The Written Image: The Little Book of Feminist Saints

From the March/April 2018 issue of
Poets & Writers Magazine

Modeled after a Catholic saint-a-day book, The Little Book of Feminist Saints draws together the stories of a hundred women—scientists, activists, artists, engineers, civil servants, entertainers, and others—who have changed the world. “I would argue that all the women in this book have done something with their lives that makes them worthy idols,” writes author Julia Pierpont in the book’s introduction. “So let this be the little, secular book of feminist saints.” 

Illustrated by Manjit Thapp and released this month by Random House—which published Pierpont’s debut novel, Among the Ten Thousand Things, in 2015—The Little Book of Feminist Saints offers brief descriptions of women throughout history, from Hypatia of Alexandria, a mathematician and philosopher living in the fourth century, to poet Forugh Farrokhzad (above left), who spoke out against the repression of women in Iran in the 1950s and 1960s, to Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 at age seventeen. Each “saint” is also assigned a Feast Day and title: Valentine’s Day is the Feast Day of ancient Greek poet Sappho (above right), dubbed the “Matron Saint of Lovers”; June 14 is the Feast Day for the Mirabal sisters, the “Matron Saints of Rebels,” who led the Fourteenth of June Movement against the Dominican Republic dictator Rafael Trujillo in 1960; and April 15 is the Feast Day for the Brontë sisters, the “Matron Saints of Dreamers,” since it is also the birthday of their mother, Maria Branwell. While the women vary widely in their pursuits and beliefs, they seem to share a determination, as Wilma Mankiller, the book’s “Matron Saint of Leadership,” once said, to “take risks [and] stand up for the things they believe in.”