Shakespeare was brought up in conversation today and the person teased asking me, “How do we even know he really wrote all of those sonnets?” Then my mind wandered to the many women writers who have disguised themselves as men in order for their work to be shared.
It’s a sad thing really, to have to wear a mask (or in this case stuff a sock down your pants) in order to be taken seriously.
This very thought made me ill and feel unworthy of all the ranting I’ve done regarding being published. I will be honest, I wouldn’t have been as hell bent on getting published if the credit wasn’t there. These women, brilliant and amazing women, said fuck you to the fame that many writers strive for these days.
They simply wanted to be heard. They wanted their story told no matter what voice spoke their words… these women are who I strive to be like.
Read further for a list of 7 amazing women authors who gave into the name game >>>
1. Joanne Rowling (J.K. Rowling)
Anyone who doubts that there’s still a double standard in the publishing industry doesn’t know his or her Harry Potter history. Rowling was told by her publisher that her series wouldn’t be as popular among boys if it was penned by a woman. She used a set of initials instead (not even her own, since she has no middle name) and as we all know, the Harry Potter books catapulted in popularity even after her gender was revealed.
2. The Brontë Sisters (Ellis, Acton, and Currer Bell)
Emily, Anne, and Charlotte Brontë published a collection of poetry called Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. Charlotte explained that their decision was based on a desire to be taken seriously, saying that they “… had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice,” so they chose male pen names. The books of poems failed to generate much interest, but each sister found success with their next ventures published under their real names—Jane Eyre, Agnes Grey, andWuthering Heights, respectively.
3. Alice Bradley Sheldon (James Tiptree, Jr.)
After receiving a PhD in Experimental Psychology, Sheldon delved into the science fiction world in 1967. She has given a few reasons for adopting a male pseudonym, including a wish to distance herself from what she had written in the past. Plus, it was easier to break into the science fiction field as a man during that time. “Tiptree” proved a hit in the genre, winning a Nebula Award in 1973 for the short story Love Is the Plan the Plan Is Death. Her identity reveal in 1976 was a shock to all, even though her writings were largely feminist and adept at exploring societal gender roles. It didn’t cost her too many fans; she won another Nebula for best science fiction in 1977—and for a story written under a female pseudonym to boot.
4. Nora Roberts (J.D. Robb)
Roberts was already a popular romance novelist with bestsellers like Playing the Odds under her belt when she decided to branch out into the world of detective fiction. However, her publisher was reluctant to introduce her established name into another genre. They compromised by Roberts taking the pen name J.D. Robb and launching a book series called In Death. It’s possible she chose such a gender-neutral pseudonym to ensure a wider audience interest in the male-dominated suspense novel genre. The series gathered a large following, and when fans discovered that the two authors were one in the same, they welcomed both identities.
5. Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot)
This author introduced her pseudonym, George Eliot, into the literary world with an essay, “Silly Novels by Lady Novelists,” that blasted the work being done by women at the time. It’s been said that she assumed a pen name not only to separate herself from her female peers, but also to make sure that her work was validated and that nobody would write her off as another romance novelist. (Incidentally, she also wanted to keep an affair with a married man under wraps.) After Adam Bede, her first published book, was released and proved successful, she came forward as the author. It didn’t affect her popularity among readers—she went on to write six more successful novels.
6. Ann Rule (Andy Stack)
According to her Web site, twenty-six out of twenty-eight of Rule’s novels made the New York Times’ bestsellers list. She is highly respected within the true crime genre and has an impressive legal background. But in the beginning of her career, even her history as a police officer and growing up with family members in the justice system weren’t enough to convince publishers she knew her stuff. When she started writing for True Detective magazine, her editor requested a male pseudonym so that she would have more credibility among readers. She wrote novels under both names, but when “Ann Rule” became an accepted, well-known name within the industry, she ditched Andy Stack and a thriving career followed.
7. Louisa May Alcott (A.M. Barnard)
The author of Little Women started out as A.M. Barnard, an author of suspenseful short stories known as “potboilers.” Their themes were much darker and racier than what she explored later in her career. Though her works as Barnard were commercially successful, their main purpose was to financially support Alcott so that she could pursue the kind of writing that truly interested her—which led to her penning Little Women and becoming one of the most famous and lauded writers in history. She also became active in the women’s suffrage movement and used her later novels to promote women’s rights.
I can’t imagine what the world of literature would be like without the inclusion of these women. It saddens me that, despite all of the achievements of female scribes and their peers, a novel’s commercial viability is still connected to its author’s gender—at least in the eyes of publishers. The fact that these seven women, who wrote at different times throughout history, became even more successful after stepping outside of their alter egos’ shadows means that the pressure put on women to use male pseudonyms is a mistake—one that’s made all too often by narrow-minded publishers. Female authors must be recognized and honored not only to give credit where it’s due, but also to challenge and eradicate the perpetuated stereotypes that make male pseudonyms supposedly necessary in the first place.