Poetry News

International (Working) Women's Day Is Giving Us A LOT to Read

By Harriet Staff


In honor of International Women's Day--or what was originally called International Working Women's Day--Literary Hub asked the staff at VIDA to tell them about the books that changed their lives. "Ranging from educational to empowering, these titles celebrate and interrogate femininity, humanity, and the act of writing." Here are "33 Life-Changing Books."

But we're in permanent genuflect to Verso's "Feminist Books for International Women's Day," which has everything from This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (now in its fourth edition); to stunners by Elena Ferrante, Jean Rhys, Marguerite Duras, Claude Cahun, and Virginie Despentes; and classics by Audre Lorde, Angela Davis and Silvia Federici. The picks are in thematic sections: "Essays, Criticism, Theory," "Memoir," and "Fiction" (have you read Etel Adnan's Sitt Marie Rose?). For some of us, these're reminiscent of "what we generally read," but how about more holiday reason:

Airless Spaces by Shulamith Firestone (MIT Press, 1998)

Airless Spaces comprises Firestone's first collection of fiction—stark, sad and sometimes sly short stories about "airless spaces": mental illness and the institutions that seek to contain and cure it. The author of the feminist classic The Dialectic of Sex (Verso, 2015) paints compelling portraits of those in mental hospital, precarious lives after hospital, "losers", suicides and obituaries of people she knew, including Valerie Solanas.

The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek (Serpents Tail, 1983)

Michael Haneke made a beautiful and stark film from this novel, homing in on the mother-daughter power dynamics at the heart of the story, but in the adaptation he necessarily lost much of what makes this novel so brutally intense – its setting in the haute-bourgeois Viennese music conservatory, the linguistic experimentation that boils over with a feminist rage. Preoccupied in everything she does with the social division of power, Jelinek writes unflinchingly about sex, a perfect antidote to all those Bellow and Roth sex scenes you’ve had to endure.

The Tombs of Atuan (Earthsea Cycle) by Ursula K. Le Guin (Atheneum, 2012; 1971)

Set in the Place of Tombs, a society of women and eunuchs, The Tombs of Atuan follows the life of Tenar, renamed Arha (the eaten one) after she is made high priestess to the Nameless One. She is confined to the underground labyrinth temple, where light is forbidden and no one but her is permitted to enter. However, when she captures and holds prisoner the wizard Sparrowhawk (of the previous Earthsea book) who is trespassing in the labyrinth she begins to question the fierce structures of her dark world.

Read the full list at Verso.