16 Famous Female Authors (And Their Famous Works)

These famous female authors made a name for themselves in literature with their impeccable novels, poetry collections, and essays. You might even read one of their works under male pseudonyms. 

Margaret Atwood

photo of Margaret Atwood, a famous female author

Margaret Atwood is a Canadian writer celebrated for her contributions to science fiction, fantasy, and dystopian literature.

In the 1970s, Atwood’s work was published under the pen name M.A. Dupont. She used this name when she submitted her first novel to publishers because she was uncomfortable with being identified as a woman writing about women’s issues. 

By the 90s, she focused on historical fiction. The Heart Goes Last is her most recent novel. 

Her most famous books include;

  • The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) is about Offred, a woman forced into sexual slavery by the government in a dystopian future. This novel is considered as of one of the best books of all time.
  • Oryx and Crake (2003) is about two scientists trying to create a genetically modified human race called Crakers. In 2005, the book won the Hugo Award for Best Novel. 
  • The Year of the Flood (2009) occurs during an environmental catastrophe on Earth, which follows three people trying to survive after rising seas flood their city. The book won the Arthur C. Clarke Award and Nebula Award for Best Novel.

Virginia Woolf

black and white photo of Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf was the third child of Sir Leslie Stephen and Lady Jane Grey. She received private tutoring and began attending university at age 13. She earned her bachelor’s degree in English literature at University College London and then traveled to Paris to study art history.

Woolf followed this success with several novels and short stories throughout her lifetime. She began publishing her works in 1915 when she became the first female member of the Royal Academy of Arts.

Her most famous works include:

  • Mrs. Dalloway  (1925) won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction. The novel tells the story of four different women living in London during World War I. 
  • Orlando: A Biography (1928)
  • The Waves (1931)
  • To the Lighthouse won several awards, including the James Joyce Award for best novel of 1935-1936.

Toni Morrison

picture of Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison is a writer from the United States. She received her bachelor’s degree from Howard University and a Master’s degree from Princeton University. 

Morrison’s debut novel, The Bluest Eye, was published in 1970. Her work has been widely acclaimed since then, and she won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1993 for Beloved.

Morrison’s most famous works include:

  • The Bluest Eye (1970) In this book, she explores issues of race and identity through the lens of an African American girl named Pecola Breedlove.
  • Tar Baby (1981)
  • Beloved’s (1987) follows Sethe because she escapes with her daughter into freedom after escaping slavery during the Civil War. The story explores what freedom means for both mother and child as they try to make a new life together in Ohio after escaping slavery.

Jane Austen

Jane Austen was born in 1775. She was known for her novels about the social life of the English gentry during the early 19th century. Austen’s novels are known for their wit and social commentary, but they also focus on romance. Each book includes a happy ending that celebrates the love between two people who have been through many obstacles to find their happiness together.

Austen’s most famous works include:

  • Pride and Prejudice, published in 1813, follows the story of Elizabeth Bennet, who lives with her parents in their country estate, Longbourn. Elizabeth meets Mr. Darcy (rich but not likable), and they fall in love despite their differences. Mr. Collins, a friend of Mr. Darcy’s family, wants to marry Elizabeth so they can live together at Pemberley House, but she refuses because she doesn’t think Mr. Darcy would ever marry her if he knew she loved someone else first. 
  • Sense and Sensibility (1811) tells the story of two sisters who fall in love with different men and are torn apart by the social conventions and morals of the period.
  • Northanger Abbey (1817)
  • Persuasion

Zadie Smith

photo of Zadie Smith making a speech

Zadie Smith is one of Britain’s most accomplished writers and has received numerous awards for her work. She was born in 1975 and lived in London with her husband and two children.

In 2000, she won the Whitbread Prize for best first novel for White Teeth. The book was also adapted into a film by Mike Leigh in 2001.

She’s best known for her novels:

  • White Teeth  focuses on multicultural London through the eyes of two generations of black British women; it explores racism in Britain during this time and their culture’s relationship with class inequality (both within families and between cultures).
  • On Beauty: A Book About Words  examines how language can affect our understanding of the world around us through what she calls “the beauty” of words.
  • In NW (2003), Smith explores the idea of what it means to be black in London today.

Mary Shelley

painting of Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley was born on February 15, 1797, in London. She grew up to be an author in her own right, though her first published work was not until after she married Percy Shelley in 1814.

Her most famous works include:

  • Frankenstein (1818) tells the story of a scientist who creates a monster out of body parts he procures from corpses at graveyards and dissects them. He names his creation Victor Frankenstein but soon discovers that it has become too intelligent.
  • The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck is a novel about a man who claimed to be the lost Prince of Wales.
  • The Cenci (1819) is about a wicked count who killed his two sons and raped his own daughter.

George Elliot

George Eliot was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize in Literature for her contributions to 19th-century British literature. 

Elliot was a very prolific writer. She wrote over two hundred novels, more than two hundred articles for magazines and newspapers, and hundreds of poems. She was also an accomplished clergyman who served as a chaplain during the Crimean War and later became an Anglican bishop.

