By Heidi Simmons

I have been approached by men, more than once, who have told me they will not read anything written by a woman. One said, he wouldn’t even read my column when he saw the author was female.

This genuinely surprised me and gave me pause. I hadn’t given gender much thought when it came to great storytelling. It seems a ridicules notion to avoid a good read just because the author is a woman.

However, I have since taken note and make an effort to review books by both men and women equally. Now, I often consider when reading a lady writer “Would a man enjoy this book?”

In the past, woman authors were often forced to use first initials so as to not be identified as female. Most famously, the author of the coming-of-age novel The Outsiders, was told her book would not be read, wouldn’t sell, or be published, if people were made aware she was a woman. So Susan Eloise used her first initials with her last name: S. E. Hinton. Her book remains a bestseller and is required reading in high schools across America.

There are many great women writers and some of my favorites include: Flannery O’Connor, Mary Shelley, Jane Austen, Maya Angelou, Agatha Christie, Sylvia Plath, Doris Lessing, Patricia Highsmith, Edith Wharton and Harper Lee. More female writers are emerging everyday and they are better than ever.

For the CVW Women’s Issue, I thought I’d share some of the female fiction writers who are alive and working that genuinely impress, enlighten and entertain me.

Here is my short list of some of the women who thrill me: Lorrie Moore, Joan Didion, Gillian Flynn, Alice Munro, Annie Proulx, Toni Morrison and Elizabeth Gilbert.

Do yourself a favor — and this goes for men as well — read Lorrie Moore. She is a short story writer. She can craft a universe that is so layered it will send you to a place where you will never see the world the same again. The art of the short story is her passion and she spends years carefully crafting her work. Fav: Bark (Stories.)

Joan Didion is my hero. I want her to adopt me. What would it be like to have Didion as a parent? At the very least, I’d get half of her genes, which hopefully would include some of her immense writing talent. She is an intelligent, self-aware voice filled with astute and relevant observations. Favs: The Last Things He Wanted (Fiction) and The Year of Magical Thinking (Nonfiction).

Oh to be Gillian Flynn’s BFF. Hanging out with her thinking up dark and dangerous women to unleash on the world would be awesome! After I read Gone Girl, I went to the library and read everything else she wrote and I had a blast. Her other books, Sharp Objects and Dark Places are also great reads. I would think that men would completely understand that women have a dark side. Fav: Gone Girl (Novel).

I like to think of Alice Munro as my favorite Canadian aunt. Simple on the outside, and very complicated on the inside. Everything you think you know about a perfect domestic life is simply not true. Fav: Family Furnishings (Stories).

Great writers often have the heart and soul of a poet. Annie Proulx delivers a descriptive and history-rich world that can make one reconsider her or his genealogy. How did we make it to where we are now? Favs: The Shipping News (Novel) and Close Range (Stories).

Toni Morrison has helped me walk in another person’s shoes more than once. She writes with such grace and honesty, I consider her a mentor. Fav: God Help the Child (Fiction).

I’m not sure how old Elizabeth Gilbert is, but I want her to be my big sister. I have always appreciated her non-fiction work in its search for meaning and freedom. When I read The Signature of All Things, I knew then she was the real deal and genuinely a seeker as well as a storyteller. Favs: Signature of All Things (Novel) and Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear (Nonfiction).

These are outstanding women. Not only are they talented writers, they are amazing human beings in the way they observe, describe and twist the world as we know it. They give readers — both male and female — a new perspective and a fresh way to see and interpret the world. And that is a gift to everyone. I love these women!

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