The Literary Ladies’ Guide to the Writing Life

Welcome to a site celebrating classic women authors who wrote enduring literature. 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.

Virginia Woolf wants you to write “For the good of the world”

Virginia Woolf

“I would ask you to write all kinds of books, hesitating at no subject however trivial or how vast. By hook or by crook, I hope you will possess yourselves of money enough to travel and to idle, to contemplate the future or the past of the world, to dream over books and loiter at street corners and let the line of thought dip deep into the stream.

For I am by no means confining you to fiction. If you would please me—and there are thousands like me—you would write books of travel and adventure, and research and scholarship, and history and biography, and criticism and philosophy and science. By so doing you will certainly profit the art of fiction. For books have a way of influencing each other. Read More→

Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf (January 21, 1882 – March 28, 1941), born Adeline Virginia Stephen in London, epitomized rare literary genius. Despite debilitating battles with mental breakdowns, Woolf produced a body of work considered among the most groundbreaking in twentieth century literature. Her father was a literary critic, and her mother a renowned beauty and artists’ model. Her mother’s sudden death when Virginia was 13 may have been the catalyst for the first of her recurrent nervous breakdowns.

As a young woman, Woolf developed her writer’s voice with a number of literary pursuits. She reviewed books for the Times Literary Supplement, wrote scores of articles and essays, and for a short time, taught English and history at Morley College in London (she herself had never earned a degree). Woolf started her first novel, The Voyage Out, in 1907;  after seven and a half years of toil, eventually completed and published it in 1915. Read More→

What White Publishers Won’t Print by Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston was an American novelist, memoirist, and folklorist. Her collection of essays, I Love Myself When I Am Laughing … and then again when i am looking mean and impressive was compiled and edited by Alice Walker in 2007. In what is called “A Zora Neale Hurston Reader,” The chapter titled What White Publishers Won’t Print discusses the lack of average black people appearing in literature and film. In it she wrote about the importance of accurate portrayal of society’s marginalized groups. 

In some ways this was ironic, because some African-American writers like Richard Wright criticized her for applying the “minstrel technique” to her characters and penned a scathing review of what is arguably Hurston’s best-known work, Their Eyes Were Watching God.  Still, she eloquently argued for the need for a broader range of portrayals of African-American life. Read More→

Do I Have Enough Wisdom to Be a Good Writer?

Zora Neale Hurston

Dear Literary Ladies,
Sometimes I feel that I don’t have enough life experience to be a good writer. Everything I write, in hindsight, looks rather shallow and inauthentic. Should I wait until I’ve lived more fully, and gain some wisdom, before I bare my soul to the public in writing, or should I just plow ahead?

I wrote Their Eyes Were Watching God in Haiti. It was dammed up in me, and I wrote it in seven weeks. I wish I could write it again. In fact, I regret all of my books. It is one of the tragedies of life that one cannot have all the wisdom one is ever to possess in the beginning. Read More→

Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) by Zora Neale Hurston

Their Eyes Were Watching God original cover

Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) is certainly the best known work by Zora Neale Hurston. Always somewhat controversial, it’s fascinating to discover what reviewers thought of it when it first came out. Here are two enthusiastic reviews, one from an Illinois newspaper, and one from Australia, from that era.

Freeport Journal-Standard (Freeport, Illinois) • Wed, Oct 6, 1937:  Their Eyes Were Watching God is the third and finest of Zora Neale Hurston’s penetrating novels of her own people.With intelligence and compassion, Miss Hurston tells the story of Janie, and of the three men she loved and lived with. Read More→