Category Archives: History

Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut are Two Different People

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Embarrassingly enough (because when should you admit things of that nature except online, in front of strangers?), I spent a few of my formative years confusing authors Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut. I thought the same prolific man wrote all of their stories! Obviously I was quickly apprised of the real situation (and excruciating difference in genres) and had to immediately stop telling people how much I enjoyed Bradbury’s Slaughterhouse-Five. (I was 14, okay??). I wised up. These many years later I am revisiting my childhood trauma – I mean “experience” – and updating my knowledge on Ray Bradbury on his birthday!

ray10Bradbury was born on August 22nd, 1920, in rural Illinois. In 1932 at the age of twelve, Bradbury had a somewhat extraordinary experience with a traveling magician known as Mr. Electrico – who touched him on the nose and exclaimed “live forever!” – to which Bradbury took in the best way possible – his literature (which he began writing only days after this experience) will live forever. A couple short years later, the Bradbury family relocated to Los Angeles, where he was able to join the Los Angeles Science Fiction league as a teenager, and counted authors such as Robert Heinlein and Henry Kuttner among his mentors.

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ray8At the age of 19 his literary career began getting even more serious – and he honed with fantastical science fiction writing style by publishing his own fanzine, called Futuria Fantasia, and traveling to the first World Science Fiction convention, held in 1939 in New York City. His short stories began to be published in Science Fiction magazines such as Weird Tales and Super Science Stories. In the 1940s, Bradbury began to be published in high-end literary and social magazines like Harper’s, the American MercuryCollier’s and The New Yorker - not typical for most science fiction writers. And to do it without losing sight of your style and genre – almost unheard of! Bradbury published short stories, series’, and novels over the coming years. In 1953 his novel Fahrenheit 451 hit the shelves – and is now regarded as one of his greatest works. It follows a futuristic world where censorship is in full force and follows the seduction of one firefighter through the world of literature. Fahrenheit 451 was closely followed by his collection The Golden Apples of the Sun, where the story inspiration for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was found. He followed up his works with more and more short stories, and more novels, until his later life, when he elected to turn more often towards poetry, drama and mysteries – including adapting his stories for the big screen. Despite being considered a primarily science fiction writer, Bradbury often considered his works more in the fantasy, horror and mystery genres – that he did not stay true to science fiction themes, with the exception of his novel Fahrenheit 451.

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Bradbury dated and married only one woman throughout his life – a lady named Marguerite McClure, whom he married at the age of 27 and remained married to until her death 56 years later. The couple had four daughters. Bradbury himself lived to the ripe age of 91, when he died in 2012 after a lengthy illness. His personal library was left to the public library in his small Illinois hometown – where so much of his inspiration came from.

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And now, for some book-related history!

There comes a time in every bibliophile’s life when you have to sit back, relax… and read an online blog instructing you on the history of books! Not all books are created equal (this is where you should start taking notes). Some books are newer than others, some books are flimsier than others. Some are made of pigs skin, some of human skin. (But not that many, thank god). Some are so delicate that to touch them is to risk their disintegration. And some changed the way books were bought, read, and used by the world. We speak, of course, of the modern paperback novel – on today, its 83rd birthday. 

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A paperback is defined as being a book between stiff sheets of paper or paperboard, held together by glue (more often than by stitching or staples, as would be more likely to be found on paperbound pamphlets or booklets). Though paperbound works existed long before in forms of pamphlets and yellowback copies of existing works or dime novels, the modern paperback as we know it was only recognized in 1935, when the UK’s Penguin Books released their first paperback title, André Maurois’ Ariel. Now, credit where credit is due… Penguin Books actually took over design elements initially brought forth by Germany’s Albatross Books and their paperbound book idea in 1931 (cut short by the rapidly approaching onset of WWII). 

Allen Lane, publisher of the UK's Penguin Books.

Allen Lane, publisher of the UK’s Penguin Books.

