Eight Writers on Their Favorite Female Characters in Literature

Eight Writers on Their Favorite Female Characters in Literature

March is Women’s History Month, and we’re ready to celebrate. We’ve created a collage of books written by some of our favorite female writers. Now, we want to dive into those books and celebrate the great characters who inhabit those pages and inspire us. Here, eight authors share the fictional girls and women who left an impression on them.

Jane Eyre

“In an era where the minds and voices of all girls were stifled, Jane Eyre, a mistreated orphan, seeks independence with great moral courage. With few prospects, Jane faces her future without self-pity, and through her scholarship, becomes self-sufficient as a governess. She does not complain about her low station in life; rather, she works with tremendous dignity. Although aware of her plainness, she does not see herself as unattractive. She refuses love when it compromises her values; she refuses a convenient marriage because it lacks love; she accepts love even when it is costly. Jane is a timeless superhero.” —Min Jin Lee, author of Pachinko

Sula Peace

“In the foreword to Sula, Toni Morrison writes, ‘Outlaw women are fascinating—not always for their behavior, but because historically women are seen as naturally disruptive and their status is an illegal one from birth if it is not under the rule of men.’ No disruptive woman is more burned into my mind than Morrison’s Sula Peace and her dedication to living freely, unencumbered by community expectations, free despite the scorn of others, free to be so wrong or right that traditional definitions of those words no longer hold any meaning, so free that her very existence provides an example of the beauty and difficulty of freedom itself.” —Rion Amilcar Scott, author of Insurrections: Stories


“In Margaret Atwood‘s The Handmaid’s Tale, Moira exists as both rebel and gut-wrenching cautionary tale. In story after story, women rebels are drawn out in wisps, or in high-flown grandeur. That is to say, they are barely there, non-threatening, and often easily defeated, or else they are princesses or warriors prepared and deployed to end brutal regimes. Moira is neither of these. Moira inhabits the world between those extremes. She informs us. She is real, she is that one rebel friend, the one we need and know we might lose when loss is nearly all that’s left.” —Dena Rash Guzman, author of Joseph



“As a child, I was a lot more like Annika, Pippi Longstocking’s friend and neighbor, than I was like Pippi herself. I was shy and kind of a goody-goody; it was important to me to do well in school and be liked by adults. But I also craved adventure and wild silliness, of the kind that Pippi brought into every environment she entered. I loved that Pippi was brave enough to live in a house of her own, with no grown-ups, and that she was strong enough to lift a horse over her head. I loved the twisted logic she used to confound school teachers and policemen, and the fierce imagination she displayed in the meandering and nonsensical stories that she told. As an adult, I’m grateful to Pippi for showing me that it’s okay to break the rules from time to time—and for showing me a million different ways to get away with it.” —Carolyn Parkhurst, author of Harmony



“Persephone lives in me as if we are sisters separated at birth, the long lost sister of the same mother, as if I once was her companion to the underworld. Persephone was the first living visitor to the underworld, and an unwilling one. Her mother, Demeter, lost her to the underworld. This is why Persephone inspires me, her tragic mother-daughter bond and separation also a trip to hell I’ve taken in my life, several times and with several mothers. Which Persephone book did I read in third grade? I have no idea. But Persephone appears in variations within adult and children’s books with this mother-daughter story line of painful and unlivable separation. Demeter plunges the earth into winter with her massive grief over the loss of her daughter. Nothing rivals Demeter’s determination to reclaim her daughter in their tale of redemption and love.” —Deborah Jiang-Stein author of Prison Baby


“Makina, the protagonist of Yuri Herrera’s Signs Preceding the End of the World, is a switchboard operator from a small town in Mexico who ventures north to locate her missing brother. It’s a loose retelling of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, with the United States of America capably standing in for the underworld. In her quest to cross the border (illegally, the only means available to her) and find out what has happened to her brother, Makina faces malicious gangsters, duplicitous coyotes, shoot-first border guards, and garden variety idiot teenagers (a boy who touches her leg without her consent quickly finds himself with one less finger). Makina has no map and no safety net, but she is fierce and resourceful, and unwilling to let anyone deter her from her mission. I’ve been returning to Makina a lot lately, and her fearlessness in navigating the wide, desolate plain between what has been promised to the people willing to fight to get here, and what they receive from us if they arrive.” —Kevin Fanning, author of “Taking Selfies & Overthrowing the Patriarchy with Kim Kardashian,” featured in Imagines

Cathy Ames & Roberta Rohbeson

“When I think of inspiring women in literature, I think of a lot of conflicted female characters. Some of these women were written in such a way as to make them profoundly unlikeable, while still containing a powerful force that propels them through the protagonists’ worlds (think Cathy Ames in East of Eden—yes, I find this character inspiring for reasons you might not think, hold your criticisms). Or, these women might be characters for whom I cheer and root as they try to stay afloat in the darkest morasses of what we think of as “life” (Roberta Rohbeson of Cruddy comes to mind). The most inspiring female characters in literature, to me, are not simple. They are not clean, they are not compulsorily kind. I draw inspiration from the complex and troubling woman characters who formulate and act out the best responses they can in the particular worlds they inhabit.” —Wendy C. Ortiz, author of Excavation: A Memoir

Jane Eyre

“Jane Eyre is small, plain, ‘insignificant,’ ill-treated, and unloved orphan. She is radically insecure, not even guaranteed a roof over her head. Again and again she is offered safety if only she will ‘play along’—not stand up to injustice, close her eyes to the madwoman in the attic, marry without love. Instead, she insists on her right to dignity, consideration, and self-determination. Her journey is one of courage: Anything she gains in the way of love, ease, or stature, she gains through her own effort, after struggle. In the end, she is happy not because convention demands it but because she says she is, because she’s earned it, because she finally rests alongside the only other person who sees and values her Jane-ness.” —Rachel Cantor, author of Good on Paper


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