The Unlisted List

Photo by Thomas Hawk

Photo by Thomas Hawk

Earlier this spring, we announced our intention to make a list. An unlisted list:

A list of women writers of various forms of creative nonfiction that future list-makers and anthologists, should they notice that their inclusion of women is on the paltry side, might peruse and thereby make their “bests” and “greats” better and greater, their collections more representative of the world we live in, rather than reminiscent still of those dead white guys we were raised up on. Because here’s the rub as we see it: women read works by and about men and by and about women, but the male experience and the male perspective is still seen as more universal, more public, than the female. And the only way we can begin to rectify this is by making writing by women as visible as writing by men, and by extension the female perspective as normal and the female experience as mainstream, as universal, as the male.

And, as promised, here it is. We asked our readers for their suggestions, and we spent weeks poring over our long list of selections, debating them, discussing them, bonding in our dorky writerly ways over our favorites. We made sure at least one of us was familiar with each writer’s work, and we decided to include only work from 1900 onward. Up until the last minute, we were still remembering essays we’d read and loved and included in syllabi, but surely we’ve forgotten many, which is where you come in. Please leave your recommendations in the comments; we’ll review and consider them carefully and keep adding to the list.

We know, sadly, how much easier it is to pack a syllabus or an anthology with male writers, and so this list is meant to serve as a reminder of the abundant, stellar nonfiction by women, and a sort of huh-uh! to excuses about not being able to find enough work by women writers.

It’s a space we’ll return to when we want to remember those who’ve inspired us and who continue to root us in tradition, when we want to craft our own workshops, and simply when we want to pick out something to read or reread. We hope that you, too, will use it in these ways, and will pass it along to your friends and colleagues in order to move one step closer to equality in that big ol’ creaky canon of men.

Happy reading!


Narrative/Literary Journalism

Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, Random Family
Alma Guillermoprieto, The Heart That Bleeds: Latin America Now
Anne Fadiman, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down
Ariel Levy, Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture
Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed
Elizabeth Gilbert, The Last American Man
Iris Chang, The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II
Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns
Janet Malcolm, Iphigenia in Forest Hills: Anatomy of a Murder Trial
Janet Reitman, Inside Scientology: The Story of America’s Most Secretive Religion
Jean Stein, Edie: American Girl 
Jeanne Marie Laskas, Hidden America: From Coal Miners to Cowboys, an Extraordinary Exploration of the Unseen People Who Make This Country Work
Joan Didion, Salvador
Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers
Laura Hillebrand, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption
Martha Gellhorn, The View from the Ground
Melissa Fay Greene, Praying for Sheetrock
Michela Wrong, It’s Our Turn to Eat: The Story of a Kenyan Whistle-Blower
Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism
Rachel Carson, Silent Spring
Rebecca Skloot, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Samantha Power, A Problem from Hell
Sonia Faleiro, Beautiful Thing
Sonia Nazario, Enrique’s Journey
Susan Orlean, The Orchid Thief


Abigail Thomas, Safekeeping
Alexandra Fuller, Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood
Alice Sebold, Lucky
Annie Dillard, An American Childhood
Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran
Bell Hooks, Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood
Cheryl Strayed, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
Elizabeth Scarboro, My Foreign Cities
Eugenia Semyonovna Ginzburg, Journey into the Whirlwind
Gretel Ehrlich, A Match to the Heart: One Woman’s Story of Being Struck by Lightening
Hilary Mantel, Giving Up the Ghost
Jamaica Kincaid, A Small Place
Jamaica Kincaid, My Brother
Jane Jeong Trenka, The Language of Blood
Jeannette Walls, The Glass Castle
Jill Ker Conway, The Road from Coorain
Joy Harjo, Crazy Brave
Judith Moore, Fat Girl: A True Story 
Jung Chang, Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China
Kathleen Finnernan, The Tender Land: A Family Love Story
Leanne Shapton, Swimming Studies 
Leymah Gbowee, Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation At War
Lidia Yuknavitch, The Chronology of Water
Mary Crow Dog, Lakota Woman
Mary Karr, The Liars’ Club
Mary Karr, Cherry
Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts
Megan Stack, Every Man in this Village is a Liar: An Education in War
Michelle Tea, Valencia
Michelle Tea, The Chelsea Whistle
Natalie Kusz, Road Song
Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai 
Patti Smith, Just Kids
Sandra Steingraber, Having Faith
Sarah Manguso, The Guardians: An Elegy
Sonali Deraniyagala, Wave
Suzannah Lessard, The Architect of Desire: Beauty and Danger in the Stanford White Family 
Tracy Ross, The Source of All Things
Vivian Gornick, Fierce Attachments


