Earlier this week, Forbes published its list of the Top 10 Most Powerful Women Authors.  Written and compiled by Avril David, the list included women authors who are a) currently alive and b) have a focus on personal narrative and fiction writers.  In a preface on how she chose the authors included on the list, David writes:

The women selected for this list are powerful because of their ability to influence us through their words and ideas. Collectively, these women hold readers captivated with stories of fantastical worlds, suspense and drama, insights into the complexities of minority experiences and cultures, and fresh takes on societal issues and expectations…not to mention, book sales of up to 800M copies sold and a wealth of prestigious awards and recognition including Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes.

In other words, these 10 women can tell (and sell) a good story.

Forbes’ Top 10 Most Powerful Women Authors:

J.K. Rowling
Danielle Steele
Toni Morrison
Stephenie Meyer
Mary Higgins Clark
Maya Angelou
Alice Walker
Jhumpa Lahiri
Joyce Carol Oates
Isabel Allende

As Feministe.com commented, the Forbes’ list is “a welcome reprieve from the Best Writers of All Time lists which inevitably include only one or two women.” There are five women of color alongside five white women on the list. But not only does the list include diversity, it also reflects another interesting angle as well.

It’s also a notably diverse list, with the white authors skewed heavily to the side of “commercially successful” and the authors of color skewed more towards the anthologized end of the literary spectrum.


It is an interesting observation and in some regards troubling. While it seems that white women can become franchise writers, the opportunity to be commercially successful for women of color seems intrinsically tied to their ability to produce so-called “high literary art.”

That said, there are new faces in the publishing world poised to break that trend. Most recently, Demetria L. Lucas, author of the newly released, A Belle In Brooklyn, has proven that an authentic voice and real stories can engage readers both online and from bookstore shelves. And Helena Andrews, author of Bitch Is The New Black, generated interest by speaking her truth, adding a much needed voice that was equally snarky and refreshingly sane. The novel caught the eye of Grey’s Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes and the two have plans to bring the story to the big screen. While speaking from their own unique perspective, both women have shown they can achieve success on their own terms.

While I do believe women authors of color have the potential to achieve commercial, franchise, blockbuster level success, there is a part of me that still craves for more women of color on the fiction aisle.  Despite the presence of women of color in memoirs and other areas, fiction remains a niche that is owned still by women of color usually classified in the older guard.  The notable exception in my mind would be Zadie Smith, the author of On Beauty and White Teeth, who was noticeably absent from the Forbes‘ list.

What is your take on Forbes’ Most Powerful Women Writers list? Do you agree with the split between commercial and “high literary works?” Are there authors you would you add to the list? Share your thoughts with us Clutchettes!

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