Five Women Writers You Should Know

(Plus, local talent you should work with)

While Hollywood & pop criticism lack representation & amplification of women screenwriters, women creators have been utilizing the form brilliantly since almost the medium's beginning. A simple list of five is insufficient, so in addition to checking out these five screenwriters, we encourage you to explore the work of many more!

Anita Loos

Anita Loos

Last month, as we highlighted Black creators, we often began our lists in the medium's early years. While the industry as we know it currently is saturated with white cishet men, the records show that Black, femme, and creators of all kinds have always been integral to the field. Anita Loos is yet another example of this. She became the first-ever female staff screenwriter in Hollywood in 1912 when D.W. Griffith hired her for the Triangle Film Corporation.

Like other trailblazers of the time (Mary Pickford, Frances Marion, & June Mathis), Anita Loos was a prolific contributor in early Hollywood. Loos grew up performing and writing theater in San Francisco and in San Diego. An early writer, she supposed she wrote: "two hundred scenarios before she saw the inside of a studio" (by the approximate age of 24). Loos kept her momentum throughout her long, eventful life with well over a hundred film credits, all while taking periodic breaks to work on Broadway.

Elaine May

Before there was Second City, its founding members were part of Chicago's Compass Players. The all-stars of this improv troupe were the comedic duo of Nichols & May. Thusly it's hard to gauge precisely how much of our modern comedy is due to Elaine May, but, by any estimate, it's a lot.

Originally born in Philadelphia, she spent her childhood traveling with her parents, who ran a touring Yiddish company– which May often performed with. After May's father passed away, she settled with her mother in Los Angeles at 11. There, May dropped out of high school, married, had a daughter, and then hitchhiked to Chicago for classes at the University of Chicago– all before 22. Her rebellious and ostentatious wit blossomed as she performed with the aforementioned Mike Nichols in Chicago. With "practice, practice, practice," their sketch comedy show made it to Carnegie Hall. At their peak, the duo split for fruitful solo careers. May spent the next six decades writing for the stage and film, only occasionally performing. Notably, she won a Tony in 2019 for Best Actress in a Play for her performance in Waverly Gallery, becoming the second oldest performer to win (the fellow legend Cicely Tyson currently holds the record winning at 88).
Elaine May
Nicole Perlman

Nicole Perlman

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is one of Disney's hydra heads dominating blockbuster storytelling today, and one particular femme writer has been behind several of the studio's most significant scripts. Nicole Perlman has writing credits on Captain Marvel & Guardians of the Galaxy, two of the highest-grossing solo films in the highest-grossing film franchise of all time.

Originally from Colorado, Perlman studied film & dramatic writing at NYU's Tish School of the Arts. While in New York, she was the recipient of Tribeca Film Festival's Sloan Grant of Science in Film for her spec script, Challenger. The award put her on the Hollywood shortlist & Marvel's radar, with whom she began consulting. This early success led to her co-writing Guardians and then penning the stories for Captain Marvel and Pokemon: Detective Pikachu, which also happens to be another successful mark in what is the highest-grossing media franchise, period. Her contributions to such monoliths are something to admire when these spaces are currently so inversely saturated. Her success is hopefully just the beginning of more equity for women at the top of the industry.

Chloe Zhao

The name on the tip of most filmmakers' tongues right now is the filmmaker and writer Chloe Zhao. As the Bezos quote goes, "All Overnight Success Takes About 10 Years." Before becoming the first POC, femme Director to win the Golden Globe earlier this week, Zhao spent the last decade honing her craft to get to Nomadland's record-breaking success.

Born in Beijing, China, her father managed a state-owned steel company. It's said that Zhao was always drawn to Western pop culture growing up. Seemingly, these interests only grew as she attended various boarding schools in London and Los Angeles. After studying Political Science, she attended NYU Grad Film, where she developed her first feature film, Songs My Brothers Taught Me. The film premiered at Sundance and screened at Cannes in 2015. Her intimate, innovative reinvention of the Western has continued to be a theme in her work. She explores it again in her second feature, The Rider (2017), which won laurels again from Cannes and won Zhao the first-ever Bonnie Award at the 33rd Independent Spirit Awards. Her maverick background has us excited to see what she has coming next, including but not limited to her first major studio film (which just happens to be for Marvel), The Eternals.
Chloe Zhao

Abby McEnany


Once again, we thought it would be fitting to conclude by shining a light on a more local talent budding and making waves. Abby McEnany has been a stalwart in the Chicago improv for the last thirty years. More recently, she stepped onto a more prominent stage, writing and starring in her semi-autobiographical, Showtime series, Work in Progress (2019-). The series follows a "self-identified 'fat, queer dyke' enter[ing] into a transformative relationship during a time of crisis."

Originally coming to Chicago in the 80s for college, McEnany spent her post-grad time enrolled at Second City. There, she studied under another up-and-comer, Stephen Colbert. However, McEnany's journey to cable success was not so A to B. It wasn't until her 40s that she joined Second City as a paid performer, becoming a member of their touring company. In the time running up to Work in Progress' pilot debut at Sundance in 2018, she spent time on the Chicago boards of iO Theater & the Playground Theater.

During Work in Progress development, she fostered a creative partnership with another hometown artist, Lily Wachowski (The Matrix Trilogy). McEnany credited Wachowki's involvement with getting the show on a premium network in this recent Hollywood Reporter interview. However, it's evident in the talk that regardless of who was involved, McEnany's bright light of comedy and authenticity was going to be amplified; it was just a matter of time.


Looking to work with women Screenwriters in Chicago?
Here are some we recommend checking out:
(in no particular order)

Kyra Jones
Layne Marie Williams
Molly Franklin
Amy Carpenter
Mary Tilden
Calamity West