5 Female Short Story Writers You Should Be Reading RIGHT NOW!

So I’m going to totally sound like that racist guy in your office who was forced into sensitivity training by your boss right now, but in my case, it’s actually true.

When it comes to reading, I’m colorblind.

Okay, once you’re done laughing, let me also tell you that I could give two shits about the sex of a writer, either. For me, what matters is the story itself. I’m not one of these readers who scans the New York Times Review Of Books looking for female writers or writers of color so I can rush to the bookstore, pick them up, and impress my white liberal friends with how diverse and well-read I am. I’m also not the type of reader who’s impressed by a flashy cover design either. For me, the back cover copy has to sing and the first four or five pages really has to suck me in, otherwise, it goes back on the shelf and I move on.

Here’s the other thing about me as a reader, outside of reviewing, most of the books I personally read are usually by women. And, once again, it’s not something I do intentionally, there just happens to be a shit ton of truly great female storytellers out there right now, and a massive hunk of them write exactly the type of fiction I enjoy: Dark, gritty, and character based.

Now before we get started, I’m going to preface this piece by saying that almost all of the writers featured in this article have written novels along with dozens of short stories. All of the novels are pretty good, and some are flat out great. But I’m featuring them because despite how good their novel length work is, their short work is flat out brilliant and I think just about everyone should be reading them.

Anyway, here we go.

Lindsay Hunter

Goddamn Lindsay Hunter. If there’s any one writer I could wish into having a household name, it would be Hunter. I’ve raved about her debut novel, Ugly Girls, on more than a few occasions, but what really got me hooked was her second collection of stories, Don’t Kiss Me. Like her contemporary, Amelia Gray (you’ll read more about her in just a second), Hunter typically only needs around a thousand or so words to rip your heart out and show it to you while it’s still beating. Her characters range from broken hearted, cat obsessed women, to young rural girls exploring their sexuality, to gypsies roaming the country and getting by on road kill and petty larceny. Hunter’s prose—at least in her short fiction—has a stream of consciousness style that disregards traditional grammar and focuses on story above all else. Hunter is a wholly unique storyteller, and if given enough time to hone her skills, she’s sure to make an indelible mark on literature.

Laura van den Berg

If there is an heir apparent to Phillip Roth and John Updike, I firmly believe that van den Berg is the woman to fill their enormous literary shoes. But, you know, without the truckloads of misogyny that plagued their early careers. Van den Berg writes about characters who essentially feel alien to whatever surroundings or situations they happen to find themselves living in. Whether it’s a sister trying to raise her weird little brother after their parents have been killed in a car accident, or a shop girl sleeping with her boss with the vague hope of traveling with him on a business trip to the Caribbean. Her style is crisp, without allusion, and utterly captivating. Make sure to check out her collections What The World Will Look Like When All The Water Leaves Us and The Isle Of Youth.

Bonnie Jo Campbell

I know, I know, I’ve featured Bonnie Jo Campbell in more than a few columns over the years, but there’s a reason for it, folks, because this woman is the very definition of the great American writer. Her stories are heartbreaking and so full of powerful imagery that I’ve been brought to tears on more than a few occasions while reading her. Her collections Women & Other Animals, the classic, National Book Award nominated American Salvage, and the forthcoming Mothers, Tell Your Daughters should be required reading for anyone who wants to perfect the art of the short story. So if you haven’t yet, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of American Salvage, or better yet, pre-order Mothers, Tell Your Daughters, and prepare to be bowled over.

Amelia Gray

I’m not going to mince words: Amelia Gray is a fucking genius. Both of her short story collections, AM/PM and the absolutely stellar Gutshot (by the way, folks, this collection will be making my top five reads of 2015), are trippy, visceral, and written with such power that they leave you breathless. What’s even more stunning about Gray’s style is she can usually knock you flat on your ass in less than a thousand words. Don’t believe me? Here’s just a taste from Gray’s story, "These Are The Fables”:

'Here's the thing though,' he said. 'Your folks are dead. And I have a warrant out for my arrest. And you're forty years old. And I am addicted to getting tattoos. And our air conditioner's broke. And you are drunk every day. And all I ever want to do is fight and go swimming. And I am addicted to keno. And you are just covered in hair. And I've never done a load of laundry in my life. And you are still technically married to my dealer. And I refuse to eat vegetables. And you can't sleep unless you're sleeping on the floor. And I am addicted to heroin. And honest to God, you got big tits but you make a shitty muse. And we are in Beaumont.’

