Some of my Favorite Short Story Collections by Woman Writers

Recently I’ve been thinking about writer Mary Ladd Gavell.  Originally from Texas, she was managing editor of Psychiatry magazine in Washington D.C.  In her spare time, just for fun, she wrote short stories.  Psychiatry magazine didn’t print fiction, so she just kept them in a drawer. She died in 1967 at the quite young age of 47.  After her death, her colleagues at Psychiatry magazine ran her story “The Rotifer” in the magazine as a tribute.  So months after her death, she finally became a published fiction writer.  That story was selected for “The Best Short Stories – 1968”.   Her husband then tried to get the University of Texas to publish more of the stories without success.

Then, at the turn of the century, 2000, John Updike selected “The Rotifer” for one of “The Best Short Stories of the Century”.  He called the story a “gem” and “feminism in literary action”.  Then in 2002, sixteen of Gavell’s stories were collected in the book “I Can Not Tell A Lie, Exactly”.  The book met with near universal acclaim.  I read the book then, and many of the stories are as fine as “The Rotifer”.

Here is a list, in no particular order, of some of my favorite collections of short stories by woman writers.

A Dedicated Man by Elizabeth Taylor I consider this English writer the real Elizabeth Taylor.  She was also a great novelist.  Having read at least a dozen of her novels and all her stories, I feel qualified to say that.

The Springs of Affection by Maeve Brennan an Irish writer and regular contributor to The New Yorker, she had a long, sad ending.  She was re-discovered four or five years ago – a personal favorite.

Dictation – A Quartet  by Cynthia Ozick her stories are intelligent and unique.

Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It  by Maile Meloy – A young United States writer.  Very impressive.

The Darts of Cupid  by Edith Templeton Re-discovered in 2002, she is in danger of being forgotten again.  Her novel “Gordon” was banned in England

I Am No One You Know  by Joyce Carol Oates Some of her novels are enchanting (“You Must Remember This”, “I’ll Take You There”), and some are exasperating (“We Were the Mulvaneys”).  However, her short stories are uniformly strong.

Tigers Are Better Looking  by Jean Rhys A legendary writer of the twentieth century.

Throws Like A Girl   by Jean Thompson A Chicago writer with several fine collections.

I Can Not Tell A Lie, Exactly  By Mary Ladd Gavell Perhaps the secret to writing a great story is to not think about publishing at all.

Little Black Book of Stories  by A. S. Byatt An excellent writer in both short and long form.

Bad Characters  by Jean Stafford Former wife of insane but brilliant poet Robert Lowell.  Her novels are fine too.

Perfect Strangers  by Roxana Robinson I am always on the lookout for new books by this United States writer.

Birds in America  by Lorrie Moore A quirky, humorous storyteller, justly famous.

The Moons of Jupiter  by Alice Munro Why even mention her?  Everybody already knows she is a great writer.  Cynthia Ozick calls her “our Chekhov”.

Any short story writers you would like to mention?


20 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by marco on October 23, 2009 at 1:02 PM

    Kelly Link “Magic for Beginners”
    Shirley Jackson “The Lottery and Other Stories”
    Clarice Lispector “Family Ties”
    Katherine Mansfield “The Collected Stories”
    Angela Carter “Burning your Boats: The Collected Short Stories”


    • Marco, a very interesting list you sent. I’ve read Katherine Mansfield, Shirley Jackson, and Angela Carter.
      Clarice Lispector is definitely on my to-be-read list. Clarice Lispector is from Brazil, isn’t she? I’m not at all familiar with Kelly Link.


  2. Posted by Kelly S on October 23, 2009 at 3:54 PM

    Thanks for this list of women short-story writers. I’ve really enjoyed several of Alice Munro’s collections, and would love to branch out. Any of these you’d consider similar to Munro?


    • Kelly, I looked through the list and couldn’t find any whose stories are similar to those of Alice Munro. Even though she does not write at all like Munro, you might like Lorrie Moore, a writer from Madison, Wisconsin, who writes very humorous stories.


  3. I have just been to the small local library in my neighborhood. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any books by either Clarice Lispector or Kelly Link. But I expect to be reading both of these writers very soon.
    I just realized that I forgot to include the woman writer who got me hooked on short stories in the first place. That would be Alice Adams. All of her collections are good. In particular, I remember one story called “Listening to Billie” about the singer Billie Holiday, which was spectacular. That was the name of the collection also.


