Updated: Jul 31
In honor of Women’s History Month, we have asked some of our women writers to tell us about the female authors who inspired them. From business gurus to experts in overcoming personal struggles, the authors chosen are not only inspiring examples of writers whose work can change lives but whose own lives are as compelling as their work.
Jenifer DeBellis, author of Warrior Sister, Cut Yourself Free
One author, in particular, stands out among the many I cherish. She is Bonnie Jo Campbell and she is exceptional for both her writing and for her ability to teach and mentor as she did for me. She took an interest in my work early on and I am forever grateful to her. As an undergrad, I was introduced to BJC and to her short story collection, American Salvage.
The stories tell of characters whose lives have been spent as outcasts; they are often characters who have been somehow broken or abused, abandoned or neglected or both and they are written in a stark and powerful way.
While I studied classic writers like Poe, Plath, Garcia-Marques, Kafka and Woolf, the chance to study with a living author was especially meaningful. And with BJC, this opportunity was even more compelling since her writing explores the same kind of mundane world populated with disenfranchised people that I write about too. We are both deeply curious about these lives. Bonnie Jo Campbell is an extraordinary soul, storyteller, mentor and writer who nurtures writers and who should be read by anyone interested in good stories and great writing.
Liz Ferro, author of Finish Line Feeling
Maya Angelou’s entire life is as worthy of admiration as is her work. Like Angelou, I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. The way that she has corralled her own experiences and transformed them into meaning and art speaks powerfully to me.
The obstacles she faced fueled her perseverance and paved the way to a writing career after many years of surviving by doing just about any job she could find -- dancer, performer, streetcar driver. Her unique, autobiographical writing style is both beautiful and elevating, as is her book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. She is an extraordinarily talented and extremely inspiring writer for whom I have endless admiration.
Mary-Anne Kennedy, author of How to Become a Medium
It is too difficult to select one writer out of so many I have loved. So instead, I’ll pick a book. Perhaps more than any other work it is Lynne McTaggert’s book, The Field: The Quest for the Secret Forces of the Universe that has had the greatest influence on me.
I have no doubt about the tremendous amount of courage, curiosity, and rigor that went into such a fascinating and thorough study of a complicated subject. This journey ultimately holds the capacity to radically shift how we see the world around us, most especially our connections to one another.
Helene Lerner, author of Confidence Booster
I love Maya Angelou’s uplifting poem, “Phenomenal Woman.” She conveys a great sense of pride in the diverse achievements of women. Maya Angelou herself embodies confidence; and her self-assurance is so well-deserved. Her poetry has the power to alter anyone’s perspective and inspire change.
Through her work, she reminds us that we alone are responsible for the lives we live. She teaches us to reject society's beauty standards and stresses the importance of recognizing that real beauty comes from self-confidence, and self-acceptance and respect for the self as well as for others. and respect for the self as well as for others.
Anne Schober, author of Writing Through the Mess
Some of my favorite authors are the ones whose books resonated with me at particular moments in my life. As a young child, I loved the Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder. The simplicity of the time period and the beauty of Wilder’s words helped me to envision a world in which I dreamed of living. My view of life grew – as did my imagination of what could be possible. It was a magical world because despite the family’s hardships and struggles to survive, the relationships and family life were filled with love, humanity and goodness.
In high school, I was introduced to Emily Dickinson. The rawness contained in each of her poems made me realize the powerful potential of words and the heights Dickinson achieved in verse. I craved her words and learned all I could about her.
In college, Alice Sebold saved me. Her memoir, Lucky, seemed as if it was written just for me. It was through her that I realized I could write my own story and hopefully one day, save someone else in return.
Today, I read books by Lisa Garner, Jodi Picolut, Lucy Foley and others. But the poetry of Amanda Gorman has had the strongest effect on me. I admire the eloquence – and the power and truth – behind each of her words and I know she was put on this earth to share her gifts with all of us. Someday, I hope my words will do the same.
Ally Shaw, author of Chasing Tigers in the Dark: Life Lessons of a Fierce Survivor
I am the mother of six daughters (and one son) all of whom I am proud to call mine. It was during a particularly difficult parenting season that I discovered Brené Brown.
One of my daughters was suffering a severe crisis and barely existing in a black hole of self harm and crippling anxiety. The day I had to check her into a psychiatric facility, I felt part of myself die. As I sat in a puddle of my own tears, my daughter’s therapist lent me Brené’s book, Dare to Lead. And it was then that I discovered that Brené had a unique way of normalizing the conversation around mental health struggles by unpacking the difficult emotions of fear and shame.
Her openness about her own parenting challenges inspired me to be a better mom, one with a more empathetic ear. In a world with constant distractions, crises, pressures and loss, becoming more aware of another person’s needs can completely change lives and relationships. Brené’s guidance during that hard season allowed me to cultivate the strongest relationship I could ever imagine with my hurting daughter.