In honor of Women’s History Month, we’ve selected 11 female authors to keep an eye on this spring and summer. From talented memoirists to first-time novelists to returning phenoms, we predict you’ll see their names in headlines—and on bestseller lists.
THERESE ANNE FOWLER
Z (St. Martin’s, April)
It’s official: The 1920s have completely taken over the American psyche. Take the runaway success of “Downton Abbey” and “Boardwalk Empire” and the omnipresent previews for Baz Luhrmann’s star-studded Gatsby adaptation as proof. Fowler, whose three previous contemporary women’s fiction titles garnered good reviews but hovered under the radar, joins the crowd with her first historical novel, Z, the story of the life of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s talented, beautiful and doomed wife, Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald. From her youth as the belle of Montgomery to the heady early days of marriage to the inevitable breakdowns, Fowler chronicles Zelda’s incredible life with sympathy and compassion. (Our assistant editor, Cat, is reading Z right now. See what she has to say about it and read a brief excerpt here.)
How to Create the Perfect Wife (Basic, April)
This strange true story arises from a dilemma many people confront in the search for true love: What would you do if you knew the exact characteristics your ideal spouse should have, but couldn’t find an actual person who embodied them all? Many of us might broaden our search a little, or concede that “must love dogs” is less important than “good sense of humor.” But Thomas Day, a writer and philosopher in 18th-century Britain, took a different tack: He found two young orphan girls, contrived to become their guardian, and set about molding them into perfect housewives, according to his bizarre and stringent specifications. Unsurprisingly, one soon proved herself less than equal to the task, but the other spent several years in Day’s household, subjected to his increasingly odd methods of education. Historian Wendy Moore tells this fascinating story with novelistic aplomb.
The Golem & the Jinni (Ecco, May)
New York City, the Gilded Age. A beautiful young woman and a handsome young man arrive in the city from far-off lands. When they meet, they immediately feel that they are kindred spirits, and soon discover that they share a common enemy. Think you’ve read this one before? What if we told you that the woman is a golem, the man is a genie (aka jinni) and their enemy is a powerful magician? Wecker’s fresh, magical debut is already being compared to Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell and is sure to receive an enthusiastic welcome from the thousands of readers who made The Night Circus a hit in 2011.
A Dual Inheritance (Ballantine, May)
A teacher of creative writing at Columbia, Joanna Hershon is the author of three critically acclaimed novels, including the book club favorite The German Bride. Her fourth and most ambitious novel yet is drawing comparisons to Cheever, Franzen and Eugenides—as well as to Victorian social novelists like George Eliot. It’s a decades-spanning story of the friendship between two young men—one a Jewish scholarship student, the other a Boston Brahmin from a privileged background—who meet at Harvard in 1963. Though their friendship eventually ends as suddenly as it begins, their lives and families remain connected through the women they both love. At nearly 500 pages, this is a novel readers can really sink their teeth into, and could be one of the year’s true literary highlights.
She Left Me the Gun: My Mother’s Life Before Me (Penguin Press, May)
Out of incredible trauma and unspoken secrets, Emma Brockes fashions a riveting memoir about her mother, Paula, and a life Brockes never knew. Paula grew up in South Africa during the bloody reign of apartheid, with seven half-siblings and a violent father; once she made it to England, she rarely spoke of the life she’d left behind. After her death, Brockes begins to uncover long-buried secrets about those years, which left their mark on her mother for the rest of her life, and eventually visits South Africa to seek the truth about her family history. Brockes, a regular contributor to the Guardian, has written a standout in the disturbing-family-memoir field.
We Need New Names (Reagan Arthur, June)
Born and raised in Zimbabwe, Bulawayo moved to America to get an MFA at Cornell, and is currently a Stegner fellow at Stanford. She was discovered and championed by none other than Junot Díaz, and her short stories won the 2011 Caine Prize for African Writing. Her debut novel is a coming-of-age story told in the slowly maturing voice of a young girl, Darling, who moves from Zimbabwe to live with family in Detroit in her early teens. But American suburban life has its own hardships. Fans of Zadie Smith and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, take note of this one.
You Are One of Them (Penguin Press, June)
I’m a sucker for novels with a Russia connection, but many more illustrious names than I have fallen for Holt’s literary debut—A.M. Homes, Lauren Groff and Kevin Wilson among them. The plot description is a bit complicated to summarize, so let’s use Holt’s own words: “It’s about friendship and loss, allegiance and betrayal, propaganda and advertising, fear and courage, the Cold War, secrets and surveillance, history—both personal and cultural, growing up female, and the stories we humans tell ourselves in order to cope.” Holt’s short fiction has been published in several prestigious journals, including The Kenyon Review.
The Never List (Pamela Dorman, July)
Talk about pressure: This debut novelist from Alabama is already being touted as this year’s Gillian Flynn—and her first novel certainly sounds as dark and disturbing as anything Flynn has dreamed up. The Never List is the story of a survivor—Sarah, a 31-year-old woman who was kept prisoner for three years by a sadistic kidnapper, along with three other women. Not all of them made it out, including Sarah’s best friend Jennifer. When her kidnapper comes up for parole, Sarah is forced to confront her demons, and the unbreakable bond between her and her fellow surviving captives, once and for all.
The People in the Trees (Doubleday, August)
An accomplished first novel from a former Vintage publicity assistant and travel magazine editor, The People in the Trees is already being compared to the works of Norman Rush and Ann Patchett. It’s the story of Norton Perina, a doctor and man of science who discovers the secret to eternal life on a Micronesian island. But as with all things too good to be true, there is a price to be paid. Yanagihara’s travel writing experience yields some fantastic descriptions of the island paradise, and in Perina she’s created a complex and fascinating character.
Night Film (Random House, August)
OK, we know—Pessl’s been watched before, when her debut novel, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, became the talk of 2006 and went on to sell nearly 200,000 copies in hardcover. But it’s been a long wait for her second novel—and Night Film went to a new publisher and a new editor, Kate Medina. Has Pessl generated another bestseller and avoided the dreaded sophomore slump? Our money’s on “yes,” but we can’t wait to crack the covers and find out.
The Bone Season (Bloomsbury, August)
Perhaps the most heavily hyped debut of the season, Shannon’s first novel is the start of a seven-book series and is drawing comparisons to the work of none other than J.K. Rowling. Set in 2059, The Bone Season features a dystopian world where many have psychic abilities—and are persecuted for them. Shannon’s 19-year-old heroine, Paige Mahoney, is able to “dreamwalk” into others’ minds, a potentially lethal talent that more than one faction of this brave new world would like to get their hands on. Early champions of the novel include Ali Smith and the actor Andy Serkis, who has already optioned the film rights. Though Shannon’s dystopian world can be brutal, the magical elements and tough teenage heroine guarantee YA-crossover potential—and the author herself, who studies English at Oxford, is just 22 years old.
Which women are you keeping an eye on in 2013? Let us know in the comments! (And if you’re curious about our track record, check out the 2012 edition of “women to watch.”)
[Fowler author photo by Tom Clark; Moore author photo by Colin Chrisford]