Announcing the passing of Carmen Callil
It is with great sadness that we announce the death of legendary publisher and writer Carmen Callil. She died of leukemia at home in London in the night of 17th October. Carmen Callil was born in Melbourne Australia in 1938 and spent most of her professional life in England. She began as a book publicist with Panther books from 1967 and then worked for firms Antony Blond and Andre Deutsch. Deploring the lack of representation of women writers by publishers, and inspired by the feminist magazine Spare Rib she had a Eureka moment in a pub and founded a publishing company Virago in 1973, profoundly changing the landscape of publishing.
At Virago she rediscovered a whole host of lost women’s classics including works by Willa Cather, Henry Handel Richardson, Elizabeth Taylor and Edith Wharton as well as bringing such new writers to the list as Maya Angelou, Margaret Atwood, Pat Barker and Helen Garner. As well as an outstanding editorial eye, she had a genius for marketing and publicity and an amazing visual sensibility – the original green spines of Virago are still prevalent today. In 1982 she went on to be the publisher of Chatto and Windus working with writers such as A.S.Byatt, Angela Carter, Alan Hollinghurst, David Malouf, Toni Morrison, Alice Munro and Marina Warner. She was also the first publisher of Hilary Mantel. She was a frank and fearless champion of her authors and became one of the greatest, most influential and dynamic publishers of her day. Her campaigning zeal and feistiness ensured she never shirked a challenge nor a difficult decision. She was also generous with her expertise and nurtured a whole host of young female and male publishers instilling in them her extraordinary work ethic and her exacting standards.
After she left publishing she had a successful career as a writer and critic. She chaired the Booker Prize in 1996 and in 1999 published with co-author Colm Toibin The Modern Library: the Best 200 books in English since 1950. She then wrote the much acclaimed Bad Faith: A Forgotten History of Family & Fatherland in 2006 and Oh Happy Day: Those Times and These Times in 2020. She was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2010, won FRSL Benson Medal in 2017 and in the same year was awarded a DBE. She was also an incomparable and fiercely loyal friend who touched the hearts and lives of so many.