it's lit! 5 young female writers you should know
The most interesting new female voices in the literary scene, whose books range from a novel inspired by the Manson murders to a collection of humorous essays on depression and heartbreak.
courtesy Yaa Gyasi, publisher
It's no joke that high school English curricula and our remaining bookstores are still largely composed of the work of the white male canon. So the new crop of books by creative young women is a heartening development in the lit world. Here are five of the most exciting works — all by women under the age of 35 — tackling topics from coming of age to the eternal sadness of social media.
In 2009, when Yaa Gyasi was a sophomore at Stanford, she traveled to her native Ghana and visited Cape Coast Castle, a landmark notorious for its role in the slave trade, and realized that was what she wanted to write about. The 26-year-old then landed a seven-figure advance, and set out to write Homegoing, an epic and emotional debut novel that was released this week. Homegoing tells the stories of two half-sisters, one who marries an Englishman and remains in colonized Africa, and the other who is taken to America to become a slave. The book continues to follow each of their descendants, through six generations, from the Civil War-era plantations to the jazz clubs of Harlem. "The great, aching gift of the novel is that it offers, in its own way, the very thing that enslavement denied its descendants,the possibility of imagining the connection between the broken threads of their origin," Isabel Wilkerson wrote in a New York Times review.
In her debut novel, Tuesday Night in 1980, which was released in April, Brooklyn writer Molly Prentiss captures the bursting art scene in downtown New York City. The book opens at a New Year's Eve party in 1979, which is attended by the likes of Keith Haring and John Baldessari. Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol also make cameos, but the book hinges on three lesser-known protagonists: an artist who fled Argentina, an art critic with synesthesia, and a young woman from Idaho with big-city dreams. The city itself is also a character in the book—Molly writes portraits about the different boroughs, and details the grittiness of the era in imaginative prose. "Garbage trucks—those nocturnal, mechanical armadillos—roamed, creaked and banged. Homeless men lurched from their concrete beds. Sirens flew down the streets and then up into the colander of the sky, through the holes of the stars. The moon was somewhere, but she wasn't sure where."
Mexican-Italian New York-based writer Valeria Luiselli lived in South Africa, South Korea, Costa Rica, Spain, India, France, and Mexico growing up as the daughter of a diplomat. "I was always self-conscious… I hesitated a lot, and I always felt that my language was imperfect, full of holes and gaps," she told Bomb magazine. "I still feel that way often. So I've always made a very conscious effort to learn through reading and writing. Books and writing were always a space of refuge within language." Finding refuge in books has led the 32-year-old to write several thus far, including Sidewalks, a collection of essays, and the novel Faces in the Crowd, for which she won the National Book Foundation's "5 under 35" prize. Her most recent novel, The Story of My Teeth, is an eccentric and engaging story about a Mexican auctioneer who finds the "sacred teeth of Marilyn Monroe, slightly yellowed," and has them implanted into his own mouth. The book was named one of the best books of 2015 by The New York Times, NPR, and The Huffington Post, among others, and Valeria is currently at work on her next novel, which is about the American Southwest.
Though she hasn't authored a great novel yet, Melissa Broder has managed to capture a huge readership in 140 characters or less. Her Twitter account, @sosadtoday, has more than 357,000 followers, and her brief musings, such as "i have a headache probably because i exist" and "i sexually identify as lost," are often re-tweeted thousands of times. Now, Melissa has released her first book, So Sad Today, which expands her Tweets into full-length essays. The essays, which have titles like "One Text Is Too Many and a Thousand Are Never Enough" and "I Want to Be a Whole Person but Really Thin," touch on topics like anxiety, addiction, depression and heartbreak. "One way to fend off isolation is to confess," Haley Mlotek wrote in The New Yorker. "Works of confessional writing, especially those written by and for women, are as much an attempt to connect as a way to unload; as Adrienne Rich once said, 'When a woman tells the truth she is creating the possibility for more truth around her.'"
In March of 2014, 25-year-old Emma Cline penned an essay for The Paris Review that bridged her own pliant adolescence with the lives of the Manson murderers. "I became obsessed with the Manson girls," she wrote. "I was older than they'd been when they killed eight people, when they'd driven home on the Ventura Freeway, stopping at gas stations to clean blood off one another… [But] in the photographs I saw of the girls—pictures striking for their strangely domestic quality—I recognized something of myself at 13, the same blip of longing in their eyes." Later that same year, Emma secured a reported $2-million three-book deal with Random House, the first of which will be released on June 15.
In her unexpected and brilliant debut novel, The Girls, Emma re-imagines the Manson murders through Evie Boyd, her fictional 14-year-old protagonist who is fascinated by the older girls in the cult. "It was an unexplained blessing," Evie narrates in the book. "Her tangy breath on my neck as she swept my hair to one side… Even the pimples I'd seen on her jaw seemed obliquely beautiful, the rosy flame an inner excess made visible." The book is already being heralded by critics—New Yorker writer James Wood wrote that it is "finely intelligent, often superbly written, with flashingly brilliant sentences"—and Lena Dunham said that Emma "reminds us that behind so many of our culture's fables exists a girl: unseen, unheard, angry. This book will break your heart and blow your mind." Scott Rudin, the mega producer behind films like The Royal Tenenbaums and There Will Be Blood, has already purchased the movie rights.
Images courtesy the authors, the publishers