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.

No Time, No Privacy, No Self-Discipline: Blasting Through Writing Excuses

Daphne du Maurier's typewriter

Too much to do and too little time, no room of one’s own, and no willpower to simply sit down and write—those are the Big Three of “why I’m not writing” excuses. Those obstacles were as true for women writers in earlier generations as they are for today’s writers, as I discovered in researching the writing lives of classic authors of the past for The Literary Ladies’ Guide to the Writing Life.

Sure, you’re busy, but you may feel less overwhelmed when you learn that Harriet Beecher Stowe had seven children, and was in charge of all the household duties, aside from being responsible for bringing in at least half of its income. Still, she somehow found the wherewithal to complete Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a book that’s been credited with shifting public attitude about slavery when it was published in 1853. In times past, a writer was truly alone with the blank piece of paper.

Now, with most of us working on computers, fully wired, a new daily battle is fought against the constant distraction of the Internet, that sneaky demon lurking behind the blank page on the screen. How did writers past, the ones who ultimately succeeded gloriously, find time, privacy, and the will to write? Here are some nuggets of wisdom from several Literary Ladies: Read More→


Dorothy West

dorothy west

Dorothy West (June 2, 1907 – August 16, 1998) was an American author associated with the Harlem Renaissance. Born in Boston, she started writing as a child, and began receiving accolades and awards while still in her teens.

In 1926 she traveled to New York City to accept an award for one of her short stories and never left. Finding community in the city, West became part of the Harlem Renaissance and was known by her contemporaries as “The Kid,” an affectionate nickname given to her by poet Langston Hughes. Her writing is admired for the details and examinations of the African-American community, in areas such as gender, class, and social matters. Read More→


The Wedding: a Mini-series (1998)

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The Wedding , a mini-series that premiered on television in 1998, speaks to the intersections of race, gender and class oppression plaguing America in the mid-1950’s. Based on Dorothy West‘s novel The Wedding,  it starred Halle Berry, Eric Thal and Lynn Whitfield. The miniseries was adapted into a screenplay by Lisa Jones and produced by Oprah Winfrey’s company, Harpo Productions.

The setting of Martha’s Vineyard shows one aspect of wealth available to the main character, Shelby Cole. This character, played by Halle Berry, has access to the privilege of being mixed-race, from an upper-middle class home life and through her relationship with Meade Hall (played by Eric Thal), a white jazz pianist and composer. Read More→


How can a writer improve her craft?

Louisa May Alcott

Dear Literary Ladies,
What advice would you give a writer wanting to improve her craft? I read so many books on writing, and every one of them offers different techniques. Also, how long can I expect to work at this until I see results? Read More→


The Wedding by Dorothy West

Dorothy West

Adapted from the 1995 edition of The Wedding by Dorothy West, published by Doubleday, NY: On the island of Martha’s Vineyard, a special community has flourished since the turn of the century, an exclusive summer colony of affluent vacationers.  A proud, insular, nearly unassailable group, it is made up of the best and the brightest of America’s black middle class. A world of doctors and ministers and lawyers and college presidents, it represent a side of the black experience known by too few, a  side that is seldom considered. It is a world Dorothy West knew well, for it was her world, and in The Wedding, set in the 1950s in an enclave known as The Oval, she brought it to wonderful life.

Langston Hughes once called Dorothy West “a student of the human race,” and The Wedding bears him out, for it contains some of the most unforgettable flesh-and-blood characters you’ll ever meet, including Shelby Coles, the daughter of a loveless marriage, whose engagement to a white jazz musician threatens to tear her family apart; Lute McNeil, a social-climbing Boston businessman who sees in Shelby and her family everything he could ever want for his three motherless daughters, and who sells his soul to try to win her; and Gram, the daughter of a plantation owner, who’s own daughter broke her heart by marrying an ex-slave, and who is kept alive only by bitterness.

Through a delicate interweaving of past and present, North and South, black and white, The Wedding unfolds outward from a single isolated time and place until it embraces five generations of an extraordinary family. It is an audacious accomplishment, a monumental history of the rise of a black middle class, Read More→