Women’s Literary History Icons

Tuesday, Oct 13, 2020

Written by Adiki Puplampu, Writing Centre Peer Tutor, Bachelor of Communication Studies Class of 2021 


Numerous women have defined the course of literary history. From Sappho to Margaret Atwood, ancient and modern literature has been affected by the contributions of female writers. This women’s history month the Writing Centre and the Library would like to profile just three of the many writers who have paved the way for women in literature.  


Murasaki Shikibu

Murasaki Shikibu is credited as the author of the first modern full-length novel, The Tale of Genji (Encyclopedia Britannica; Ahlin, 2017). Shikibu (likely not her real name) was born around 978 and was a lady-in-waiting in the Japanese Imperial Court. Her novel chronicles the romantic exploits of her title character, Prince Genji, and offers a unique insight into the aristocratic culture of the time. Originally written around 1005, the book was first translated into English in 1935 by Arthur Waley. If you’re interested in reading her novel, the library has a copies of The Tale of Genji available to borrow.   



An acclaimed 6th century BCE poet, Sappho is often referred to as the first female writer (Trobetta, 2017). While little is known about the details of her life, she is considered both a feminist and LGBTQ+ icon (Trobetta, 2017; Mendelsohn, 2017). The Library has ebook collections of her poetry available to read! 


Octavia Butler  

A science-fiction legend, Butler is lauded for her exploration of the Black female experience in America (Trobetta, 2017). She is considered the “godmother of Afro-futurism” an aesthetic that has influenced shows like Black Mirror and the art of celebrities like Beyoncé (“The Relevant Genius”, 2018, para. 2). She was the first science fiction writer to receive the MacArthur Fellowship, better known as the “Genius Grant,” which was just one of many literary awards she would receive throughout her career (Trobetta, 2017). Electronic copies of her novels Parable of the Sower and Kindred are available through the library.  


This article is just a glimpse into the history of women in literature. For information on more female literary icons, check out the sources cited below.  


Ahlin, C. (2017, March 7). 14 female authors who were ahead of their time. Bustle. https://www.bustle.com/p/14-female-authors-who-were-ahead-of-their-time-42522  

Trombetta, S. (2017, March 14). 13 female authors who have made history. Bustle. https://www.bustle.com/p/13-female-authors-who-have-broken-barriers-in-honor-of-womens-history-month-43724 

Encyclopedia Britannica. (n.d). Murasaki Shikibu. In Britannica. com. Retrieved October 8, 2020, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Shikibu-Murasaki  

The relevant genius of Octavia Butler. (2018, January 27). https://library.sva.edu/kaleidoscope/shelf-life/the-relevant-genius-of-octavia-butler-1