Women authors are stepping up. They’re narrowing the gap between a God-given message and man-made (literally) culture on every front—home, church, work, politics, and society. Their titles for women urge readers to accept, even celebrate, one’s body and sexuality. They show their wounds and scars in memoirs of hard-won healing and forgiveness. And they don’t forget to laugh.
“There’s definitely a self-empowerment movement underway,” says Revell editorial director Andrea Doering. She sees women sharing frankly, “Look at what you have and what God has given you.” They deliver it in a tone that says, “Let’s cut to the chase and be honest—and hope anyway,” Doering says, with a nod to author and podcaster Leeana Tankersley’s fourth book with Revell, Hope Anyway: Welcoming Possibility in Ourselves, God, and Each Other (Aug. 2021).
Jessica Wong, associate editor for Nelson Books, identifies a common thread in Nelson’s titles for busy women hungry for relevant resources. Its authors share a common message, she says: “Here is something I see in my life or my friends’ lives. Here’s what I’ve learned and I offer it up in a way to get you to a better place.” And readers want to laugh, too. She cites lifestyle writer Elizabeth Passarella’s debut, Good Apple: Tales of a Southern Evangelical in New York (Jan. 2021).
Brazos comes to bat with two titles examining women and power. Due out in April 2021, The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth by Beth Allison Barr, associate professor of history and associate dean of the graduate school at Baylor University, argues that imprisoning women in secondary roles in the home and church says “more about human power structures than the message of Christ,” according to the publisher. And Prey Tell: Why We Silence Women Who Tell the Truth and How Everyone Can Speak Up (Mar. 2021), by author and podcaster Tiffany Bluhm, empowers women to stand up for their own emotional, financial, and social well-being.
Broadleaf Books’ First and Only: A Black Woman’s Guide to Thriving at Work and in Life by writer, trainer, and racial justice activist Jennifer R. Farmer, due out in February, offers “a road map to on-the-job success, challenging systemic racism, and seeking inner healing through the sustaining power of faith,” says acquisitions editor Valerie Weaver-Zercher. She calls it “a premier title for Broadleaf’s spring list in the women-writing-for-women category,” noting, “My sense is that messages from white women on leadership—like ‘Lean in’ and ‘Own it’—can ring hollow for Black women, who face hurdles and biases that white women like me don’t face.”
Cindy Bunch, associate publisher and director of editorial for IVP, says, “At one time it seemed that most of the books that were published by Christian houses by or for women had a significant fluff factor.” Not anymore. Its upcoming women-for-women titles take on racism, sexism, suffering, pain, doubt, and fear, signaling to readers, “You are seen and are not alone,” says Anna Moseley Gissing, associate editor, IVP Academic.
A sampling of IVP titles includes Power Women: Stories of Motherhood, Faith, and the Academy (June 2021) by Nancy Wang Yuen, a University of California sociology professor, and Deshonna Collier-Goubil, chair of the department of criminal justice at Azusa Pacific University; Women Rising: Learning to Listen, Reclaiming Our Voice (Mar. 2021) by Meghan Tschanz, a blogger and podcaster at Faith and Feminism; Hurting Yet Whole: Reconciling Body and Spirit in Chronic Pain and Illness by Liuan Huska (Dec.); Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep (Jan. 2021) by Anglican priest Tish Harrison Warren; and Why Do I Feel Like This? Understand Your Difficult Emotions and Find Grace to Move Through (May 2021) by psychology professor and personal development coach Peace Amadi.
Be your own amen corner
Several titles focused on self-empowerment advice rely on self-inspired cheerleading. Most have a Christian voice, but some are BYOG (bring your own god):
Believe It: How to Go from Underestimated to Unstoppable (Gallery, Feb. 2021) by cosmetics entrepreneur Jamie Kern Lima shares the author’s “struggles with and strategies for overcoming self-doubt, body-doubt, and God-doubt,” according to the publisher.
Don’t Believe the Swipe: Finding Love without Losing Yourself (Revell, Feb. 2021) by author and blogger on single life Mandy Hale assures single women that “you can date with dignity and trust God even in difficult moments,” according to the publisher.
The Gift of Letting Go: Give Yourself Grace. Dare to Live Free (Zondervan, July 2021) by Chrystal Evans Hurst—coauthor of Kingdom Woman with her father, Tony Evans—invites readers to hurdle obstacles by trusting God and forgiving themselves.
You Don’t Owe Anyone: Free yourself from the Weight of Expectations (Broadleaf, Apr. 2021) by life coach Caroline Garnet McGraw is for anyone seeking escape from perfectionism.
Your Fully Charged Life: A Radically Simple Approach to Having Endless Energy and Filling Every Day with Yay (TarcherPerigee, Feb. 2021) by former executive editor of Good Housekeeping Meaghan B. Murphy offers maps a path to let readers experience “joy, love, gratitude, and other positive emotions deeply and daily,” according to the publisher.
Focusing on body and soul
Eerdmans acquisition editor Trevor Thompson says he sees women bringing books that “capture naked truths about trauma, addiction, and difficult life choices.” Eerdmans releases one such book in April: On Her Knees: Memoir of a Prayerful Jezebel by podcaster Brenda Marie Davies. A chronicle of her journey through marriage, divorce, unlikely friendship, and sexual adventure, it’s “for anyone who wonders if it’s possible to love God and not be afraid of sex,” according to the publisher.
