The Literary Ladies’ Guide to the Writing Life

Welcome to a site celebrating classic women authors who wrote in the English language. Here you’ll find their words of wisdom for readers and writers. Enjoy their life stories and quotations; learn more about their books; read their advice on the writing life; and enjoy contemporary voices on the writing process.

How can a writer deal with rejection?

L.M. Montgomery

Dear Literary Ladies,
I know that rejection is part of a writer’s life, but every time one submits something that gets turned down, it’s hard not to feel crushed. How did you learn to cope with it, and not take it personally?

After leaving Prince of Wales College I taught school for a year in Bideford, Prince Edward Island. I wrote a good deal and learned a good deal, but my stuff came back except from two periodicals the editors of which evidently thought that literature was its own reward, and quite independent of monetary considerations. I often wonder that I did not give up in utter discouragement.

At first I used to feel dreadfully hurt when a story or poem over which I had laboured and agonized came back, with one of those icy little rejection slips. Tears of disappointment would come in spite of myself, as I crept away to hide the poor, crimpled manuscript in the depths of my trunk. But after a while I got hardened to it and did not mind. I only set my teeth and said, “I will succeed.” I believed in myself and I struggled on alone, in secrecy and silence. I never told my ambitions and efforts and failures to any one. Down, deep down, under all discouragements and rebuff I knew I would “arrive” some day.

L.M. Montgomery, The Alpine Path, 1917

Ann Petry

Ann Petry by Carl Van Vechten

Ann Petry (October 12, 1908 – April 28, 1997) was the first African-American woman to produce a book (The Street) whose sales topped one million (ultimately it would sell a million and a half copies). Born and raised in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, Ann Lane was the daughter of Peter Clark Lane, a pharmacist, and Bertha James Lane, a podiatrist. Encounters with the pervasive racism that permeated American life in their time were relatively rare — though not entirely absent — in the sheltered life that the Lanes provided for Ann and her siblings.

Ann eventually followed in her father’s footsteps to become a pharmacist, but always wanted to write. She was an avid reader who was particularly taken with Louisa May Alcott’s Jo March as a fictional heroine and role model for her writerly aspirations.

In 1938, she married George Petry, and the couple moved to Harlem. There she began a writing career in earnest, working as a journalist, columnist, and editor. She took writing courses at Columbia University and participated in Harlem’s American Negro Theatre in the 1940s. Read More→

Jane and I — a Love Affair for Life


Contributed by Jillian M.G. Fuller. I was eleven. My sixth-grade class was participating in a reading challenge, recording all of the books we read on a giant chart so that we could see how many we finished by the end of the year. For some reason, I took the challenge quite literally and really strove to challenge myself. I still don’t know why I got it into my head to find the biggest, thickest books on the school bookshelf with the biggest, longest words.

It’s not like I still didn’t enjoy the Babysitters Club series or Ella Enchanted. But while I don’t remember the inspiration that drove me to check out Great Expectations, or Dr. Doolittle, or Wuthering Heights, I did. My little head did not understand every word or plot point or character development, but it did take in enough to realize that there was so much to discover beyond the books I had read before. None of the three books I mentioned above became favorites. In fact, I have never yet reread them. But one classic stuck. And her name is Jane Eyre. Read More→

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1956) by Patricia Highsmith — a review

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith (1956 cover)

From the original review in the Bridgeport Telegram, February 1956.  Tom Ripley, hero of this story by Patricia Highsmith, is indeed talented, in peculiar ways. His are the talents which make a successful criminal ingenuity, a flair for luxury, the ability to turn any situation to his own benefit. A chance meeting in a New York bar becomes for him an avenue to easy living in Italy — on someone else’s money.

Curiously enough, he has few gifts beside the aforementioned, and few real interests. He has no friends of either sex; he is a completely self-centered individual who believes in taking what he can get. As his Italian mission draws to a close, unaccomplished, Ripley soon sees that it has become necessary to turn to murder to secure a continuation of his very pleasant position. He is not one to blanch at such a necessity. Soon he is involved in the precarious business of covering up his tracks. Read More→