Skip to content

Women Writers and the Writers They Influence

Last week, old white male literary journalist Gay Talese (who, I must confess, I’ve never read anything by) attended a conference in Boston where he was asked by an audience member, old white female writer Verandah Porche (who, I must confess, I’ve never read anything by) (and despite the names, no, this isn’t a Thomas Pynchon story), what women writers he was influenced by. Talese said he couldn’t think of any.

In his defense, Talese grew up in a time that was pretty damn sexist, and he was apparently limiting his “writers of influence” to a very small corner of the writing world (literary journalism). But that defense is some weaksauce tea. Women writers aren’t some recent phenomenon, and if you’re only going to list your influences in a small pocket of a much larger field, you’re doing a disservice to your own writing and writers in general.

In response, John Scalzi posted an incomplete, off-the-top-of-his-head list of women writers who have influenced his writing. Some of the writers who have influenced me the most are women, so here’s my incomplete list, which includes fiction writers, poets, lyricists, and comedy writers (and doesn’t include the large number of women writers who I love but who don’t directly influence my own writing):

Erin Morgenstern
Catherynne M. Valente
Ursula K. LeGuin
Mary Shelley
Madeleine L’Engle
Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven
Gertrude Stein
Angela Carter
Tanith Lee
C.L. Moore
Jeanette Winterson
N.K. Jemisin
Jenny Lawson
Amy Poehler
Tina Fey
Kelly Link
Maggie Stiefvater
Charlie Jane Anders
Francesca Lia Block
Felicia Day
J.K. Rowling
Lisa Lutz
Diana Wynne Jones
Susanna Clarke
Elizabeth Fraser
Siouxsie Sioux

These writers have made my writing so much better. If you’re not reading diversely and stealing liberally, I think you’re writing is going to suck like boots in mud. I don’t want to read or write mud. I want writing that’s a sparkly, swirly rainbow.

And Gay? You’re never too old to get out of the mud, boyo.