Why Essays Matter for Female Writers (and 5 Female Essayists You Should Read)

Why Essays Matter for Female Writers (and 5 Female Essayists You Should Read)

Personal essays are having a moment.

From blogging platforms like Medium to small-press publishers to online publications, it’s a wonderful time for writers to get their voices out there. Personal essays allow writers to share a unique experience while connecting it to something bigger. There is something very empowering, especially for female writers, about making it clear that your voice is worth hearing, that your story deserves to be told and related to a greater universal truth. From stories of relationships to jobs to family to personal growth, there are countless experiences to share, and women in particular are making their voices heard. Here are a few female essayists to check out.


Joan Didion

Didion is the OG female essayist. She began her writing career in the 1960s, writing with both anxious emotion and cool intellectualism about American culture at the time. Begin with her first essay collection Slouching Towards Bethlehem, which chronicles Didion’s experiences in California. In it, Didion demonstrates how a writer can express a large journalistic truth while imbuing it with her own personality.


Sloane Crosley

Crosely is perhaps the quintessential millennial essayist, with a perspective reminiscent of perhaps more well-known successors like Lena Dunham. She writes about about the experience of being a young woman navigating the pressures and pitfalls of reaching for goals and not always achieving them, but meeting other ones along the way. Crosley’s humor and heart shines through her writing. She’s like a comforting friend who speaks truths like this one from her first collection I Was Told There’d Be Cake: “You feel like telling him you’re not single in the way that he thinks you’re single. After all, you have yourself.”


Jenny Lawson

One of the most exciting things about personal essays is the fact that writers have the opportunity to share what are usually solitary experiences. Lawson excels at this by discussing her experiences with mental illness with a sense of humor, making her essays instantly relatable to everyone, whether they too have mental illnesses or not. In her book Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things, Lawson uses her own experiences to make it clear that none of us are alone.


Marina Keegan

Days after her graduation from Yale in 2012, Keegan was tragically killed in a car accident. But, she left behind a body of work that showcases the scary but hopeful experience of being a freshly hatched adult. Her posthumously published book The Opposite of Loneliness shares its title with Keegan’s essay that beautifully describes the quiet moments of within her community at college. Her essays demonstrate the beauty and hope within life’s most mundane moments.


Roxane Gay

Everyone has an opinion, especially when it comes to socio-political matters like feminism. Gay is here to share her opinions, and open people up to new possibilities of what a feminist can be. In Bad Feminist, she advocates for a more inclusive feminism. Her writing, and her prolific Twitter, always come with the reminder that she is simply sharing her thoughts and participating in a conversation, something that the best essayists strive for and that Gay excels at.


Any other favorite female essayists? Whose stories still need to be told?

Cover image courtesy of Shutterstock.