  4. Interesting list, a good resource for future reference. When my current TBR dissipates a little I mean to investigate the writing of more women writers. I notice that my list of ‘books read’ consists predominantly of male authors.

    I have only read two writers from that list, but am keen to read Elizabeth Taylor, Alice Munro, and Lorrie Moore. Also interested in reading Angela Carter and Shirley Jackson. A recent convert to short stories; I have always liked Poe, but Maupassant is responsible for my renewed and broader interest in the form.


  5. Sarah, i just visited
    and though I didn’t have time to give it proper attention, visually it looks just great, especially liking the mouse. I added it to my favorites for later reading.
    Yes, Maupassant is a wonderful writer. His short novels including Bel Ami are also excellent. There are so many woman writers I should have put in my list such as Mary Lavin, Willa Cather, and Edith Wharton.


    • Thanks for returning with ‘proper attention!’ I appreciated your comments.

      Am returning the compliment with a proper look around your blog. Finding some intriguing books with which I haven’t previously met, and like the fresh, clean layout. Like your style, looking forward to further posts.

      The mouse is a rat, hence, at least in part, my interest in Firmin.


  6. Posted by whisperinggums on October 24, 2009 at 11:19 PM

    Hi Tony, just saw you on Reading Matters blog and decided to come have a look. Nice blog and fascinating list. I’m glad you added Edith Wharton (a huge favourite of mine though I have only read one or two of her short stories).

    I’m going to add one who is probably hard to get but she’s an Australian who is oft forgotten. Her name is Marjorie Barnard, and the collection is The persimmon tree and other stories. Look out for it if you can. Another Aussie favourite of mine is Elizabeth Jolley and her Five acre virgin and other stories (among others).

    Other Aussies to look out for but I’m cheating a bit here: Thea Astley (Hunting the wild pineapple – on my TBR, I’ve only read her novels) and Helen Garner (Postcards from Surfers – though ditto as for Astley – I’ve read several of her novels and nonfiction but not her short stories).


    • I see that you, like Kimbofo, are a real fan of Australian fiction. I read “The Spare Room” by Helen Garner, and it is one of the highlights of my reading year. Despite its grim subject, it is one of the most humorous novels I’ve read. I wish I had included it on my humorous list. I’ve read novels by Elizabeth Jolley and Thea Astley, and they were extremely good. I haven’t read any of these three authors’ short fiction though. I have not heard of Marjorie Barnard; I will see if I can find her.


      • Posted by whisperinggums on October 25, 2009 at 3:32 AM

        Yes, well I am Australian! The Spare Room was a good book – I can also see it’s funny side though in the end probably wouldn’t list it as a humorous book! Good for you for reading Jolley and Astley. Which ones have you read? Marjorie Barnard was writing in the early-mid 20th century and also wrote quite a bit of collaborative (fiction and non-fiction_ work as M. Barnard Eldershaw.


  7. Wow, all the way from Australia! The Elizabeth Jolley books I read were “Foxybaby” and “The Traveling Entertainer”, which is a book of short stories, so I guess I have read some of her stories. The Thea Astley book I read is “It’s Raining in Mango”. Some day I’ll print a list of my favorite Australian books.


  8. Posted by Kelly S on November 28, 2009 at 5:37 PM

    The NYT gave a glowing review to Alice Munro’s new story collection: Look forward to reading your review some day.


  9. Sorry for being off topic but what WP template are you using? It looks amazing!!


    • I’ll pop in here (hope that’s OK Tony) – the name of the theme is always (at least the the best of my knowledge) given at the bottom of the page so you can see that this one is SpringLoaded (by the449). I’ve used that info at times myself to change my theme.


  10. Thank You for answering the question, whisperinggums, because I tried to research it myself and couldn’t come up with a definite answer. I saw that “SpringLoaded” by “the 449”, and they allowed you to click on “The 449” but that took me someplace very different from this template. Then I looked through all of the available templates on WordPress, and they did not have one called “SpringLoaded”, so at that point I was totally confused, so I didn’t know how to answer invoveuphop’s question. Thanks for the helping out.


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