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March 6, 2008

Beyond Chick Lit

Today is Elizabeth Barrett Browning's birthday, so in honor of her and all the other great women writers... we thought we'd write a little something today about women and literature.

The widespread education of women wasn't common until the nineteenth century (and even then it still lacked considerably compared to the education of men). So mainstream literature was male-dominated for a long time.

Writing was seen as an “unacceptable” way for women to make a living because their proper place was in the home. Also many subjects were consider to be too "taboo" for women to write about. Much of women's writing was published anonymously and some female authors even had to use male pen names in order to get their work published and to be taken seriously by the public. For example, George Eliot's real name was Mary Ann Evans-Cross and the Bronte sisters each wrote under male pen names, with the last name Bell (Charlotte as Currer, Emily as Ellis and Anne and Acton).

Despite the odds stacked against them, so many talented and powerful female writers managed to emerge and they deserve some recognition. Some of the most famous female names in literature include Louisa May Alcott, Maya Angelou, Jane Austen, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the Brontes, Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Virginia Woolf. However, there were so many other amazing female writers who don't have the same name-recognition or acclaim and frankly, it's a shame.

Even today, women are still not given their proper credit in the world of Literature. Just last year, Doris Lessing won the Nobel Prize for Literature. However Lessing, 87, is only the eleventh woman to win the prize since it began in 1901. "Women's literature" is more than just romance novels and chick lit... it's more than just easy beach reading and diet guides.

So as a happy birthday to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, I hope that everyone will pick up a book. A real book. Written by any one of these awesome women writers. Preferably, one you've never read before... or even never heard of before. Women's History month doesn't have to be a big deal about honoring our "foremothers" for thirty days. It can be as simple as "Hey, I'm going to read this book and see what she has to say."

(Or if you're really inspired by these female writers - become one yourself. For information on the International Women's Writing Guild: iwwg.org)

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