Celebrating women writers from Stanford, then and now

March 16, 2023, 8:08 p.m.

Recent years have brought conversations about objectifying media portrayals of women, as seen in the coining of the term “male gaze.” Beyond this, there is gender inequality to contend with even within the publishing industry itself. This year, in honor of Women’s History Month, we celebrate the laborious achievements of just a few women writers who have had a past or present connection with Stanford.

These authors’ works come from genres ranging from middle-grade to adult novels, from romance to fantasy to nonfiction. Though each of them draws from different experiences, we can celebrate all the beautifully diverse stories they have to tell and uplift the voices of women from all walks of life, even beyond this month.

bell hooks ’73

Activist, scholar and writer bell hooks graduated from Stanford in 1973 with her bachelor’s in English, going on to earn several more degrees and author academic works on various topics. Her writing mainly focused on Black feminism, sexuality, intersectionality and cultural criticism, with one of her most famous works being “Ain’t I a Woman?: Black Women and Feminism.” Over the years, hook’s ideas have been very influential both inside and outside of academic spheres.

Jesmyn Ward ’99, M.A. ’00

After Jesmyn Ward graduated from Stanford with degrees in English and Media Studies and Communication, she went on to receive an M.F.A. in Creative Writing and later returned to Stanford as a Stegner Fellow from 2008 to 2010. Ward is the author of three novels — “Salvage the Bones,” “Sing, Unburied, Sing” and “Where the Line Bleeds” — which each narrate the experiences of African-American families in the fictional rural town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi. Ward has also written a memoir and other non-fiction pieces.

Evelyn Skye ’01

As Evelyn Skye recalls in the acknowledgements for one of her novels, she came into Stanford hardly knowing she’d end up graduating with a degree in Slavic Languages and Literatures. Her passion for all things Russian shines through in “The Crown’s Game” and its sequel, a young adult historical fantasy tale set in nineteenth-century imperial Russia. In addition to this duology, Skye has written or co-written six other works, including the forthcoming “Damsel,” a feminist dark fantasy novel and soon-to-be Netflix film.

Yaa Gyasi ’11

During the summer after her sophomore year at Stanford, Yaa Gyasi embarked on a trip to Ghana to research for a novel she had been planning. The summer project was even funded by Stanford’s Chappell Lougee grant, which supports sophomores’ projects in the humanities, creative arts and qualitative social sciences. Gyasi’s findings took her in an unexpected direction, ultimately leading to her acclaimed novel “Homegoing.” Following multiple storylines, it tells of colonial violence and its effects on the diasporic experience, reaching from Ghana to America and spanning over multiple centuries. Gyasi is also the author of “Transcendent Kingdom,” a look at a different aspect of the diaspora experience which chronicles the story of a Ghanaian-American Stanford student and her family.

Christina Li ’21

Christina Li is a recent graduate of Stanford as well as the author of the middle-grade novels “Clues to the Universe” and the forthcoming “Ruby Lost and Found.” Her books tell the stories of children finding their voices, dealing with grief and discovering what family means to them. Additionally, elements of Chinese-American identity and culture are beautifully interwoven throughout her stories. 

Kyla Zhao ’21

Kyla Zhao is another recent Stanford graduate, who released her debut novel “The Fraud Squad” just last month. This story offers a peek into the high society of Singapore, Zhao’s home country, while also presenting a critique of elitism. Additionally, her forthcoming middle grade novel, “May the Best Player Win,” will be released next year. Besides her fiction works, Zhao also has experience in the fashion writing world, having previously written for magazines such as Vogue Singapore and Harper’s Bazaar.

Grace D. Li M.D. ’23

Balancing her writing career with her life as a current student at Stanford’s School of Medicine, Grace D. Li is the author of the New York Times-bestselling heist novel and soon-to-be Netflix series “Portrait of a Thief.” The story gives voice to complex issues such as the Chinese diaspora experience, grappling with one’s identity and dealing with the consequences of imperialism. Li also has a forthcoming novel, “Anatomy of a Betrayal,” which is set in Stanford and deals with the persecution of Chinese Americans in the world of academia.

Malavika Kannan ’24

Stanford junior Malavika Kannan is the author of young adult novels “The Bookweaver’s Daughter” and the forthcoming “All the Yellow Suns.” In addition to being an author, she is also a current student of comparative literature and comparative studies in race and ethnicity. Kannan’s work explores themes of identity and resilience, especially drawing from her personal experiences as a South Asian queer woman.

Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective thoughts, opinions and critiques.

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