Ten Influential Female Writers to Engage and Enliven Your Thoughts as an Ecofeminist
By Natalie Montanaro
Ecofeminism embodies many aspects of the human condition that relate to ecology, with male dominance being seen as influential, materialism as damaging, spirituality as enlightening, and animal rights as responsibility. This two-part article looks at 10 authors, who are all activists and naturalists, and compares the female role in the preservation of the environment to the cultural split which occurs when connections between them, man, and nature are blurred, oppressed, or denied.
The realization that women are the nurturers, with their sister nature as the driving force for all life on this planet, whether it be male or female, is the focus that each of these writers celebrates and reflects on. They promote feminine values and their important and necessary link to our survival. Each writer has a unique identity and they all have profound thoughts to share.
Below is a list of some of the most entertaining, educated, insightful, and talented female writers to encourage you to think, reminisce, reflect, laugh, cry, and wonder at the many aspects and intrigues which abound in nature and in the human condition, and how women have, and can be moved to create a more liveable and equally beneficial ecofeminist society.
Celebrated author and poet Maya Angelou, once said, “We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” Born Marguerite Annie Johnson, in St. Louis, Missouri, Maya Angelou came into her own as the first black female to have her screenplay produced, after a career of acting, singing and dancing.
She later worked alongside Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, an experience, which in addition to her artistic career, continued to shape the poetry she wrote. She received numerous accolades in the form of literary and artistic awards relating to her film career and to her success as a playwright, a poet, and an essayist.
Maya Angelou’s works include her most famous novel, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and the memoir, Gather Together in My Name. She held a role in the mini-series Roots as well as being a cast member in the touring production of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. Never far from her artistic side, Maya Angelou weaved it through all that she produced, along with her love and attachment to the community of women, in which she played an integral part.
Outspoken, real, and filled with hope, Maya Angelou, the author, speaks to the women of today as a mother, a sister, a friend, a mentor, and an inspiration for all women regardless of age, race, or status, encouraging us all to be proud and strong. Her legendary poem, And Still I Rise, has been cherished the world over for the power and fortitude she gave to women. Relentless and ethereal, still, through her outstanding work, she rises.
Born in Trenton, New Jersey, USA, as Paulette L. Williams, the reinvented Ntozake Shange was raised in an environment where racial tensions and prejudices dominated. From an early age, Shange was exposed to some of the most iconic artists of the black community. Contemporary figures like Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, W.E.B. Dubois, and Chuck Berry forged a basis for her foray into critical reflection on oppression, sexism, bigotry, lack of opportunity, and harassment.
She became a poet and playwright whose works include essays, novels, children’s books, and poetry compilations. Keeping with the ecofeminist movement, her novel, Sassafrass, Cypress, and Indigo tells the story of three sisters. The sisters are named after the titular plants living within the Gullah-Geechee community of storied Charleston, South Carolina. They struggle through, ultimately, similar experiences and fates as other members of their race, despite their differing life choices.
Shange’s attachment to this culture, and that of a common bond through ethnicity, makes for a rich history and a rewarding journey through their successes, failures, joys, and sorrows, and is a powerful statement on the strength of sisterhood and femininity. Shange said, “where there is a woman, there is magic.” And in her books, this is certainly so.
Author of The Color Purple, Alice Walker writes as an advocate for women of color, whom she refers to as “womanists,” with a respect for what she calls ‘a name of their own.’ An activist during the Civil Rights movement, she was arrested in Washington DC on International Women’s Day in 2003 for crossing a barrier during an anti-war rally to protest against the war about to be waged in Iraq.
Never timid about her beliefs and unwavering support for all women, especially those whose race, religion, sexuality, economic status, or politics limited their success or infringed upon their rights, Alice Walker, in the same cohort as one of her literary idols, Zora Neale Hurston, carries her spiritual bond with other women as a badge of honor.
She writes, “At one point I learned transcendental meditation. This was 30-something years ago. It took me back to the way that I naturally was as a child growing up way in the country, rarely seeing people. I was in that state of oneness with creation and it was as if I didn’t exist except as a part of everything.”
Professor Emeritus at Princeton University, editor, teacher, and essayist, Toni Morrison is, like Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, and Ntozake Shange, a women whose passion for the feminine shines through in works such as poetry, opera librettos, short stories, and novels. She is the recipient of many honors including a Nobel Prize in Literature, a Pulitzer Prize, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Toni Morrison’s most visionary work, Beloved, tells a heartbreaking story of slavery, betrayal, murder, rape, and the supernatural. One of her earlier books, Sula, tells the story of a 1920s ideal of morality and how two young women, one considered “good” and the other “bad”, for reasons out of their control, having genuine ties to the land about them which shaped their pasts, manage to grapple with change, prejudice, and life’s unfortunate turns. In this quote from the novel, we read, “Because each had discovered years before that they were neither white nor male, and that all freedom and triumph was forbidden to them, they had to set about creating something else.” Toni Morrison paints a vivid picture of how these women create a home within their small “bottom” space of nature as a sanctuary, and a refuge from all that they face together, to aim for a higher plain than the one they have been delegated to according to others’ wrong perceptions.
Margaret Atwood’s writing career rose while living in West Berlin, in 1984. A Canadian, she was allowed to cross the border at the time, although the Berlin Wall was still standing. It was in her trips to East Berlin where she began to write the controversial, now mini-series hit, The Handmaid’s Tale. In the novel, she creates a dystopian society where women are subjected to unseemly and decidedly cruel behaviors and rules, which eventually shape their resolve and adoptance of negative behavior to fight back, unwillingly manifested in them by their captors and superiors.
It is a testament to the oppression and divisiveness during the days of the Iron Curtain in Europe, as well as the divisiveness in the political climate of many countries today. Among her many other works are The Edible Woman, Life Before Man, and The Year of the Flood. Most of her plotlines are women-centered, but she is highly aware of the broad terminology that the moniker of being a feminist invites. Atwood responded recently in an interview by saying, ”It’s not up for me to decide. For me, it means something that is working for women’s equality, and we are a long way from that. And by equality, I mean legal equality, political equality, and social equality.”