12 Biographies and Memoirs About Bad*ss Women
It’s International Women’s Day, and we’re celebrating with books from independent publishers that highlight some bad*ss women; from warriors to writers, musicians, and feminist revolutionaries.
If you’d like to purchase any of these books, we’d highly recommend seeking out your local independent bookstore. Your business helps ensure the survival of these vital cultural institutions during this difficult time.
Frantumaglia: A Writer’s Journey by Elena Ferrante
The writer known as Elena Ferrante has taken pains to hide her identity in the hope that readers would focus on her body of work. But in this volume, she invites us into Elena Ferrante’s workshop and offers a glimpse into the drawers of her writing desk—those drawers from which emerged her three early standalone novels and the four installments of the Neapolitan Novels, the New York Times–bestselling “enduring masterpiece” (The Atlantic).
Consisting of over twenty years of letters, essays, reflections, and interviews, it is a unique depiction of an author who embodies a consummate passion for writing. In these pages, Ferrante answers many of her readers’ questions. She addresses her choice to stand aside and let her books live autonomous lives. She discusses her thoughts and concerns as her novels are being adapted into films. She talks about the challenge of finding concise answers to interview questions. She explains the joys and the struggles of writing, the anguish of composing a story only to discover that that story isn’t good enough. She contemplates her relationship with psychoanalysis, with the cities she has lived in, with motherhood, with feminism, and with her childhood as a storehouse for memories, impressions, and fantasies. The result is a vibrant and intimate self-portrait of a writer at work.
Art is a Tyrant by Catherine Hewitt
A new biography of the wildly unconventional 19th-century animal painter and gender equality pioneer Rosa Bonheur.
Rosa Bonheur was the very antithesis of the feminine ideal of 19th-century society. She was educated, she shunned traditional ‘womanly’ pursuits, she rejected marriage – and she wore trousers. But the society whose rules she spurned accepted her as one of their own, because of her genius for painting animals. She shared an intimate relationship with the eccentric, self-styled inventor Nathalie Micas, who nurtured the artist like a wife. Together Rosa, Nathalie and Nathalie’s mother bought a chateau and with Rosa’s menagerie of animals the trio became one of the most extraordinary households of the day. Catherine Hewitt’s compelling new biography is an inspiring evocation of a life lived against the rules.
Mean by Myriam Gurba
True crime, memoir, and ghost story collide in Mean, the bold and hilarious tale of Myriam Gurba’s coming of age as a queer, mixed-race Chicana. Blending radical formal fluidity and caustic humor, Gurba takes on sexual violence, small towns, and race, turning what might be tragic into piercing, revealing comedy. This is a confident, intoxicating, brassy book that takes the cost of sexual assault, racism, misogyny, and homophobia deadly seriously.
Andrea Dworkin: The Feminist as Revolutionary by Martin Duberman
Fifteen years after her death, Andrea Dworkin remains one of the most important and challenging figures in second-wave feminism. Although frequently relegated to its more radical fringes, Dworkin was, without doubt, a formidable and influential writer, a philosopher, and an activist—a brilliant figure who inspired and infuriated in equal measure. Her many detractors were eager to reduce her to the caricature of the angry, man-hating feminist who believed that all sex was rape, and as a result, her work has long been misunderstood. It is in recent years, especially with the rise of the #MeToo movement, that there has been a resurgence of interest in her ideas.
Find Where the Wind Goes by Dr. Mae Jemison
Mae Jemison made history as the first woman of color in space. But she’s also taken center stage as an actress, scientist, doctor, and teacher–not to mention all of the “top ten” lists she’s made, including People’s 50 Most Beautiful People and the 1999 White House Project’s list of the seven women most likely to be elected President. The adventures of her life make for a truly compelling read. To top it all, with her charming sense of humor, Mae is a remarkable storyteller. The variety and richness of Mae Jemison’s experiences will inspire every reader who picks up this book.
Violence Girl by Alice Bag
The proximity of the East L.A. barrio to Hollywood is as close as a short drive on the 101 freeway, but the cultural divide is enormous. Born to Mexican-born and American-naturalized parents, Alicia Armendariz migrated a few miles west to participate in the free-range birth of the 1970s punk movement. Alicia adopted the punk name Alice Bag, and became lead singer for The Bags, early punk visionaries who starred in Penelope Spheeris’ documentary The Decline of Western Civilization.
Here is a life of many crossed boundaries, from East L.A.’s musica ranchera to Hollywood’s punk rock; from a violent male-dominated family to female-dominated transgressive rock bands. Alice’s feminist sympathies can be understood by the name of her satiric all-girl early Goth band Castration Squad.
Violence Girl takes us from a violent upbringing to an aggressive punk sensibility; this time a difficult coming-of-age memoir culminates with a satisfying conclusion, complete with a happy marriage and children. Nearly a hundred excellent photographs energize the text in remarkable ways.
How to Lose Everything by Christa Couture
From the amputation of her leg as a cure for bone cancer at a young age to her first child’s single day of life, the heart transplant and subsequent death of her second child, the divorce born of mourning and then the thyroidectomy that threatened her career as a professional musician, Christa Couture’s How to Lose Everything delves into the heart of loss.
