
    Kathrine Kurtz
    D.C. Fontana

  53. “… the existence of my reputation was tarnished …”? Notice, he wrote this (and the rest of the sentence, it wasn’t extemporized while he floundered around doing damage control). Didn’t G. B. Trudeau parody Talese’s prose style some years ago? But it gives me a title for a blog post if I decide to go with it.

    On the people who claim here (and elsewhere) that they don’t pay any attention to the sex (or race or “persona”) of the writers they read, that’s cool. If you go back over your reading, then, you’ll probably find that you read writers with a variety of naughty bits, especially if you really don’t pay any attention to such irrelevant traits. If you don’t find that, then perhaps your unconscious is nudging you away from some interesting reading. It’s interesting, and probably significant, how many people make this claim, despite its irrelevance to the question.

  54. “And when the audience suggested that Didion might have served as an inspiration, Talese demurred. After all, she did not ‘report on anti-social people.’”

    So instead of admitting that he hadn’t read Didion, or had read her and didn’t care for her work, he made up some bullshit that is so demonstrably false it makes him look even more like a jackass. Good job, Talese!

    I understand why some people don’t care for her work (which, years ago, at a time when I needed inspiration, inspired me such that I can look at some of my undated writing and know exactly in what time period I wrote it). But it would be the work of a few moments to find examples of Didion reporting on anti-social people. I sort of wonder what Talese thought she did report on.

  55. I am not a writer; however, a number of scifi/fantasy authors (who happen to be women) inspired me over the years. Some of whom I did not realize were women, some of whom I didn’t realize how/why they were inspirational:

    C.L. Moore : Iconic character Northwest Smith, classic
    Leigh Bracket : another Iconic character/series of stories – Eric John Stark/ Skaith stories- she also is the reason Empire Strikes Back is the best SW movie :)

  56. Susan Cooper! My favorite read-instead-going-to-sleep storyteller!

    And someone has SE Hinton on the list. That was a woman? opened my eyes, those books, did.

  57. I’d probably start my own list with Marie-Claire Blais at number one. Or maybe Alice Munro. Or maybe it’d be a tie. Both are fantastic writers.

  58. I am a novice. I read to gain insight. Standards are high, and they were high when I was in school. Now I write from my heart, and I don’t really become concerned about those who don’t read, or want to read what I have to say. I have a voice when I write. I can’t get a word in edgewise when I join a conversation. So I write, instead of doing much talking.

  59. I’m somewhat disturbed by a comment in the “clarification” update link.
    According to the article, “If there’s one thing the modern professional man should know, it’s that they should have at least one woman in their field they can namecheck when called upon…”

    That’s probably true in today’s American culture — but it still sounds as begging to be lied to, at least if generalized to “a woman who inspired you”. Not everybody was necessarily inspired by women in every field.

    As far as I’m concerned, I could just as easily as John cite a couple dozen female writers who inspired me as an author, even if I limited the field to french Literature. But that would not be true in my day job — namely, physics. Oh, sure, Marie Curie, and Irène Joliot-Curie. That would be an easy lie. Buth the truth is that, while I knew them quite well, and deeply admired both of them, it was really their husbands who inspired me to get into scientific research. I could also cite a dozen othe rnames here — but all males, sorry. The fact may have many explanations, it may even justify an (and actually have contributed to my own) implication in science education research to help bring more girls to physics, but I don’t see why it shouldn’t be candid about it.

  60. @Kevin Hicks – Having reporters covering your statements onstage at a public Q&A or speech has been such a standard part of journalism for so long that I can’t help but find that statement disingenuous. Especially if you’ve been remotely in the public eye for as long as he has.

    @terryweyna – I guess that’s good for you, but as a female journalist who deals with this type of shit *all the time* including from colleagues younger than he is, I do find it difficult to forgive that attitude. It is exhausting to still have editors who need to be convinced you are not out of your depth in a serious story. It is exhausting to deal with that one asshole at every newspaper who doesn’t understand or believe in the long and illustrious history of female journalists.
    I’ve even been interviewed. If you know you’ve said something you didn’t mean, you keep talking. You don’t expect the benefit of the doubt when you’ve said something harmful on the face of it. Someone who’s been in the game that long doesn’t have a lot of reason to be ignorant of that.