Her most famous works include:

  • The book Silas Marner is about a poor weaver who is the only person in his village with moral principles. The book was published in 1861 and described as “a parable of human redemption.”
  • The novel Middlemarch was published in 1871. It follows several characters over several years, exploring responsibility, morality, marriage, friendship, and love. The novella has been adapted into at least three different films. 
  • The Mill on the Floss is about a girl named Maggie Tulliver who lives with her family in poverty while her father works at a cotton mill. The novel was published in 1861 and became popular because of its realistic portrayal of working-class life.

Ursula K. Le Guin

black and white photo of female author Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin attended the University of Oregon and earned a master’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley. Her most famous work, The Left Hand of Darkness, won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1969.

She received many awards for her fiction, including the National Book Award for The Dispossessed (1974), later adapted into an opera by Robin Maconie and Judith Weir. She also received an award from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 2008.

Her most famous works include:

Jhumpa Lahiri

photo of Jhumpa Lahiri, famous female authors

Jhumpa Lahiri is a celebrated American author whose work has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize three times. In addition, she’s won an American Book Award, and she’s written several books about her own experiences in India.

Her most famous works include: 

Charlotte Brontë

Charlotte Brontë, one of the most prolific and well-known female authors in history, was born in Thornton, Yorkshire 1816. She began writing early and published her first novel in 1846 under her maiden name Currer Bell. She also wrote under the pen names Ellis Bell and Acton Ellis.

Her most famous works include:

  • Jane Eyre (1847) is a story of a young, orphaned girl sent to live with her aunt and uncle, where she meets Mr. Rochester, a wealthy gentleman looking for a wife.
  • Shirley (1849) is a short story about the perils of modern marriage and the price people pay for the privilege of being married at all.
  • Agnes Grey (1869) is the tale of a young governess who becomes the guardian of an orphaned boy. The book explores the conflict between Agnes’ desire for love and acceptance, on the one hand, and her need to protect herself from Edward, her employer and once a suitor, on the other hand.

Edith Wharton

photo of Edith Wharton, one of the most famous female authors

Edith Wharton was an American novelist and short story writer noted for her sophistication and wit. She was born in New York City in 1862. She is considered one of the most influential writers of the 1920s. Wharton’s writing style is complex and innovative, with a strong sense of place and characterization. Her novels are known for their depth, psychological insight, and historical context.

Her most famous works include;

Elena Ferrante

Elena Ferrante was born in Naples in 1948. She is an Italian novelist and journalist. Ferrante has been described as a literary phenomenon, with multiple readers claiming she is one of the most influential writers in contemporary Italian literature. In 2015, she was awarded a Cervantes Prize for her contribution to Spanish language literature.

Ferrante’s most famous works include:

  • My Brilliant Friend (1999) tells the story of two young women from Naples who reconnect years later when one returns to their neighborhood after years away studying art history in Florence. The novel explores themes of identity and belonging by examining women’s relationships within families and communities.
  • The Days of Abandonment  (2012) explores similar themes through the life-long friendship between two young women from Naples: Lila and Lenia. However, unlike My Brilliant Friend, this novel does not focus on an individual character but rather on how individuals form relationships with others over time through shared experiences such as growing up together or becoming part of a family unit.
  • The Lost Daughter (1973)

Maya Angelou

photo of female author Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou is one of the famous female authors and civil rights activists born in 1928. She was also an educator, singer, and dancer. 

She won many awards for her works, including two Pulitzer Prizes, two Grammys, and an Emmy Award. 

Angelou also received honorary doctorates from Harvard University in 1977 and Yale University in 1989. Her pen name, “Maya,” was inspired by the name of the goddess of the Nile River, who gave the world fertility.

Her most famous works are: 

Louisa May Alcott

picture of Louisa May Alcott, a famous female author

Louisa May Alcott is one of the famous female authors and poets best known for her novel Little Women. 

She was born in 1832. She received many awards, including the honorary degree from Yale University in 1878 and the Medal of Honor from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Her most famous works include:

Alice Walker

Alice Walker is one of the famous female authors for her novels about women’s struggles with race. Walker’s famous works include The Color Purple, Meridian, and The Temple of My She grew up in poverty as the daughter of sharecroppers but was able to attend college after winning a scholarship. She earned two master’s degrees from Yale University and taught at Spelman College for two years before becoming a full-time writer.

Her most well-known works are

  • Her debut novel, The Color Purple, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1983. In 1985, the book was adapted into a movie starring Oprah Winfrey and Whoopi Goldberg. 
  • Meridian (1986)won the National Book Critics Circle Award.
  • Possessing the Secret of Joy (1991), a finalist for the National Book Award

Emily Brontë

painting of Emily Brontë

Emily Brontë was born in 1818 in Thornton Hall, her father’s estate, Patrick Brontë. She spent much of her childhood living with her aunt and uncle in Scarborough, Yorkshire. As a young woman, she published poems under the name “E. Gaskell,” but it was not until 1846 that she began to publish them under her name.

Emily Brontë is best known for: 

  • Wuthering Heights the story follows Heathcliff’s character as he develops into a violent and vengeful man-child. The book became popular despite its graphic depictions of violence against women.

Final Thoughts

And there you have it – a list of famous female authors and essayists known for their impeccable writing and best-selling novels. Did we leave other famous female authors? Let us know in the comments!

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