Category Archives: Americana

The American Anniversary of the (American) English Language

Many men born in the states during and after the revolution were more die-hard Americans than any of the foam fingered MAGA supporters we see today. After all, they were the children of the revolution… either they or their fathers fought hard to ensure our country’s freedom, and they weren’t about to let us forget it. They used whatever skills they had – political? They wrote the Constitution. Physical? They fought in battles. Academic? They wrote Declaration of Independence, or essays on our rights… or a dictionary of the American English language. Today we’d like to discuss one such man – who wrote the first American dictionary. With its over 70,000 entries it was more conclusive than ever before, and included words specific to America.

We may be young… but we invented the word “hickory.” So there.

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Noah Webster was born in 1758 in West Hartford, Connecticut. His father, though a farmer by trade, was at the same time a deacon of their local church, captain of the town’s small militia, and a founder of the local book society (which later because the local public library). Though his father did not have extensive educational knowledge, Webster (Sr.) did have a thirst for learning, comprehension, and understanding. His wife began teaching her son to read and write at a young age, and after attending small, dilapidated schools in the region and using a private tutor, and after his father mortgaged their family farm to pay the tuition fees, Noah Webster was able to enroll at Yale College when he was 16 years old… during the height of revolutionary unrest, and he continued studying during the Revolutionary War.

After graduating from Yale, Webster began teaching, then quit to study law, and finally passed the bar exam in 1781. One can imagine it was trying times to be finding a job and earning a living, what with the Revolutionary War still raging on. He began a small private school in Western Connecticut that he closed shortly thereafter, then he wrote essays for local papers praising the Revolution, and then he opened yet another school, but this time for the wealthy of New York. It was at this establishment that he began work on his first “speller” – a grammar and reader for use in elementary classes. The revenue from this first venture is what enabled Webster to spend the next years working on his infamous dictionary.

webster1Webster married Rebecca Greenleaf in 1789, and as she was of good breeding (man, I don’t get to use that phrase often enough) he was able to join higher levels of society in Connecticut than he had been. (They would later have 8 children, but that is neither here nor there.) Due to his beliefs in the revolution and conviction in America’s greatness, one Alexander Hamilton loaned him $1,500 in 1793 to move to New York and become the editor for the Federalist Papers.  For the next few decades, Webster spent much of his time being one of the most profuse authors of the time, especially when it came to political reports, but also in regard to textbooks and articles across the board.

Over these years, Webster focused on one specific way he personally could help his beloved new country. He wanted to promote an American approach to educating our children, and wanted to “rescue our native tongue from the ‘clamour of pedantry’ that surrounded English grammar and pronunciation.” He said that the English language had suffered the British aristocracy’s approach to spelling and pronunciation – an outdated and elite way of speaking and teaching. He eventually began work on his lifetime’s achievement… The Webster Dictionary.

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In 1806 Webster published the first attempt – A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language – the first actual American dictionary of its kind, but knew immediately it was not enough. He continued working on his opus. He learned somewhere between 26-28 languages in evaluate their importances and meanings, and connected with people around the east coast of the new America in order to gather words and meanings from around the “country.” At the tender age of 70, Webster published his dictionary in 1828. Though at first it only sold 2,500 copies, and Webster ended up re-financing his home to pay for a second edition… we all know the eternal significance his dictionary would play on us all… as the Webster (now Webster-Merriam, after rights were granted to the publishing brothers in 1843) Dictionary is still used in schools and households across the United States today.

This week we celebrate its publication (as the copyright was registered by Webster on April 14th, 1828) and the lasting impact it has had on America… just as Noah Webster wished it to.

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Credit: University of Washington libraries.

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New Acquisitions for Your Viewing Pleasure

The recent fairs have given us a fair amount (pun intended) of new inventory! As we haven’t posted one in a while we thought it might be nice to give you an in-depth look at some of our latest and greatest… though there are many more ready to go home with their new owners! Check out our website’s categories for more info on these and other awesome titles.

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We would be remiss in sending our hometown book fairs love without beginning this blog with one of our favorite local finds! DeWitt’s Guide to San Francisco was published in 1900, and is illustrated by nearly 20 engravings! The city guidebook lists tourist sights, hotels, restaurants, banks, businesses, churches, clubs, schools, etc. Love San Francisco? Perhaps you should see what has changed in the last 118 years! See it here.

