International Women’s Day was March 8 so, as in all things, I am late. Regardless, I wanted to take some time to talk about women who have impacted my life with their creativity and work.
Women shaped my literary experience and, by extension, the kind of person I am and want to be. As with most people of my age group, JK Rowling and Harry Potter was a large part of this. I started college the autumn after the final Potter movie was released, and its direct impact on my life followed me there. Get a large group of confused college freshmen together and the universality of Potter becomes exceedingly useful as a conversation starting point, and even a personality gauge. Well before that point, Rowling’s work was inspirational in little, everyday ways when it came to patience and reaching out a hand or saying something when silence is the easier solution. Rowling and Harry Potter were my first introduction to fandom and forums, and they led to friendships that got me through first high school and then the rigors of building a college social life.
But before I was indoctrinated into the omnipresent cult of Potter, I was enthralled by countless other books and, in particular, two other series. Tamora Pierce’s Circle of Magic quartets, about four young mages discovering and honing their power, explores the magic of art and “utility” skills that impact people on a daily basis. The original quartet of lead characters have powers tied into weaving and metalwork, plants and the weather, and they eventually take on students with magic based in dance, cooking, glassblowing, and stone. The magic of the series revels in the importance of craftsmanship and nature. Whenever I return to the series, it fills me with the desire to create with my hands or learn a new skill; it inspires me to look at the clouds and think about the processes that create them and build them into a storm.
In counterpoint to Pierce, Diane Duane’s So You Want to be a Wizard brought the concept of magic as science. It was a magic system rooted in knowing something so well that you can convince it to change. Magic works through the definition of parameters and detailed knowledge of each aspect of the spell. Yet the world was still full of poetry and art, bringing that knowledge and precision together in language and rituals. I am, to this day, somewhat obsessed with what names and titles can say and mean. Duane covered huge thematic ground through the series: the fusion of new and old, the ability of circumstances and people (or vast and ancient magical entities) to not only change, but to struggle with that process. The books tackle death and entropy and, excuse my hazy memory, but I believe one of the later books contains a giant dog in space and that means a lot to me too.
It was women, through series and standalone books such as these, who shaped my reading experience, and thus my development. Without the work and art of women, my childhood would have been sparse, and that continues to hold true today, on a wider scale and across even more narrative fields.
I discovered Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona in college as part of a budding awareness of comics, which proved an invaluable source of distraction from stress and led to discovering Molly Ostertag and her work on the webcomic Strong Female Protagonist (written by Brennan Mulligan). They both, as individuals and creators, have brought inspiration, joy, and a bit of introspective thought when I least expected.
The Wachowski sisters’ Netflix series Sense8 has probably become one of the most deeply impactful stories of my adult life. The story is rich in themes of connection, unity and division, with characters richly conceptualized and realized. The premise sets up an exploration of the vast scope of human experience, and the simple similarities of it, across cultures and sexualities and class. The narratives and imagery presented under the Wachowski’s direction are intense and, at times, achieve an intense personal emotional resonance.
I have written about E. Jade Lomax’s Leagues and Legends trilogy on this blog, and it is a prime example of world building and character development, heavy with compassion, awareness, and themes of identity. They were the first fantasy novels in several years to capture my attention. Rose Eveleth’s Flash Forward podcast is speculative futurism at its best, switching between actual tech developments and their effects on the world and zany never-gonna-happen what-ifs. And Lauren Shippen’s podcast The Bright Sessions is my latest obsession. Often described as “the X-men in therapy,” but it is much more interested in character and emotional growth than superpowered flash and heroics. It is the best take on exploring humanity through the lens of superpowers I’ve seen in years, earned by its respectful treatment of real mental health issues, character dynamics, and developing discussions of morality.
So, thank you for continuing to create in a world where your accomplishments are often unrecognized or not taken seriously. Women shape the world through every medium and every field, and we would all be much worse off without you.