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Women Writers Research Guide

A research guide to resources on women writers.

While the female authorship of the works you are studying doesn't change the basic principles outlined in the general guide to literary research, courses focusing on women writers often also cover issues of authorship and gender. This guide should help you to research those issues in addition to the basic literary research you will need to do on the authors you are reading. You may also want to check out the guide to Women's Studies.

Getting Started

Subject-specific encyclopedias are a good place to get background information on a topic. The library has several encyclopedias on women writers, including:

  • Bloomsbury Guide to Women's Literature PN 471 .B57 1992
  • Encyclopedia of African American Women Writers PS 153 .N5 E49 2007
  • Encyclopedia of Feminist Literature PN 471 .S58 2006
  • Feminist Companion to Literature in English PR 111 .F45 1990b
  • Oxford Companion to Women's Writing PS 147 .O94 1995
  • Women Writers in the United States PS 147 .D38 1996
  • Writing African American Women PS 155 .N5 W756 2006

These are all found on Level 3 of the library, in the Reference collection. Use them to get background information and identify additional writers. You can often find other sources using encyclopedias, too, as many of them include excellent bibliographies for each article.

Individual writers may sometimes also have encyclopedias devoted to them, such as the Louisa May Alcott Encyclopedia.

Finding Books

The CUNY Catalog

To find books, you should check the CUNY Catalog. The Subject begins with… feature is a way of finding only the books that are about your topic; it uses subject headings that describe a subject precisely.

To use subject headings well, you have to know the headings that describe your idea. You can always search for information on an author or other important figure by doing a subject search for that person's name:

  • Eliot, George, 1819–1880
  • Gilman, Charlotte Perkins, 1860–1935
  • Jacobs, Harriet A. (Harriet Ann), 1813–1897
  • Stowe, Harriet Beecher, 1811–1896

However, if you are interested in women's writing, you may also want some context which will help you to think about these authors specifically as women authors. There are several subject headings which address that precisely:

  • Authorship -- Sex differences
  • Women authors
  • Women and Literature
  • Women Novelists

It's also possible to get more specific about which groups of women are of interest. Are you primarily interested in women from a specific nation or area? Are you interested in poets, novelists or playwrights? Here are some examples of headings that address these needs:

  • American poetry -- Women authors
  • African American women -- Intellectual life
  • Arabic literature -- Women Authors
  • Asian American women in literature
  • French fiction -- Women authors -- History and criticism
  • Women authors, American

Finally, many subject headings address the conditions of women and their portrayals in literature. These, too, can be helpful when you want to understand the environment which women writers must navigate. Some examples:

  • Feminism and literature
  • Gender identity in literature
  • Literature and society
  • Sex role in literature
  • Women -- United States -- Intellectual Life
  • Women in Literature


You can also find books by browsing. Literature is divided up by language and nation, which means that books on women writers are scattered throughout the library. There is a small section on women writers, and British and American literature each have their own area on women writers:

  • PN 471-494 Women writers and women in literature
  • PR 111-116 Women authors in British literature
  • PS 147-152 Women authors in American literature

Otherwise, you can browse the books on the specific author or time period of interest to you.


Finding Articles and More

For articles, databases are usually the best resource to use. Some appropriate databases are listed below.

MLA International Bibliography
This should always be your first stop when you are researching literature. You can search for the title of the work of interest to find articles about it specifically, or the name of the author for more general articles.
You can add keywords related to gender or race to your search to narrow it to only those articles having to do with these issues. You can also do more general searches on the ideas that are most interesting in a work. For instance, if you were reading Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl and wanted more work on slavery and gender in literature, you could search for slavery, gender, and 1800–1899. Note that all the works you find here will be focused on literature rather than history, although they may approach literature from a historical perspective.
Humanities Source
This database covers the humanities generally. Whereas MLA focuses narrowly on literature, Humanities Source also includes journals which may not be included because they focus on history, women's studies, or other disciplines. Includes both full-text searching and indexing.
JSTOR and Project MUSE
These are both multidisciplinary, full-text databases. They provide no indexing, so choosing comprehensive search terms is very important. Most of the materials available in these databases can also be found elsewhere; their strength is that you can search for a particular phrase of interest to you.
Literature Criticism Online
This is a book series which collects important criticism on specific works or authors. It includes both recent and historical criticism, so make sure you check the dates of any article you use. This database provides a good way of understanding what sorts of things critics have been saying about a particular work.
Dictionary of Literary Biography
Short critical biographies of authors.
Women and Social Movements and Nineteenth Century Collections Online
Both these databases are collections of historical primary sources which may help you better understand the moment in which the works of interest were written.


Web Resources

There are many interesting resources about women writers on the web. Here are a few:


MLA Style

MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 7th ed.

  • Stacks (Call # A-L Level 4; Call # P-Z Level 5) - LB2369 .G53 2009
  • Reference Level 3 - LB2369 .G53 2009

Online MLA Formatting and Style Guide from the OWL at Purdue

RefWorks is a database for research management, writing, and collaboration. Users can create a personalized profile to create, gather, manage, store, and share citations regardless of original format. Citation lists and bibliographies can be generated using many standard citation formats, including MLA. A code is needed to access RefWorks from home--please ask at the Library Research Office (RO 339).

If you use Firefox, you may also want to check out Zotero, a citation manager that works directly from your browser.


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