‘Male writers are thought of as “writers” first and then “men”. As for female writers, they are first “female” and only then “writers”.’
– Elif Shafak, Black Milk: On Writing, Motherhood, and the Harem Within
Women have been writing for a long time. In fact, the first author in the world is considered to be Enheduanna, a Mesopotamian princess and priestess who lived in the 23rd century BC. Since then, women have made momentous contributions to literature. From Sappho to J.K. Rowling, ladies have proved that they are more than adept at using a pen. Still, the literary world is considered to be predominantly men’s domain. This has compelled women to don a cloak of anonymity while creating their masterpieces for centuries now. In the 18th and 19th centuries, women who wrote were considered ill-bred. Stalwarts like Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, George Eliot, and George Sands, among countless others, had to hide behind a pseudonym.
You would think that with the progress in humanity where women empowerment has come a long way, our talented ladies are free to publish their work under their own names. Though this is true to some extent, it is not the complete picture. Women writers still face prejudice. Just like a century or two ago, many still consider their work frivolous without even giving it a shot. You would be surprised to know that some of your favorite authors still don a male or a gender-neutral pseudonym to publish their work.
Though men and women are striving hard, the road to true equality is still some way away. In the United States of America, one of the most developed countries in the world, women gained the right to vote in as late as 1920. To celebrate this momentous occasion, April 26 is celebrated as Women’s Equality Day. This day is a reminder that women are as capable as men in all respects, even in writing.
As we celebrate Women’s Equality Day, let us take a moment to appreciate some of our modern female authors who have taken up a male pseudonym at one time or another.
Author: J.K. Rowling
Pen Name: Robert Galbraith
J.K. Rowling is super famous. You would be hard-pressed to find even one person who has not heard of her acclaimed series, Harry Potter. Understandably, you must be baffled to see her name on this list. At the behest of her publisher, Barry Cunningham, Joanne Rowling chose to use her initials in order to appeal to the typical audience of the genre. She even adopted her grandmother’s name Kathleen as her middle name to make her pen name sound more impactful. In 2013, years after the publication of Harry Potter, Rowling published a crime thriller called The Cuckoo’s Calling under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. The series has three more novels with plans for more additions. Rowling faced some backlash when her identity was first revealed. She took this decision as she wished to begin her writing career anew in a new genre without any expectations.
Author: Nora Roberts
Pen Name: J.D. Robb
Nora Roberts is a renowned romance novelist. In fact, she was the first author to achieve a place in the Romance Authors of America Hall of Fame. With over two hundred novels to her credit, Roberts is a household name for all romance fans. Yet, she decided to let go of her fame and adopted the nom de plume, J.D. Robbs while penning her futurist series, In Death. This had the added benefit of appealing more to the predominantly male-dominated mystery and suspense genre. Unlike Rowling, Nora Roberts was able to keep this secret under wraps for quite a few years. When her identity was finally revealed to the In Death fans, they accepted her wholeheartedly.
Author: Robyn Thurman
Pen Name: Rob Thurman
Rob Thurman is the author of the New York Times Best Selling series, Cal Leandros. Robyn decided to use her male-sounding nickname, Rob, as her penname as she felt it better suited the book’s plot. Though her secret was out by the time the third book in the series came out, it had little to no effect on her popularity as an author.
Author: Christina Lynch & Meg Howrey
Pen Name: Magnus Flyte
Magnus Flyte is the creator of the thrilling series, The City of Dark Magic. Christina Lynch and Meg Howrey adopted this unique male name so as to attract readers of all genders. Though their identity as two women authors was unveiled right from the beginning, the series enjoy immense popularity.
Author: Alice Bradley Sheldon
Pen Name: James Tiptree Jr.
Under the alias, James Tiptree Jr., Alice Bradley Sheldon penned two spectacular novels and one collection of short stories. Sheldon was already an artist and an art critic working at the Chicago Sun before she made her foray into writing. Her Brightness Falls from the Air is an amazing novel highly recommended to fans of science fiction novels. The award-winning author decided to opt for a male pen name to publish her extraordinary science fictions as she did not want to deal with the prejudice that came with being a women writer.
Author: Katharine Burdekin
Pen Name: Murray Constantine
Katharine Burdekin first published her novels under her own name before adopting the nom de plume of Murray Constantine. Her Swastika Nights, published in 1939, is a wonderful example of speculative fiction, though it now falls under the genre of alternate reality. As Murray Constantine, she showcased a vividly imaginative picture of the world if the Nazis won the war even before WWII properly broke out. It was not until the 1980s that Murray Constantine’s true identity as Katharine Burdekin was revealed by Daphne Patai.
Today’s literary world is thriving with fresh talent. Women and women are equally trying to make their mark in the book market. As readers, we should always make sure that we do not form any sort of bias against a book just because of the gender of its author. Just like a book should not be judged by its cover, it should neither be gauged by the author’s gender.
Do comment and let us know which of the listed authors surprised you the most with their choice of nom de plume.