Amy Leach, Things That Are
Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider
Barbara Kingsolver, High Tide in Tucson: Essays from Now or Never
Barbara Kingsolver, Small Wonder
Cynthia Ozick, Art & Ardor
Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses
Eula Biss, Notes from No Man’s Land: American Essays
Janet Malcolm, The Purloined Clinic: Selected Writings
Jo Ann Beard, The Boys of My Youth
Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem
Joan Didion, The White Album
Kim Dana Kupperman, I Just Lately Started Buying Wings: Missives from the Other Side of Silence
Leslie Marmon Silko, Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit
Lia Purpura, On Looking
Mary Ruefle, Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures
MFK Fisher, How To Cook a Wolf
Michelle Orange, This is Running for Your Life
Natalia Ginzburg, The Little Virtues
Nora Ephron, I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman
Pam Houston, A Little More About Me
Sarah Vowell, Take the Cannoli: Stories from the New World
Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex
Sherry Simpson, The Way Winter Comes: Alaska Stories
Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others
Virginia Woolf, The Common Reader
Zadie Smith, Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays


Alison Bechdel, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic
Barrie Jean Borich, Body Geographic
Jenny Boully, The Book of Beginnings and Endings
Lauren Redniss, Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie, a Tale of Love and Fallout
Lisa Gill, Caput Nili: How I Won the War and Lost My Taste for Oranges
Maggie Nelson, Bluets


Andrea Lee, Russian Journal
Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
Beryl Markham, West With The Night
Deb Olin Unferth, Revolution: The Year I Fell in Love and Went to Join the War
Dervla Murphy, Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle
Doris Lessing, African Laughter: Four Visits to Zimbabwe
Eleanor Clark, Rome and a Villa
Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love
Freya Stark, The Valley of the Assassins and Other Persian Travels
Freya Stark, A Winter in Arabia: A Journey Through Yemen
Freya Stark, Riding to the Tigris
Gretel Ehrlich, In The Empire of Ice: Encounters in a Changing Landscape
Isak Dinesen, Out of Africa
Jane Kramer, Europeans
Jane Kramer, The Last Cowboy
Jenny Diski, Skating to Antarctica
Kira Salak, Four Corners: A Journey into the Heart of Papua New Guinea
Mary Morris, Nothing to Declare
M.F.K Fisher, As They Were
Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost
Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking
Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby
Rebecca West, Black Lamb and Gray Falcon
Rosemary Mahoney, Down the Nile: Alone in a Fisherman’s Skiff
Rosemary Mahoney, Whoredom in Kimmage
Sara Wheeler, Terra Incognita
Susan Jane Gilman, Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven
Susan Orlean, My Kind of Place: Travel Stories from a Woman Who’s Been Everywhere


Ellen Meloy, The Anthropology of Turquoise: Reflections on Desert, Sea, Stone and Sky
Florence Williams, Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History
Gretel Ehrlich, The Solace of Open Spaces
Kathleen Norris, Dakota 
Mary Austen, Land of Little Rain
Natalie Angier, Woman: An Intimate Geography
Olivia Laing, To The River
Rachel Carson, Silent Spring
Rebecca Solnit, Savage Dreams
Sandra Steingraber, Living Downstream: An Ecologist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment
Terry Tempest Williams, Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place


Adrienne Rich, Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Intuition
Anne Lamott, Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year
Elizabeth McCracken, An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination
Emily Rapp, Still Point of the Turning World

Writing Life

Anne Lamott, Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
Eudora Welty, One Writer’s Beginnings
Francine Prose, Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and Those Who Want to Write Them
Janet Malcolm, The Journalist and the Murderer
Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones
Patricia Hampl, I Could Tell You Stories: Sojourns in the Land of Memory
Vivian Gornick, The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative

