In honor of Women's History Month, excerpts from eight women writers on their female heroes:
The novelist Lauren Lise Baratz-Logsted is the author of nineteen published books for adults, teens, and children. Her most recent books are "The Twin's Daughter", a young-adult gothic mystery that Booklist says ". . . is rife with twists and moves swiftly and elegantly," and the sixth volume in "The Sisters 8" series for young readers that she co-writes with her husband and daughter, Greg and Jackie Logsted. Read her blog on Red Room.
From "Hilary Rodham Clinton: That 'R' Is for 'Resilient'" by Lauren Lise Baratz-Logsted
First, let me tell you what I know about what it takes to be a published writer.
Talent. Fresh ideas. Decent grammar. Luck. Timing. The ability to take criticism. What the teen magazines I used to read growing up called "stick-to-it-tiveness."
But even if you have all of the above, unless you have one other essential quality, none of it will matter:
Resilience to carry you through as you suffer the endless stream of disappointments, setbacks and rejections that are the writer's lot in life.
It took me nearly eight years, during which time I wrote seven novels, before I finally sold a book to a publisher. If I weren't so stubbornly resilient, I never would have made it and I certainly wouldn't have gone on making it in the years since. Not only has resilience served me as a writer, it's served me as a woman too.
And there is no woman, who is also a writer, that I can think of who is more resilient than Hillary Rodham Clinton. Say what you will about her - and I'm sure some of you will! - no one can say that the woman who's lived the life she's lived and bounced back from the things she's had to is anything less than 100% resilient. If she weren't already Secretary of State, she'd probably make one heck of a novelist. She's certainly got the spine for it.
Lucy Coats is a British children's author and mythology expert, whose latest book series is "Greek Beasts and Heroes". She was nominated for the prestigious Blue Peter Book Award for "Atticus the Storyteller's 100 Greek Myths", and her Young Adult fantasy novel "Hootcat Hill" is now available in paperback. Read Lucy's blog on Red Room.
From "My Hero from Another Age" by Lucy Coats
I don't remember when I first knew about my heroine, Hildegarde of Bingen, but it seems as if she's been lurking on the edges of my life forever. Perhaps I met her in the pages of a book my grandmother owned. Gran had many books, and I spent hours as a child, lying on her rough sisal carpet, dipping into their treasure.
I can't pin down just where Hildegarde appeared from, but there she is, dressed in her wimple and robe. I can see her quite clearly in my mind's eye. Maybe it seems strange for me to have a heroine who lived just over 900 years ago. She wouldn't recognise anything about my life. In fact, she'd probably curse me as a witch if she saw me making words this easily on a screen. In her time, making words was a sacred commission, a long and painstaking task for the holy elite (mostly male), involving gold, precious jewels, parchment and a plethora of sharpened goose quills. It was a time when women were seen as less, as property, as chattels. And that's one of the reasons why I love Hildegarde, right there. She was a woman who, even though she refers to herself as a 'poor little timorous figure', and 'foolish and unlearned' succeeded in a man's world. She stood up to people--she won, and here I am admiring her for it all these centuries later.
Alice Hoffman is the author of more than twenty-five works of fiction, including "Practical Magic" and most recently "The Red Garden", published by Crown. In October Scribners will publish "The Dovekeepers", a novel set in 73 CE about the women of Masada. Read Alice's blog on Red Room.
From "Voices Carry" by Alice Hoffman
The woman in history who has meant the most to me was a thirteen year-old girl when she began the diary about which John Kennedy wrote, "Of all the multitudes who throughout history have spoken for human dignity in times of great suffering and loss, no voice is more compelling than that of Anne Frank." German Jews trapped in Amsterdam by the Nazi occupation, the Frank family went into hiding in an attic annex, and it was there Anne secretly recorded her dreams and sorrows. In doing so, she gave voice to the victims of the Holocaust. She has become a hero and an icon, an example of a time when fascism and brutality set out to destroy a people, but she was also a very human Jewish girl who longed to be a writer.
Sherry Jones is the author of "The Jewel of Medina" and "The Sword of Medina," historical novels about A'isha, the youngest wife of the Prophet Muhammad, and the forthcoming "Four Sisters, All Queens," to be published in 2012. Read her blog on Red Room.
From "From Child Bride to Warrior Woman: A'isha bint Abi Bakr" by Sherry Jones
A'isha bint Abi Bakr married the Prophet Muhammad when she was nine years old - too young to consent even had she been asked, which she was not. Her mother carried her into the bedroom, set her in his lap, said, "May you have a long and prosperous life together," then walked out again. Muhammad was 54.
Thusly begins the story of the girl who would become, among twelve wives and concubines, Muhammad's most beloved, as well as the most empowered and influential women in the history of Islam.
In a culture where most women were considered the chattels of men, A'isha rose to a position of honor as political advisor to Muhammad's successors, as the leading authority on the Islamic faith, and as a warrior who led troops in the first Islamic civil war. Nearly 1,400 years later, she remains the emblem of strength and courage for women around the world, non-Muslim as well as Muslim.
