The 10 Most Powerful Female Authors

A pretty solid list, including some I wish would go away (Stephenie Meyer); some whose sales are largely in the grocery store circuit (Danielle Steele, Mary Higgins Clark); and some heavyweights (Toni Morrison, Jhumpa Lahiri, Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, Joyce Carol Oates). It’s also a notably diverse list, with the white authors skewed heavily to the side of “commercially successful” and the authors of color skewed more towards the anthologized end of the literary spectrum. And it’s a welcome reprieve from the Best Writers of All Time lists which inevitably include only one or two women.

Author: has written 5268 posts for this blog.

Jill has been blogging for Feministe since 2005.
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28 Responses

  1. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable June 7, 2011 at 10:40 am |

    “It’s also a notably diverse list, with the white authors skewed heavily to the side of “commercially successful” and the authors of color skewed more towards the anthologized end of the literary spectrum.”

    This is fascinating to me. I have nothing to add but would love for a better educated commenter than me to see if they can unpack this.

  2. sarahhhh
    sarahhhh June 7, 2011 at 11:33 am |

    no margaret atwood?

  3. Shannon Drury
    Shannon Drury June 7, 2011 at 11:38 am |

    Ditto what PA said. And why did Stephenie Meyer need to be included, exactly? JK Rowling was an obvious choice–they felt they had to appease Twihards, too?

  4. Brandy
    Brandy June 7, 2011 at 11:49 am |

    Shannon Drury:
    Ditto what PA said.And why did Stephenie Meyer need to be included, exactly?JK Rowling was an obvious choice–they felt they had to appease Twihards, too?

    Well, the list is titled “most powerful,” not “best.”

  5. FashionablyEvil
    FashionablyEvil June 7, 2011 at 11:55 am |

    no margaret atwood?

    They’re the opinions of the Forbes editors–Forbes asks for suggestions for other people in the comments.

  6. gretel
    gretel June 7, 2011 at 12:10 pm |

    How far Anne Rice’s star has fallen! I imagine she would have been included on this list if it was written in the 90s. Interesting.

  7. CateofTexas
    CateofTexas June 7, 2011 at 12:43 pm |

    PrettyAmiable:
    “It’s also a notably diverse list, with the white authors skewed heavily to the side of “commercially successful” and the authors of color skewed more towards the anthologized end of the literary spectrum.”

    This is fascinating to me. I have nothing to add but would love for a better educated commenter than me to see if they can unpack this.

    Yeah that line caught my attention too! I think “skewed” is a bit of a loaded word. It is often used to imply bias of some kind. But looking at the list, I mean… Toni Morrison, Alice Walker… awesome, awesome authors. These authors earned their place on any list of important writers.

  8. Véronique
    Véronique June 7, 2011 at 2:19 pm |

    In Canada, we’d probably have Margaret Atwood somewhere on that list. I don’t know how many books she has sold, but she is certainly one of our most influential writers (of either sex).

  9. Véronique
    Véronique June 7, 2011 at 2:21 pm |

    gretel:
    How far Anne Rice’s star has fallen! I imagine she would have been included on this list if it was written in the 90s. Interesting.

    Funny, that’s exactly what I thought when I saw Stephanie Meyer on the list. Rice was huge for a while. I wonder if Meyer will have her heyday and then fade.

  10. Christina
    Christina June 7, 2011 at 2:44 pm |

    Shannon Drury: Ditto what PA said. And why did Stephenie Meyer need to be included, exactly? JK Rowling was an obvious choice–they felt they had to appease Twihards, too?

    It’s interesting that Rowling is an obvious choice but Meyer isn’t. Rowling’s main character is male and her books appeal to boys and girls. Meyer’s main character is female and appeals mainly to girls. Even when a list is exclusively female (side note: why Powerful Female instead of Powerful Women?) between the two women who write fantasy the one who writes a male main character and appeals to a male audience is automatically considered more deserving of being on the list. To be fair, I haven’t read either of the authors so I assume one could argue that Rowling is a superior writer to Meyer. Still though, it’s seems obvious that Twilight is wildly popular–just with girls. Plus Harry Potter is getting kind of stale. Have they done the last movie yet?

  11. konkonsn
    konkonsn June 7, 2011 at 3:02 pm |

    PrettyAmiable:
    “It’s also a notably diverse list, with the white authors skewed heavily to the side of “commercially successful” and the authors of color skewed more towards the anthologized end of the literary spectrum.”

    This is fascinating to me. I have nothing to add but would love for a better educated commenter than me to see if they can unpack this.

    I don’t have a lot to say, other than I think the reason is that authors of color have to be “found” and acknowledged as good work by someone with credentials/famous before Americans will read them en mass, whereas white authors can write crap/commercial (not always the same but…) and people will go, “Oh, a book about white people. I can identify with that.” And so they go buy it.

    I worked in a library for a year, and I knew within a week where the sections for Higgins Clark and Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb were. Their success bothers me for so many reasons, but…people need their pleasure reading, so I can’t fault them for filling that hole.

