500 Great Books by Women

I started this book for an independent study project when I was an undergraduate at Antioch University in Seattle.   My advisor introduced me to Erica, Erica introduced me to Holly, and the three of us formed a collaboration.  We wrote several sample chapters for a publisher’s proposal which we sold to Viking a month after my 50th birthday and right before I graduated from Antioch and left Seattle for Vermont to complete an MFA at Goddard College.  I did the rest of my part of the reading, writing, and editing while I was working as a work-study student and doing a lot of other reading, writing, and editing for my MFA.

The focus of my studies at both Antioch and Goddard was the literary tradition of working-class women of all colors around the world.  In the course of my research to discover this tradition, my heart and mind were opened in many new and wonderful ways by authors and books I had never heard of before.  I started this book project so other people like me wouldn’t have to work so hard to find this tradition, and to share the passionate gratitude I felt toward these authors.  Once Erica and Holly joined me, our focus broadened to include books by all women and not just working-class women.

Throughout our collaboration, the things I cared most about were that we find books written by all types and colors of women from all over the world, that our book be driven by love and not literary criticism, and that our language and assumptions be free of race, gender and class bias.  Although our struggles over the assumptions and language in our book were monumental, we readily agreed to search the world for books and that if at least one of us, or one of our annotators, did not love a book, it didn’t make it in no matter how “popular” it was.  Our last three criteria for inclusion, all easily agreed on,  were that the book be in print no matter when it was written (this sadly eliminated too many books but we wanted people to be able to find the books we wrote about), that it be written in and/or translated into English, and that it wasn’t poetry, romance, how-to, or written for children.

Although our preface clearly describes our criteria for inclusion, including the fact that whoever wrote about the book loved the book , Viking still insisted on naming the book 500 Great Books by Women.  Given the reality that the words “great books” continue to mean book lists that are heavily dominated by privileged white male-supremist literary critics and thinkers, male and female, this was an unfortunate choice of titles.  In fact, the only negative criticism our book received was based on the reality that our choice of books did not honor previous definitions of “great,” which, given our intent, is actually a complement.

Our book is a worthwhile read, a good addition to any library, and a wonderful gift for any book lover you know.  Now,  23 years later, it is out of print so if you find it in a used book store, which I did recently, grab one up.  And if you’d like, I’ll sign it for you if you’re in Bellingham.


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This is my blog for JessePrints, my collection of block prints I've carved and pithy quotes I've collected for the last 20+ years. Internationally, I show and sell my work at www.JessePrints.Etsy.com, and locally, I make it in beautiful downtown Bellingham, WA where I live and work as a car-free, dog-walking, hat-wearing, yoga-learning artist elder.