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In honour of Women’s History Month, we thought we’d pay homage to some of the greatest female writers in history who’ve helped shape the literary world. These women were pioneers in their respective fields and have helped pave the way for future generations of authors and artists.

Poet, actress and singer Maya Angelou was born Marguerite Annie Johnson in 1928. After a childhood spent moving around parts of the U.S., she went on to become an important figure in American literature for works such as I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), which is considered an autobiographical account of her early life. She has received numerous honours and awards including three Grammys for spoken word albums and a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The first novel in English was written by a woman. Aphra Behn, one of the first English professional female writers, is credited with writing Love-Letters Between a Nobleman and His Sister in 1684. A few years later, in 1688, she published her most famous work, Oroonoko, a tragic love story about an enslaved African prince.

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Sappho is considered to be by many the first female writer. Much of her work is lost or incomplete, though she is known for her lyric poetry and descriptions of love and beauty.

Writing of one of the most popular coming-of-age novels of all time, Little Women, Louisa May Alcott spent much of her life in Massachusetts. She was an abolitionist and feminist who worked as a nurse during the Civil War before becoming a writer.

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Doris Lessing, a British writer of novels, short stories, memoirs and essays originally from Persia (now Iran), was one of the best-known female authors of the 20th century. Born in 1919, she had her first novel, The Grass is Singing, published in 1950. She was awarded the 2007 Nobel Prize for Literature for her “skepticism, fire and visionary power.” Among her most famous works are The Golden Notebook and The Fifth Child.

Jane Austen was an English novelist whose works of romantic fiction set among the landed gentry earned her a place as one of the most widely read writers in English literature. Her realism, biting irony and social commentary have gained her historical importance among scholars and critics. “skepticism, fire and visionary power.” Among her most famous works are The Golden Notebook and The Fifth Child.

The first African American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (1982), Alice Walker is best known for her acclaimed novel The Color Purple (1983), which went on to become an Oscar-winning film directed by Steven Spielberg in 1985. The book is also notable for winning her the National Book Award for Fiction in 1983 – making her one of only three female authors to win this prize twice during their career.

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This list is just the tip of the literary iceberg when it comes to female authors who broke barriers. The world of the written word has been forever altered by women throughout the ages. It’s easy to forget that there was a time when women were not allowed to write books. But once they were given the chance, female authors changed literature forever.