Over the course of history, women have made monumental contributions to literature. Legendary favorites and contemporary women authors alike have left their mark on both the publishing world and audio canon. Though by no means comprehensive, this list features women authors who definitely deserve a spot in your Audible library. Read on to learn more about each amazing woman—her life, her work, and her legacy.
One of the most famous and beloved authors on this list, Jane Austen published her first book in 1811. At the time, women were not allowed to negotiate their own contracts with publishers, so she sold her first novel, Sense and Sensibility, with the help of her brother, Henry. Austen's books are known for their humor and social commentary, often critiquing some of the more sentimental literary works of the late 18th century.
Despite the fact that her novels primarily centered on marriage plots, Austen never married and actually turned down multiple proposals. In 1816, Austen grew ill, and she died on July 18, 1817 at the age of 41. Austen has remained an influential figure in literature, inspiring many works of art, literature, film, and more after her death. Some of her writings were also published posthumously.
One of Austen’s most famous and beloved novels is Pride and Prejudice. This literary classic introduces listeners to unforgettable characters such Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. In true Austen fashion, Pride and Prejudice critiques the courtship process and shows the folly of judging someone based on first impressions. Academy Award nominated actress Rosamund Pike brilliantly brings each character to life with her balanced, pitch-perfect performance.
The Brontë family was full of writers. Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë all produced works of classic fiction that are still read and loved today. Because writing was not considered a suitable profession for women at the time, the three sisters first published under the pseudonyms Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. In 1848, a year after Charlotte’s novel Jane Eyre was published, the sisters came forward with their true identities.
All three sisters are celebrated by the literary world, but Charlotte was arguably the most ambitious Brontë. She included elements of the Victorian Gothic in her works—the supernatural, mystery, violence, and dark, atmospheric prose are all hallmarks of her novels.
Jane Eyre remains Charlotte Brontë’s most enduring work. The novel is partially biographical, based on Charlotte’s own experiences at boarding school and working as a governess. In audio, actress Thandie Newton expertly highlights the dark and moody tones of this Victorian Gothic classic.
If you’re a fan of horror fiction, Shirley Jackson’s works are the classics you should be reaching for. Many of the elements of horror that have become such an important part of the genre were first introduced by Jackson. The author truly understood how to create a sense of dread in every story, whether it was short fiction or a novel.
Jackson was born in San Francisco in 1916. Her short story “The Lottery,” published in 1948, was the work that first brought her critical acclaim. But that was only the beginning for this author. She wrote many works of fiction and nonfiction following her first success. Despite living in an era where women often didn’t work outside of the home, Jackson became her family’s primary breadwinner, out-earning her husband, professor Stanley Edgar Hyman.
If you’re looking for an incredible horror listen, try Jackson’s novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle. This haunting gem follows the story of two sisters—agoraphobic Constance and her younger sister, Merricat—who live in a large house with their Uncle Julian and their cat, Jonas, after the rest of their family died from arsenic poisoning. Bernadette Dunne’s narration is unnerving, projecting a looming sense of unease and eeriness for listeners.
Margaret Atwood might be one of most prolific women on this list, with more than 50 books of fiction, poetry, and essays currently published. In addition, Atwood is a teacher, an environmental activist, and an inventor. Atwood’s first book of poetry, Double Persephone, was published in 1961. Her first novel was The Edible Woman, which was released in 1969.
Atwood’s works cover a number of themes, including gender identity, feminism, climate change, and much more. In her fiction, the author writes across multiple genres, including historical, speculative, dystopian, and science fiction.
If you’ve only heard of one of Atwood’s works, however, it’s probably The Handmaid’s Tale. And if you haven’t yet listened to this classic, this is where you’ll want to start. This dystopian novel follows the story of Offred as she navigates a world where women who can give birth become the property of men. The audio standout is performed by actress Claire Danes, who touched viewers as a teen on My So-Called Life, but might be more familiar for her Emmy-winning work on the series Homeland. Danes’s acting on both shows earned her multiple awards and critical acclaim, and that celebrated acting prowess comes across in her portrayal of Offred. There is truly no better way to experience this novel than to have Claire Danes perform it for you.
What list of women writers would be complete without the incomparable Toni Morrison? Morrison began her career in the world of publishing as an editor, but she shifted into writing with her first novel, The Bluest Eye, originally published in 1970. Over her career as an author, Toni Morrison has received much critical acclaim and numerous awards. In 1988, she won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel Beloved. And in 1993, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. On May 29, 2012, President Barack Obama presented this exceptional author with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. We were all heartbroken at her passing; Toni Morrison died at the age of 88 on August 5, 2019.
As a Black woman writer, Morrison examines racial and gender inequality in America in her novels. Her fiction is filled with imagery and symbolism that evokes strong emotions in readers and listeners from all different walks of life.
The Bluest Eye was Morrison’s first published work, and it’s an excellent introduction to her body of work. This novel is the story of Pecola Breedlove, a young Black girl who imagines how much easier her life would be if her eyes were blue. The author herself narrates this book with a sense of authority and depth that only she could provide.
Isabel Allende was born in Peru and raised in Chile. Her father’s cousin was Salvador Allende, President of Chile from 1970 to 1973. When Salvador Allende was overthrown in a coup, Isabel had to help arrange safe passage for many people who were on the government’s wanted list. When Isabel herself ended up on that list, she fled to Venezuela. She has lived in California since 1989 and was granted citizenship in the United States in 1993.