The paperback revolution, as it is sometimes called, was something bordering on the revolution that the printing press made upon its release in the world. Penguin Books offering the first selections in English, published ten titles (all reprints of existing works, of course) in a relatively short period of time. British publisher Allen Lane, who invested large amounts of capital in Penguin Books for the publication of these paperbacks, ordered 20,000 copy runs for the first titles – keeping costs low. (According to history, as long as Penguin sold at least 17,000 titles of a run, they would break even – which they did – by a long run.) The books ran cheaper than a dozen cigarettes at the time – more than affordable to the average citizen. Though at the initial onset paperbacks were considered trash by booksellers of the day, once British department store Woolworths agreed to carry the novels and they sold unimaginably well, booksellers soon changed their tune.

After all, within the first year of existence, Penguin Books had sold over 3 million copies of their titles. 

(We are only human, you know…)

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America’s Simon & Schuster began their own line of “Pocket Books”

Penguin Books were a godsend during World War II. They were small enough to be carried in the pockets of soldiers, and brought more joy to the men on the battlefield than much else available in those days. Penguin Books was not alone for long, however. Simon & Schuster was part of the initial run of the American Pocket Books label, and soon “Pocket Book” and “Paper Back” became synonymous for small, paperback books, affordable to the public. In France they began to call the books livre de poche – pocket book. No matter where you turned, paperbacks had changed civilization in the western world as we knew it. 

With the advent of the e-book, one has to ask – where do we see paperbacks in the future? Surely they still serve the same services they once did – the ability to read on the go, carry a title around with you with less weight and at a lower cost. The antiquarian book world is an interesting place – we feel a bit removed from the new advances in book reading technology. If anything, with more and more e-book reading and online activity, books should become even more collectible and valued. But what of the mass-market paperbacks that are being made every day?

Send us or comment your thoughts! 

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The World’s Most Beloved (and Criticized) Family of Bears

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If you are a 90s child like myself (or a 70s child, or an 80s child, or a 2000s child…or even a 2010s child), I can guarantee that you know a family of bears… that live in (pretty much) the coolest treehouse ever… and whose sister and brother magically (almost) always get along. I grew up envying this small family and their adventures in pumpkin patches and at school. (So get to the point, you say?) Well today we thought we’d do a short feature on our favorite (fictional) family of bears… the Berenstain Bears, in honor of Jan’s birthday anniversary!

The Berenstain Bear family and franchise was created by Jan and Stan Berenstain in 1962, and has since become a series of over 300 titles. Since 2002, Jan and Stan’s son Mike continues the tradition by authoring the titles. A full family project, in a sense! Let’s see how it all came about…

bears5In 1941, Janice Grant and Stanley Berenstain met on their first day at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art and became close very quickly. At the onset of World War II, they took up different war effort posts (as a medical illustrator and riveter), but were eventually reunited and married in 1946. They found work as art teachers, then eventually became co-illustrators, publishing works like the Berenstain’s Baby Book in 1951 followed by many more (including, but not limited to Marital Blitz, How To Teach Your Children About Sex Without Making A Complete Fool of Yourself and Have A Baby, My Wife Just Had A Cigar). In the early 1960s the Berentain’s first “Berenstain Bears” book made it to a very important colleague and publisher – Theodore Geisel – or, as some of you may remember from our somewhat recent blog, Dr. Seuss! 

bears2Geisel traded ideas with the Berenstains for over a year – until he finally felt like they had a marketable product for the American public. In 1962, The Big Honey Hunt hit shelves across the USA. The Berenstains were working on their next book – featuring penguins – when Geisel got in touch to say another bear book was needed by demand, as The Big Honey Hunt was selling so undeniably well. Two years later The Bike Lesson came out… which began a waterfall of publications… at least one a year since then, but typically more than a few. A record 25 Berenstain Bears books were published in 1993 alone! Six titles have already been published in 2018. The immediate success of the Berenstain Bears lead to a situation not unlike the popular Hardy Boys series or Nancy Drew’s popularity – only for a younger age range and with a somewhat different tone. Not to mention all written and illustrated by the same authors, at least until Mike Berenstain took over the franchise in 2002. Jan and Stan were quite a busy pair for a number of years!

