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Historical Novellas for Women’s History Month

Historical Novellas for Women’s History Month

I love novellas (short novels under about 200 pages). They combine the depth of a novel with the intensity of a short story. In honor of Women’s History Month, here are my favorite historical novellas by and about women.


I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem, by Maryse Conde

The real Tituba, a Caribbean slave, was accused of witchcraft in late 17th century Salem, Massachusetts. Based on this tiny bit of information, Conde crafts a larger-than-life character and follows her from conception to death and beyond.

The Wife of Martin Guerre, by Janet Lewis

In the French countryside of the 1500s, Bertrande must decide if the man who has returned to her is really her husband, or an imposter. This novella has inspired two movies.


Property, by Valerie Martin

During a slave revolt in pre-Civil War Louisiana, a white woman slave owner must make some decisions about herself and her slave, Sarah. Winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction by a female author (now called the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction).


Wide Sargasso Sea, by Jean Rhys

Inspired by the “madwoman in the attic” of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, this is the story of Antoinette Mason, from her lonely childhood in Jamaica, to her marriage to Edward Rochester, and ending with her insanity and confinement to the attic.


Two Old Women, by Velma Wallis

Based on an Athabaskan Indian legend, this novel follows two old women who get left behind by their tribe and attempt to survive the winter alone. An engaging adventure.

What to read for African-American History Month?

What to read for African-American History Month?

February is African-American History Month. The following historical novels by and about African-American women are ones that I have read and recommend. Please feel free to leave a comment with your recommended historical novels by and about African-American women. (By the way, the photo above, taken by Thomas Askew, shows an unidentified African American woman, and is part of the image collection at the Library of Congress.)

Kindred, by Octavia Butler

In this time-travel novel, a modern-day African-American woman is repeatedly pulled back in time to rural Maryland in the early 1800’s. It turns out that she is being somehow summoned to save the life of the son of a slave-owner who, she discovers, is one of her own ancestors. Each time she is pulled back, her life is in more danger. This gripping, thought-provoking novel is not to be missed.

River, Cross My Heart, by Breena Clarke

This poignant, beautifully written novel takes place in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, DC in the 1920’s, and is based on stories the author was told by her family. It follows the life of young Johnnie Mae as she grows up in this segregated community.

I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem, by Maryse Conde

This short novel is based on the historical figure of Tituba, an Afro-Caribbean slave who was accused of witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692. Because so little is known about the real Tituba, Conde had free reign to imagine her life. Tituba tells her own story in first person in a fast-paced, sometimes mocking way: she can see the humor of her often tragic situations from beyond the curtain of death.

Beloved, by Toni Morrison

The searing Beloved won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. It is the story of an escaped slave living in Cincinnati, Ohio in the 1850’s, who is haunted by the ghost of her daughter.

The Color Purple, by Alice Walker

Winner of the 1983 Pulitzer Prize, The Color Purple is written in the form of letters by Celie, an uneducated but hard-working black woman in rural Georgia in the early 20th century. It is hailed as a feminist classic, and was made into a movie in 1985.

Jubilee, by Margaret Walker

This is a non-racist alternative to Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. First published in 1966, Jubilee is a fictionalized account of the author’s great-grandmother’s experiences before, during, and after the Civil War. You will fall in love with the main character, Vyry, and will not want this novel to end.