Short form


Alice Walker, “Looking for Zora
Amy Boesky, “The Ghost Writes Back
Amy Leach,” I’ll Be The Moon
Amy Tan, “Mother Tongue
Anne Fadiman, “Under Water
Anne Marie Slaughter, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All
Annie Dillard, “Total Eclipse
Annie Dillard, “Living Like Weasels
Ariel Levy, “Thanksgiving in Mongolia”
Autumn Whitefield-Madrano, “I Can Handle It: On Relationship Violence, Independence, and Capability
Cheryl Strayed, “The Love of My Life”
Courtney Queeney, “The View From the Victim Room”
E.J. Levy, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking
Emily Bernard, “Fired
Emily Rapp, “Where is God in Tay-Sachs?
Emily Witt, “What Do You Desire?
Eula Biss, “Goodbye to All That
Eula Biss, “The Pain Scale
Eula Biss, “No Man’s Land
Francine Prose, “Scent of a Woman’s Ink
Jamaica Kincaid, “On Seeing England for the First Time
Jamaica Kincaid, “A Small Place”
Jamaica Kincaid, “Flowers of Evil
Jennifer Percy, “Life Keeps Changing: Why Stories, Not Science, Explain the World”
Jina Moore, “The White Correspondent’s Burden”
JoAnn Beard, “The Fourth State of Matter
Joan Didion, “Goodbye to All That
Joan Didion, “Marrying Absurd
Joan Didion, “Why I Write
Katherine Anne Porter, “The Future Is Now
Katy Butler, “What Broke My Father’s Heart
Lauren Slater, “Tripp Lake”
Lauren Slater, “A Raccoon of My Own
Leslie Jamison, “The Empathy Exams: A Medical Actor Writes Her Own Script” 
Lia Purpura, “On Gunmetal
Mary McCarthy, “Artists in Uniform
Maya Angelou, “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings”
Maxine Hong Kingston, “No Name Woman
Meghan Daum, “My Misspent Youth
Meredith Hall, “Shunned
Natalia Ginzburg, “He and I
Naomi Shihab Nye, “This Is Not Who We Are
Nora Ephron, “A Few Words about Breasts
Rachel Carson, “The Marginal World
Roxane Gay, “Bad Feminist
Sandra Tsing Loh, “The Bitch is Back
Sandra Cisneros, “Only Daughter
Sherry Simpson, “Killing Wolves
Susan Griffin, “Our Secret
Susan Sontag, “Regarding the Torture of Others
Susan Sontag, “Notes on Camp
Virginia Woolf, “On Being Ill”
Zadie Smith, “Joy

Literary Journalism

Alma Guillermoprieto, “Bolivia’s Wrestlers
Alma Guillermoprieto, “Day of the Dead
Ariel Levy, “Trial By Twitter
Ariel Levy, “Basta Bunga Bunga
Barbara Ehrenreich, “Welcome to Cancerland”
Cienna Madrid, “Faith Healers
Elizabeth Gilbert, “Lucky Jim
Janet Malcolm, “Iphigenia in Forest Hills
Janet Reitman, “Jahar’s World”
Jeanne Marie Laskas, “Underworld
Jeanne Marie Laskas, “Have You Heard The One About President Joe Biden?
Jill Lepore, “The Prism
Joan Didion, “Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream
Joan Didion, ”Girl of the Golden West”
Kelly Benham, “Never Let Go”
Lillian Ross, “Portrait of Hemingway”
Lillian Ross, “Picture”
Mimi Swartz, “The Lost Girls”
Pamela Colloff, “The Innocent Man,” Part I and Part II
Rachel Aviv, “God Knows Where I Am
Rachel Aviv, “The Science of Sex Abuse”
Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, “If He Hollers Let Him Go”
Sallie Tisdale, “We Do Abortions Here
Sarah Stillman, “The Invisible Army”
Sarah Stillman, “The Throwaways
Sonia Nazario, “Enrique’s Journey
Susan Orlean, “The American Man at Age 10
Svetlana Alexiavich, “Voices from Chernobyl
Tamara Jones, “The Other American Dream
Vanessa Veselka, “The Truck Stop Killer”


  1. Gail Caldwell’s memoir of friendship, Let’s Take the Long Way Home, Michelle Herman’s essays on motherhood, The Middle of Everything, Melanie Thernstrom’s real-crime memoir The Dead Girl.

  2. Great start! I’ll be bookmarking this to return to whenever my reading list runs dry (although it’s usually backlogged!) A few suggestions off the top of my head:

    Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (narrative/literary journalism)
    Leymah Gbowee, Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War (memoir)
    Wangari Maathai, Unbowed (memoir)
    Jung Chang, Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China (memoir, narrative/literary journalism, family/motherhood)
    Cherrie Moraga, This Bridge Called My Back (essays, unconventional)

    And here’s a few other sites I’ve bookmarked for reading inspiration, that have more ideas/suggestions:

  3. Antonia Malchik says:

    Fantastic list. Here’s one, “Love with Teeth,” by Adrienne Jones, originally printed in Brain, Child magazine:

  4. Antonia Malchik says:

    Oh, also, for long form narrative journalism: “Leningrad: The Epic Siege of World War II,” by Anna Reid.
    And long form travel: “The Curve of Time,” by M. Wylie Blanchet (this was out of print for many years but I believe was brought back to life in Canada at least).