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Jan and her son Mike, the now author of the series.

Now why were the bears as successful as they were? Though some criticism has fallen on the books over the decades for its “formulaic” and “syrupy” tone, the books have also seen 35 titles in the Publishers Weekly top 250 titles of all time, and 15 titles in the top 100 Children’s Paperbacks. As an educational series (each title dealing with a somewhat moral or educational lesson for youngsters) it has received many accolades. However, as stated the series has also received criticism for being outdated and perpetuating stereotypes from its beginning. That being said, I do not believe that anyone, even those critical of the texts, can deny the obvious influence they have had on children and families… for decades! The bears provided a learning ground for warm and cuddly (if only mildly didactic) lessons for young children in the United States.

And the rest of the world. Because it has been translated into 23 languages. 

Happy Birthday to Jan Berenstain and the family of Berenstain (NOT “Berenstein”) Bears – Mama, Papa, Brother, Sister and Honey!

(…How come Honey gets an actual name?)

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Jan & Stan working in their studio with sons Leo and Mike. One big happy family!

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Happy Birthday, Aphra Behn!

And if you’re just now asking yourself “Who in the world is Aphra Behn?” then this is surely the blog for you!

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When I was at University I took a course on the Renaissance/Restoration poets, and completely fell in love with Ms. Behn and John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester. For those of you that don’t know, Restoration authors such as Aphra (sounds odd, but will use it anyway) and Rochester wrote in the time period of (roughly) 1660-1689. This was an interesting period of time, as Charles II had just been restored to the throne of England, and the focus in literature and poetry was on simplicity and the interesting mingling of human reasoning and natural passions. This gigantic shift from the Romantic form of literature seemed to happen almost overnight. And who was in the very throes of it? Why, Ms. Aphra Behn, of course!

Aphra Behn was born sometime in 1640, being baptized in December of that same year. Not much is known about Behn’s early life – which many believe she wanted, but being purposefully vague and misleading on such facts. Her biographer Janet Todd wrote that Behn “has a lethal combination of obscurity, secrecy and staginess which makes her an uneasy fit for any narrative, speculative or factual. She is not so much a woman to be unmasked as an unending combination of masks.” And certainly she was a mystery – she sometimes wrote under the pen name “Astrea” and though she was a well-known figure in the literary world, her life was a mystery to many. 

behn 1As a stout Stuart supporter, Behn became attached to the royal court after King Charles II came back into power in 1660. Now we get into the exciting (and more traceable) details of this woman’s life – in 1666 her connections to the crown landed her a job as a spy during the Second Anglo-Dutch War and she arrived in the Netherlands in July of that year. However, her time there did not pan out as planned, as Charles II was extremely neglectful of payments – and Behn was forced to return to England after having to pawn some of her jewelry in order to live abroad. After her return to England, she began working as a playwright (though reportedly had written poetry prior to this job) for the King’s and Duke’s Companies in London. Her work as a scribe was popular, and her plays began to be seen on the stage in 1670  with The Forc’d Marriage and 1671 with The Amorous Prince. After her third play, The  Dutch Lover, was noted a flop, Behn traveled for three years before settling down once again to write – this time more comical works that proved infinitely more popular than her earlier works. The most popular and well-known of which is, of course, The Rover – premiering in 1677 and featuring a group of well-bred Englishmen’s amorous adventures in Naples at Carnival time. 

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Behn continued to write “ferociously”, as Todd notes. Over her (somewhat short) lifetime, Behn would write and stage 19 plays and translate/author other essays and poetry. She became one of the first “prolific, high-profile female dramatists in Britain” and was one of the most productive playwrights in Great Britain, second only to Poet Laureate John Dryden (Todd). She became friendly with the other playwrights and literary greats of the day, and moved in interesting circles for a woman of the times. As one of the first women to earn her living solely from writing, we women today have a great deal to thank her for!

behn4Publishing her famous novel Oroonoko just a year before her death in 1688, Behn truly wrote until her health completely deteriorated. Though she died at age 48 in relative poverty, Behn was buried in Westminster Abbey under her tombstone which reads, “Here lies a Proof that Wit can never be Defence enough against Mortality.” (Hilarious even in death…) Happy Birthday to this early feminist!