Isabel Allende’s works are known for their use of magical realism. In fact, she is one of the most popular writers to master and incorporate this style of fiction. Her novels reflect both her personal experiences and historical events. But while they are grounded in actual occurrences, her writing also incorporates fabulist elements with symbolic significance to her subject matter.
The House of the Spirits, published in 1982, is one of Allende’s most enduring works of fiction. Allende began writing this novel while exiled in Venezuela, and the story is autobiographical, connected to her family’s political history while also weaving in fantastical elements such as ghosts, telekinesis, and clairvoyance. This beautifully personal and imaginative novel is narrated by Thom Rivera and Marisol Ramirez.
Octavia E. Butler is widely known as the “Grand Dame of Science Fiction.” And if you’re familiar with her impressive list of science fiction titles, you’ll understand why. Her works have received multiple awards, including Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and Science Fiction Chronicle Awards. She’s also the first science fiction writer to have been awarded the MacArthur Genius Grant. Though Butler died in 2006, her work lives on, inspiring a whole new generation of science fiction readers, listeners, and writers.
In a genre often dominated by white male authors, Butler claimed a place in sci-fi for Black women. Her novels feature dynamic Black women characters and themes of identity, sexuality, and race. Butler is known for her inventive and thought-provoking worldbuilding. Each book pulls you into a world unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before.
With so many novels to her name, it can be difficult to know where to start with Butler. One of her most popular works is Parable of the Sower, the first book in the Earthseed duology. Set in the near and chillingly plausible future, it tells the story of 18-year-old Lauren Olamina, who lives in a community that falls prey to anarchy and vigilante justice. When her world crumbles around her, Lauren leaves behind the life she’s known and sets forth into the world, determined to survive. Parable of the Sower is narrated by actress Lynne Thigpen, who infuses her performance with the sense of intrigue that speculative fiction demands.
Celeste Ng is a Chinese-American writer and novelist who grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, which would later become the setting for her second novel. Ng’s first novel, Everything I Never Told You, was published in 2014 and won the Amazon Book of the Year Award. Her second novel, Little Fires Everywhere, won the Goodreads Choice Award for Fiction in 2017, and was recently adapted into a miniseries for Hulu starring Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington. Ng now lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her husband and son.
Celeste Ng’s novels focus on the difficulties of domestic life—motherhood, family, and growing up in suburbia—and also emphasize how race complicates these issues. They’re perfect for fans of literary fiction who also appreciate a fast-moving story. Both of Ng’s novels start with a bang, and the momentum doesn’t stop from there. So if you’re looking for listens that will make you think while also keeping you up late into the night, look no further.
Gripping and heartbreaking, Everything I Never Told You starts out by letting you know that Lydia is dead—a tragic fact her family doesn’t yet know. We learn that Lydia is the teenage child of a Chinese-American family living in the suburbs of Ohio. When Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, her family falls apart as they search for answers: What happened to her? And who was Lydia, truly? Cassandra Campbell narrates the story with the right level of suspense and sorrow, making for a truly absorbing listen.
Silvia Moreno-Garcia has managed to publish many works of fiction since launching her writing career less than a decade ago. But what’s most impressive about this author is her ability to shift from genre to genre and truly make each one her own. In 2020 alone, Moreno-Garcia released a thriller and a Gothic mystery. She’s also written works that could be categorized as science fiction, fantasy, and young adult fiction.
Moreno-Garcia was born and raised in Mexico, and moved to Canada in 2004. Her first short story collection, The Strange Way of Dying, was published in September 2013. In 2014, she published her second collection of short stories, Love and Other Potions. Then in 2015, she released her debut novel, Signal to Noise, to much critical acclaim.
Mexican Gothic is Moreno-Garcia’s latest novel, and it’s a compelling listen. Set in Mexico in the 1950s, it revolves around a glamorous socialite, a chilly aristocrat, and an eerie mansion. Noemí Taboada receives a frantic letter from her distraught cousin, who has recently been married off to an Englishman and moved to the Mexican countryside—and is insistent that her husband’s family is trying to kill her. So naturally, Noemí packs up her things and heads out to this strange house in the middle of nowhere to find out what is going on. From there, creepy happenings ensue. Frankie Corzo narrates the novel, and her voice has both the strength and the sass to match Noemí’s character.
Zadie Smith, a novelist, essayist, and short story writer from London, is the perfect outstanding woman writer to end this list. Her debut novel, White Teeth, was released in 2000. It became an immediate best seller and won the Whitbread First Novel Award, the Guardian First Book Award, and the Commonwealth Writers’ Best First Book Prize, just to name a few. After starting off on such a high note, where can an author go from there? If you’re Smith, the answer is only up.
Smith’s writing style has been described as realist and postmodern. Her works tend to focus on developing full lives for her characters—the people in her novels feel real. Her books also tend to deal with themes of racial and cultural identity, family, and class.
Her newest novel, Swing Time, tells the story of two girls who dream of being dancers but end up living very different lives. Narrator Pippa Bennett-Warner treats both girls' stories with equal weight. Since Smith is an author who places the utmost importance on character, a narrator of her work really has to deliver strong voices for her characters. Bennett-Warner does not disappoint.
Her most recent work is Intimations, a collection of six essays released in 2020. Smith narrates this book herself, and has said she will donate all funds from its sales towards the Equal Justice Initiative and New York’s Covid-19 Emergency Relief Fund.
Emily Martin received her PhD in English from the University of Southern Mississippi. She currently writes for Book Riot and co-hosts the podcast Book Squad Goals.