Dame Carmen Callil, founder of Virago Press, has died aged 84
Founder of Virago Press and feminist publishing legend, Dame Carmen Callil has died aged 84.
A woman of uncompromising vision, Dame Carmen Callil’s establishment of Virago in 1973 was characterised by two things: the name of the press (Virago, meaning warrior-woman), and the provocative logo—a bitten apple.
A press that celebrated ‘women and women’s lives’, Virago’s initial nine books were published in association with Quartet Books, where Callil began her career.
Callil, along with co-founders Harriet Spicer and Ursula Owen, decided to move on from Quartet to create something of their own.
Those iconic green-spined Virago Classics from the 1970s are now synonymous with the beginning of a new wave of feminist publishing.
Raised on books, Callil was born into a home that prioritised reading in Melbourne, Australia in 1938. Her father’s personal library was a great source of inspiration, and his death when she was nine-years-old affected her greatly, along with her subsequent upbringing in a strict convent school.
This led to an unsettled period which she spent in Britain, arriving by boat in 1960, a week after graduating from Melbourne University.
After leaving Quartet, what began as a trio of women working out of Callil’s flat turned into an office of six, located above a barber shop in Soho, which subsequently became the thriving press we see today, a titan of feminist publishing established in an era of great social and political change.
A sign of the times, Virago established a female literary canon that would become widely read, resurrecting the voices of women published in the past to speak to the women of the present; this started with the reprinting of the likes of Edith Wharton and Rebecca West to name but a few.
Callil’s legacy is that Virago continues to champion an ever-more inclusive definition of feminist writing, with a broad, international author list that includes Monica Ali, Maya Angelou, Margaret Atwood, Zora Neale Hurston and Daphne du Maurier.
She was made a Dame for her services to literature in 2017 and was Chair of Virago until 1995.