25 Women Poised to Lead the Culture in 2014


Look: I don’t like writing these lists either. I long for the day in which I will no longer have to write them, when women will just be the people participating in the culture as full human beings like everyone else, because the culture will have quit giving disproportionate airtime to the other gender. In the meantime: Don’t listen to the old fogeys who insist that the reason women don’t make a lot of noise in the culture is that they do unremarkable work. You just don’t hear enough about the remarkable work. Here are 25 women who will do great things this year.

The criteria: I didn’t want to repeat any entries from my list of women who drove the culture in 2013, which you can read here. Any names recognizable from past achievements only merited inclusion if they’re about to have a breakthrough in 2014. There is no particular order to this list. And obviously personal taste played a role here.

Gillian Flynn

2014 is Flynn’s make-or-break year. Two of her books have been turned into movies. The blockbuster hit Gone Girl, directed by David Fincher with a script by Flynn herself, will get the lion’s share of the attention. And in a savvy move, Flynn’s gone and changed the third act of the novel for the screen version to preserve the nail-biting suspense of the original. If that film is the success it’s almost certainly destined to be, she’s going to be a brand name of her own in nearly every house in America.

Helen Oyeyemi

Oyeyemi’s third novel, Boy, Snow, Bird, is among my favorite new releases for this year already. A retelling of the Snow White fairy-tale that focuses on race, it’s a sensitive, intelligent treatment of a subject most fiction still sidesteps. Fans of Adichie’s Americanah who also like a little fantasy in their coffee will be enchanted, I think.


This singer, songwriter, and noise enthusiast has been getting critical plaudits for years now; Rolling Stone called her an artist to watch in the long-ago days of 2011, when her solo debut, Past Life Martyred Saints, shook the indie world. But Erika M. Anderson has shown signs of brilliance since fronting Gowns in the late ’00s. With her new album The Future’s Void is set to come out this spring via Matador and already generating a lot of buzz, 2014 might mark her breakthrough to more mainstream visibility.

Shailene Woodley

I’ve said it before: Shailene Woodley is poised to be the most unusual starlet we’ve seen in ages, the kind of young woman who wears barely any makeup in most of her films and gives incredible, naturalistic performances in all of them. This year she’s got her two big breakouts hitting theaters: Divergent, based on the first book of Veronica Roth’s bestselling dystopian YA trilogy, and The Fault in Our Stars, based on John Green’s incredibly popular novel.

Laura Lippmann

The acclaimed mystery novelist will have a new book out in February called After I’m Gone, and it’s already appearing on a great many “books to read in 2014” lists. Lippmann is one of those writers, like Flynn, whose books are more than their marketing — i.e., better than the average boilerplate genre stuff. Fans of Tana French and Donna Tartt, take note.

Roxane Gay

Up front: Roxane and I are good friends. But I feel comfortable saying her essays in Salon, BuzzFeed, and a number of other outlets, often on questions of feminism and race, have attracted her a huge following all on her own merits. In May her novel, An Untamed State, comes out; in August she’ll have a collection of essays called Bad Feminist in bookstores. Buy both of them, I implore you.

Lana Wachowski

Look: whether or not the last several Wachowski movies have thrilled you — and I admit, they have not thrilled me — you’re probably going to see both of her projects, Jupiter Ascending and Sense8, this year. The former is a feature film that stars Mila Kunis as a janitor predestined for greatness; the latter is a Netflix series about a group of people across the globe who are linked by a single “shared decision.” Both will undoubtedly explore the great Wachowski theme of our interconnectedness with their characteristic idiosyncrasy.

Lynne Tillman

Tillman currently has the status of a writer’s writer; I get the impression that the title of her new collection of essays, What Would Lynne Tillman Do?, is a joke akin to the irony that once attached to Being John Malkovich. With the literary set’s love of celebrating its heroes, and the number of young bookish women of my acquaintance already salivating over the prospect of this book, I feel we’re in for a Tillman revival on the order of last year’s Renata-Adler-mania.

Quvenzhané Wallis

I, for one, can’t wait for Wallis as Annie in the late-summer expected blockbuster. Already an Oscar nominee, Wallis isn’t exactly obscure; but this vehicle could give her the stardom that a small indie vehicle like Beasts of the Southern Wild simply couldn’t hope to. Like a boss, she got profit participation written into her contract. Well done.

St. Vincent

The disco-noir vibe of the first two singles off her self-titled fourth album (due out February 24) are great. Really great. I just put St. Vincent on here because I really like her, I suppose, which seems as good a reason as any.

Maria Venegas

Everyone I know who read it found her memoir-essay in Granta about Mexico amazing. In June, FSG will publish the book-length version of Venegas’ memoir of growing up in Mexico as Bulletproof Vest: The Ballad of an Outlaw and His Daughter. Read the essay, order the book. I’m not always right about such things, but I have the feeling it’s going to be big.