Couture has come to know every corner of grief—its shifting blurry edges, its traps, its pulse of love at the center and the bittersweet truth that sorrow is a powerful and wise emotion. Couture bears witness to the shift in perspective that comes with loss, and how it can deepen compassion for others, expand understanding, inspire a letting go of little things and plant a deeper feeling for what matters. At the same time, Couture’s writing evokes the joy and lightness that both precede and eventually follow grief, as well as the hope and resilience that grow from connections with others.
Evoking Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking and Rachel Cusk’s A Life’s Work, Couture explores the emotional and psychological experiences of motherhood, partnership and change. Deftly connecting the dots of sorrow, reprieve and hard-won hope, How to Lose Everything contains the advice Couture is often asked for, as well as the words she wishes she could have heard many years ago. It is also an offering of kinship and understanding for anyone experiencing a loss.
Just a Girl: Growing Up Female and Ambitious by Lucinda Jackson
Just A Girl is the sensitive, personal story of the author’s ambition to become and succeed as a scientist during the “white man in power” era of the 1950s to 2010s. In the male-dominated science world, she struggles from girlhood unworthiness to sexist battles in jobs on the farms and in the restaurants of America, in academia’s laboratories and field research communities, and in the executive corner office. Jackson overcomes pain, shame, and self-blame, learns to believe in herself when others don’t, and becomes a champion for others. The turbulent legal and social background of sexual harassment and sexism in America over seven decades is delivered as “history with emotion.” Just a Girl is also a call to action: it identifies the court cases and lawsuits that helped advance the cultural changes we see today; outlines the pressing need for a Boys and Men Liberation (BAML) movement; highlights new approaches by parents; advocates for changes in our universities; and suggests a different direction for corporate America to take to stop the cycle of sexual harassment. Eye-opening and inspiring, it points the way to a brighter future for women everywhere.
The Latehomecomer by Kao Kalia Yang
During the First and the Second Indochina Wars, France and the United States recruited thousands of Hmong people in Laos to fight against forces from North and South Vietnam and the communist Pathet Lao insurgents. The CIA operation is known as the Secret War.
The Latehomecomer is the story of one Hmong family’s harrowing escape from war in Laos to the uncertainty of a new home as refugees in Minnesota.
The War Queens by Jonathan W. Jordan and Emily Anne Jordan
History’s killer queens come in all colors, ages, and leadership styles. Elizabeth Tudor and Golda Meir played the roles of high-stakes gamblers who studied maps with an unblinking, calculating eye. Angola’s Queen Njinga was willing to shed (and occasionally drink) blood to establish a stable kingdom in an Africa ravaged by the slave trade. Caterina Sforza defended her Italian holdings with cannon and scimitar, and Indira Gandhi launched a war to solve a refugee crisis.
From ancient Persia to modern-day Britain, the daunting thresholds these exceptional women had to cross—and the clever, sometimes violent ways in which they smashed obstacles in their paths—are evoked in vivid detail. The narrative sidles up to these war queens in the direst, most tumultuous moments of their reigns and examines the brilliant methods and maneuvers they each used to defend themselves and their people from enemy forces.
Rust Belt Femme by Raechel Anne Jolie
Raechel Anne Jolie’s early life in a working-class Cleveland exurb was full of race cars, Budweiser-drinking men covered in car grease, and the women who loved them. After her father came home from his third-shift job, took the garbage out to the curb and was hit by a drunk driver, her life changed. Raechel and her mother struggled for money: they were evicted, went days without utilities, and took their trauma out on one another. Raechel escaped to the progressive suburbs of Cleveland Heights, leaving the tractors and ranch-style homes home in favor of a city with vintage marquees, music clubs, and people who talked about big ideas. It was the early 90s, full of Nirvana songs and chokers, flannel shirts and cut-off jean shorts, lesbian witches and local coffee shops. Rust Belt Femme is the story of how these twin foundations—rural Ohio poverty and alternative 90s culture—made Raechel into who she is today: a queer femme with PTSD and a deep love of the Midwest.
Coming Full Circle by Wanda Smalls Lloyd
Wanda Smalls Lloyd’s Coming Full Circle: From Jim Crow to Journalism—with a foreword by best-selling author Tina McElroy Ansa—is the memoir of an African American woman who grew up privileged and educated in the restricted culture of the American South in the 1950s–1960s. Her path was shaped by segregated social, community, and educational systems, religious and home training, a strong cultural foundation, and early leadership opportunities. Despite Jim Crow laws that affected where she lived, how she was educated, and what civil rights she would be denied, Lloyd grew up to realize her childhood dream of working as a professional journalist. In fact, she would eventually hold some of the nation’s highest-ranking newspaper editorial positions and become one of the first African American women to be the top editor of a mainstream daily newspaper. Along the way she helped her newspapers and other media organizations understand how the lack of newsroom and staff diversity interfered with perceptions of accuracy and balance for their audiences. Her memoir is thus a window on the intersection of race, gender, culture and the media’s role in our uniquely American experiment in democracy. How Lloyd excelled in a profession where high-ranking African American women were rare is a memorable story that will educate, entertain, and inspire. Coming Full Circle is a self-reflective exploration of the author’s life journey from growing up in coastal Savannah, Georgia, to editing roles at seven daily newspapers around the country, and circling back to her retirement in Savannah, where she now teaches journalism to a new generation.