March is Women’s History Month, so I find it fitting that I just finished reading Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World, a graphic novel-style biographical book about 29 different women throughout history who influenced the author and illustrator, Penelope Bagieu. It is a beautifully diverse telling of the lives of women both familiar and obscure.
There was dancer and all-around entertainer Josephine Baker, investigative journalist Nellie Bly, actress Margaret Hamilton, animal scientist Temple Grandin and musician Betty Davis, but Bagieu also wrote about lesser-known figures like lighthouse keeper Giorgina Reid; Christine Jorgensen, one of the first transgender women to have sex reassignment surgery and undergo hormone replacement therapy; 22-year-old Afghan rapper Sonita Alizadeh; Chinese empress Wu Zetian and Apache warrior and shaman Lozen.
Their stories were moving, the artwork compelling. Brazen (which I checked out from the greatest place on Earth, the Hamilton Free Public Library) is a well-rounded collection of stories about ethnically diverse women, LGBT women, differently-abled women. I felt very inspired every second that book was in my hands.
I thought a little bit about women I’d like to see given the Brazen treatment. Here are a few from my list (besides the women in my family, who are all strong, hilarious, smart, sweet and every other nice superlative you can think of):
Odetta might not be the first name that pops into your brain when you think of ‘60s folk, but she should be. The singer-songwriter had major influence on Bob Dylan (who credits her with turning him on to folk music) and Joan Baez; her songs became part of the Civil Rights Movement soundtrack, and Martin Luther King Jr. called her the “queen of American folk music.” She was a classically-trained singer, and you can hear it in her voice, even when she’s covering Dylan or performing an African American spiritual-—it’s a gorgeous blend of classical elements and righteous power. She died in 2008 at 77 years old, but she earned many honors in her lifetime—the National Endowment for the Arts’ National Medal of Arts, the Library of Congress Living Legend Award, a Kennedy Center Visionary Award. Odetta was a force, the heart and soul of folk, and if you like Bob Dylan, you know who to thank.
I took an African American science fiction literature class in college, and two of the books that still stick with me are Parable of the Sower and Kindred, both by Octavia Butler. Butler, who died in 2008, was an iconic writer and one of the most successful Black sci-fi authors ever (however, though many of her works had sci-fi themes, she did not limit herself to the genre). “I began writing about power because I had so little,” she has said. She has won Hugo and Nebula awards, a MacArthur Genius Grant (the first sci-fi writer to do so), and several lifetime achievement awards. Crack open one of her books, and you’ll know why she was so lauded-—she tells powerful stories with intense, flowing prose, and her talent for telling a good story lives on.
The “punk poet laureate,” Patti Smith is a poet, musician, artist, memoirist. She has collaborated with Sam Shepard and Bruce Springsteen, wrote songs for Blue Oyster Cult, acted with Jackie Curtis. She’s been the subject of documentaries and concert films, recorded songs for the Cartoon Network Adult Swim show Aqua Teen Hunger Force and for the Hunger Games series and released a number of landmark solo albums and records with her band, the Patti Smith Group. She is open about her anxieties and insecurities. Her style is 100 percent her own. I channel her daily-—ethically, emotionally, follically. She’s a gift and a treasure and I’m glad she’s getting her due while we still have her.
I like to think we’re living in the Pamela Adlon-aissance. She is a talented voice-over artist–working on shows like King of the Hill, Recess, and Pepper Ann (the millennial holy trinity?), among dozens of others—and actress, but her show, Better Things, has thrust her further into the spotlight than she’s maybe ever been. In Better Things, now in its second season on FX, Adlon plays a fictionalized version of herself: Sam, an actor living in California. She created, writes, edits, produces and stars in the show, and the show is packed with women writers and crew members. Adlon (and her character, Sam) is tough and funny, resilient and emotional. She gives a great interview and doesn’t shy away from difficult topics. And it makes me so happy to see her get the recognition she’s always deserved, racking up Emmy and Writers Guild of America nominations. I love her. You should, too.