    What’s more, his explanation is flat wrong. There were and had been women who did excellent work on serious stories that it doesn’t make sense he wouldn’t so much as know about. Off the top of my head, Ida B. Wells, Ida Tarbell, Nellie Bly, Dorothy Thompson and Martha Gellhorn would have been around that time or just before and their work was massively influential, even in its own time. The First Lady during his youth deliberately held women-only press conferences for God’s sake, so nearly every newspaper or news service he would have seen growing up would have had a female reporter writing about Washington D.C.
    As he became a young man working in the field, I can think of people including Joan Didion, Ellen Willis, Gloria Emerson and Frances Fitzgerald whose work he would have seen and should have known about.
    Given that, it sounds like what he betrayed, even if he misspoke, is the fact that there is a lot about the legacy of his own field he doesn’t understand and doesn’t care to understand. The only reason I would hold him more accountable than anyone else about it and that is that his ignorance gets heard and has influence.

  61. Maybe I’m being nitpicky about the words, but “Who inspires you” is one of those writer’s-life-and-craft questions that strikes me as almost as uninteresting as “Where do you get your ideas?” For me, the revealing question is “Who do you admire/enjoy/steal from/always return to?”* This may be the result of a personal quirk–in all my decades of writing, I don’t recall being inspired (that is, motivated) by anything other than an assignment** or a project (that is, an assignment I give myself). But then, I don’t write fiction.

    And I suppose “steal from” might be stretched to include “aspire to the craft of in general.” I did just finish reading the big retrospective of Judith Merril’s “Lit’ry Theory”*** and reflected on how much her writing about SF had formed my understanding of the genre. And godknows I wish I were as funny and fearless and on-target as Molly Ivins.

    * Even better might be “Who formed your sensibilities?” Pretty abstract, maybe, but it manages to cover a range of aesthetic, intellectual, and maybe even work-habit influences. Again, “steal from” might be seen as the operational end of this complex question.

    ** Sometimes the assignment came from an editor who was also a woman, but that’s not quite the same thing.

    *** Plug: The review is in the new issue of Locus.

  62. @Eric Picholle – I read that headline as tongue-in-cheek, personally. Certainly one need not pretend inspiration where none exists. But one can, as you did, easily cite influential women and give them credit, while still admitting that they are not numbered among your own pantheon of personal heroes.

    As an engineer, I would have been hard-pressed to namecheck any woman in a technical field who inspired me in my early days (Sally Ride, maybe?). Now that I know of more of them, however, I find them incredibly inspiring (Grace Hopper! Hedy Lamarr!) and would cheerfully bring them up if the moment arose.

  63. @Eric Picholle, yea that probably is asking to be lied to but in a time when more and more people are pushing diversity in the public view, anyone who doesn’t think that at least a few well-known figures purposefully name-drop female and POC references in order to seem more PC is lying to themselves.

    And also, whether or not you choose to believe that public figures are being sincere in their open-mindedness, having them put on the act (yea, even if they are being completely fake) is still immeasurably better than more and more and more of the same dismissal of achievements and influence of women and POC (and woman POC) that we’ve dealt with for the past how many hundreds of years.

    If *nothing* else at least it *starts* to increase name recognition of a more diverse set of global influencers (for example, the study someone linked above which showed just how few people can even name multiple female scientists – we can’t start recognizing their achievements if people cant even remember their names.) So yea, Talese could have straight up lied and thrown out a name of a female writer he had googled the day before and yea that’s not the greatest response in the world either but at least its not his straight up “no” answer. (And as others have pointed out, there were far better ways for him to admit he wasn’t influenced by any female writers in his youth without bluntly dismissing the entire gender within his field)

  64. Trying to just list authors not already mentioned:
    Christine de Pisan
    Christy Marx
    Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
    Laura Antoniou
    Alison Bechdel
    Virginia Woolf
    Gail Frazer

  65. ERose, as a female lawyer who has been dealing with this type of shit *all the time* for more than 35 years and continuing indefinitely into the future, including from colleagues younger than I am (much less younger than Gay Talese is), I have come to try to save my indignation for far more serious cases of sexism, which are SO EASY to find. Talese tried to correct himself and, to your mind, failed miserably, which is cool; I get your anger, truly. But I guess I’d prefer to save my outrage for the folks who think they’re wonderful and that the only reason people don’t like them is because they’re not politically correct (thinking of John Wright, for instance), when in fact they’re just terrible human beings who don’t write well on top of it.

