Though 2014 was a year of many things good and bad, one thing the year unquestionably delivered was a plethora of strong female voices speaking out on a number of crucial subjects. Whether responding to crises, analyzing data, or sharing personal stories, these women are some of the writers whose work I’ve most enjoyed this year. 2014 was a year in which excellent women’s writing exploded. Here’s a sampling of some of the writers I’m looking most forward to continuing to read in 2015.
1. Judith Shulevitz, former senior editor at The New Republic and author of “The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time”
Shulevitz brings to the fore a new kind of feminism — one that is smart, critical and uncompromising. Whether she is taking a stand for the rights of the accused, as she did in the fearless “Accused College Rapists Have Rights, Too,” or explicitly taking stock of and redefining feminism, her deeply intelligent writing takes the bar and raises it to Olympian heights.
2. Amira Hass, (Haaretz correspondent for the Occupied Territories)
In her recent writing, Hass has upended the cause and effect of Palestinian rioting and Israeli security, and explained the syntax of Palestinian stone-throwing. She ceaselessly and intrepidly chronicles the human and civil rights abuses perpetrated against Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and Israel. Her writing attempts to promote social justice, and is required reading for anyone trying to understand the Middle East.
3. Marjorie Ingall, columnist for Tablet Magazine
I once asked Sarah Wildman (also on this list) when the right time is to tell one’s children about the Holocaust, and she told me to read Marjorie Ingall. As Ingall put the question in one of her many excellent pieces published this year, (“How do you convey the magnitude of the tragedy without leaving your kid aghast, looking like a Keane painting?”) Ingall’s way of posing questions with wit and insight has become her trademark. She has written on a wide range of topics including Holocaust education, the racist and anti-Semitic tendencies of Nancy Drew, her own abortion, and the discourse surrounding “Frozen.”
4. Roz Chast, author of “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?”
Longtime cartoonist for the New Yorker, Chast focuses on the tiny yet gargantuan humiliations of everyday life. In the 2014 memoir “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?” Chast melded humor and loss with wry compassion. Chast’s voice gets at deep emotional truths, which would be unbearable to hear if not for the hilarity with which she conveys them.
5. Frimet Goldberger, columnist for the Forward
A former Hasid with a degree from Sarah Lawrence, Goldberger routinely takes the uninitiated reader into the depths of Hasidic life, with her excellent, nuanced romps through these sects, normally shrouded in mystery. Goldberger’s writing has taken us to the mikveh and disclosed the best-kept secrets of the rich and famous. She brings intrigue to religion reporting.
6. Sarah Wildman, author of “Paper Love: Searching for the Girl My Grandfather Left Behind”
In her book “Paper Love,” Wildman accomplished the seemingly impossible — she not only dug up a new Holocaust story, one that conveys a deeply particular and personal history, but also nearly invented a new genre. Equal parts romance, journalism, history and memoir, “Paper Love” is perhaps the first post-survivor book to look the future in the face — one without first-person witness testimonies — and to come up with a creative way to greet it.
7. Bethany Mandel, writer
Perhaps the only good to come out of the Rabbi Barry Freundel fiasco was that it exposed how deeply disenfranchised converts are in Jewish communities. The revelation came in large part due to Mandel’s important piece, “A Bill of Rights for Jewish Converts,” chronicling the constant limbo and fear that are part and parcel of life as a Jewish convert. Her piece provides a window into converts’ loneliness and lack of recourse in communities that have failed to put into practice basic biblical principles.
8. Elissa Strauss, columnist for the Forward and The Week
There are many feminists writing today, but Strauss’s columns contain an unusual combination of commonsense wisdom and aspirational force. Her work analyzes data in order to arrive at conclusions both emotional and political, and in this sense she is at the forefront of Fourth Wave Feminism.
9. Dr. Elana Maryles Sztokman, former director of JOFA and creator of JewFem.com
One woman has been routinely exposing the way the state of Israel mistreats its women: Sztokman, author of the blog JewFem.com, who explores the intersection of gender, religion and nationalism, pushing the boundaries of what it means to be a Jewish woman in the 21st century.
10. Tova Ross, freelance writer
Ross has tirelessly chronicled the lives of the disenfranchised in Jewish communities. Her writing covers many areas, from exploring her own head-covering and anorexia to exposing suicide and mental illness cover-ups in the Orthodox community and the trials of LGBT Orthodox Jews. She approaches her subjects with warmth and understanding, portraying their struggles with compassion.
Batya Ungar-Sargon is a New York-based writer and critic.