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Carmen Callil

Publishing Lives, Series 2 Episode 5 of 5

Robert McCrum explores the stories of five great British publishers.

Carmen Callil set out to change the world with her pioneering feminist publishing house, Virago Press. Arriving in London from Australia in 1960, she started as a "publicity girl", then one of the few publishing jobs available to women who did not want to be secretaries.

In 1973 she founded Virago Press to "publish books by women which celebrated women's lives, and which would, by so doing, spread the message of women's liberation to the whole population". Virago's first publication was Fenwomen: A Portrait of Women in an English Village by Mary Chamberlain. This oral history set out as Virago meant to go on, giving voice to previously silent women.

Despite some criticism from the established literary world, Virago quickly became a success. In 1978, Carmen launched the hugely influential Modern Classics series, with their distinctive green spines, celebrating and reviving the work of hundreds of often neglected female writers. Since then, the Modern Classics series has become Virago's hallmark.

Carmen left Virago to run Chatto in the 80s, and retired from publishing in 1994. The company she founded over 40 years ago has evolved and changed, yet the founding principles remain the same, to publish the best of women's writing and to celebrate women's lives thorough literature. Since 1973, women have made a significant contribution to literature, as bestsellers, as Booker Prize winners and as readers shaping the modern book trade.
Featuring Carmen Callil, Ursula Owen and Lennie Goodings.

Producer: Melissa FitzGerald
A Blakeway Production production for BBC Radio 4.

Release date:

15 minutes

Last on

Sat 15 Apr 2017 02:15

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