BY LYDIA A. CYRUS
Here is a list of books written by brilliant women in non-fiction, poetry, and fiction — inspired by this past Women’s History Month.
User Not Found by Felicity Fenton
This book is actually a tiny essay. Think: A powerful essay about the intricacies of social media and womanhood that fits in your pocket! Fenton writes about her life in social media (and out). If you’ve ever wondered about the color of apps, been sent a dick pic, or just wondered about the profundity of existing digitally in present day, this essay is for you. Fenton wonders at one point if anyone is thinking about her. This thought leads her to the realization that she is, “just a human mammal amongst billions of other human mammals. I’m dander in the corner, the buzz in the background.” Fenton’s lyrical work is biting and honest and I’ve been keeping her little book on my nightstand for those nights when I’m up too late, window shopping on Etsy and checking Twitter every five minutes.
Goodbye, Sweet Girl by Kelly Sundberg
Sundberg’s memoir centers around the physically and mentally abusive relationship with her husband. She chronicles the life of a woman from a working-class background who aims to not only exit an abusive marriage but to also gain an education and return to herself. The memoir is a fast read, lyrical and endearing. Sundberg writes the truths that are hardest to say and quite frankly doesn’t give a damn if the truth reveals the brutality that others have hidden. She reminds the reader all along the wild, highly intelligent woman she was before the abuse never left the room and will always triumph in the end.
Heartberries by Terese Mailhot
Mailhot, a First Nation Canadian writer, weaves together the story of her life revealing the trauma and silence that clouded her. Her memoir welcomes the reader into the scenes of her early life with her mother and leads the reader to the revelation that perforates her story. The truth, she writes, is essential and the most powerful thing to unleash. She writes about her diagnosis of PTSD and bipolar II, the bitterness of loss in relationships, and provides insight into what the pathway to after looks like.
Excavation by Wendy C. Ortiz
When I saw the cover of this memoir, a stunning photo of a young Ortiz at the beach, I felt compelled to look further. Excavation explores the relationship between a young Ortiz and her teacher, a man fifteen years older than her. He fuels her passion for writing and helps her to access a powerful sense of self as a teenager living with her alcoholic parents. Ortiz does the daring task of unraveling preconceived notion of what a predatory relationship is and what a victim looks like. She proves that the world and the relationships we create within it is made up of uncertainty and nothing is what it seems to be.
Boyfriends by Tara Atkinson
Atkinson writes about a young woman whose journey from first boyfriend, to college, to second boyfriend, and beyond. She reminds readers about what it feels like to have your first kiss, first real crush, first everything. And how, as you get older, not only do you change but your desires and wants change too. She explores what it means to be a single woman in 2019, searching in person and online for connection. It’s sweet and nostalgic in the best ways, and will make you think about what it means to be in a relationship not only with others, but with yourself too.
Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden
I have patiently awaited the arrival of this book for months. Admiring Madden through my phone screen and awestruck by the glitter on the cover of the book (it’s seriously a beautiful cover). Madden’s memoir takes you to Boca Raton, Florida where, growing up as a queer, biracial teen, her concepts of right and wrong, beauty and ruin live together. Her parents are battling their own addictions and realizations as she tries to navigate the spaces around her. Madden, an acclaimed essayist, wields her language fiercely and writes fluidly, stitching together the warm, sometimes heartbreaking, answer to the question, “what do you want to know?”
Starvation Mode by Elissa Washuta
I picked Washuta’s book My Body is a Book of Rules last summer and loved it so much that I read most of it in the bathtub. Washuta’s prose is so illuminating and honest that it feels like conversation between the reader and a close, trustworthy friend. In Starvation Mode, she writes about her complicated relationship with food. When nothing is in your control, how do you cope? Washuta struggles to create her body in the image of her longing while also experimenting with the genre of creative non-fiction. Both of which creates a work that stands elegantly and surely as an essential read for women who have complicated relationships with their body, their sustenance, and shattering the traditions of appearance.
The Underneath by Melanie Finn
Follow the trail of unsettling memories and the uncanny, as Kay, the protagonist, as she slowly unravels. While trying to reconcile a tumultuous marriage, the heaviness of motherhood, and a traumatic past event, she begins to wonder what really happened to the family that lived in her house before her. Finn’s novel is a true modern day haunting that deals not with ghosts but with the possession of the demands of being a woman. The novel investigates the things that plague Kay as she tries to solve the puzzles of her life.
