In the year 2023, amidst a landscape teeming with diverse voices and stories, a constellation of women authors and translators has emerged, each wielding a pen as a brush, painting worlds that captivate, challenge, and resonate with readers across the globe.
Let us embark on an exploration of some of the most compelling and celebrated women authors of 2023, delving into their literary landscapes, exploring the themes that resonate within their works, and celebrating the indelible mark they leave.
Barbara Kingsolver, acclaimed for her compelling fiction like “The Poisonwood Bible,” and “The Bean Trees,” has penned ten bestselling novels alongside poetry, essays, and narrative nonfiction. Her works, translated into over twenty languages, have garnered numerous literary awards. Kingsolver received the prestigious National Humanities Medal and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize for her impactful contributions.
This year she won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her novel “Demon Copperhead.” “Demon Copperhead,” is a captivating novel set in the southern Appalachian mountains, narrating the resilient journey of a boy navigating life’s trials from a single-wide trailer. Written in his candid voice, the story delves into his struggles with foster care, labour, love, and loss while confronting the invisibility of rural life in a city-centric world.
Inspired by Dickens’ “David Copperfield,” Barbara Kingsolver’s powerful narrative echoes Dickens’ empathy, anger, and belief in storytelling’s transformative might. Reflecting the challenges of contemporary society, this novel portrays a new generation’s hardships, speaking for those rooted in beautiful yet forsaken landscapes they can’t envision leaving.
Chetna Maroo, a Kenyan-born author residing in London, has showcased her storytelling prowess in various anthologies and esteemed literary journals like the Paris Review, the Stinging Fly, and the Dublin Review. Her literary talent was honoured with the 2022 Plimpton Prize for Fiction. Formerly an accountant, Maroo ventured into full-time writing and has gained acclaim with her debut novel, “Western Lane,” which has earned a spot on the shortlist for the prestigious Booker Prize in 2023.
“Western Lane” is a poignant debut novel centred on eleven-year-old Gopi, a gifted squash player navigating grief and the intensity of her sport after her mother’s passing. Under her father’s rigorous training, squash becomes her singular focus, distancing her from her sisters.
Yet, on the court, she finds solace and connection, especially with Ged, a talented boy, and the echoes of past players. Chetna Maroo crafts a powerful coming-of-age tale that beautifully explores sisterhood, innocence, and the complex journey of self-discovery.
Megan Kamalei Kakimoto
Megan Kamalei Kakimoto, a Japanese and Kanaka Maoli writer from Honolulu, Hawaiʻi, gained acclaim with her story collection “Every Drop Is a Man’s Nightmare,” (Bloomsbury 2023), a USA Today national bestseller. Her fiction has graced the pages of prestigious publications like Granta, Conjunctions, Joyland, and Electric Literature, among others.
Kakimoto’s literary prowess earned her finalist status for the Keene Prize for Literature and support from the Rona Jaffe Foundation and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. An MFA graduate from the Michener Center for Writers, where she was a Fiction Fellow, she currently serves as a Fiction Editor for No Tokens journal. Her powerful debut story collection explores the lives of mixed native Hawaiian and Japanese women in a contemporary Hawai’i layered with ancestral wisdom and the haunting legacies of colonisation. Beyond the idyllic facade, these stories delve into a complex landscape where sexuality, generational memories, and island superstitions challenge conventional truths.
“Every Drop Is a Man’s Nightmare” passionately celebrates Hawaiian identity and mythology while shedding light on the turbulent realities of an occupied territory brimming with hidden, potentially explosive secrets.
Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai
Dr. Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai, hailing from Việt Nam, is renowned for her bestselling book “The Mountains Sing,” honoured with multiple prestigious awards including the Dayton Literary Peace Prize runner-up and the BookBrowse Best Debut Award.
With twelve published books spanning poetry, fiction, and non-fiction in both Vietnamese and English, she’s a recipient of top literary honours in Việt Nam, including the Poetry of the Year 2010 from the Hà Nội Writers Association. Her writing, translated into twenty languages, has graced renowned publications like the New York Times. She’s been recognised as one of Forbes Vietnam’s 20 Inspiring Women of 2021.