Yeah, that’s just about my favorite paragraph from 2015. Read this woman, people!

Julia Elliot

The very first book I read in 2015 was Julia Elliot’s stunning debut of stories, The Wilds, and from beginning-to-end it absolutely captivated me with its range and the utter beauty of its language. The bulk of the stories in The Wilds—okay, all of them—can best be describe as weird and range in genres from science fiction (the exceptional “LIMBs”) to domestic drama (the extremely funny “Feral”) to the sweetly romantic (Once again, “LIMBs and the title story “The Wilds”) to flat out satire (the hilarious “Jaws”). Now typically I don’t throw out words like “perfect” all that often, but The Wilds is pretty much a perfect debut collection, and one that I encourage every reader to search out and buy.

Keith Rawson

Column by Keith Rawson

Keith Rawson is a little-known pulp writer whose short fiction, poetry, essays, reviews, and interviews have been widely published both online and in print. He is the author of the short story collection The Chaos We Know (SnubNose Press)and Co-Editor of the anthology Crime Factory: The First Shift. He lives in Southern Arizona with his wife and daughter.

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Joseph Wendell Miller's picture
Joseph Wendell ... August 24, 2015 - 11:04am

"Amelia Gray is a fucking genius."



Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading a lot more during the quarantine August 24, 2015 - 2:44pm

I dug me some Gutshot. 

PennyC's picture
PennyC August 24, 2015 - 11:04pm

Hmm... a list of only  White female writers... 

Keith's picture
Keith from Phoenix, AZ is reading Growing Up Dead in Texas by Stephen Graham Jones August 25, 2015 - 7:59am

Oh, internet, why can't I make you happy?

Glendaliz Camacho's picture
Glendaliz Camacho August 25, 2015 - 8:07am

I beg to differ on your colorblindness. Given the fact this list consists of five white-presenting female writers, and the inclusion of their photos as opposed to their book covers, there is definitely color being seen. One. 

This is the problematic part of so-called colorblindness in general and in publishing in particular - reviewers being part of the industry too. Reviewers are just one cog, along with writers, agents, acquiring editors, marketing departments, etc. If the agents being pitched to are "blind", the acquiring editors, the marketing dept, then when does anyone who isn't the default get seen or read? Colorblind reviews/articles reinforce exclusion rather than inclusion. And for a very long time it didn't matter (can be argued it still doesn't matter) how good your plot was - if you were a writer of color you weren't get read, taught in school, published, promoted. You weren't seen.

To take it a step further, books are only one cog of entertainment along with film, TV, video games, print media, etc. All areas were people of color are largely excluded and the mediums don't reflect the larger population or its viewership. So this is just one article, but then again it's part of something much larger. 

On some level, I suspect the reviewer knows this too or else he wouldn't have begun this list so defensively and professing how much gender and race don't matter. (They only don't matter to those who have the privilege of it not affecting them adversely.) He might've chosen to just jump in and perhaps extoll the virtues of short story, the writers, anything other than a defense.

Litreactor, not only was this blind, it was tone-deaf too. 

Keith's picture
Keith from Phoenix, AZ is reading Growing Up Dead in Texas by Stephen Graham Jones August 25, 2015 - 8:18am

@Glendaliz - I fully agree with your assessment of the entertainment industry, and American culture in general, there is an issue when it comes to their being a lack of true diversity within our society. But I'll state this again and then leave it alone: If a book's plot or writing doesn't grab me, I don't read it.