  5. Memoir: “Learning to Drive: And other Life Stories” (title essay was in Best Essays of the year anthology) and Political/feminist/cultural criticism: “Virginity or Death!, Subject to Debate, Reasonable Creatures” by Katha Pollitt.

  6. Rohan Maitzen says:

    What an inspiring list – and what a lot of reading I still have to do! I don’t see any May Sarton – I’d nominate ‘Plant Dreaming Deep’ under either memoir or the writing life.

  7. Wonderful list! A few to add: Kathleen Norris, especially Dakota; Patricia Hampl’s Blue Arabesque; Vivian Gornick’s brilliant memoir. Fierce Attachments; and too many to mention by amazing Canadian writers who are inexplicably missing.

  8. Oh! I love that you have Annie Dillard on here five times. There is so much more she’s written, but I’m so glad you have her there!

  9. Personal History. Katherine graham
    Just kids. Patty smith

  10. Thank you, thank you for this list! Wonderful.

  11. Penny Peste says:

    Penny suggests:
    Take This Bread by Sara Miles

  12. Chronology Of Water was captivating from cover to cover. Speechless perfection.

  13. THANK YOU!! I will never be bored again :)

  14. Long form, Molly Peacock, The Paper Garden

  15. a topic for biography, written by women about women, and two GREAT books by Megan Marshall, her most recent acclaimed bio of Margaret Fuller, and her earlier one about the Peabody sisters.

  16. Essasy: Sister Outsider, Audre Lorde

  17. Just noticed: another commenter recommended This Bridge Called My Back. I was about to recommend Home Girls (ed. Barbara Smith). Both are collections edited and written by women. Is there a category available for such collaborative projects?

    And the Diaries of Virginia Woolf seem relevant also…

  18. Nellie Bly’s “Ten Days in a Madhouse”

  19. What outstanding recommendations. Please keep them coming! I don’t know how we forgot May Sarton’s Plant Dreaming Deep! I thought of Nellie Bly, too, but the piece was published before 1900.

  20. I’m so, so happy for this list. I’d also add Vivian Gornick’s essay collection Approaching Eye Level, in particular the essay “What Feminism Means to Me.” That essay has broken my heart many, many times, and I always remind myself of it when I am struggling.

  21. Oh my god! I don’t know what to start reading now! I think my to-read list for the rest of my life is now set.

  22. Body Toxic: An Environmental Memoir, Susanne Antonetta. Autobiography of a Face, Lucy Grealy. Live Through This: A Mother’s Memoir of Runaway Daughters and Reclaimed Love, Debra Gwartney. Body Geographic, Barrie Jean Borich. Findings: Essays on the Natural and Unnatural World, Kathleen Jamie. Sightlines: A Conversation with the Natural World. Leaving Resurrection, Eva Saulitis.
    Into Great Silence: A Memoir of Discovery and Loss among Vanishing Orcas, Eva Saulitis. Sister Outsider, Audre Lorde. Just Breathe Normally, Peggy Shumaker.

  23. Monica Ali should be on the list :)

  24. Carolyn Chute: The Beans of Egypt Maine
    Keri Hulme: The Bone People
    Dorothy Allison: Bastard Out of Carolina
    Anchee Min: Becoming Madam Mao
    Jeannette Walls: The Glass Castle
    Nien Cheng: Life and Death on Shanghai
    Iris Chang: The Rape if Nanking
    Linda Gray Sexton: Searching for Mercy Street
    Irene Nemirovsky: Suite Francais

  25. Hilary Tham Goldberg and Shirley Lim

  26. Long Quiet Highway by Natalie Goldberg. It was a life changer for me. It inspired me to write.

  27. Jeff Sharlet says:

    Ellen Willis, Barbara Grizzutti Harrison, Kathryn Joyce , Zora Neale Hurston, Paige Williams, Sara Jeanette Duncan, JoAnn Wypijewski, Sheri Fink, Hannah Arendt, Deborah Baker, Madeline Blaise, Wendy Ewald, Jennifer Gonnerman, Eliza Griswold, Sue Halpern, Meridel Le Sueur, Bia Lowe, Lauren Sandler, Jean Stein, Jean Stafford, Amy Wilentz, Gina Welch, Michaela Wrong, Suzannah Lessard, Judith Moore, Vanessa Grigoradis, Brook Wilensky-Lanford, Meera Subramanian, Sara Marcus…

  28. This is a great start – but where is the faith/religion category? There are so many great and influential female authors in that category and it deserves to have its own space.

