Susan Sontag, photographed by Peter Hujar (1975, gelatin silver print).
We have their words, of course: beautiful sentences stacked like cordwood. They are literary luminaries who changed lives. They also happen to be women writers, including Margaret Wise Brown, Lorraine Hansberry, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Anne Sexton, Susan Sontag, Alice Walker, Anne Tyler and pixie-as-giant-slayer Dorothy Parker, who famously said she loved talking to herself. After all, she said, “I like a good speaker, and I appreciate an intelligent audience.” As part of the Smithsonian’s American Women’s History Initiative, the National Portrait Gallery recently launched Her Story: A Century of Women Writers, a vivid collection of 24 portraits of women who’ve won Nobel and Pulitzer prizes along with the adulation of millions of readers. Curated by Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw, the exhibit is a reminder of how much emotion plays into great portraiture. Above all, the images get to the heart of what Angelou once said about the human capability to move others: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Through Jan. 18, Eighth and G streets NW, npg.si.edu
Her Story: A Century of Women Writers features Lorraine Hansberry, photographed by David Moses Attie (1959, gelatin silver print).
Margaret Wise Brown, photographed by Philippe Halsman (1946, gelatin silver print).
Maya Angelou, photographed by Brigitte Lacombe (1987, inkjet print).