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“I am going to leave you to make my entry into the world; — I shall be very much astonished if I enjoy myself there as I have in school.”

—Colette, Claudine à l’école (Claudine at School)

One of the greatest avant-garde authors of the 19th century, Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette—most commonly referred to as simply Colette—was a French novelist, essayist, and performer. Collete made herself into a famous creative and feminist icon by writing for a female audience, evoking passion and sensuality in her works, and for being unapologetically proud of her sexual and personal agency in a time where such a point of view was not common for women.

Her first husband took the credit for the first four books Colette wrote, the Claudine series, which were based on her own life experiences. Fortunately, though she never profited in her lifetime from her stories, she was later recognized for writing them. Colette was also able to get full-credit and copyright of all the books that she wrote after, such as her best known novel Gigi, L’ingenue libertine (The Innocent Libertine), and Cheri. Her most critically acclaimed novel is La Vagabonde (The Vagabond). She is the second woman to have ever been given the title of grand officer of the Legion of Honor, which she earned for her great influence in France.

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“And remember: you must not overwork your body, or your soul. You must not enslave yourself, as you would not enslave any other person. You must be the custodian of your self.”

 —Joyce Carol Oates, Mudwoman

Joyce Carol Oates is one of the most recognized and respected American literary writers of our time. With an extensive history of writing and reading since her childhood, Oates has published over 40 novels, memoirs, plays, and poetry. She’s been honored for her contributions to the writing community by receiving the PEN Center USA Award for Lifetime Achievement, the National Humanities Medal, PEN/Malamud Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Short Story, the Bram Stoker Award for Life Achievement, the Pushcart Prize, and many others awards.

The first widely acclaimed story Oates published (as well as her most popular work) is her 1966 short story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been,” which was famously dedicated to Bob Dylan for inspiring the story with his song “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” Other remarkable novels from Oates includes National Book Award Winner them, Oprah Book Club title We Were the Mulvaneys, Blonde, Black Water, and The Widow’s Story.

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“Whether we change our lives or do nothing, we have responded. To do nothing is to do something.”

Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals

Jonathan Safran Foer is an American novelist and activist with Polish roots. Foer began to seriously pursue writing as a career after working closely with his thesis advisor, Joyce Carol Oates, during his time at Princeton. His thesis won him Princeton’s Senior Creative Writing Thesis Prize, which he then expanded and made into his first novel, Everything is Illuminated. Foer followed this up with what is perhaps his most well-known book, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which incorporates visuals to tell a story surrounding the 9/11 tragedy. His most recent novel, Here I Am, is a fictional retelling of a family inspired by his own life. Other projects he’s worked on include his nonfiction animal rights activism book Eating Animals, and his play on Bruno Schulz‘s book The Street of Crocodiles by blocking out text to create a new story in Tree of Codes.

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“But unless we are creators we are not fully alive. What do I mean by creators? Not only artists, whose acts of creation are the obvious ones of working with paint of clay or words. Creativity is a way of living life, no matter our vocation or how we earn our living. Creativity is not limited to the arts, or having some kind of important career.”

Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water

Charged with powerful themes that inspire the reader to question their own morality, the power of love, and humanity’s purpose, all the stories written by Madeleine L’Engle are as memorable for their plots and writing as they are their emotional impact. L’Engle had a long and prosperous career in writing, winning a plethora of awards and honorary degrees over her career for her published novels and poetry collections (of which she wrote over 50). She wrote up until the end of her life in 2007, at the age of 88.

L’Engle’s most famous science fiction series is The Time Quintet, which was lead by Newbery Award Winner A Wrinkle in Time and followed by its sequels A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Wind in the Door, Many Waters, and An Acceptable Time. A Ring of Endless Light and The Austin series are also a good collection of hers to explore. Many of her books also cameo or use spin-offs of characters starring in her other works, giving her books a feeling of an wholeness in the worlds she creates.

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“[Publishing] is a collaborative enterprise… you have to surround yourself with good people and help them to do what they do well, as opposed to micromanaging.”

Roberta “Robbie” Myers, “Face of Elle,” Forbes Magazine

Robbie Myers has been the editor-in-chief of Elle since 2000, and she’s forged her way to the position after an extensive career in many other areas of magazine publishing. From being an editorial assistant at Rolling Stone, assisting Andy Warhol at Interview, and working in editorial departments at InStyle and Seventeen among countless other magazines, Myers has earned the reputation of an industry leader and fashion icon.

Myers prides herself in how well she works with an supports her staff. Since working at Elle, she’s also made it her goal to ensure that content is on multiple media platforms and can survive in other mediums outside traditional printed magazine publishing. Myers is also not afraid to address serious political and social issues at Elle and has rather famously addressed an article from The New Republic that challenged the idea that women’s magazines could not do ‘serious journalism’ or write ‘literary articles,’ further gaining her much deserved respect.

