>Click to see photos of all the women
“Poetry is the one way we have of reaching not only the intellect but also the heart,” says Natasha Trethewey, a professor at Emory University. Born in Gulfport, Mississippi, to a black mother and a white father, the Pulitzer Prize winner’s poems explore what it means to be black or biracial in America. She unearths the ignored and forgotten, examining black Union soldiers and eighteenth-century Mexican casta paintings, which depict mixed-race couples and children. “That’s the only way we’re going to actually know a fuller version of American history,” Trethewey says, “one based in reckoning.” Look for her next book, Thrall, in fall 2012.
The Atlanta-based queen of chick lit has written five novels and is finishing a sixth, Where We Belong. Her first, Something Borrowed, about a thirty-year-old attorney who sleeps with her best friend’s fiancé, debuted this spring as a movie with Kate Hudson and Memphis native Ginnifer Goodwin. “Women and relationships and love remain universal and timeless,” Giffin says. Her appeal? Believable characters who prove empathetic despite their flaws. “Real life isn’t black and white—and it isn’t a fairy tale,” she says. “We’re all just works in progress with rich, complex narratives.”
The best-selling author of The Help (the movie adaptation hits the big screen in August) is writing a second novel set in Depression-era Oxford, Mississippi—William Faulkner’s hometown. “It was such an interesting time for women,” Stockett says. “They were starting to shake off those old Victorian values, and shorten their skirts and show off their legs.” Her success in New York’s cutthroat publishing world suggests she’s just as bold as the rule-breaking women in her books. “You place your bets on your best attributes,” Stockett says. “People would view me as a dumb Southern girl, and then I would get to surprise ’em.”