    Some suggestions… some of these are on the academic side, but those that are take creative, personal approaches that have had lasting impacts on the field and made them popular with general audiences.

    Geraldine Brooks: Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women
    Karen McCarthy Brown: Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn
    Riane Eisler: The Chalice and the Blade
    China Galland: Longing for Darkness: Tara and the Black Madonna
    Farideh Goldin: Wedding Song: Memoirs of an Iranian Jewish Woman
    Madeleine L’Engle: Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art
    Margaret Murray: The God of the Witches
    Kirin Narayan: Mondays on the Dark Night of the Moon: Himalayan Foothill Folktales
    Kaya Oakes: Radical Reinvention: An Unlikely Return to the Catholic Church

    And, love it or hate it, Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love has been very popular and influential, too.

  29. Here’s another list. I narrowed down the main books that influenced my MFA thesis, which is about grief rituals in performance art and conceptual art, woven with my own story of losing my mom. It wasn’t completely intentional, but I was thrilled to realize that 17 out of 25 of these authors are women:

    • More for the list:-Willa Cather: My Antonia, O Pioneers, The Song of the Lark; Dale Spender: Mothers of the Novel; Christina Stead: For Love Alone; Margaret Attwood: Surfacing; Miles Franklin: My Brilliant Career; Tillie Olsen: Tell Me a Riddle; Henry Handel Richardson:The Getting of Wisdom; Katherine Susanna Pritchard:The Roaring Nineties; Ursula le Guin: The Left Hand of Darkness; Janet Frame: Faces in the Water

  30. Poetry?

  31. Ack, just saw this was focused on nonfic. Nevermind!

  32. A suggestion: Alphabetize by author’s last name within categories. Makes it easier to see who’s on the list.y Hunter Austin. The Land of Little Rain, 1903 Nature & culture of the Southwest

    Eugenie Clark, The Lady and the Sharks, 1969, marine biology and shark behavior. Helped found Cape Haze (now Mote) Marine Lab

    Temple Grandin. Thinking in Pictures, 1996 (how she, an autist perceives the world.) and Animals in Translation, 2005 (how autistic thinking processes help elucidate animal behavior and communication.)

    Margaret Morse Nice. Watcher at the Nest, 1939 A huge figure in American ornithology, also her autobiography, published after her death with an introduction by Karl Lorenz, Research Is a Passion with Me.

  33. Any of Lyndall Gordon’s biographies of Henry James or TS Eliot.

  34. D.F. Beckner says:

    Kirsten P. Buick! Her book on Edmonia Lewis is a fantastic biography about an amazing forgotten woman artist.


  36. Goodness, what a fantastic list. I must just add Martha Beck, and her memoirs lExpecting Adam and Leaving the lkgl
    Saints as works of searching

  37. what a resource (so grateful for the the links)! Thank you so much.

  38. The Hidden face of Eve by Nawal El Saadawi. What a fantastic list this is. It’s so long I am only adding one woman, an Egyptian physician, psychologist, writer, activist and feminist. Her first book translated into English was The Hidden Face of Eve which has immense relevance today. She has been so prolific in her life, writing in all areas of fiction and non-fiction, that her list of work rivals this one in length! She is now 81 and still going strong. Check her out.
    Many thanks to Jodi Ettenberg of Legal Nomads for referring me to this list.

  39. Ames Hawkins says:

    What a great hive-mind project! To this list I would add:
    Mary Cappello’s Called Back (memoir category), Awkward: A Detour (unconventional), and “Flow” their (short form).
    Audre Lorde’s ZAMI as well (memoir)

  40. So much good writing and so little time.

    Lorna Sage’s visceral memoir, Bad Blood, winner of the Whitbread Biography Award, is worth seeking out.

    Kathleen Jamie’s Sightlines and Findings would look good in the Travel or Nature/Environment/Science sections too.

  41. Linda Hogan, The Woman Who Watches Over the World.
    Claire Bidwell Smith, The Rules of Inheritance
    (and I second Gail Caldwell’s book, Let’s Take the Long Way Home)

  42. Lucy Church says:

    Did I miss Doris Kerns Goodwin?