Kickass Women in Literature

These authors have written profound stories and captivated readers with their work.

KICKASS: Adjective 1. Having a strong effect on someone; powerful
2. Exceptionally good; spectacular, impressive


The women in our third edition of this list live up to both definitions and then some.
We’re proud to call them neighbors, friends, and leaders in our community.


Photographs by Emily J. Davis

Sarah Rafael García

Author; artist; founder, LibroMobile Arts Cooperative and Bookstore

BONA FIDES: The Brownsville, Texas, native was born to a family of Mexican migrant workers who settled in Santa Ana in the 1970s. García centers her work on promoting the creativity of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) arts professionals. She seeks social justice and economic equity as a part of that, especially for the Latinx community. Her community work includes the Barrio Writers free workshops for youth and the CuentosMobile compilation of stories and art collaborations. With the 2015 closure of Orange County’s only Latino bookstore—Librería Martínez—García, then artist-in-residence at Grand Central Art Center in Santa Ana, began pushing around an A-frame gardening cart stocked with books. So began LibroMobile, now a stationary cultural enterprise near Bristol Swap Meet. She worked with Orange County Public Library and Urban Word to establish Orange County’s poet laureate program in 2021. Projects this year include partnering with UC Irvine for programs on oral history, family albums, and preserving personal legacies. In January, the statewide Center for Cultural Innovation announced 20 recipients of unrestricted $5,000 grants for 2023. García’s grant will support the work of her Crear Studio gallery space.  

IN HER WORDS: “Ultimately, I hope that all my projects are picked up by the community. It’s about place-making, community engagement, and social practice, so that it becomes a woven thread into the community. Not necessarily the one thing that’s creating change but something that brings things together, and we can all work together and be this larger thing—through literature, through the cultural arts, through contemporary art.”


Natalie J. Graham

Orange County poet laureate; director, Cal State Fullerton’s Institute of Black Intellectual Innovation

BONA FIDES: On her Instagram page (@nataliejograham), Graham defines herself as “Writer. Baker. Mom. Host of @blackbookchat.” A professor at Cal State Fullerton for nearly a decade, she is also Orange County’s first poet laureate, a role that has extended for nearly two years. She also home-schools her 9-year-old son. Love of poetry stems from her own mother, who worked as a nurse and as a postal carrier until multiple sclerosis stole her mobility. Her mother wrote poems to give as birthday gifts, to celebrate anniversaries, to say thank you. Graham began writing poetry at a young age, then branched into journaling in junior high, influenced by an episode of “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” Graham’s 2017 debut collection of poems is titled “Begin With a Failed Body.” As poet laureate, she has read at local libraries, held school workshops, judged contests, and attended events for the purpose of “just bringing poetry to more places.” 

IN HER WORDS: “I really believe the power of poetry is the power of the imagination. We can’t create change if we can’t imagine. On the flip side, imagination creates our confines. If we only imagine this very small space, that’s the space we’ll build for ourselves and for our families. Poetry allows us the slowness to kind of look again at some thing and try to crack it open.”


Kaira Rouda

Author; activist

BONA FIDES: Rouda is one of the bright lights of the domestic suspense genre. Her talents for creating twisty, gripping plots and probing beneath the surface of seemingly perfect lives compel critics to reach for superlatives. “The guiltiest of guilty pleasures,” Kirkus Reviews called “The Next Wife,” which won two awards at the Killer Nashville conference for mystery authors and fans. A prolific writer, she followed that novel with “Somebody’s Home,” set in Oceanside, and “The Widow,” set in Washington, D.C., both published in 2022. Due in September is “Beneath the Surface,” a psychological thriller that she describes as “O.C. meets ‘Succession’ on a mega-yacht during a stormy trip to Catalina,” the first of a two-book series. Rouda is as fast-paced as her plots: She serves on the board of the Laguna Art Museum and on the Board of Commissioners that supports California Volunteers; works with the Laguna Food Pantry in Laguna Beach; is a judge for Mystery Writers of America’s 2023 Edgar Awards; and hosts a bimonthly online show, “Killer Author Club,” spotlighting suspense writers and their work.

IN HER WORDS:The pandemic (put) a focus on what matters. I personally feel like friendships and connections mean more. … You had time to pause and value that more and not take them for granted. This is why I like California Volunteers, whose goal is to get California residents to spend one hour a week in their community. The way we bring all of us together again is through common causes. Charities have always been the way to do that. Typically it’s been women through the foundations and volunteer work. Those are the bridges that join us together.”   

Read More from our March 2023 Kickass Women Issue: