American Women Writers—and Readers

Sylvia Plath

One Life: Sylvia Plath is on view at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery through May 20, 2018. The exhibition is the first exploration of the poet and writer’s life in an art and history museum. It reveals how Plath shaped her identity visually as she came of age as a writer in the 1950s.

Here you will find other women writers who have made a mark on American culture. Learn about Phillis Wheatly, who in 1773 was the first African American to have a book published. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852), brought widespread attention to the issue of slavery. Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (1962) helped launch the environmental movement, while Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique (1963) helped launch a new wave of feminism.

Literary giant Zora Neale Hurston captured the rich voices and mythos of the African American oral storytelling tradition. Sandra Cisneros is regarded as a key Latina voice in American literature. Louise Erdrich, whose many works explore the psychology and world of Native Americans is considered a major voice in the American Indian renaissance. Women continue to expand literary forms and reveal issues of identity in the private and public spheres, adding to the rich tapestry of American identity and touching on our shared humanity.