When I was in first grade, my mother gave me her own copy of Little Women and said, "This is a book about four little girls just like you and your sisters." With that, she gave me permission to find myself in books, to build a family of the authors and characters, to transcend the merely real.
Alcott's world is powerfully female, which matched my experience. She was an overt feminist, which helped me form my own ferociously feminist identity. The preachy bits didn't bother me, because I needed some kind of mother to guide me -- and because the female characters were anything but paragons.
It didn't hurt that I'm the second of four girls, that we were the working poor, and that my father was notably absent during much of my earliest life (for which I am thankful; he was as lousy a provider as Bronson Alcott, but he couldn't even pretend to that bastard's aura of saintliness). Even before I met Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, I wanted to be a writer. Having Jo be the second girl was gravy.
Louisa May Alcott is still important to me. For one thing, she's a hell of a good writer: fluent, funny, colloquial, she has shaped my style as well as much else. For another, when I was in my late teens or so, Madeleine B. Stern began publishing Alcott's sensation stories. They're wonderful. And they gave me a sense of walking in familiar paths, because I have published far more under pen names than under my own, and a lot of my writing is of the sort that would give Professor Bhaer a heart attack.
ETA</a> The entry is still open for questions.
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