The best books for group biographies of women

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...

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 With a wealth of never-before-accessed materials—including unpublished letters and manuscripts; court, police, and psychiatric records; and new interviews—Clark brings to life the spirited woman and visionary artist who blazed a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.

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The books I picked & why

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

Heather Clark Why did I love 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.

By Mary Gabriel,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Ninth Street Women as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NINTH STREET WOMEN is the impassioned, wild, sometimes tragic, always exhilarating story of five women who dared to enter the male-dominated world of twentieth-century abstract painting--not as muses but as artists. From their cold-water lofts, where they painted, drank, fought, and loved, these pioneers burst open the door to the art world for themselves and groundbreaking artists to come.

They include Lee Krasner and Elaine de Kooning, whose careers were at times overshadowed by the fame of their husbands, Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, but who emerged as stunning talents in their own right, as well as a younger…

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

Heather Clark Why did I love 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.

By Maggie Doherty,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Equivalents as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


In 1960, Harvard’s sister college, Radcliffe, announced the founding of an Institute for Independent Study, a “messy experiment” in women’s education that offered paid fellowships to those with a PhD or “the equivalent” in artistic achievement. Five of the women who received fellowships—poets Anne Sexton and Maxine Kumin, painter Barbara Swan, sculptor Marianna Pineda, and writer Tillie Olsen—quickly formed deep bonds with one another that would inspire and sustain their most ambitious work. They called themselves “the Equivalents.” Drawing from notebooks, letters, recordings, journals, poetry, and prose, Maggie Doherty weaves a moving…

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

Heather Clark Why did I love 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.

By Sheila Weller,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Girls Like Us as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A groundbreaking and irresistible biography of three of America’s most important musical artists—Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and Carly Simon—charts their lives as women at a magical moment in time.

Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and Carly Simon remain among the most enduring and important women in popular music. Each woman is distinct. Carole King is the product of outer-borough, middle-class New York City; Joni Mitchell is a granddaughter of Canadian farmers; and Carly Simon is a child of the Manhattan intellectual upper crust. They collectively represent, in their lives and their songs, a great swath of American girls who came of…

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

Heather Clark Why did I love 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.

By Janice P. Nimura,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Doctors Blackwell as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Elizabeth Blackwell believed from an early age that she was destined for a mission beyond the scope of "ordinary" womanhood. Though the world at first recoiled at the notion of a woman studying medicine, her intelligence and intensity ultimately won her the acceptance of the male medical establishment. In 1849, she became the first woman in America to receive an M.D. She was soon joined in her iconic achievement by her younger sister, Emily, who was actually the more brilliant physician.

Exploring the sisters' allies, enemies, and enduring partnership, Janice P. Nimura presents a story of trial and triumph. Together,…

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

Heather Clark Why did I love 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.

By Elizabeth Becker,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked You Don't Belong Here as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The long buried story of three extraordinary female journalists who permanently shattered the official and cultural barriers to women covering war.

Kate Webb, an Australian iconoclast, Catherine Leroy, a French dare devil photographer, and Frances FitzGerald, a blue-blood American intellectual, arrived in Vietnam with starkly different life experiences but one shared purpose: to report on the most consequential story of the decade.

At a time when women were considered unfit to be foreign reporters, Frankie, Catherine and Kate paid their own way to war, arrived without jobs, challenged the rules imposed on them by the military, ignored the belittlement and…

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By F.X. Holden,

Book cover of Aggressor

F.X. Holden

New book alert!

What is my book about?

It is April 1st, 2038. Day 60 of China's blockade of the rebel island of Taiwan. The US government has agreed to provide Taiwan with a weapons system so advanced, it can disrupt the balance of power in the region. But what pilot would be crazy enough to run the Chinese blockade to deliver it?

Aggressor is the first novel in a gripping action series about a future war in the Pacific, seen through the eyes of soldiers, sailors, civilians, and aviators on all sides. Featuring technologies that are on the drawing board today and could be fielded in the near future, Aggressor is the page-turning military technothriller you have been waiting for!

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