Who Runs the Literary World? These Girls!

Rachel’s Team Pick:

Considering how much writing there is about writers, there’s precious little talk about women as literary greats. But you know what? We are. And moreover, when it comes to literary badasses, dykes and queers make a strong showing. For instance, in Flavorwire’s list of 10 Legendary Bad Girls of Literature, there’s Sappho, Collette, Alice Walker, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Simone de Beauvoir, all of whom are notable not only for their incredible work but also for their love of the ladies.


The authors of this list mention that they “could have made this list five times as long,” so who would you include? I vote for Eileen Myles, Dorothy Allison and Toni Morrison.

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!


Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

Rachel has written 1142 articles for us.


  1. How wonderful to get a shot of badass literary females in the arm to chase the winter blues away.

    “to be true to my own weirdnesses” – I think this encapsulates the whole way I have been trying to redirect my life. If only I’d asked Sylvia, eh? Actually, I could see an asksylviaplath.tumblr.com working.

  2. I’m so surprised that Toni Morrison, Virginia Woolf, and Eileen Myles weren’t on this list.
    Someone needs to make a new list.

  3. hip hip hooray for badassery!

    i have to put joyce carol oates on this list…i will never stop crushing on legs sadovsky :)

  4. for some reason it won’t let me stay signed in and comment, BUT: just wanted to get on here to cheer for jeanette winterson, one of my all time favorite queer writers. she’s so great! her new memoir, which comes out in the u.s. at the end of march, is a-mazing. i love her gaahhhh

    • Yes! I agree. Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal gave me all the feelings and I would recommend it to everyone, especially if they enjoyed Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit.

      Also, thanks for drawing my attention to this list Rachel- it was really interesting. It’s so hard to pick a selection of female literary badasses; they’re are just so many to choose from :)

  5. Virginia Woolf, Jeanette Winterson and Sarah Kane. Or just Sarah Kane. Everything Sarah Kane. Ahhhh Sarah Kane.

  6. Toni Morrison is the Einstein of literature, so as far as I am concerned any list that doesn’t include her is shoddy and suspect.

  7. I’d include Sharon Pollock, the Canadian playwright who wrote “Blood Relations,” a really immersive play that imagines Lizzie Borden living with an actress after being acquitted of murdering her father and stepmother. (“Lizzie Borden took an axe…”)

    I’d also include Carson McCullers on my list. From what I remember, there are queer feelings and difficult-to-categorize relationships in all her novel(la)s and in her short story collection “The Ballad of the Sad Café.” Her writing’s brilliant.

    Dunno if either of these writers have identified themselves as being a particular sexual orientation, but I have my suspicions. Anyway, it’s more important to me that writers handle queer issues in an empathetic and nuanced way. Take Colette – the Claudine books were written with the collaboration of her husband, or under his direction (no one really knows, I don’t think). It can be interesting sometimes to speculate about “authenticity” etc, but at the end of the day the best “queer books” are very well written, interesting, and believable. For me it doesn’t matter how the author identifies, if I feel a strong connection with its representations of women’s relationships.

  8. Something to meditate on: I’m puzzled why so many people have a problem with using the word “woman” rather than “girl”

    Unless it refers to a female who’s under the age of 16,I’ve always found the term “girl” demeaning, insubstantial, disrespectful and in so many other ways not-to-be-taken-seriously. In fact the very opposite of all the writers mentioned above.

    Yes, “women” is used in the body of the article, but why can’t it be in the title: Who Runs the Literary World? These Women!

    Any thoughts?

    • I agree with you in principle, but in practice the Beyoncé lyric reference in the title needs “girls” to work.

  9. I’m jumping on the WHAT DO YOU MEAN TONI MORRISON ISN’T ON THE LIST bandwagon. Because, seriously. Why the hell isn’t she on that list.

    Also, for some bizarre reason, I feel like Ayn Rand belongs there too. Her philosophy was absolutely abhorrent, but if we’re going to talk about badassery, the fact that she developed an entire philosophy (which she wrote two GIGANTIC novels based on), PLUS created her own entourage, PLUS was totally insane pretty much qualifies her for posthumous membership in the badass club of badass badasses.

Comments are closed.