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To Neverland… and Beyond!

“Life is a long lesson in humility.”

Would you imagine that the person who wrote this somewhat jarring quote above also once wrote,

“‘Wendy,’ Peter Pan continued in a voice that no woman has ever yet been able to resist, ‘Wendy, one girl is more use than twenty boys.’”?

Well you might be surprised to find out that indeed it was the very same author. J.M. Barrie was a man of many talents (not least of which being so obviously a feminist before his time)!

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James Matthew Barrie was born on May 9th, 1860, the ninth of ten children born to Margaret Ogilvy and David Barrie, a weaver in Kirriemuir, Scotland. James had a happy childhood until he was 6, when his elder brother died in a skating accident just before his 14th birthday. His mother was confined to her bedroom for months on end, ill with grief. Barrie tried to cheer her up by dressing in David’s clothes and walking around as him. Though by doing so he scared his mother out of her wits, their relationship was eventually strengthened by it. For the next couple years, before James was sent away to school, he and his mother shared a love of literature – reading aloud works like Pilgrim’s Progress, Robinson Crusoe, and poems by Walter Scott. 

Throughout his youth Barrie remained a voracious reader – and even formed a drama group with his friends during his teenage years. He left school wanting to become an author, and despite pressure from his family to join the religious order, he was able to attend university and study literature! After graduating the University of Edinburgh he worked for over a year as a journalist at the Nottingham Journal, and then returned home to his mother in Kirriemuir and began writing her childhood stories into a series eventually named “Thrums”. The editor of the St. James’s Gazette in London liked the series so much that he commissioned and published these stories. Though now not Barrie’s most popular work, these stories made him a well-known figure in the literary world and allowed him to begin writing plays – as he wanted.

barrie5Barrie wrote several successful plays (and a couple flukes), but his third script brought him into contact with a young actress of the day – Mary Ansell – who would later, in 1894, become Barrie’s wife. For their union Barrie gifted Mary a St. Bernard puppy – who would become the inspiration for “Nana” in later years. They settled in London but kept a country home in Farnham, Surrey. In 1897 Barrie became acquainted with a nearby family – the Llewelyn Davies family.  Barrie spent most of his free time with the family – and despite this relationship being depicted in movies and tv these days, it was a bit different than we see! Barrie met the family when the father Arthur was still alive, and was there for the five sons through the death of their father and eventually their mother, prematurely. Around this time Barrie unfortunately found his 10-year marriage falling apart. Amid rumors that their marriage was never consummated, Barrie’s wife took a lover twenty years her junior – Gilbert Cannan – an acquaintance of Barrie’s through theatrical politics. Barrie and Ansell’s marriage ended in divorce, though Barrie continued to support Mary throughout her subsequent marriage to Cannan and for the rest of her life. 

barrie2Inspired largely by the stories he told to the Llewelyn Davies family, Barrie began to formulate a story of a boy who wouldn’t grow up, who flew around and had adventures. Not unlike Charles Dodgson’s Alice a century before, Barrie began to write his story into a play and once debuted in 1904, the play Peter Pan; or the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up was an immediate success. George Bernard Shaw said of the performance, “ostensibly a holiday entertainment for children, but really a play for grown-up people” – a wonderful description of the meanings and metaphors found in Peter Pan. Though children may see the adventure story on the outside, the adults in the audience could see what was really at play (pun intended) – Barrie’s social commentary on the adult’s fear of time and growing old and losing their childish innocence and fun, to name just a few.

After Sylvia’s death in  1910, she named Barrie as co-guardian of the boys, along with her mother. Barrie remained close to the boys all their lives (though tragically two of the elder sons died young and Barrie seemed to suffer the trauma of losing a child). In 1911 Barrie wrote the novel Peter and Wendy as a follow up to the play, and in 1929 he donated all the proceeds from Peter Pan to the Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital in London – which the hospital still holds to this day. 