“I cannot tell the truth about anything unless I confess being a student, growing and learning something new every day. The more I learn, the clearer my view of the world becomes.”

Sonia Sanchez, “Ruminations/Reflections,” I’m Black When I’m Singing, I’m Blue When I Ain’t and Other Plays

Influential as an artist and an activist, Sonia Sanchez is an accomplished and well-respected poet, teacher, and advocate for political and social change.

Most of Sanchez’s academic and publishing career has roots in her work with the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Arts Movement, motivating her to travel and talk about her activism and read the poetry that was inspired from her experiences in workshops around the world. She’s also credited with starting the first class in America on black women and literature. She is the recipient of many awards, such as the National Endowment for the Arts, The 1985 American Book Award, The PEW Fellowship in the Arts, the Langston Hughes Poetry Award, and the Robert Frost Medal, among others.

When not  writing or campaigning for causes she believes in, Sanchez works as a poet in-residence at Temple University. The melodic quality of writing found in her most recent poetry collection, Morning Haiku, is also captured in works that proceeded it: Shake Loose My Skin, Does Your House Have Lions?, Homegirls and HandgrenadesA Blues Book for a Blue Black Magic Woman, and We a Baddddd People.

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“Be a good and proactive and even somewhat desperate patient on your own behalf—seek out the most efficacious anti-selfishness medicines, energetically, for the rest of your life. Find out what makes you kinder, what opens you up and brings out the most loving, generous, and unafraid version of you—and go after those things as if nothing else matters. Because, actually, nothing else does.”

George Saunders, Congratulations, By the Way: Some Thoughts on Kindness

A highly accomplished literary writer with award-winning essays and short story collections, George Saunders shows off his experimentation with language, witty humor, and thought-provoking material in all of his published works.

Despite his unconventional jump into an MFA at Syracuse University (where he teaches today) from a past  of studying and working in geophysical engineering, Saunders sites this early career shift as a helpful tool that allowed him to think differently about the way he approaches his writing projects.

His first short story collection CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, was a critical success, as were his follow-up works Tenth of December, Pastoralia, and The Braindead Megaphone.

His recent publication and first full-length fiction novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, has gone on to be a New York Time’s Bestseller as of February 2017.

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“The book itself is a curious artifact, not showy in its technology but complex and extremely efficient: a really neat little device, compact, often very pleasant to look at and handle, that can last decades, even centuries. It doesn’t have to be plugged in, activated, or performed by a machine; all it needs is light, a human eye, and a human mind. It is not one-of-a-kind, and it is not ephemeral. It lasts. It is reliable. If a book told you something when you were fifteen, it will tell it to you again when you’re fifty, though you may understand it so differently that it seems you’re reading a whole new book.”

Ursula K. Le Guin, “Staying Awake: Notes On the Alleged Decline of Reading,” Harper’s Magazine

Ursula K. Le Guin is an American novelist, poet, and essayist who is most recognized for her influential work in the science fiction and fantasy genre. Though private with her personal life, she is famous for the quality and sophistication of the characters and worlds she creates. She received many accolades to commend her influential writings, including winning multiple Hugo Awards, Nebula Awards, World Fantasy Awards, and receiving a National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. She is also one of the few women to be given the honor of being made a Grand Master of Science Fiction.

With numerous inspirational titles that are all great and thought-provoking reads, some of Le Guin’s better known books to start with are her Earthsea series, the Hainish Cycle series, The Lathe of Heaven, and Lavinia.

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“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.”

–Anne Bradstreet, “Meditations Divine and Moral,” The Works of Anne Bradstreet

Anne Bradstreet was one of the most prominent early English poets in North America as well as the first female writers in the North American colonies to be published.

Inspired by the work of Guillaume de Salluste Du Bartas, Bradstreet’s poetry read similar to his, but soon she developed her own unique writing style  centering on her role as a mother, her struggles with the sufferings of life, and her Puritan faith.

Some of her works include: Several Poems Compiled with Great Variety of Wit and Learning, The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America, and The Flesh And The Spirit

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“You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world, and you have to do it all the time.”

Angela Davis during a lecture at Southern Illinois University

Angela Davis is a lifelong activist icon for many movements, from feminism to race to prisoners’ rights. As a scholar, philosopher, and writer, Davis is able to bring attention and advocate on academic and literary platforms for important social issues.

One of Davis’s most famous title Women, Race, & Class provides a poignant look at the women’s liberation movement, civil rights issues, and classism in America. Other notable titles from Davis include her follow-up Women, Culture, & Politics, Freedom is a Constant Struggle, and her self-titled autobiography.