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Telling Her Story: Vignettes for Women’s History Month

March is Women's History Month. Celebrate with these powerful women who shaped literary history.
March is Women's History Month. Celebrate with these powerful women who shaped literary history. By Courtesy of Aiden J. Bowers/Canva

As Women’s History Month comes to a close, we are offered a moment to reflect on the powerful women that have advanced feminist ideals through their writing, shaping literary tradition. Here are The Crimson’s Arts Board’s favorite books and authors to turn to in reflection on gender, womanhood, and femininity.

“Mrs. Dalloway” by Virginia Woolf

“Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.” So begins Virginia Woolf’s aptly titled “Mrs. Dalloway” — a tour de force of a feminist novel that, almost a hundred years since its publication, still hasn’t lost its bite. Set in post-World War I London and following a single day in the life of middle-aged society wife Clarissa Dalloway as she prepares for a party, “Mrs. Dalloway” is a novel in which nothing and everything happens, remarkable in its portrayal of an unremarkable woman. In a world where the lives of women are so often deemed insignificant, Woolf quietly opposes the male hegemony of history and literature by writing about Clarissa Dalloway’s life and feelings with a compassionate closeness that compels, with a subtle yet insistent voice, the reader’s attention toward this one woman’s complicated inner world.

There is no universal female experience, but “Mrs. Dalloway” perfectly encapsulates the experience of a single woman. It’s a novel that crystallizes the woman’s space when our stories are so often cast into invisibility. While the book begins with Clarissa buying flowers, it ends as she enters a crowded room alone at her party, eyes on her: “For there she was.” Here we are, all with stories more than worthy of being told.

—Staff writer Samantha H. Chung can be reached at samantha.chung@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X at @samhchung.

“Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

For nearly every year since 6th grade, I’ve been forced to watch Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story.” I would’ve remained irritated by the fact that all of those viewings left Adiche’s name and prose ingrained in my mind, if I had not — one day — caught a glimpse of her name on the spine of a thick novel. It was there I discovered one of my all time favorite novels, “Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

The narrative follows Ifemelu, a Nigerian woman who immigrated to the United States but struggles to reconcile her American and Nigerian experiences and identities. As an American born Ghanaian, I couldn’t fully relate to the cultural dissonance the protagonist experiences, but it made the story no less impactful. Adichie gave voice to some of my innermost emotions and thoughts about culture, race, and womanhood; I have never felt more exposed, but simultaneously validated and accepted, as I did reading this novel. Adichie artfully illustrates much of the pain and complexity of being a Black, African woman in America, struggling to love and be loved while exploring the intersection of identity, assimilation, and cultural alienation. “Americanah” is painfully real — it’s beautiful and heartbreaking. Adichie is a remarkable feminist and author. With “Americanah”even if you can’t entirely relate to its premise, you’re likely to find remnants of your own heart and mind written on its pages, just as I did.

—Leah M. Maathey

“Group: How One Therapist and a Circle of Strangers Saved My Life” by Christie Tate

Christie Tate does not shy away from revealing the most raw details of womanhood in her debut book and memoir, “Group.” While the storyline follows Tate’s experience in group therapy, I found myself tracking my progress through her life not by the details of her every day but by the emotional arcs that she shares with the audience. I felt myself growing alongside her as Tate revealed her deepest truths to a collection of strangers, crying with her as she navigated broken relationships, and uncovered a deep sense of hope as she took control of her life. Tate’s memoir also follows her career in law, as she faces the uphill battle of establishing herself as an intelligent woman who deserves to be respected by those in her field. I think about this book a lot — I’m constantly inspired by Tate’s ability to balance her power as both an incredible lawyer and writer with her vulnerability as a hurting, growing woman.

—Staff writer Sarah M. Rojas can be reached at sarah.rojas@thecrimson.com.

