The best books for group biographies of women

Heather Clark Author Of Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath
By Heather Clark

Who am I?

Heather Clark is the author of Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath which was a finalist for the 2021 Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award in Biography, and a Book of the Year at The Guardian, O the Oprah Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, The Times (London), Lit Hub, Good Morning America Book Club, and elsewhere. She is currently working on a new group biography about the Boston years of Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Adrienne Rich, and Maxine Kumin, under contract with Knopf. She is a professor of Contemporary Poetry at the University of Huddersfield in Yorkshire, England.


I wrote...

Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath

By Heather Clark,

Book cover of Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath

What is my book about?

In The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath, Heather Clark focuses on Plath’s remarkable literary and intellectual achievements while restoring the woman behind the long-held myths about her life and art. With a wealth of never-before-accessed materials—including unpublished letters and manuscripts; court, police, and psychiatric records; and new interviews—Clark brings to life the spirited woman and visionary artist who blazed a trail that still lights the way for women poets the world over.

The books I picked & why

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Ninth Street Women: Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler: Five Painters and the Movement That Changed Modern Art

By Mary Gabriel,

Book cover of Ninth Street Women: Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler: Five Painters and the Movement That Changed Modern Art

Why this book?

Midcentury women abstract expressionists finally get their due in Mary Gabriel’s tour de force of art history and cultural journalism. Gabriel recenters sidelined stories as she deftly interweaves the lives of Lee Krasner, Helen Frankenthaler, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Elaine de Kooning—and their sometimes tempestuous relationships with male artists such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning—in prose that never feels heavy or dutiful. Gabriel’s passion for her subject is clear on every page.


The Equivalents: A Story of Art, Female Friendship, and Liberation in the 1960s

By Maggie Doherty,

Book cover of The Equivalents: A Story of Art, Female Friendship, and Liberation in the 1960s

Why this book?

Maggie Doherty tells the story of five women artists—Anne Sexton, Maxine Kumin, Barbara Swan, Tillie Olsen, and Marianna Pineda—who were among the first fellows at Radcliffe’s new Institute for Independent Study. The fellowship was originally designed for women who needed a room (and a paycheck) of their own to resume work interrupted by marriage and motherhood. Doherty weaves a history of Radcliffe’s pioneering venture with moving stories of the first fellows, whose friendships strengthened their resolve to pursue art in the face of male skepticism.


Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon--And the Journey of a Generation

By Sheila Weller,

Book cover of Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon--And the Journey of a Generation

Why this book?

Sheila Weller explores the lives and loves of some of the most important female singer-songwriters of the 1960s and 70s—Joni Mitchell, Carole King, and Carly Simon. This ambitious book chronicles the careers of these women as they navigated an unapologetically sexist music industry to create a new kind of lyric and sound. Girls Like Us is not your typical celebrity biography: Weller takes her subjects’ musical gifts—and courage—seriously, though there is plenty of romantic drama in these pages (ahem, James Taylor). For fans of Joni Mitchell’s Blue, which turned fifty this year, Girls Like Us is a must-read.


The Doctors Blackwell: How Two Pioneering Sisters Brought Medicine to Women and Women to Medicine

By Janice P. Nimura,

Book cover of The Doctors Blackwell: How Two Pioneering Sisters Brought Medicine to Women and Women to Medicine

Why this book?

Janice P. Nimura digs deep into the diaries and letters of the Blackwell sisters, who were among the very first women in America to be trained as doctors. The book reads like a novel without sacrificing historical accuracy and scholarly rigor. I found myself deeply moved by the sisters’ struggles to be taken seriously as physicians in an entirely male world. Jeered in lecture halls and treated as curiosities off-campus, they maintained a dignified courage and a relentless work ethic. Eventually, they shamed their skeptics and opened the doors for future generations of women doctors. This is a compelling tale told well.


You Don't Belong Here: How Three Women Rewrote the Story of War

By Elizabeth Becker,

Book cover of You Don't Belong Here: How Three Women Rewrote the Story of War

Why this book?

Elizabeth Becker recovers the stories of three iconoclastic female journalists—Catherine Leroy, Frankie Fitzgerald, and Kate Webb—who covered the war in Vietnam at a time when women were unwelcome on the front lines. Male military officials and rival war correspondents tried to ban them from reporting, but they persevered, often at great personal cost. Becker describes their bravery in the line of fire and makes the case that their coverage changed war reporting—and Americans’ perception of the war itself.


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