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Barrie continued to write several plays until his death in 1937 – though to hear the names of them, you wouldn’t think to associate them with the author of Peter Pan! Titles like Pantaloon (1905), Half an Hour (1913), A Kiss for Cinderella (1916), Shakespeare’s Legacy (1916), Mary Rose (1920), Cricket (1926), and The Boy David (1936) are some of the few that stand out, but are among dozens. He passed away in 1937 at the age of 77 from pneumonia in a London nursing home.

To the author of (arguably) the most beloved children’s story of all time (that wasn’t really intended for children), we have one thing to say to you on your birthday…

we hope that second star to the right is everything you imagined for all of us! 

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The Statute of Anne, and Other Copyright Tales

As antiquarian booksellers we all know what the copyright of a title is. We know where to find it, how to interpret it and what it means. But do we know how it came into being? I would venture to guess that more than a few of us are in the dark about how copyright laws came into existence to begin with! Today we would like to particularly focus on the Statute of Anne – otherwise known as the Copyright Act of 1710, which went into effect 308 years ago today – and how it drastically changed how copyright law worked in Great Britain, naming the author, rather than the publisher, as the holder of the copyright!

The crest of the Stationers Company in Great Britain.

The crest of the Stationers Company in Great Britain.

Prior to 1710, the law in effect in Great Britain was the Licensing of the Press Act 1662. Following the spread of the printing press brought over to the UK by William Caxton in 1476 (a prior blog on which you can read here), publishing and printing was widespread and copyright virtually nonexistent. The Licensing of the Press Act was enforced by a highly regarded guild of printers – the Stationers’ Company – who were given the “exclusive power to print and responsibility to censor literary works”. The censorship was thoroughly hated and disputed often, leading to public protests throughout Great Britain. As the Act needed to be renewed every two years to remain valid, authors and smaller printers protested its renewal repeatedly. Finally their efforts paid off in 1694, when Parliament refused to renew the Licensing Act, acknowledging that the ability of only a select few to print the works of an entire country had led to an unhealthy monopoly in the printing business.

After the dissolution of the Copyright Act, authors were finally able to join the fray - standing up beside the stationers/publishers petitioning Parliament for a new system. Jonathan Swift and Daniel Defoe were two of the most notable authors of the time calling for new licensing (in particular calling for authors to have power over their own work). In 1705 Defoe wrote that without current licensing, “One Man Studies Seven Year, to bring a finish’d Peice into the World, and a Pyrate Printer, Reprints his Copy immediately, and Sells it for a quarter of the Price … these things call for an Act of Parliament”. Suddenly the lobbyists saw an opportunity – rather than lobbying because they were losing out on profit due to lack of licensing, they chose to lobby for the authors instead – their “hearts-of-gold” (we use this term loosely) winning out in the end. They argued for licensing to be reinstated, but with reference to authors – to guarantee them an income – and arguing that without the ability to make a profit from their work, “learned men will be wholly discouraged from propagating the most useful Parts of Knowledge and Literature” (stationer John Howe, 1706).

With the sudden support of authors and other “learned men”, stationers had bigger and better forces and petitioned Parliament in both 1707 and 1709 to write a bill providing copyright to authors (and the publisher they are able to use, obviously). Parliament finally took note and, whatever the motivations of the passage, a bill was finally passed on April 5th, 1710, and is known as the Statute of Anne due to its being passed during Queen Anne’s reign. It consisted of 11 main sections, and its most important and obvious part was the right to copy, “to have sole control over the printing and reprinting of books”, [with no provision to benefit the owner of this right after the sale. Problematic]. The right would “automatically be given to the author as soon as it was published, although they had the ability to license these rights to another person or company.”

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Though the Statute of Anne was by no means perfect, and lawsuits arose after copyrights expired and other booksellers began printing works that had been copyrighted but not re-upped… yaddah, yaddah – it was absolutely the first time that the treatment of authors by printers was recognized and the first step toward a more public law - pressing for less monopoly on printing and therefore, simultaneously, easier spread of the written word.