  12. Sienna
    Sienna June 7, 2011 at 3:04 pm |

    No Zane!?

  13. shah8
    shah8 June 7, 2011 at 4:30 pm |

    I’m not very impressed with the piece, really. Just fluffery for people that don’t intend to read any of the *real* books, and flatter them for reading the mass produced trash. Danielle Steele, for example, is not a very good romance writer (I haven’t cracked open a straight romance in forever). Meyer has merely *sold* books…she doesn’t write well, nor does she have real clout, say like Andre Norton. I’m kind of surprised that A.S. Byatt is not on this list. Not so many books, but all of them are great and a couple are seriously influential to many writers.

  14. shah8
    shah8 June 7, 2011 at 5:40 pm |

    Well, I do realize it’s about powerful. I was even going to say something about how vague the definition of powerful that the author sets out. Then I decided not to talk about that definition, because it’s obviously a fluff piece. At least there *was* a definition, but I don’t find anything compelling about judging someone’s power by the number of books they sell. If there is one true thing in the art world, it’s that you can’t make very much money by doing art. So many writers, good and bad, have sold so many books and still be disrespected, and/or middle/working/lower class. When the author of a piece is calling a woman like Stephanie Meyer powerful, that makes me all tingly cynical. Seriously, Jill, if you were crafting a document for approval, and you have the choice of who you wish to have authority in acceptance or rejection, are you going to crave Meyer’s approval, or would you fear Byatt’s rejection? Isn’t this a better, more direct way to estimate power than some vague grab-bag of criteria? Hey! It’s easy to find out which is more powerful, just check out some of the vids by both authors!

  15. DaisyDeadhead
    DaisyDeadhead June 7, 2011 at 5:46 pm |

    What sarahhhh said, with emphasis.

  16. Kari
    Kari June 7, 2011 at 6:16 pm |

    @Christina- Stephanie Meyer is an awful writer. The relationship between Bella and Edward is abusive, Bella has no personality and Edward is creepy. It’s basically promoting unhealthy relationships. Harry Potter on the other hand is about choosing what is right over what is easy and taking responsibility for what may be thrust upon you. Hermione is a main character and she is a very strong, intelligent young woman (in the books), that I feel other young women should look up to.
    I may be a little biased, though… ;)

  17. Nahida
    Nahida June 7, 2011 at 6:27 pm |

    Why does it have to be called Ten Most Powerful Female Authors? Men have been creating lists like this for ages and calling them Ten Most Powerful Authors even though they haven’t even taken women authors into consideration, as if everyone in the human race is male.

    I say call it Ten Most Powerful Authors and let everyone be like WTF they’re all women! And then I want to be like, what–having them all be one sex is suddenly an issue now?

    /angry derail

  18. Shaun
    Shaun June 7, 2011 at 6:46 pm |

    Nahida,

    I want to have a party in your brain.

  19. miga
    miga June 7, 2011 at 9:09 pm |

    @ Christina:

    Comparing Stephanie Meyer to JK Rowling!?!?!? *Clutches wizard-pearls*

    I was going to attempt an intelligent response, but seeing as Kari wrote a much better one I’m going to say “word” to her instead. :p Me and HP go way back, whereas Stephanie Meyer can take her glittery vampire stalkers someplace else.

  20. Shaun
    Shaun June 7, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
  21. Matt
    Matt June 8, 2011 at 5:51 am |

    Shaun, i love you. that is one of my favorite xkcd comics of all time. makes fun of twitards and btards.

  22. vanessa
    vanessa June 8, 2011 at 8:32 am |

    Re Meyers vs Rowling, there is NO comparison. At all. I’ve read both, Twilight so that I could talk about it with teens I teach, and Rowling is just SO MUCH better than Meyers that it’s just….Meyers may have had commercial success, but her books are truly terrible. Rowlings are well written, well plotted and with strong narrative threads throughout. Meyers books are like Danielle Steele writing abstinence porn.

  23. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable June 8, 2011 at 9:06 am |

    Hey, how about we not use words that are at least partially rooted in “retard” just because that’s what all the super-edgy kids on 4chan do?

  24. Sharon Cullars
    Sharon Cullars June 8, 2011 at 10:52 am |

    I would have included Octavia Butler.

  25. Matt
    Matt June 9, 2011 at 8:44 am |

    PrettyAmiable:
    Hey, how about we not use words that are at least partially rooted in “retard” just because that’s what all the super-edgy kids on 4chan do?

    thats what they are called.

  26. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable June 9, 2011 at 9:04 am |

    Yeah, that’s what they call themselves. You don’t need to use their language when their language is rooted in ableism.

  27. Sungold
    Sungold June 12, 2011 at 12:16 am |

    Love sarahhh. Love Daisy. Love Margaret Atwood SINCE 1984 (yeah, I claim fanhood even before The Handmaid’s Tale).

    Ditto A.S. Byatt.

    What is “power” anyway, when it comes to writing? Sales? Or writing that will endure? I find it goofy that the WOC authors were all honored for writing of enduring worth (and rightly so) while the white women were singled out for sales. Ugh.

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