“Sounds Like Titanic” by Jessica Chiccehetto Hindman

I believe that to be human is to be perceived, and usually this is a good thing, but often I get stuck in my own head about how other people see me. “Sounds Like Titanic” is one of those memoirs that is so absurd it feels like reading fiction: Hindman writes about her time touring America in an award-winning orchestra that pretends to play along to a pre-recorded tape to legions of crazed fans. It’s a book about what is real and what isn’t, the way that creators find meaning in our lives, and wrestling with what it means to make others happy, even as we lie to them and ourselves. For me, though, the thing that sticks out the most is Hindman’s reckoning of “life in the body:” In other words, the most paramount struggle is of existing and being perceived as a woman in the modern world, in bodies that we’re never truly satisfied with. She rotates between the first and second person throughout the memoir because, in her words, there is “no way anyone has paid to attend this concert starring ‘myself,’ and so I become ‘you,’ and in faking you, I am finally able to say what I want to say.” Usually second person perspectives are not very compelling for me, but Hindman writes in such a way that I recognize myself in the “you” which she embodies. This book captures so many of the struggles that I was — and still am — coming to terms with as a woman.

—Staff writer Angelina X. Ng can be reached at angelina.ng@thecrimson.com.

“The Left Hand of Darkness” by Ursula K. Le Guin

Speculative fiction author Ursula K. Le Guin was incredibly ahead of her time, and no novel better illustrates her forward-thinking approach to science fiction than “The Left Hand of Darkness.” Considered a seminal work of feminist science fiction, “The Left Hand of Darkness” interrogates questions of gender, sexuality, and societal norms amid a fictional alien planet Gethen, where the resident species are biologically ambisexual and thus genderless. The novel follows narrator Genly Ai, a male envoy sent by a mysterious conglomerate of planet nations known as the Ekumen, as he attempts to forge an alliance with the Gethenians and bring them into the interstellar fold, all while learning more about their genderless society and grappling with his own biased notions of masculinity and gender roles. The book itself is a superb work of fiction, capturing a dreamy, “stranger-in-a-strange-land” aura that perfectly conveys Genly’s figurative and literal alienation. But “The Left Hand of Darkness” is more than an elegant story — it was also the first book to explore androgyny in science fiction. Published in 1969, the novel was incredibly popular and widely discussed upon release, sparking debates about gender and sex. “The Left Hand of Darkness” was rightfully recognized for its merits, winning both a Hugo and Nebula Award — some of the highest honors in fantasy and science fiction literature. Today, “The Left Hand of Darkness” is hailed as a revolutionary work that raised important questions of gender and sex and cemented Le Guin’s place as one of the great authors of science fiction.

—Staff writer Arielle C. Frommer can be reached at arielle.frommer@thecrimson.com.

“The Little Friend” by Donna Tartt

“The Little Friend” by Donna Tartt made me rethink the “strong female character” trope.

I didn’t start this 2002 novel set in Mississippi with an expectation of epic depictions of women. Yet, Tartt takes the reader through the complex matriarchal systems behind Southern society, constantly reminding the reader of the mothers, aunts, and grandmothers who exert power over us all. The novel inherently uplifts women without being flashy; Tartt understands innately that her characters control their own lives and can function on their own. The author’s attitude about her female characters is refreshingly frank; in an interview with Identity Theory, Tartt said “There are some not wholly admirable women in this book.”

Beyond this web of powerful and sometimes downright mean women lies Harriet, a young girl obsessed with finding her brother’s murderer. Harriet, the main character of “The Little Friend,” is a wild child through and through, not afraid to lie, cheat, and steal to get where she needs to be. Tartt’s little character study made me realize that a strong female lead character — a phrase often plastered on covers to sell copies — is sometimes the most delightful when she can revel in being powerful in a dark way. “The Little Friend” is a masterclass example of Southern gothic fiction, but beyond that, it reminds me that we need more depictions of nuanced women in modern literature.

—Staff writer Hannah E. Gadway can be reached at hannah.gadway@thecrimson.com.

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