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.

Dear Literary Ladies

What’s scarier, failure or success?

harper lee

Dear Literary Ladies,
Sometimes I wonder what I’m more afraid of—failure, or success? In its own way, the prospect of success seems daunting. And I know I’m not alone. Did any of you find the idea of actually succeeding as scary and incomprehensible as I do?

I never expected any sort of success with [To Kill a] Mockingbird. I didn’t expect the book to sell in the first place. I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of reviewers, but at the same time I sort of hoped that maybe someone would like it enough to give me encouragement. Public encouragement. I hoped for a little, as I said, but I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening as the quick, merciful death I’d expected.

—Harper Lee, from a 1964 interview

Featured Essay

What Anaïs Nin’s Diaries Have Meant to Generations of Women

Anais Nin

For Anaïs Nin, writing was as essential as breathing, and this need inspired the Diaries series for which she is best known. What started as a one woman’s personal quest for identity and meaning ended by becoming a series of published books that delved into universal issues affecting women in all walks of life. Her diaries became touchstones for a generation of women, and Nin herself became a feminist icon.

. . . . . . . . . .

“You taught me to be a woman of tenderness”

By the standards of today’s confessional media, Nin’s frank writings may no longer seem as revolutionary as they did just a generation ago (though the fact that she maintained two marriages simultaneously continues to astonish). In the final volume of The Diary of Anaïs Nin* (Volume Seven, 1966–1974), she delights in sharing snippets from the countless letters of gratitude she received from women everywhere, in all walks of life: Read More→

Featured Author

Lovelace, Maud Hart

Maud Hart Lovelace

Maud Hart Lovelace (April 26,1892 –  March 11, 1980) was an American author best know for the Betsy-Tacy series of books for girls. Born and raised in Mankato, Minnesota, she enjoyed a happy childhood filled with friends, culture, and a loving family As soon as she could hold a pencil, she began writing stories and poems.

Maud Hart started her college studies the University of Minnesota, but shortly thereafter had to withdraw for health reasons. Escaping to the sun and warmth of  California to rest and recover, she lost no time in selling her first story to the Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine. Only 18 years old at that time, that bit of good fortune paved the way for her writing ambitions.

Once recuperated and back to her studies, Maud continued to write and sell stories. College seemed less of a drew. She dropped out for good and instead she traveled solo to Europe to gather inspiration for her writing. In the spring of 1917, upon returning to her home base, the Wakefield Publicity Bureau offered a steady day job. She was hired to replace Delos Lovelace, a young writer who was headed off First Officers Training Camp. At a dinner hosted to hand off the position, the two hit it off and were married before the year was out. Read More→

Classic Book Reveiew

The Solitary Summer (1899) by Elizabeth Von Arnim – a review

The solitary summer by Elizabeth von Arnim (1899) - cover

From the original review of The Solitary Summer in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 1899: One of the very best books of the present publishing season is The Solitary Summer, by the author of Elizabeth and Her German Garden.* It reminds one strongly of My Summer in a Garden, but only in is good natured despair over what every garden lover knows is the inevitable. Charles Dudley Warner’s battle with weeds was no word than this author’s, who discovers that all her expensive bulbs and sees have turned out to be nettles.

The identity of the genteel gardener is purposely veiled. She pretends to be German born and carefully avoids any reference to America, but there is internal evidence that she is American. No Englishwoman or German ever spoke of “the thermometer being in the nineties.” Secondly she knows far too much about American authors to pass herself off for a foreigner. German housewives do not wander about their gardens with Throreau in hand, nor are they familiar with Oliver Wendell Holmes and Hawthorne. Few of them know Carlyle, and American women have been foremost worshippers at his shrine. Read More→