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This cabinet card photograph depicts three young girls, most likely of the Utes tribe, where they resided in the southern end of Colorado. The photograph itself is circa 1890s, when the town of Rouse, Colorado (now a ghost town) was home to, what was in 1888, the largest coal mine in the state. View this amazing piece of 19th century photographical history here.

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This 1890 edition of The Care of the Sick has a beautiful gilt illustrated binding – and is a solid Very Good copy of this handbook for Nurses, detailing care for the ill both at home and in the hospital. You love nursing material as much as we do? Check it out here!

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We also have a pretty spectacular collection of children’s series books – Nancy Drews, Tom Swifts… Hardy Boys? All can be found on our website and on our shelves! Some series books are not quite so well known as these, however… like this copy of The Bobcat of Jump Mountain. Part of the Boys’ Big Game Series, this title was published in 1920 and our copy still has its original dust jacket! Did we mention it is signed and inscribed by the author, the year of publication? See it here.

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Now this may look like nothing special, but in fact these two volumes make up a first US edition of Oliver Twist… and we would be remiss Dickens specialists indeed if we did not include one of his titles in this list! Now certainly Oliver Twist needs no description to provide its storyline or enforce its importance… so let’s just say that this rare set is not often offered in the trade. See it here.

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Kind of a strange leap from our classic main man, but here offered as well is a 1941 1st edition of rogue author Henry Miller’s The World of Sex. Bibliographers Shifreen & Jackson have speculated that the 3 states of the first [ours given priority] runs of this work may each have had a run of 250 copies. This first state binding is increasinly uncommon, especially in its original jacket – as ours is! Expand your horizons here.

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And while we’re on the subject, here is another fun find from the fairs! We almost feel like the mid 20th century Gilbert Vitalator requires no explanation except for their own marketing! With this vibrator attached to your fingers… “…you’re ready for the thrill of your life. Press your fingers against your body on the spot you wish to massage, and flip the switch. Things happen quickly here, but they can be explained slowly. The Vitalator sets up a vibration which travels to your finger tips and flows through them to your body. But it is not merely a vibration. If you had a pencil in your fingers, set to paper, it would be tracing tiny ovals with lightning rapidity. This rotary movement – this “Swedish massage” action – in the secret of Vitalators superior benefits.” Woohoo! Can be used by men and women, apparently. See this funny body massager here

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This poem, Dickens in Camp was written by Bret Harte shortly after Dickens’ death in the 1870s. Published in a fine press edition in 1923 by John Henry Nash in a run of only 250 copies… and it is signed by the famous publisher! Check out this wonderful tribute to our main man here.

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This Red Cross WWII campaign promotion poster advertises Toys for Kiddies – an initiative where patients in military hospitals designed and created handmade toys for children in homes and orphanages at Christmastime. With the materials provided by the Red Cross, apparently the men spent months making and competing to produce the most creative children’s toy of the season. See this 1940s broadside here.

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Last but not least, we offer as a tribute to the wonderful OZ themed California fair just a couple weeks ago this beautiful 1st edition, 1st printing of Frank L. Baum’s The Woggle – Bug Book, inscribed by the author to one Ruth Bailey Ingersoll in 1905 – the year of its publication. Said by bibliographer Bienvenue to be “remarkably difficult for collectors to find, particularly in good condition. … the large book is one of the most delicate and ephemeral of all Baum’s publications”, we are lucky enough to offer a very pleasing Very Good copy of this unusual early Baum title here at Tavistock Books! Check it out here.

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We hope you’ve enjoyed this brief list of some fun new items on our shelves! Stay tuned throughout the rest of book fair season to see more of them.

 

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Happy Birthday to Gore Vidal – the Most Combative Man in History

A part of me thinks that a name like Gore Vidal belongs in the company of Perez Prado and Carmen Miranda. I know how that sounds, but honestly – to me, the name is power embodied. As many know, and as Chris Bram most notably stated, “Gore Vidal was famous for his hates: academia, presidents, whole portions of the American public and, most notably, Truman Capote. Yet he could be incredibly generous to other writer friends… He was a man of many facets and endless contradictions.” Let’s look at some quick facts about this notorious American figure on what would have been his 93rd birthday. 

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1. His first novel was published in 1948 when he was a mere 22 years old (show of hands for which of us feel like we have accomplished nothing with our lives?), and won him instant notoriety. The City and the Pillar broke so many boundaries people didn’t know where to start… it depicted a male homosexual relationship at a time when homosexuality was still illegal throughout the United States.

