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lip top 10: kickarse women writers

1. Aphra Behn

Day Job: Author of almost 30 plays, novels, short stories and poems in the latter half of the 17th century.
Night Job: Spy!

Okay, that’s not entirely accurate, but I think it sounds way cooler when I say it that way. She was indeed recruited to be a political spy by Charles II to Antwerp, Belgium, but her mission was fruitless and Charlie boy had some issues when it came to paying her, both for her job and her expenses. Behn had to borrow money to return to London, and ended up in a debtor’s prison as a result. It was only after she was released from prison that she began writing. I still think being a political spy is pretty cool though.

2. Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette
Despite producing dozens of notable works over the entire first half of the 20th century, the most notable of which was Gigi (which later had both film and stage adaptations), Colette was more known for her series of lovers that included men, women and her stepson. She also nearly caused a riot when performing at the Moulin Rouge in 1907 by sharing an onstage kiss with a woman, creating so much uproar police had the be called.

Scandal aside, she also hid Jews in her basement during Germany’s occupation of France during World War II.

3. Alice Walker
Remember that film starring Whoopi Goldberg about the abused African-American woman which was nominated for a heap of Academy Awards, The Color Purple? Well Alice Walker wrote the original novel, and won a swag of awards for it.

She was also an activist for the Civil Rights Movement, withstanding threats from the Ku Klux Klan for marrying a white man and moving to Mississippi. She is currently fighting for democracy in Iraq, and the rights of women and children in war torn countries, going so far as to call the United States and Israel terrorist organisations. She said, “When you terrorize people, when you make them so afraid of you that they are just mentally and psychologically wounded for life – that’s terrorism.” It’s certainly food for thought.

4. Grace Paley
Along with her highly awarded writing of (mainly) short stories and poetry, Paley was known for her activism and pacifism. She protested against nuclear proliferation, American militarisation and the Vietnam War, joining the War Resisters League. In 1969 she accompanied a peace mission to Hanoi, Vietnam, the aim of which was to negotiate the release of prisoners of war. She then was a delegate to the World Peace Conference in Moscow in 1974, and managed to get herself arrested for unfurling an anti-nuclear banner on the White House lawn in 1978.

5. Judy Blume
I’d say most of you have heard of Judy Blume, and a lot of you have probably read Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, but she also writes for adults and younger children.

Writing about puberty and morality has lead to her books being banned in a lot of libraries, and for this reason, Blume has become a crusader against censorship as part of the “National Coalition Against Censorship”.

Rather than ramble for a while about Blume’s awesomeness, I’ll just say that writing about the issues for kids that no one else will, and fighting for their right to read them is pretty kickarse to me.

 6. Maya Angelou
Works: Over 70 autobiographies, poetry collections, personal essays, children’s books, plays, films, recordings, spoken-word albums and television scripts.

Occupations: pimp, prostitute, night-club dancer and performer, cast member of the musical Porgy and Bess, coordinator for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, author, journalist in Egypt and Ghana, teacher, lecturer, and actor, writer, director, and producer.

She also holds 39 Honourary Degrees, has received almost 70 awards, and was Oprah Winfrey’s mentor. Bam!

7. Germaine Greer
Politics aside, it’s hard to deny that Germaine Greer has earned her place on the list. Whether it’s been about women’s liberation, Marxism, sexuality, birth control, Aboriginal rights or Steve Irwin, Greer’s opinions (such as those in her most well known work, The Female Eunuch) have landed her in a lot of hot water and made her a vocal proponent in public debate.

Okay, when I word it like that it sounds more like she’s just been writing letters to the editor, rather than dropping f bombs during speeches and making scathing personal comments about oppositional proponents, but I still stand by her inclusion here. I don’t agree with all the things she says or the way she sometimes says them, but good on her for having the guts to say them, and for still saying them after being knocked down time and time again.

8. Oodgeroo Noonuccal

Although she also wrote children’s literature and non-fiction, Oodgeroo Noonuccal was best known for poetry and activism for Aboriginal rights, including being a part of the campaign for the reform of the Australian Constitution, the goal of the reform being to give Aboriginal people full Australian citizenship.

Her poems were labelled propaganda for their strong activist themes, and her authorship was questioned because it was believed by some that Aboriginal people were not capable of what she was writing.

She was also committed to the education of children in remote areas, and education on Aboriginal culture.

9. George Sand
George Sand died in 1874 and over the course of her lifetime published 39 novels and 10 plays. Like Colette, she had several lovers (some rumoured to be female), including one Frederic Chopin. Yes, that Chopin.

What makes her awesome, though, isn’t just her sexual conduct (which was not becoming of a lady of that time), but her penchant for getting around like a guy. Sand was her male pen name (she was born Amantine Lucile Dupin), she chose to wear men’s clothing in public, she entered venues women were not normally permitted in, and she smoked tobacco in public. Scandalous!

10. Dorothy Parker
Parker was best known for her poetry, but also dabbled in plays and short stories, and started her career writing theatre reviews for Vanity Fair. Her writing itself was not particularly controversial, but while working in Hollywood in the 1930s and 40s she became increasingly involved in advocating civil liberties and civil rights, and was eventually labelled a Communist and landed herself on the Hollywood Blacklist.

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