But thank you for your intelligent response to the discussion.

postpomo's picture
postpomo from Canada is reading words words words August 25, 2015 - 11:39am

the Festival of Literary Diversity

mind you, it's Canadian - so, no Internet, we can never make you happy.

Jw Schnarr's picture
Jw Schnarr from southern Alberta August 25, 2015 - 11:40am

Any list without Helen Marshall is incomplete, IMO. "Gifts for the One Who Comes After" won the 2015 Shirley Jackson Award, Single Author Collection.


Robert Lewis Speer's picture
Robert Lewis Speer August 25, 2015 - 4:10pm

dunno about the other authors here, but ive read laura van der berg and found her to be wildly overhyped. Was super excited about WtWWLL, and it was just insanely mediocre. Oh yea, and why no black asian Mexican Poly-Siamesio-Indian writers? Why do you hate the WORLD, OP?

Shannon Barber's picture
Shannon Barber from Seattle is reading Paradoxia: A Predators Diary by Lydia Lunch August 25, 2015 - 7:39pm

I have some questions.

This isn't really personal because I don't know you I just want that to be totally clear.

Why lead with look how racist I sound and lead into the whole colorblind thing? Maybe you don't know but here's how that reads to a person of color who is both a reader and a writer.

"I'm colorblind" sounds like, HAHA brown people I don't give a shit about you, your work or your life. LOL.

Even the most casual of two minutes of looking about colorblindedness would show  you how damaging, othering and frankly awful that mindset is. Beyond just being disrespectful of a whole lot of folks lives and work, it's just gross.And the declaration reads as an I DARE You to speak up type thing and that feels exploitative and combative.

Now if I assume you know that, I read your intro as a hey let's poke those super sensitive non White folks HAHAHA. Given that the climate of the literary world  and the world at large especially in the last couple of years or so has been incredibly unwelcoming towards people of color and a lot of places in the lit world have been showing their racist asses all over social media, why would you do that? Is it a jab? Are you trying to make some point about how awesomely not racist you are? Because it fell flat.

As you stated you read a lot of women which is awesome. Do you also not care about how their gender may influence their work?

Or does the not caring only go for not White folks?

You are probably a decent person but honestly the start of this is mean. If that was your intent, you did a good job.

I'd suggest rather than having lead with what you did, maybe next time you do a list like this try leading with something like:

I enjoy reading women writers for X reasons. Here are some women authors I am very into. 

And to answer you, yeah you can make the internet happy. Not coming out of the gate being that guy would be a good start.

Also to be clear. I have been a member here for a while. I don't comment a lot but I do read and have enjoyed a lot of the content over the years. But this, this just makes me not want to come back. For a lot of us, the way that communities speak about us (without mentioning us specifically) us being POC, is important. If I wasn't a member and this was the first thing I saw, I would put Lit Reactor in the list of another literary community I am not welcome in. 

And that is just exhausting and sad.

Steve Palmer's picture
Steve Palmer August 26, 2015 - 1:49am

By 'could give two shits' you mean could NOT give two shits. I assume a symptom of the common North American mistake of saying 'could care less' instead of 'couldn't care less' (opposite meaning).

mkwriter's picture
mkwriter August 26, 2015 - 10:14am

Other controversies aside, why would you write a post about Amelia Gray and not mention that she has three collections? She released Museum of the Weird under FC2, and that collection is my personal favorite of her three. Where's the research?

helpfulsnowman's picture
Community Manager
helpfulsnowman from Colorado is reading But What If We're Wrong? by Chuck Klosterman August 27, 2015 - 3:24pm

This column added a couple women to my admittedly man-heavy to-read list. I'm happy about that.

And I really like the short story "Video" by Meera Nair (not to be confused with the more famous Mira Nair, which is what Google will suggest) and the collection by the same title.

David Bishop's picture
David Bishop August 28, 2015 - 11:02pm

Fantastic article, Mr. Rawson. Thank you for bringing these authors to my attention. The Internet is a wonderful place where thoughtful individuals can share their experiences with like minded folk - just don't look under the bridges.