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10 Bay Area Women You Should Read Now 

Wednesday, Oct 7 2015
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It's been a long time since the Bay Area's literary reputation rested on famous male shoulders — think Mark Twain and Jack London, or the Beats, or more recently, Dave Eggers and Michael Chabon. In the past few decades, local women writers — including bestsellers Amy Tan and Isabelle Allende, and radical explorers of gender and identity such as Kathy Acker and Michelle Tea — have won global audiences and critical kudos. When considering the rich crop of local female talent, assembling a shortlist is nearly impossible and will exclude many fine writers by necessity. These are just 10 of the many Bay Area women whose work is worth reading.

Rebecca Solnit
Where to start: A Field Guide to Getting Lost
Solnit is a queen among nonfiction writers, casting her critical eye on a kaleidoscopic range of topics, including natural disasters, urbanism, nature, and the infinite mysteries of San Francisco. In a world obsessed with tracking data, cataloguing knowledge, and making us permanently locatable, the idea of getting lost can come as a welcome relief. As Solnit writes, "Never to get lost is not to live, not to know how to get lost brings you to destruction, and somewhere in the terra incognita in between lies a life of discovery."

Kate Braverman
Where to start: Squandering the Blue
Kate Braverman's 1990 short story collection Squandering the Blue is a forgotten would-be-classic about women on the verge — either breaking out of their desperate situations or collapsing into them. Braverman isn't talked about enough in the Bay Area, despite enjoying a cult following among aficionados of druggy California noir, and these stories are a solid introduction to her work.

Toni Mirosevich
Where to start: Pink Harvest
Mirosevich has hit her stride lately; all of her recently published essays have brought me to tears. Her 2007 collection, Pink Harvest, features poetic meditations on family, memory, and growing up in a Croatian-American fishing community. Like an expert fisher herself, she casts a wide net and brings in life's bounty for us to enjoy.

Vendela Vida
Where to start: And Now You Can Go
Vida writes so well about women's interior lives that every time I read her work I want to skip town, check into a hotel under a false name, and live a little dangerously. Her debut novel And Now You Can Go offers a surprisingly comic portrayal of a woman's reinvention in the wake of a violent encounter.

Maxine Hong Kingston
Where to start: The Woman Warrior
Although published almost 40 years ago, The Woman Warrior still feels revelatory in its refusal to be pigeonholed into any one genre, blending memoir, non-fiction, and myth. As a feminist examination of cultural identity and memory, it also reconciles identity with the fact that our lives are built on shifting narratives.

Ben McCoy
Where to start: Catch her performances!
If you've never heard Ben McCoy read, you're missing one of San Francisco's most hilarious triple-Scorpio-threat performers. Known for her searing stage presence, McCoy recently showed a softer side at Radar Reading Series while sharing a tender essay about growing up trans and her love for her father. You can find it online.

Chinaka Hodge
Where to start: "The Gentrifier's Guide to Getting Along"
"The Gentrifier's Guide to Getting Along," an open letter to newcomers originally published in San Francisco magazine's Oakland issue last year, is a beautiful homage to growing up in Oakland and a refreshing antidote to writing about gentrification that ignores the history and memory of place. Hodge writes of the "folks who have been here, who remember Oakland before we were Michelin starred, Decemberists headlined, or Times approved." Hodge's poems are best experienced live, and she recently joined the staff of YBCA as Associate Director of Program and Pedagogy.

Sarah Manguso
Where to start: Two Kinds of Decay
Manguso recently moved to the Bay Area from L.A., and the local lit scene should rejoice to have such a megawatt talent in its midst. Her quiet, precise style will gut you with its incisive poetry, and Two Kinds of Decay, published in 2008, is an exploration of illness and how we use language to endure, forget, and remember suffering.

Namwali Serpell
Where to start: "The Sack"
Serpell recently won the Caine Prize for her short story "The Sack," and she split the prize money with her fellow shortlisted nominees — which, itself, gives you an idea how special Serpell is. In this surreal fever dream of a story, she describes knives in the drawer as "a flat bouquet: their thick wooden stems, their large silver petals." With that kind of ear for language, it's exciting to know she's currently working on a novel and a collection of essays.

Diane Cook
Where to start: Man vs. Nature
Cook's 2014 story collection Man vs. Nature illuminates what we know most certainly: we're all going down. When people ask me the desert island question, I usually say this is the book I'd bring. Her stories about survival amid the brutalities of nature are bracing primers for the apocalypse. She's currently at work on a novel; let's hope it gets here in time.


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Anisse Gross

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