 

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Celebrating Women Authors on Maya Angelou’s Birthday

We recently saw an interesting article online, detailing the “Best Female Authors” of all time. On this, what would be Dr. Maya Angelou’s 90th birthday, we would like to channel her inner strength and power as a leading poet, singer, memoirist, and civil rights activist and honor some of the most famous female authors of all time.

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Top Twenty-Five Female Authors of All Time in One Sentence or Less

Followed by the First Sentence or So Found about these Powerful Ladies on the Internet (A Rather Fascinating Social Experiment, No?)

(Obviously Debatable, but these names are based on Book Sales and those found to be Classics Today)

Jane Austen:an English novelist known primarily for her six major novels, which interpret, critique and comment upon the British landed gentry at the end of the 18th century.”

Virginia Woolf:an English writer, who is considered one of the foremost modernist authors of the 20th century and a pioneer in the use of stream of consciousness as a narrative device.”

Charlotte Bronte:is one of the most famous Victorian women writers, only two of her poems are widely read today, and these are not her best or most interesting poems.”

Agatha Christie:Lady Mallowan, DBE was an English writer. She is known for her 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections, particularly those revolving around her fictional detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple.”

Mary Shelley:an English novelist, short story writer, dramatist, essayist, biographer, and travel writer, best known for her Gothic novel Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus (1818).”

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Louisa May Alcott:was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania on November 29, 1832. She and her sisters Anna, Elizabeth, and [Abba] May were educated by their father, teacher/philosopher A. Bronson Alcott, and raised on the practical Christianity of their mother, Abigail May.”

J.K. Rowling:is the creator of the Harry Potter fantasy series, one of the most popular book and film franchises in history.”

George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans):was an English novelist, poet, journalist, translator and one of the leading writers of the Victorian era.”

Emily Dickinson:is one of America’s greatest and most original poets of all time.”

Sylvia Plath:was one of the most dynamic and admired poets of the 20th century.”

Toni Morrison:American writer noted for her examination of black experience (particularly black female experience) within the black community.”

Margaret Atwood:is a Canadian poet, novelist, literary critic, essayist, inventor, and environmental activist.”

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Elizabeth Gaskell:often referred to as Mrs Gaskell, was an English novelist, biographer, and short story writer.”

Willa Cather:established a reputation for giving breath to the landscape of her fiction.”

Dorothy Parker:was an American poet, writer, critic, and satirist, best known for her wit, wisecracks and eye for 20th-century urban foibles.”

Gertrude Stein:was an American author and poet best known for her modernist writings, extensive art collecting and literary salon in 1920s Paris.”

Ursula Le Guin: an “immensely popular author who brought literary depth and a tough-minded feminist sensibility to science fiction and fantasy with books like ‘The Left Hand of Darkness’” 

Isabel Allende:s a Chilean-American writer. Allende, whose works sometimes contain aspects of the genre of “magical realism,” is famous for novels such as The House of the Spirits (La casa de los espíritus, 1982) and City of the Beasts (La ciudad de las bestias, 2002), which have been commercially successful.”

Edna St. Vincent Millay:received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1923, the third woman to win the award for poetry, and was also known for her feminist activism.”

Mary Wollstonecraft: “an English writer and passionate advocate of educational and social equality for women.”

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Alice Walker:is a Pulitzer Prize-winning, African-American novelist and poet most famous for authoring ‘The Color Purple.’”

Maya Angelou:an impactful civil rights leader who collaborated with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X during the Civil Rights movement. “

Judy Blume:spent her childhood in Elizabeth, NJ, making up stories inside her head. She has spent her adult years in many places, doing the same thing, only now she writes her stories down on paper.”

Betty Friedan: “a leading figure in the women’s movement in the United States, her 1963 book The Feminine Mystique is often credited with sparking the second wave of American feminism in the 20th century.”

Thank you to these powerful, courageous and wonderful writers for their influence on female empowerment!

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