Women Writers of Northern California

March 15, 1998
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@ dcn.davis.ca.us

Northern California is an extraordinarily rich place for women writers. Of course, the cities of San Francisco and Sacramento have many women writers to claim as their own, but so does the greater Davis area, which has the university as a major draw. And many writers choose to live in quiet valley towns or the foothills, which are within striking distance of bookstores, libraries and lecture halls.

Over the years, a wonderful collection of women editors, novelists, poets and non-fiction writers particular to this area has developed including Karen Joy Fowler, Laura Reese, Katherine Vaz, Deborah Madison, Michele Anna Jordan, Georgeanne Brennan, Sandra McPherson, Doris Earnshaw, Jean Hegland, Kristin Delaplane, Celeste Turner Wright, Padma Hejmadi, Joan Criddle and many more. Others, like Isabel Porter and Barbara Milman, are primarily artists who also have written books. And newcomers like Sandy Lynne Holman are breaking into the scene: Holman has just published her first children's book. (Quiz: Ten of the women listed above live in Davis. Can you name them?)

So in honor of Women's History Month, let's take a look at a few women from this general area. First, pick up a copy of "The Sweetheart Season" by Karen Joy Fowler. Turn to chapter 6 (page 52 in hardcover ) and be prepared to read a very, very funny scene in which a father tries his best to tell his 12-year-old daughter the facts of life. Fowler is reputed to be a dark and brooding writer, which she says is just not true. "I think I'm hilarious," she said. And she is.

Laura Reese's second book has been accepted for publication. It is tentatively titled "Panic Snap." This is how Reese describes it: "It's about sexual obsession, compulsion and how love doesn't always go where we want it to go. These are subjects that interest me intensely."

Katherine Vaz's latest book, "Mariana," is available at last in the United States - but only if you read Spanish. However, this wonderful novel about a 17th century nun who has an affair with a French cavalry officer was published in Great Britain in English and a few copies have made their way to Northern California bookstores and libraries. "Mariana" is available at the Woodland city library, for instance.

Three women from Davis/New Mexico, Sebastopol/San Francisco and Winters/Provence have written great cookbooks. I'm speaking of Deborah Madison (grew up in Davis, now lives in New Mexico), Michele Anna Jordan (lives in Sebastopol, has an apartment in The City), and Georgeanne Brennan (divides her time between Winters and France). Each of these women has published several books so you'll be able to find their works easily.

Poet Sandra McPherson, a professor at UC Davis, has several collections of poetry to her credit, including a point-counterpoint she wrote with her daughter, Phoebe. That collection is called "The Spaces Between Birds."

Doris Earnshaw didn't take no for an answer when she was first refused admission to Cal. She bided her time, then earned her Ph.D. at age 55, then launched a successful teaching career before retiring. She now can add several more titles to her resume as she has edited and published three collections of speeches by female politicians. The latest is "International Women Speak."

Jean Hegland's novel, "Into the Forest," remains one of my favorites. If you live up in the mountains and are interested in self-sufficiency, this is a gripping read. A small press originally published this book, which sold tremendously well by word-of-mouth. It was picked up by Bantam and released last fall in hardback. Hegland lives outside Healdsburg, a little far afield, but I'm going to claim her anyway.

Kristin Delaplane of Vacaville wrote and published "A Gold Hunter: Memoirs of John Berry Hill," the story of an intrepid ancestor who took part in the California Gold Rush. She is the daughter of the late Stan Delaplane who wrote travel and humor for the San Francisco Chronicle for many years.

Celeste Turner Wright was honored last fall when the main theater building at UC Davis was named for her. She taught at UCD for an amazing 51 years, and for 27 of those years was the chair of the English department, for which she deserves a medal in addition to a building. Not only was she the first humanities Ph.D. to be hired at Davis, and the first woman professor, but she is an acclaimed poet. "Seasoned Timber" is one of her collections of poetry.

Padma Hejmadi, writing under the name Padma Perera, published a collection of short stories called "Birthday/Deathday." She was born in Madras, India, and studied classical Indian dance beginning at age 4. She is a dancer, an artist, a photographer and a writer whose short stories have appeared in The New Yorker (as has McPherson's poetry). She is completing a new collection of short stories, "Conversations," about women talking to each other vertically, old to young, and horizontally, across continents.

Celebrate women by picking up a book by one of these remarkable writers.

[Elisabeth Sherwin presented a lecture on Women Writers of Northern California at the Woodland Library during Women's History Month -- Ry]

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