Spotlighting Women Authors: Celebrating Women’s History Month with Francesca Bell

Red Hen Press
4 min readMar 16, 2023

By Lizzy Young

In the next installment of our blog series celebrating Women’s History Month, Francesca Bell shares her thoughts on women authors, her own work, and female literary characters.

Francesca Bell is a poet and translator. Her debut collection, Bright Stain (Red Hen Press 2019), was a finalist for the Washington State Book Award and the Julie Suk Award. Her work appears widely in literary journals, and she has received a Neil Postman Award for Metaphor from Rattle and an Honorable Mention in Nimrod’s Pablo Neruda Poetry Prize. Bell grew up in Washington and Idaho and did not complete middle school, high school, or college. She lives with her family in Novato, CA.

Francesca Bell Author Headshot

Lizzy Young: Who are some women authors that inspire you?

Francesca Bell: Some women authors who inspire me are Anne Sexton, Melissa Febos, torrin a. greathouse, Elizabeth Strout, Joy Castro, Ann Patchett, Miriam Toews, and Meg Mason.

A painting of sea waves crashing against rocks. The lettering in yellow reads, “a novel: Lucy by the Sea: Elizabeth Strout.” Below is the words, “Winner of the Pulitzer Prize”

LY: How do you hope your work adds to the rich history of books written by women?

FB: I hope my work will add to the rich history of books written by women through my focus on the experience of inhabiting a woman’s body in this world; of experiencing oneself as prey to predatorial men; of — often at great cost and with great pain — bearing and raising children; of having, as I say in one of my poems, “biology’s bit / stuffed into my mouth.” I hope that my poems give large voice to what are often considered small, domestic, “merely personal” concerns.

LY: Who are some of your favorite female characters in literature, and why?

FB: One of my favorite female characters in literature is Lucy Barton, a recurring character in the novels of Elizabeth Strout. I love Lucy for her very honest examination of her humble, difficult beginnings and her own feelings, and I also love and admire her deep, expansive, steadfast compassion for other people and the predicaments in which they find themselves.

“Girl with a Pearl Earring,” painting by Johannes Vermeer c.1655
“Girl with a Pearl Earring,” painting by Johannes Vermeer c.1655, inspired Chevalier’s novel

Another of my favorite characters is Griet in Tracy Chevalier’s Girl With a Pearl Earring. I love Griet for the rich interior self that dances and sparks beneath her quiet countenance and that far exceeds the bounds of her very modest station in life. I love her pragmatism and stubbornness as she navigates the perils and restrictions of a poor, young woman’s life in the 1660s.

Finally, I fell hard for Martha Friel in Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason. Martha is a woman of forty who suffers from serious mental illness and who finally falls apart so spectacularly that even her beloved sister gives up on her, her marriage falls apart, and she has to move back in with her dysfunctional parents. What I love about Martha is that she grapples so eloquently and nakedly with the fallout from her illness, the cost it has exacted from her life, and the fact that she has been a very difficult person who has caused other people to suffer.

Francesca Bell’s forthcoming poetry collection, What Small Sound, also grapples with what it means to be a woman.

A white woman in a red dress sits on a chair. A white dove in her hand covers her face, while the other hand is on fire. The texts reads: “What Small Sound poems by Francesca Bell.”

Francesca Bell’s second collection of poems, What Small Sound, interrogates what it means to be a mother in a country where there are five times as many guns as children; female in a country where a woman is raped every two minutes; and citizen of a world teeming with iniquities and peril. In poems rich in metaphor and music and unflinching in their gaze, Bell offers us an exacting view of the audiologist’s booth and the locked ward as she grapples with the gradual loss of her own hearing and the mental illness spreading its dark wings over her family. This is a book of plentiful sorrows but also of small and sturdy comforts, a book that chronicles the private, lonely life of the body as well as its tender generosities. What Small Sound wrestles with some of the broadest, most complicated issues of our time and also with the most fundamental issue of all: love. How it shelters and anchors us. How it breaks us and, ultimately, how it pieces us back together.

Preorder her collection at this link today!

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Red Hen Press

Nonprofit independent literary publisher aiming to amplify unheard and underrepresented voices and improve literacy in schools. www.redhen.org