    Please note, I’m not saying you’re wrong altogether. Instead, I’m just saying that Talese is a great writer despite his supposed lack of female influence, and that we shouldn’t throw out the baby with the bath water.

  66. Thanks everyone for their lists. It provides me lots of people to look into for future reading! Many of the names are unfamiliar to me.

  67. It does my heart good that so many of the writers I wanted to mention have already been listed. But there are a few missing:

    Theodora Goss
    Elizabeth Hand
    Margo Lanagan
    Mary Oliver
    M(ary) Rickert
    Rachel Swirsky

  68. Can anyone recommend something by Dorothy Parker? I read a collection of her short stories a few years ago and was decidedly underwhelmed. Has her fiction writing just not aged well? I was expecting the wit she’s known for, but didn’t find even a little of it.

    As for a female writer I did find inspiring: James Tiptree, Jr. Finding out she was female after she became one of my favorite writers really opened my eyes to what a sexist teenage jerk I was.

  69. @john (not mccain):

    Parker’s fiction writing has aged unevenly, in my opinion. Some of it, like “Big Blonde”, is still-and-always glorious, but not Parker-esque in the way you were probably expecting — if you want biting wit and snark, try the book and theater reviews in an omnibus collection. You’ll be reading reviews of shows and books that are often obscure now, of course, but if that doesn’t bother you, her non-fiction still feels fresh and snappy.

  70. I was going to list some of the female authors who have inspired me, but after reading Eric Picholle’s comment I thought I’d list a few inspiring female physicists instead.

    Lise Meitner
    Cecelia Payne
    Chien-Shiung Wu
    Maria Goppert Mayer
    Annie Jump Cannon (okay, an astronomer)
    the cruelly robbed Rosalind Franklin

    A couple of reasons why these lists, these women are important: as Reshma Saujani pointed out, “you cannot be what you cannot see”, and you likely won’t encourage others to be what you don’t see, either. Just yesterday (never mind in my youth, never mind during my education, this April 2016) I read a man’s claim that the reason female scientists and engineers are “overlooked” is because they don’t actually exist, that only a vanishingly small proportion of scientists and engineers have ever and could ever be female. The same disbelief afflicts women in many fields, including journalism and fiction writing (people believe female writers exist, but not ones who write “seriously”), and one of the reasons people are so annoyed with Mr. Talese is that he contributed to it.

  71. ERose – nice list of journalists that one would have expected Mr. Talese to have been aware of, given his age.

    One name that should be included and has not yet is Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose most famous work was, of course, fiction, but was based quite clearly on history and current events to the extent that along with Cabin, she published a lengthy bibliography of the factual sources, journalistic and otherwise, that she had drawn from, precisely because she knew the work would be attacked.

    Stowe was the most famous women popular writer of her day, even more so than LM Alcott – who, by the way, does what amounts to a New Journalism-like take on her service in a Civil War hospital that is a jewel of atmospheric writing.

  72. I have to make a second addition to my list, Murasaki Shikabo, “The Tale of Genji”. An awfully convoluted book, but it’s age is inspiring. I’ve got to get back to reading those great books this thread is reminding me of.

  73. Inspired is a strong word for me. There was a woman who was a friend of the family who taught me trig and helped me debug one of my first from-scratch computer programs when I was rather young. She inspired me. I didn’t think I could do it, but she taught me and I wanted to learn more. There was a woman teacher in high school who chided me to do better. Beyond that? I dunno. There was a book by Arthur C Clarke that felt like it expanded my mind and the feeling is something I keep trying to reproduce.

    But seriously, that would be about it. Part of it was I grew up in a rather sheltered life and couldn’t get outside the bubble that were my circumstances. Mostly it felt like I was just trying to survive.

    It hasn’t been until the last decade or two where I started learning about other people in the field beyond the shallow facts of the type “Newton invented the laws of gravity”. The more I learn about Newton, the more the man inspires and humbles me and scares the crap out of me. He invented calculus at the age when I was struggling just to learn it in college.

    I cant really speak to who were inspiring journalists in the 1960s, male or female. I was always drawn to science. But when I was cutting my teeth in science, it was one or two people.

    Did Talese misunderstand the question? Not sure. I haven’t found a complete transcript, but the quotes I’ve read keep using the past tense “I didn’t know any women writers that I loved.” which to me says he thought it was about who inspired him to get into the field. I had only 2, maybe 3 total.

