Book Review: The Literary Ladies’ Guide: A Writer’s Guide to the Writing Life by Nava Atlas

Jump to: navigation, search

The Literary Ladies’ Guide: A Writer’s Guide to the Writing Life

Authored by Nava Atlas

Published by Sellers Publishing, 2011

Book Review by Lucine Kasbarian for the NY Bookwoman (for the Women’s National Book Association, NYC)

November 2011

Did you know that even poet-novelist Charlotte Brontë wrote query letters, albeit in the 1800s?

Or that frontier novelist Willa Cather imitated the style of author Henry James before finding her own literary voice?

Would it come as a surprise to hear that abolitionist author Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote to alleviate her poverty, while libertine diarist Anaïs Nin thought of her writing as necessary as breathing?

Readers will discover these factoids and more in Nava Atlas' The Literary Ladies’ Guide to the Writing Life: Inspiration and Advice from Celebrated Women Authors Who Paved the Way (Sellers Publishing, 2011).

Scattered with sepia-toned period snapshots, archival images, and photos of vintage objets d'art, this attractive book showcases the dreams, struggles and victories of pioneering writers such as Louisa May Alcott, Jane Austen, Edna Ferber, Madeleine L'Engle, L. M. Montgomery, George Sand, Edith Wharton, and Virginia Woolf, while providing readers with the tools and inspiration to follow in their footsteps.

These long-dead authors undoubtedly faced greater barriers than we do today (most in their prime before the women's liberation movement began). Even so, their challenges then are startlingly relevant today. Organized by chapters each devoted to a specific topic, The Literary Ladies' Guide gives us a glimpse - through letters, diaries, interviews, and carefully selected quotations - into these women's inner worlds. Subjects range from wordsmithing woes, to carving out time, to harnessing self-doubt, to balancing writing with motherhood, to making ends meet, to coping with critics, to enjoying one's bliss.

Just one of the many advisory gems Atlas compiled features this reliable quote by Willa Cather: "I believe every young writer must write out whole books of extravagant language to get it out. It is agony to be smothered in your own florescence, and to be forced to dump great cartloads of your posies out in the road before you find that one posy that will fit in the right place."

The Literary Ladies' Guide celebrates women writers and their craft while serving as a writer's companion, not to mention a bedside support group! It aptly complements Ann LaMott's Bird by Bird, and Barbara DeMarco Barrett's Pen on Fire. WNBA member-authors will readily see themselves in these pages and surely discover words of validation, wisdom and encouragement. A reading group guide is available at:


Lucine Kasbarian is a writer, artist, eclecticist and book publicist-on leave. She is the author of Armenia: A Rugged Land, an Enduring People (Dillon Press/Simon & Schuster) and the illustrated children's book, The Greedy Sparrow: An Armenian Tale (Marshall Cavendish). Visit her at: She is currently reading Straight from the Fridge, Dad: A Dictionary of Hipster Slang by Max Décharné (Broadway Books, 2000).