2. Along these lines, Vidal believed that homosexuality and heterosexuality were adjectives, not nouns. Therefore someone could not BE a homosexual, they could simply perform homosexual acts. He believed that human sexuality existed on a sliding scale, and everyone was at least a little bisexual – even if it only meant that you could appreciate the beauty of a member of your own sex! He is now considered the godfather of gay literature, though he did not wish to be simply known as a gay author when he was writing, as he had views on all aspects of life that he wished to share.

3. Getting off the subject of sex, Vidal was also a master of upheaval in politics, and published many essays that would offend the conservative side of America. His historical novel Julian, published in 1964, relived the time of the Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate and how he used the idea of religious tolerance in Christian times to reinstate polytheistic paganism.

vidal14. We think this quote by Vidal needs no explanation (but everyone please remember that this is Vidal’s quote – not necessarily ours): “There is only one party in the United States, the Property Party … and it has two right wings: Republican and Democrat. Republicans are a bit stupider, more rigid, more doctrinaire in their laissez-faire capitalism than the Democrats, who are cuter, prettier, a bit more corrupt – until recently … and more willing than the Republicans to make small adjustments when the poor, the black, the anti-imperialists get out of hand. But, essentially, there is no difference between the two parties.” Ouch!

5. He fought with… everyone. Most famously, though, as mentioned above in the quote by Bram, he fought with Truman Capote and William F. Buckley Jr.. With Capote, they fought over Capote supposedly spreading slander about drunk and disorderly behavior by Vidal in the White House. Untrue, Vidal took grave offense to these rumors and both traded hateful barbs. The Buckley feud a bit more intense, with actual lawsuits coming forth for libel and cruelty, Vidal said in 2008 after Buckley passed away, “I thought hell is bound to be a livelier place, as he joins, forever, those whom he served in life, applauding their prejudices and fanning their hatred.”

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Jeesh! Now here’s the thing… Vidal did a lot of things for the wrong reasons, and a lot of things… because he had thoughts and feelings and wanted to express them. However, hate him (which someone like him would probably appreciate, not going to lie) or love him – you have to admit… he was a pretty worthy opponent.

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OTD in 1891…

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Moby-Dick is, undeniably, a classic American novel. But did you know that at the time of its publication it was considered a total flop? In fact, Melville’s prior novels (which some of you may never have even heard of) did much, much better in American critical literary society than Moby-Dick. Readers could not see past the complexity of the novel – they were expecting an adventure tale and what they got was “obscure literary symbolism.” I always find it humorous (though I am sure it wasn’t humorous to Melville) when a work that is today considered of the highest class was at the time frowned upon. The old Picasso problem, right? At least due to these instances we understand what genius looks like at the beginning, no?

melville4Herman Melvill (yes, that spelling is correct) was born in August of 1819 in New York City. He was the third of eight children born to a merchant and his wife. Though his parents have been described as loving and devoted, his father Allan’s money woes left much to be desired. Allan borrowed and spent well beyond his means, and after contracting what researchers imagine as pneumonia on a trip back to Albany from New York City, he abruptly passed away when Herman was merely 13 years old. Herman’s schooling ended as abruptly as his father’s life, and he was given a job as a clerk in the fur trade (his father’s business) by his uncle. Sometime around this time, Herman’s mother changed the spelling of their last name by adding an “e” to the end. History is still unsure as to why she would have done this – to sound more sophisticated, to hide from debt collectors… we may never know! But that simple “e” will live on forever, that is for sure.

melville3In May of 1831 Melville signed up as a “boy” (a newbie, for all intents and purposes) on a merchant ship called the St. Lawrence, and went from New York to Liverpool and back. That experience successful (and what with a longstanding obsession with the true story of the search for the white sperm whale called Mocha Dick), he decided to join the Acushnet for a whaling voyage in 1841. After a few months on board, Melville decided to jump ship with another deckhand in the Marquesas Islands after several reported disagreements with the captain of the ship. Expecting to come across cannibalistic natives, Melville was (unsurprisingly) pleased to find out that the natives were accommodating and friendly – a fact which he would later address in his 1845 novel Typee – semi-autobiographical in nature as it was based on his stay in the islands. Melville then experienced island and country hopping to an extreme degree, after boarding a boat from the Marquesas to Australia then continuing on whaling and merchant vessels visiting Tahiti, Oahu, Rio de Janeiro and Lima, Peru – among others. Eventually, Melville ended up back in Boston, Massachusetts.

