Women Authors for Women’s History Month
by Rhonna Hargett, Associate Director of Learning and Information Services
Women have been sharing their stories for centuries. They have often been disrespected or pushed into the background, but from Sappho to Phyllis Wheatley, Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, Zora Neale Hurston, Sandra Cisneros, and Amy Tan, women have written down their perspectives of the world. Manhattan Public Library is celebrating women authors for Women’s History Month in March. The female authors of the past have paved the way for the current rich selection of fantastic books by women.
Sleeping Beauty is one of the more troubling of the classic fairy tales when viewed through the lens of modern values, but in “A Spindle Splintered,” author Alix E. Harrow manages to reform it into a story of women’s strength. Due to a rare illness, Zinnia Gray has known her entire life that it is unlikely she will reach the age of 22. Her illness drew her to the story of Sleeping Beauty from a young age, so her best friend Charm creates a themed party based on the tale for Zinnia’s 21st (and likely last) birthday, even set in a tower, with a spindle at the ready. But the magic of the party becomes all too real when Zinnia pricks her finger on the spindle, finds herself spinning through time and space, and encounters other “Sleeping Beauties” living their own stories. “A Spindle Splintered” is an engaging tale full of adventure, reflection, renewed hope, and strong women.
Some women’s stories have been written in thread. In the nonfiction narrative “All That She Carried,” author Tiya Miles shares the story of a sack that was found at a flea market. It was embroidered with the story of an enslaved mother named Rose, packing up this sack with a few necessities for her beloved daughter Ashley, who was soon to be sold to another household. In 1921, it was embroidered by Ashley’s granddaughter Ruth, “It held a tattered dress 3 handfulls of pecans a braid of Roses hair. Told her ‘It be filled with my Love always.’” Miles, a Harvard history professor, carefully weaves together the researched history of the item with the representational power that it carries. She tells how strongly the sack affects visitors in the National Museum of African American History and Culture, where it now resides. People have been brought to tears by this evidence of the cruelty of American slavery that also clearly demonstrates a mother’s hope for her daughter. Although the book is full of researched details, Miles’ engaging writing style draws one in and brings life to two women who lived over a century ago. “All That She Carried,” like Ashley’s sack, tells a brutal story combined with hope for a better future.
Isabel Allende captured the attention of readers throughout the world in 1982 with her book of magical realism, “The House of the Spirits.” She has since published 26 books, a mix of fiction and nonfiction, making her one of the most read Spanish-language authors in the world. Her books cover many different subjects, but her stories often give us a view of the lives of women and how they affect and are affected by the world around them. Her book “A Long Petal of the Sea” is about the Dalmaus, a Spanish family living in the midst of civil war. We follow Victor, an Army doctor, and Roser, his brother’s pregnant young widow as they flee over the mountainous French border and finally to Chile. They arrive to a country and a family that neither one of them wanted, but they are survivors and eventually find a new version of home. In “A Long Petal of the Sea,” Allende once again demonstrates her trademark ability to show the small moments of beauty that exist in even the most difficult of circumstances.
Manhattan Public Library’s celebration of female authors is part of our ReadMHK program. Go to www.mhklibrary.org to find lists of recommended books and our podcast, and join us for a book discussion focused on women authors on the evening of Thursday, March 17th.