From the bestselling author in 2023 comes a compelling saga titled “Dust Child,” set in war-torn and present-day Việt Nam. In the novel, sisters Trang and Quỳnh become ‘bar girls’ in Sài Gòn in the year 1969 to aid their parents’ debts, while Phong, the son of a Black American soldier and a Vietnamese woman, searches for his parents and a way out of Việt Nam. This gripping tale explores family secrets, hidden trauma, and the transformative power of forgiveness.
Lamya H (she/they) is a queer Muslim writer and organiser based in New York City. Her writings have been featured in publications like the Los Angeles Review of Books, Salon, Vice, Autostraddle, Vox, and more. Lamya has been honoured with fellowships from Lambda Literary, Aspen Words, and Queer|Arts.
Dedicated to advocacy, Lamya’s organising efforts focus on cultivating inclusive spaces for LGBTQ+ Muslims, combating Islamophobia, and advocating for prison abolition. Lamya H’s 2023 debut memoir “Hijab Butch Blues,” penned anonymously with a pseudonym, explores gender, sexuality, and layered identities. Infused with Lamya’s journey navigating queerness and Muslim faith, alongside her role as an organiser and activist, this memoir emerges as a modern classic, carving its own space in contemporary literature.
In this daring and profoundly hopeful memoir, Lamya H navigates her coming-of-age by finding solace and inspiration in Quranic stories. Growing up feeling out of place and wrestling with her identity, a revelation about Maryam in the Quran sparks a transformative journey. Lamya draws parallels between her experiences and Quranic narratives, finding strength in comparison to figures like Musa and Nuh. As she embraces her identity as a queer, devout Muslim immigrant, her memoir spans from childhood to life in New York City, highlighting courage, trust, and the pursuit of self-empowerment.
Elizabeth Acevedo, a New York Times bestselling author, has made a significant mark with works like “The Poet X,” and “With the Fire on High.” Her debut novel, “The Poet X,” earned acclaim by winning the 2018 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. Recognised for her celebration and portrayal of Latin culture, she received the 2019 Pure Belpré Author Award. Acevedo’s literary journey includes fellowships with Cave Canem, Cantomundo, and participation in the Callaloo Writer’s Workshops.
An accomplished National Poetry Slam Champion, Elizabeth Acevedo ventures into her first novel for adults in 2023, delving into the narrative of a Dominican-American family through the perspectives of its women. This emotionally charged story titled “Family Lore,” captures the anticipation of an impending gathering that promises to reshape their lives. Described as a narrative brimming with intimate yet expansive resonance, it paints a vivid and authentic portrayal of a family and its world, earning acclaim for its raw emotional power and relatability.
Ilavenil Meena Kandasamy is an Indian figure renowned as a poet, fiction writer, translator, and activist hailing from Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India. Her literary journey encompasses two collections of poetry titled “Touch” (2006) and “Ms. Militancy” (2010). During 2001-2002, she held the editorial role at The Dalit, an alternative English magazine under the Dalit Media Network.
Kandasamy’s global literary presence extended as she represented India at the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program and served as a Charles Wallace India Trust Fellow at the University of Kent, Canterbury, United Kingdom. She contributes columns to esteemed platforms such as Outlook India and The Hindu, showcasing her diverse and impactful writing.
In her 2023 work, “The Book of Desire,” Kandasamy presents her luminous translation of the Kamattu-p-pal, an ancient 2000-year-old ode to female love and longing. This section of the Tirukkural, a significant text in Tamil literature, celebrates the nuances of desire, beauty, and the pleasures of love. Meena Kandasamy’s rendition stands as a feminist reclamation of this historically censored and predominantly male-translated text.
With her trademark wit, lyricism, and profound insight, she revitalises this timeless classic, infusing it with a renewed sense of passion and energy. In doing so, she champions a vital narrative of female agency and desire, culminating in a revolution that spans two millennia.
Each author on this list, a maestro of storytelling, weaves a tapestry of emotions, identity, and societal reflections that resonate universally. From the gripping narratives of Barbara Kingsolver and Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai to the poignant tales crafted by Chetna Maroo, Megan Kamalei Kakimoto, Lamya H, Elizabeth Acevedo, and Meena Kandasamy, their works echo across cultures, defy conventions, and champion inclusivity, inviting readers to explore, reflect, and immerse themselves in the profound richness of storytelling. We celebrate these authors and their contributions to literature and in their narratives find solace and a reflection of the kaleidoscope of human existence.
Disclaimer: This is by no means an exhaustive or representative list. Suggestions to add to the list are welcome in the comments section