From "Rosa Parks" by Tayari Jones
I wish I had been taught about the real Rosa Parks when I was a little girl who talked too much and knew more than was good for her. Not only would have been inspired to keep talking back, acting up, and being generally womanish-- but I would have learned that there was often more to women than meets the eye. In her autobiography, Parks wrote of that faithful day in Montgomery: I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was ... I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in." As a young woman too often told to "be a lady," how I would have benefitted from this defiant portrait of the Mother of the Civil Rights movement. And though I see why it was necessary to perpetuate this myth in the 1960s, I cannot understand the motivation of holding this crucial information back from the young people of today.
I am nearly the same age that Rosa Parks was when she refused to given to injustice, and though this praise is belated, she is the woman I am choosing to honor this year for Woman's History Month. The myth of Rosa Parks and the reality of Rosa Parks show us the many ways that women can change the world. The old saying is that well-behaved women seldom make history. I always thought that Rosa Parks was the exception that proved this rule. But now I see that sometimes women that seem well behaved may be the most radical of all.
Caroline Leavitt's New York Times-bestselling ninth novel, "Pictures of You", was published by Algonquin Books in January 2011. She is a book critic for People and The Boston Globe. Read her blog on Red Room.
From "Rethinking Zelda" by Caroline Leavitt
I know what you're thinking. She was a dissolute jazz baby who drank champagne out of her shoe, supposedly ruined the life of F. Scott Fitzgerald and her own, and ended up in a madhouse. So why is Zelda Fitzgerald a heroine to me?
Consider the young Zelda. Right from the start, she was an original who knew her own mind and didn't care about convention. Laughing at the notion of a demure Southern belle, she wore flesh colored bathing suits so it might look like she was swimming nude. At sixteen, she not only had a reputation, she polished it to a sheen, carrying on with the boys, dancing into the night, and entering into a glittering marriage with one of the most famous writers of her day.
She was a hire-wire act without a net, brilliant and creative, but even before they were married, Scott was stealing passages from her diary. "Plagiarism begins at home," she was quoted as saying. Tired of being in his shadow, she began, against the odds (and yes, one of those odds was Scott) to forge her own life and she would be damned if anyone would tell her no. At the late-to-the-party age of 27, she decided to be a ballerina. She practiced for hours and eventually got good enough to be asked to join a company. She painted for hours and even had a show, but the show didn't do well. She didn't give up.
When I think of Zelda, I think of a woman determined to craft the life and art she wanted, on her own terms. I think of a woman who would risk anything to have that, no matter what anyone thought. And isn't that what a true artist is?
British-born writer Jacqueline Winspear is the author of the award-winning series of historical mysteries featuring psychologist and investigator Maisie Dobbs. Look for Jacqueline's new novel, "A Lesson In Secrets", on March 22nd and read her blog on Red Room.
From "Gertrude Bell" by Jacqueline Winspear
I've always been inspired by a certain caliber of woman born in the late 1800's, who then went on to blaze a trail in the early decades of the 20th century, breaking ground for a later generation who claimed "women's liberation" as their mantra.
They were among the first generation of women in modern times to go to war during the years 1914-18, and were profoundly impacted by the losses of young men in that conflict. The 1921 census revealed that over two million women in Britain alone would never marry or have children, instead facing a life of spinsterhood alone. There were those who floundered, but many moved into public life and a "man's world" as never before. Gertrude Bell--writer, explorer, cartographer, historian, politician, intelligence officer--was one of the older members of that generation, and her life has fascinated me for years.
Lisa Yee is the author of nine novels for young people, including the recently released "Warp Speed", about a Star Trek geek who gets beat up every day. Read her blog on Red Room.
From "When Writing Becomes Real" by Lisa Yee
She was ten-years old when we first met, and I was about a year younger. It didn't matter that I was a Chinese-American girl from the suburbs of Los Angeles and that Katie John was a white girl from Barton's Bluff, Missouri. We were soul mates, two misunderstood tomboys trying to navigate through the confusing world of our youth--no longer little kids, yet nowhere near old enough to sit at the grown-up table.
My parents were teachers, so we didn't have a lot of money. However, I had something better. I had a library card. There were three books that I checked out over and over again--Katie John, Depend On Katie John, and Honestly, Katie John. I'd get upset if they weren't on the shelf, because that meant that someone else was reading my books. Hello? Didn't they know that the novels were written just for me?
Mary Calhoun was the name on the title page. That was really all I knew about the author. We didn't have computers back then, and the closest thing to Google were the heavy volumes of the World Book Encyclopedia. Anyway, most of the authors we learned about in school were dead--so I just assumed she was, too. Still, Mary Calhoun inspired me to dream that maybe one day I'd write a book . . . and that it would be in the library . . . and someone would check it out.