    Did he follow up with some sexist notions? Yeah, sounds like it. But I just… I just can’t generate the hate today. I’ve been way too depressed about the violence in the world of late, and I just can’t. I think I’ve run out of rage spoons and all that’s left is grief.

  74. Personally, when I’m 84, I hope to be able to name a family member correctly. I don’t know Mr Talese. He may be in complete control of his faculties. He may just be an arrogant and/or sexist person, but the fact that one 84 year old man could not come up with the name of a single female writer who has inspired him seems to be getting blown out of proportion. How many other people have been asked this same question and given good, thoughtful answers? I am a designer by profession and I cannot name a single female designer who has inspired me. I cannot name a single male designer who has inspired me. I just don’t pay much attention to other designers.

  75. I agree with everyone who has mentioned missing Molly Ivins. I didn’t realize so many people still regard her so highly. Somehow that makes me feel better.

  76. She’s not an inspiration to me as a writer (I’m not a writer), but in the “love, read everything, return to most of it multiple times”, the top spot on my list of writers would be Willa Cather. I think her short stories are even better than her books. The Sculptor’s Funeral is the one of the most stinging stories I’ve read, still, 25 years after I read it first–and The Bohemian Girl captures the feel of choice-making.

  77. Several people have mentioned Erma Bombeck. Have any of you read Jean Kerr, who just might have been Bombeck’s inspiration?

  78. I would never have thought to include songwriters, although they’re definitely writers, too. Amy Ray’s “Let It Ring” gives me chills (in a good way) every single time I hear it. So does Rhiannon Giddens’ “Cry No More.” Mary Chapin Carpenter and Carole King are both fantastic extremely-short-form storytellers. Gaye Adegbalola has written songs (“Schoolteacher Blues,” “Bitch With a Bad Attitude,” and more) that still crack me up twenty or thirty years after I first heard them.

  79. I think I first read Sheri Tepper’s “Mavin Manyshaped” series about 30 years ago. To this day it remains my favourite work of fantasy.

  80. A couple of writers, surprisingly not yet mentioned, who I have found inspirational (in very different ways):
    Patricia McKillip
    Mary Gentle

  81. @ john (not mccain)
    I think Parker’s poetry has aged badly, but I still enjoy the short stories, especially the dramatic monologues “The waltz” and “The little hours”. And, yes, the reviews are a hoot. To give you a spoiler, when Parker, under her pen name Constant Reader, reviewed “The house at Pooh Corner”, she finished with “Tonstant Weader fwowed up”.

    How I also miss the Blessed Molly Ivins …

  82. [Deleted because, Scorpius, come back when you can do better than angry contentless soap-box spew, please – JS]

  83. Thank you, John, and everyone else for adding names to the list of writers that I need to check out. While I’ve heard of many of these women, some of the names are new, so I have new writers to explore.

    I am going to mention two women who have inspired my writing, for the same basic reason. They write believable worlds. And the more of their stories that you read, the more you realize that all of their stories take place in the same world.

    Anne McCaffrey and her Pern stories made me want to be writer. I was fascinated by the way that the Dragonriders trilogy and the Harper Hall trilogy overlapped, sharing events from different perspectives. Then she added more stories in the same era and in previous eras. Each new story added to the world, gradually filling in the entire history of the colony. I knew that I wanted to create a world like that in my stories, a world that would support an entire history of stories.

    Nora Roberts and her romances also inspire me. Not necessarily the big blockbuster romances she is known for today (which are very good), but the small Harlequin and Silhouette romances that she started out writing. The early stories often get dismissed as “silly romances”, as if being published by Harlequin lowers the quality, but a couple of her books still make me cry when I read them again (for the 20th time). And if you read all of those stories, you realize that the choreographer talking to the heroine in the book you’re reading was also the hero of her second book 20 years ago, that the actress whom the current characters are writing a show for was also the heroine of her book, and so on. If you haven’t read the original book, you don’t miss anything, but if you have, then it’s a little present for her loyal readers. Again, it made me want to write stories that could weave together to make a world.

  84. @Frankly – Talese said he enjoyed George Eliot. He does know she wasn’t a dude, right?

  85. @Steve Kelner:

    Julian May, for God’s sake! I think she has a case for best SF writer of the past fifty years of any gender.

    Meh. de gustibus and all that. I quite enjoyed May’s work, but it’s popcorn.

    Perhaps not even the best SF author called Julian in the last 50 years.

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