The following are other titles addressing sex, sin, shame, and the need for forgiving oneself:
The Great Sex Rescue: The Lies You’ve Been Taught and How to Recover What God Intended (Baker, Mar. 2021) by Christian marriage blogger Sheila Wray Gregoire guides couples toward a biblical understanding of “the kind of intimacy and wholeness God intends,” according to the publisher.
It’s Not Just You: Freeing Women to Talk about Sexual Sin and Fight It Well by (B&H, Aug. 2021) young adult singles minister and biblical counselor Ashley Chesnut, addresses questions about masturbation, viewing porn, same sex attraction, and sexual fantasies.
Leaving Silence: Sexualized Violence, the Bible, and Standing with Survivors (Herald, Aug. 2021) by Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary assistant professor of biblical studies Susannah Larry (Herald, Aug. 2021) highlights God’s constant care and concern.
Sexless in the City: A Sometimes Sassy, Sometimes Painful, Always Honest Look at Dating, Desire, and Sex (Zondervan, Apr. 2021) by Kat Harris, who writes online at the Refined Woman, tells the author’s “messy, sometimes painful, and always honest journey to discovering God’s heart for sexuality, desire, singleness, and our purpose within it all,” according to the publisher.
Survivor: An Abortion Survivor’s Surprising Story of Choosing Forgiveness and Finding Redemption (WaterBrook, Apr. 2021) by pro-life activist Claire Culwell, with Steve and Lois Rabey “challenges churches to support women in pregnancy crisis,” according to the publisher.
Body shame is a serious issue, but one author combats it with humor. Feminist illustrator Ariella Elovic’s graphic text Cheeky (Bloomsbury, Dec.) goes nose to toes in words and images inspired by her girlfriends from her teen days at Jewish summer camp who learn to laugh at their fleshy flaws. Nancy S. Miller, associate publisher and editorial director at Bloomsbury, says Cheeky gives “an almost spiritual message of accepting oneself, self-respect, and agency in the world.”
Other titles touting self-acceptance include Breaking Free from Body Shame: Dare to Reclaim What God Has Named Good (Zondervan, June 2021) by Jess Connolly, founder of Christian-based life coaching site Go+Gals, and Fulfilled: Let Go of Shame, Embrace Your Body, and Eat the Food You Love (Broadleaf, Mar. 2021) by nutrition expert Alexandra MacKillop.
Balms for hard times
Women writers unabashedly face failure, grief, divorce and more, and shine a light on pathways to spiritual peace in these forthcoming titles:
Hope for Healing from Domestic Abuse: Reaching for God’s Promise of Real Freedom (Kregel, July 2021) by abuse survivor Karen DeArmond Gardner is “a biblically based map for a long journey to healing,” according to the publisher.
Little Matches: A Memoir of Grief and Light (HarperOne, Apr. 2021) by novelist Maryanne O’Hara illuminates a mother’s grief over the loss of her adult child and her quest for hope and wisdom.
Living Brave: Lessons from Hurt, Lighting the Way to Hope (HarperOne, June 2021) by disability activist and author Shannon Dingle tells her story of navigating sexual trauma, widowhood, and other tragedies before emerging with hope and a strong faith.
Unexpecting: Real Talk on Pregnancy Loss (Bethany, Aug. 2021) by Rachel Lewis, founder of the online community Brave Mamas, shares her own experience in grief and finding faith again after feeling God let you down.
When You Don’t Like Your Story: What If Your Worst Chapters Could Become Your Greatest Victories? (Nelson, Jan. 2021) by Sharon Jaynes, cofounder of the Girlfriends in God website, reveals the ways God’s grace can untangle one’s mistakes, failures, tragedies, pain, and shame.
Taking lessons from life
Authors find inspiring women in the Bible in titles such as From Daughters to Disciples: Women’s Stories in the New Testament by Lynn Japinga (WJK, Feb. 2021).
They see humor, humility and lived faith down on the farm in titles such as Growing Slow: Lessons on Un-hurrying Your Heart from an Accidental Farm Girl by Jennifer Dukes Lee (Zondervan, May 2021), and Faith, Farming, and Family: Cultivating Hope and Harvesting Joy Wherever You Are (WaterBrook, Jan. 2021) by farm wife and mother Caitlin Henderson.
Memoirs of deeply fraught family relationships point toward spiritual healing in titles such as Walking Through Fire: A Memoir of Loss and Redemption (Nelson, Jan. 2021) by blogger Vaneetha Risner and American Daughter: A Memoir (HarperOne, Jan. 2021) by Stephanie Plymale, a designer and advocate for the homeless, with Elissa Wald.
Supporting one’s sisters
Authors lean on the wisdom of grandmothers, peers, and Scripture in titles such as these:
Abuelita Faith: What Women on the Margins Teach Us about Wisdom, Persistence, and Strength (Brazos, Aug. 2021) by Cuban American writer and The Protagonistas podcaster Kat Armas.
Confident Mom: Simple Ways to Give Your Child What They Need Most (Revell, Aug. 2021) by author and conference speaker Renee Swope.
Love-Centered Parenting: The No-Fail Guide to Launching Your Kids (Bethany, Mar. 2021) by author, entrepreneur, and personal finance podcaster Crystal Paine.
Peanut Butter and Dragon Wings: A Mother’s Search for Grace (Herald, July 2021) by blogger and Mennonite pastor’s wife Shari Zook.
Place to Belong: Letters from Catholic Women (Pauline, Mar. 2021), edited by Corynne Staresinic, founder and director of the nonprofit multimedia company the Catholic Woman.
For more religion coverage of women writers, visit publishersweekly.com/religionandwomen2020.