Sasheer Zamata

Zamata’s recent casting on SNL sparked a thousand think-pieces about whether this heralded a new era of diversity. Tanner Colby’s speculation at Slate, based in SNL‘s actual history, is the most informed on the matter. (Spoiler: maybe.) But all eyes will be upon her, and we wish her godspeed. It’d be nice for everyone if she lasted more than a season.

Angelina Jolie

It’s likely you’ve heard of Jolie before. 2014 is the year she becomes the first woman to do a Ron-Howard-type Oscar-bait picture in the form of the adaptation of Unbroken, the Laura Hillenbrand book about a Teflon World War II survivor. If the film ends up actually being good in its Oscar-baity way, we might be able to hold it up in the future as proof that women can do sentimental war movies with the best of ’em. Equality on all fronts, ladies.

Linda Perhacs

Forty-four years ago, Perhacs made a small record called Parallelograms. The music critics call it psychedelic-folk; it sounds like a very simple, pure form of Joni Mitchell, without the trilling. (You can listen on Spotify.) It became a cult record. This spring she will finally release her second album on Sufjan Stevens’ label. I am intrigued. Imagine being a cult figure, and then deciding to come back to the fold, after 40 years dancing barefoot in the forest anyway. I’m hooked already, someone write the profile, please.

Lauren Oliver

Oliver is already the author of an enormously popular trilogy of YA novels called Delirium. Her upcoming standalone novel, called Panic, is already the subject of vociferous GIF discussions on Goodreads. Most of her impatient fans are worried it is going to be a Hunger Games ripoff, which is a market you’d think Divergent already has cornered! But it could also very well be the next thing your teenage daughters are explaining to you as a sort of religious text; Oliver has a sensitivity unusual in her genre. Definitely worth watching, this book’s release.

Neneh Cherry

She’s kind of hard to describe, but I will certainly be glad to have Neneh Cherry back after what feels like a VERY long absence. (Yeah, yeah, she’s been kicking around but not loudly enough.) You can listen to the new single here. Sounds like fine form to me.

Tatiana Maslany

Everyone loves Orphan Black, of course. And Maslany was at the Golden Globes this past weekend. In this era of binge-watching, I bet the series is only going to hit its stride of major acclaim when its second season appears in April. But this young woman, who already plays the part of several clones on the show, is poised on the verge of big stardom as a result.

Masha Gessen

Gessen, a journalist, recently moved to the United States to escape the ongoing persecution of LGBT people in her native Russia. She’s pretty much the world’s leading authority on Pussy Riot. She wrote a whole much-admired biography of Putin too. And as such is fast becoming the kind of deep-reporting nonfiction writer who serves as an inspiration to the rest of us. She’s the person I would turn to, every time, to read about what’s going on in Russia right now.


Her new album will be produced by a TV on the Radio guy. Isn’t that enough to intrigue you? Look for FOOD to arrive in April. Seems apt, given her recent graduation from culinary school and her authorship of the world’s leading music about milkshakes.

Melissa McCarthy

The Melissa McCarthy juggernaut’s been under construction for a couple of years now. But come July it’ll get its big test in the form of Tammy, a big road movie with Susan Sarandon whose script was actually penned by McCarthy and her director Ben Falcone. Sarandon plays the foul-mouthed grandmother of McCarthy’s loserish character, so it won’t be too reminiscent of Thelma and Louise. The July release suggests that the studio has great hopes for this one. But I can’t wait to see what it reveals of McCarthy’s own taste and outlook. Her career so far has been defined mostly by what other people think she can do.

Emma Healey

This trained bookbinder’s debut novel, Elizabeth Is Missing, was the subject of a heated auction in the UK. Another of these missing-lady novels, evidently a hot genre lately, it’s garnering a lot of advance excitement. The twist here is that the narrator’s mind deteriorates as the story goes along. It’s the only big commercial debut this year that sounds any good at all; have a feeling this will be a beach-read favorite.

Laura Jane Grace

Our music editor wrote earlier this week about her band Against Me!’s new album, Transgender Dysphoria Blues. It’s also winning raves from heights as high as the New York Times. It’s clearly a conversation-starter of an album.

Marissa Nadler

Nadler is much-beloved among the kind of Brooklynish-Portlandish set who were Wiccans in high school. With her new album, July, there is a very good chance she will break out to a wider audience this year. Listen to the new single here.

Laverne Cox

Ms. Cox already won the hearts of many by playing Orange Is the New Black‘s most convincing and bewitching inmate, Sophia Burset. So far, in the first two weeks of 2014, she’s smacked down Katie Couric so effectively everyone could do nothing but stand back and applaud. She is also eventually releasing a documentary on the incarceration of trans woman CeCe Macdonald.

Lynn Shelton

Shelton’s new film stars Keira Knightley, which is regrettable. But I’m still going to see it because Shelton is the one director in the whole indie-mumblecore stable who is doing interesting things with the aesthetic. So I will see this latest foray into the realm of female loserdom — Knightley plays a woman terrified by a marriage proposal — and focus on the writing and direction, yes I will.