Between the years 1845 and 1850, Melville experienced substantial success as a writer. His first novel Typee performed well in both public and critical arenas, and its sequel Omoo (also based on his time in the islands) performed almost equally as well. During these years Melville won the hand of Elizabeth Shaw in marriage, which throughout the years would give him four children – two sons and two daughters (though only the daughters would live to adulthood). Melville followed Omoo with novels Redburn and White-Jacket – both successful enough in their own right to afford Melville the opportunity to buy his beloved home Arrowhead in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, which was an inspirational setting for his writing. It was here that he wrote Moby-Dick, or The Whale – which started as a simpler story on a fictional whaling event and eventually (with the aid of Melville’s friend Nathaniel Hawthorne, who had recently enjoyed success with his novel The Scarlet Letter) turned into the allegorical novel it came to be. As a matter of fact, Melville dedicated what is now considered his most enduring work but became the flop that threatened to break his bank account to this friend and colleague.

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After the unfortunate reception of Moby-Dick – it seemed a bit too far-fetched in style and meaning for its audience – Melville was forced to sell his home in Pittsfield to his brother and move his family back to New York City, where he took up work as a district inspector for the U.S. Customs Service. Though his writing took much of a backseat at this time (roughly 1857 to the late 1870s), Melville continued to write poetry throughout his lifetime, up until his death from cardiac arrest on September 28th, 1891, when he was 72 years old. His last work Billy Budd he had stopped working on in 1888, but was found accidentally and published posthumously in 1891 – and today holds great esteem as yet another wonderful work by a misunderstood great American novelist. Today, 127 years to the day of Melville’s death, we are glad to have a chance to study and appreciate his work today. And if you haven’t yet read Typee – we greatly recommend it!

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Report on the Sacramento Antiquarian Book Fair, Pt. II

Answers by Samm Fricke

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So Samm! This is (a bit confusingly) your second Sacramento Antiquarian Book Fair. Could you tell us a bit about your experience, prep and overall impression of the previous Sacramento fair you attended in March of this year? For those of you that don’t know, Samm was brought onboard the Tavistock Books train (what seemed like) mere minutes before this past spring’s Sacramento Book Fair.

Last Sac Book Fair was quite overwhelming for the first hour of set up.  As I was loading in, taking in the surroundings and meeting everyone Vic brought to me saying “This is my new assistant Samm!  Samm this is ….”.  All at the same time! Lots of info and names. But after about an hour of watching other vendors set up booths I was beginning to get a feel for it and settle down a bit. As for the opening of book fair to the public, that was the more easier part as I have done so much book retail in the past, but these were people with more niche interests rather than what I have known of “I’m just looking for a good beach read”.  

How was this last weekend’s fair different from the fair in March for you? Do you feel more at ease with Tavistock’s wares and in the antiquarian book world in general? We know you come from a book background, but we also know that the antiquarian book world is a horse of an entirely different color!

I thought this past weekend was much easier!  I knew where the booth was, I knew our booth mate (Hey Chris!).  The faces of collectors and vendors were more familiar.  I knew where the bathroom was and when was the best time to order food was! Ha! Because I knew vendors a bit more, and they have now seen me, emailed with or talked on the phone with me I was more comfortable making small talk at their booths.  Surprisingly to some, but I am pretty shy! 

As for the wares of Tavistock, yes much more at ease!   And more comfortable discussing product and assisting collectors find items that may interest them.  Knowing the stock is always good, which was not the case last fair!

How did you find turnout and other sellers’ wares? Did any items of note catch your eye?

I only have the last Sacramento Book to compare, but I did think the turn out grander. At the end of the fair Jim Kay got on the mic and said it was the best fair turnout yet – a new record had been set! So shoutout to Jim for doing an awesome job. Perhaps by March 2019 I will have my name tag! *wink wink*

Vic bought a lot of cool items there, more than last year even! (Didn’t think it was possible, but that just shows how much I know.)  You can see them when you sign up for our New Acquisitions Newsletter! (Yes, that is a plug… and yes, you can sign up for it on our website!) As for me, there were a few items that were of interest, though I am not in the position to spend the big bucks on them yet. However, I made many mental notes!
What will be the next fair you are excited about and what do you hope to learn or accomplish before then?

Oakland! I am very, very excited about the Oakland Book Fair in February. Just seeing all the amazing items at Sacramento, I cannot wait to see what an international fair brings! Also, being local means packing and load in won’t be too bad.  

I am trying to have a better grasp on our stock so I select the most interesting items to bring that will also show Tavistock’s interest best! 

We certainly won’t! Thanks, Samm!

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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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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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