Djuna Barnes and Solita Solano in Paris, 1922.
There was a book published in the last decade or so by Stefan Bollman titled “Women Who Read Are Dangerous.” I’d extend myself to say the same of women who write. A woman with a pen in her hand, a woman seated at a typewriter, a woman with her fingers paused in thought before the keys of her computer—such women are a force to be reckoned with. Creating and consuming knowledge is a source of power. And with the confines of the male literary tradition creaking open in the 20th century we got a proliferation of fabulous women sharing their words with the world.
And with the proliferation of women writers there was the proliferation of cameras right along side them to document the lives beyond the words. The image of the writer, sitting at a desk or in a chair, recumbent and at ease with books or a pen an arm’s length away, is an image we’re all familiar with. Bookish is the word. A person relaxed amongst their words and the words of others, the easy intellectual, has always been its own classification of cool. Of course Joan Didion comes to mind first when one thinks of stylish writers since she is the quintessence of California cool both in her appearance and in her writing. But there are many, many others. There is Toni Morrison, who is by most accounts (including my own) one of the greatest writers living today. Colette, novelist of the turn-of-the-century Parisian literary scene. Djuna Barnes, Anais Nin, Simone de Beauvoir and Susan Sontag, revolutionary queer writers and thinkers of unprecedented skill. Activist Maya Angelou as well as Angela Davis, who wrote several books about her activism and the owner of one of the most recognizable hairstyles of the 70s. American poetesses Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton who each committed the intimate details of their fragile mental health to verse. Jackie Collins, perhaps one of the most glamorous women to ever put pen to paper. The list goes on and on and on.
Joan Didion. (L: Credit unknown. / R: In Los Angeles, 1970s.)
Toni Morrison. (credit unknown)
Colette. (L: late 1800s. / R: Credit unknown.)
Djuna Barnes. (R: 1926 by Berenice Abbott / L: 1939 by Carl Van Vechten)
Anais Nin. (R: 1940s. / L: by Inge Morath, 1959.)
Simone de Beauvoir. (R: in Paris, 1946. / L: by Charles Hewitt 1947.)
Susan Sontag. (L: 1972 by Henri Cartier-Bresson. / R: 1966 attending a writers' conference by Bob Peterson.)
Maya Angelou. (L: 1957 portrait taken for the Caribbean Calypso Festival. / R: Credit unknown.)
Angela Davis. (L: April 1972. / R: Credit unknown.)
Sylvia Plath. (Credits unknown)
Anne Sexton. (credits unknown)
Jackie Collins. (L: January 1956, Hulton Archive. / R: appearing in an episode of the TV series The Saint in 1963.)