The Word for Woman is Wilderness by Abi Andrews
If you’ve ever read or watched the countless narratives about men traveling to Alaska to blow up their lives, you’ve probably wondered why it is there are so few narratives of women doing the same. Women seeking out the natural world as a means of personal growth. Andrews does just that in The Word. The protagonist is nineteen year old Erin who leaves the safety of home behind in order to discover. She questions the history of everything from nuclear warfare to birth control. Andrews tackles the old archetype of the adventure always belonging to a man.
Brute by Emily Skaja
The highly anticipated first collection from poet Emily Skaja deals with remains of an ended relationship. Skaja carves survival and redemption into the landscape of what a women grieving looks like. She writes of pain that begins as internal and seeps into a physicality that beckons her to scale and defeat it. The universal truth of what it feels like to be abused and to move on leaks throughout the poems and enchants the reader. Skaja’s book begins with the same Anne Carson epigraph as T Kira Madden’s and positions the reader to prepare themselves for the journey. Skaja twists the plight of hurt into a weapon that strikes out as beauty and has the potential leave readers in both tears and smiles.
The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison
This collection of essays considers the possibilities of what it means to care. Is it ever really possible to feel the pain of others? Over the course of several essay, Jamison depicts curious events such as the story of an actor who presents to medical students as someone with symptoms that the students must identify in order to learn. She also writes about the sense of voyeurism the plagues the pain of women in literature. This collection is an essential piece of reading for those still learning how to balance self-love and love for others too. It doesn’t ask, can you pour from empty cup? but instead defines what that cup looks like and what rests within it and why.
Abandon Me by Melissa Febos
Febos’ first memoir Whipsmart detailed her life as a graduate student working as a dominatrix. In Abandon Me she writes about the difficult reality of longing for connection with others. What happens when you drown yourself in another? She visits relationships both romantic and not and the ways in which abandonment can strike and wound at any time, with anyone. As with Whipsmart, Febos isn’t afraid to have conversations about the elements of her life that both built and seemingly destroyed her. She writes about the longing of belonging. Seemingly asking, what does inclusion look like and how do we achieve it?
The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wang
One of the most talked about books of 2019, Collected, is a collection of essays telling about the life of a woman who suffers from mental illness and a chronic illness. Wang slices open the examination of what her diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder and examines the chaos of coping. She attests to the incredible resiliency that endures recovery and shapes the future of the diagnosed through her own experiences. When it comes to balancing a debilitating reality with the hopes of a promising future, Wang constructs an important conversation not only about mental health but also about the possibilities of life for women whose lives do not fit into one box or even two.
Animals Strike Curious Poses by Elena Passarello
In this collection of essays, Passarello meditates on the fascinating nature of animals and performance. She discussed what it means to be an immortal animal, placed into history by humans and how their fame came to be. Humanity commodifies the bodies animals both living and not and Passarello presents this with careful prose. She is aware of the ways in which humanity must always somehow have the position of authority over others and spares the reader nothing. She goes so far as to highlight the aftermath of the death of Cecil the Lion in 2015 by repeating the notion that the doctor who killed Cecil did not know he had a name at all. This repetition begs the question: Do we have to name an animal, give it celebrity status, and attempt to mythologize in order to respect it?
Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods by Tishani Doshi
In her third collection of poetry, Doshi aims to rebuke the history of silence surrounding women who have survived. She pulls apart identity and trauma in order to create a space in time where silence is no longer synonymous with womanhood. The poems are constructed with careful detail and attention to movement and sound. As the title suggests, women are no longer hidden but are now returning to their lives with power and the capability of anything.
Lydia A. Cyrus is a creative nonfiction writer and poet from Huntington, West Virginia. Her work as been featured in Thoreau's Rooster, Adelaide Literary Magazine, The Albion Review, and Luna Luna. Her essay "We Love You Anyway," was featured in the 2017 anthology Family Don't End with Blood which chronicles the lives of fans and actors from the television show Supernatural.
She lives and works in Huntington where she spends her time being politically active and volunteering. She is a proud Mountain Woman who strives to make positive change in Southern Appalachia. She enjoys the color red and all things Wonder Woman related! You can usually find her walking around the woods and surrounding areas as she strives to find solitude in the natural world. Twitter: @lydiaacyrus