“I am obnoxious to each carping tongue/ That says my hand a needle better fits.”
These are the word of Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672), from the Prologue to her first collection of poems, published in London in 1650. With its publication, Anne became the first published woman poet writing in the English language. Also, as she had emigrated to America with her family at the age of eighteen, she became America’s first published poet, of either gender. Anne correctly foresaw that many would argue that poetry was not a fit occupation for a woman, and had prepared herself in advance to stand up to the critics. Continue reading Anne Bradstreet – Poet and Feminist
Gaspara Stampa was born in 1523 to a bourgeois family. Her parents were known for hosting cultural salons, and they ensured that Gaspara and her siblings were educated in Latin, literature, and music.
She became an excellent lute-player and singer, as well as an exceptional lyric poet. When she began to host her own cultural salons, she often performed her own work. Modern Western poetry was born from the Medieval culture of performance; poets would sing their own compositions, since most people were illiterate. However, in the later middle ages, there was a shift towards writing and reading rather than singing and listening. Gaspara was one of the last poets who was equally skilled at writing and performing, and she quickly became a much-admired figure in the cultural circles of her native Venice. Continue reading Gaspara Stampa
Long before Oscar Wilde became a household name, his mother, Jane, was a celebrity in her native Dublin and far beyond. A poet, an essayist, an accomplished linguist, a wit, a beauty, a very loving wife and mother, and a campaigner for liberty and women’s rights, she earned a reputation as a fiery revolutionary in Ireland and as a very accomplished translator of key literary works throughout Europe. Continue reading Lady Jane Wilde
Born Marguerite Annie Johnson on April 4, 1928, Maya Angelou was an American author, poet, dancer, actress, and singer. She published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, and several other books.
I discovered Maya Angelou’s work in a charity shop in Cornwall, I bought the book I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings and it was a true gift for me. Throughout my life I have read most of her books and poetry and seen her on TV, and in films. It is her universal voice, that connects with so many of her readers. She details the struggles we all encounter, growing up, sexuality, self esteem, being a strong woman, role models, how to survive mistakes that break your heart, living a creative life, motherhood, and finding love. Continue reading Maya Angelou
Pauline Johnson, a 19th century Canadian poet who was part Mohawk and part English, became famous for her dramatic poetry readings in which she appeared first in “Indian costume” and then in European evening dress.
The daughter of a Mohawk chief and his English wife, Pauline was raised in a bicultural family. It was this biculturalism that made her famous in drawing rooms, church halls and theatres throughout Canada, the United States and England. Continue reading Pauline Johnson
Aphra Behn (1640?-1689) was a 17th-century writer who challenged expectations of women at the time by writing plays, poetry and novels for profit. Her most famous texts include The Rover, Oroonoko, and The Fair Jilt. Some of her writing was notorious for its sexual themes, but she also got into trouble for writing about politics, a risk for any writer during this period but particularly for a woman. Behn’s prose writing is seen as playing an important part in the development of the novel.
Continue reading Aphra Behn
Amelia Bassano Lanier (1569-1645) was the first English woman to publish a book of original poetry. It now appears she may also have been the long-sought major author of the Shakespearean plays.
She was born into a family of Venetian Jews who had been brought to London to be the Court recorder musicians, and who lived as secret Jews or Marranos practicing their faith covertly. From the age of 7 she was educated like a countess in the household headed by Lord Willoughby, the Danish ambassador, and his sister Countess Susan Bertie. About the age of 13 she was given to be an ‘honest courtesan’ to Queen Elizabeth’s half-brother Lord Hunsdon, 43 years her senior. He was the royal falconer, a judge, a general, and the Lord Chamberlain in charge of Court entertainments and the theater industry.
Continue reading Amelia Bassano Lanier – Shakespearean Shero
In Ukraine, the foremost woman poet and playwright is Larysa Petrivna Kosach-Kvitka, but she is much better known by the pen name her mother gave her: Lesya Ukrainka (Lesya of Ukraine)—a name as highly recognizable as her famous braided hair. Lesya Ukrainka is seen everywhere on statutes, postage stamps, paintings, films, and certainly in books by and about her.
Her very name “Lesya Ukrainka” was itself a brave and radical act for identifying as a Ukrainian during the oppressive regime of Imperial Russia which considered Ukrainian nationalism and the language as subversive and treasonous.
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Skye Gaelic bard and Highland Land League shero, Mairi Mhor Nan Oran.
Mairi Mhor Nan Oran was many things; a nurse and midwife, a one-time prisoner and most notably a gaelic poet and songstress. It was through this work that she earned her shero status and, due to her body type, the name Mairi Mhor Nan Oran, meaning Big Mary of the Songs.
Mairi Mhor was born in Skeabost, on the Isle of Skye in 1821. She was born Mary MacDonald, into a crofting family. Her early life was characterized by the rural and domestic arts typical of her gender and social class, crofting work and home textile production. In her 27th year she moved to Inverness and married a shoemaker by the name of Isaac MacPherson. Around the age of 50 in 1872, Mairi Mhor, whilst engaged in domestic work, was imprisoned for stealing clothes from her mistress. The charge was widely considered to have been unjust.
Continue reading Mairi Mhor Nan Oran
*Trigger warning* Domestic Violence
Caroline Norton, came from a privileged and politically connected family, was a society beauty and was a celebrated writer of poetry.
After the death of her father in South Africa, her family became penniless and she was pressurised into a marriage to support her family. In 1827 she married George Norton who was the Tory MP for Guildford, but Caroline was a Whig who wanted social reform and was interested in improving the lives of factory workers. The pair were political opposites and did not get on with each other.
Continue reading Caroline Norton