Lady writers for the soul

Naomi Adedokun shares six badass women writers who are sure to give you summer reading inspiration

Do you love poetry, but hate John Donne and his stupid, smug face? Well then, this list is right up your alley! A collection, in no particular order, of some of the lovely lady writers that have captured my heart. Perfect for any occasion, especially when you’re tired of the literary canon being too white and male.

  1. Maya Angelou

Let’s start off easy. Chances are that Maya Angelou’s one of the only black female poets that your curriculum would allow you to study back in school. At the very least, her name is recognisable. After her sad passing in 2014, I binged heavily on Angelou, and found that I’d been taking her for granted this entire time.

She’s chicken soup for the soul. And I don’t mean that in a fluffy sense, no, rather that she’s the healing after the hurt. The part of you that forgives. Comforting.

“I gave birth to one child, a son, but I have thousands of daughters. You are Black and White, Jewish and Muslim, Asian, Spanish-speaking, Native American and Aleut. You are fat and thin and pretty and plain, gay and straight, educated and unlettered, and I am speaking to you.”

  • Preface of ‘Letter to My Daughter’

READ: ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’, if you want the best life advice ever. ‘Letter to My Daughter’ if you want to cry about mums and mother figures and mother-daughter relationships.

  1. Warsan Shire

If you’ve been exploring Beyoncé’s ‘Lemonade’ recently (and who hasn’t?!), you’ll probably have come across Warsan’s name by now. Not to sound too hipster, guys, but I definitely knew her before she was ‘cool’. So imagine my surprise when I find out that it’s her poetry that’s featured heavily in the film!

She’s all about making girls feel good about being girls. The message is constantly realise your worth and embrace it. Warsan loves her ladies, and it shows.

“Give your daughters difficult names. Give your daughters names that command the full use of tongue. My name makes you want to tell me the truth. My name doesn’t allow me to trust anyone that cannot pronounce it right.”

  • Telling My Mother How to Give Birth

READ: Well, watch ‘Lemonade’ to hear Warsan’s work narrated by Beyoncé (wow what a time to be alive). And read ‘For Women Who Are Difficult to Love’ for those times when you feel like you are too much (spoiler alert: you’re not).


  1. Salma Deera

Salma is a teacher, but completely different from Maya’s style. If Angelou is a lecture you can comfortably sit in and enjoy, no worries, Deera is your tutorial. Except there’s only you and her in the room, and every time she asks you a question, she expects you to answer. What my Dad would call “an angry feminist”.

“see, you will rise.

and are you less of a woman for this?


what is woman?

woman is this–enduring.

listen girl, you will survive this–you will.

but what fool said you had to do it silently?

here is a tip–scream

  • medea gives advice to a young girl with a broken heart, ‘Letters from Medea’

READ: ‘Letters from Medea’ if you love mythology allusions and images of girls clawing their way through the earth.

  1. Anne Carson

A combination of the confessional and the critical in a voice all her own. She likes to talk about the ancient, about things like the Fall of Rome and the deeply primitive feel of early Judaism and about how they can relate to something as small and as personal as a love affair.


I hate to bother you,

but I am talking about evil.

It blooms.

It eats.

It grins.”

  • The Fall of Rome: A Traveller’s Guide from ‘Glass, Irony and God’

READ: ‘Glass, Irony and God’ to see a soul under pressure and the gender-bending hellish relationship between God and Isaiah that you’ve always wanted.

  1. Clementine von Radics

Acceptance is the last stage of grief. To reach this, you should read Clementine von Radics. Like Salma, she’s brutally candid in her approach, but you appreciate it. You accept that you are enough.

“Sit there in your ugly

and revel in it.

Be the ugliest thing in the room

so what.

You are still in the room.”

  • ‘A Manifesto’

READ: ‘As Often As Miracles’ for when you want to be punched in the gut and then kissed on the lips

  1. Lidia Yuknavitch

This is not your mother’s poet. She traces young women’s developing sexuality, and the discovery of bisexuality.

“That image of Joan of Arc burning up in a fire burned inside me like a new religion. Her face skyward. Her faith muscled up like a holy war. And always the voice of a father in her head. Like me. Jesus. What is a thin man pinned to wood next to the image of a burning woman warrior ablaze? I took the image of a burning woman into my heart and left belief to the house of father forever.”

  • ‘The Chronology of Water’

READ: ‘The Chronology of Water’ is a memoir for the ages. ‘Dora: A Headcase’ giving the voiceless a voice.

Illustration by Lille Allen

Originally published in Issue 11 of That’s What She Said Magazine. To read the full magazine, visit:



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