Carmen Callel, the publisher and writer who championed female writers and changed the canon of English literature, died of leukemia in London on Monday at the age of 84. Her agent confirmed the news.
Calel began as a campaign outsider, establishing the feminist imprint Virago Press, publishing contemporary bestsellers including Margaret Atwood, Maya Angelou and Angela Carter. She challenged the male-dominated canon of English literature by bringing back a list of modern classics by authors including Antonia White, Willa Cather and Rebecca West, and eventually became a pillar of the literary establishment. she was Made a lady in 2017He is a member of the Booker Prize Committee and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Letters.
Born in Melbourne in 1938, Claire had a difficult childhood, which she later called “purgatory.” I went to the same monastery school as Germaine Greer. described the atmosphere as “rules, censorship and silence, and above all a sense of rejection waiting to pounce on those rare times when you felt completely yourself.” After studying at Melbourne University, I left Australia the week I graduated, arriving in London in 1960 to find it “a very closed and silent place”.
“I came to the conclusion that I should never have come here,” I told the Guardian. “I should have stayed at home. Of course. Or he lived in France.”
Claire’s first years in London were difficult, and she attempted suicide. Having embarked on a path to recovery with a therapist, in 1964, she published an ad in The Times: “Australian Bachelor of Business, Printing, Wants a Job in Publishing.”
She said, “I received three offers and accepted an offer.” Australian book review“which was insignificant for a sponsored book editor at Hutchinson’s.”
From there she moved on to book advertising – one of the few jobs that then opened for women who didn’t want to be a secretary – before taking a job at Ink, a branch of Oz magazine. When it collapsed in 1972, she worked as a freelancer, working on the launch of the feminist magazine Spear Rip that summer. It was while sitting in a bar She came up with an idea for a feminist publishing companyLike turning on a lamp.
Named after the Latin for a warrior, Virago Press was founded in 1973. Two years later, the first title appeared: Margaret Chamberlain’s Portrait of Women’s Lives in an East Anglian Village, Fenwomen. Calel told the Guardian that the imprint was an attempt “to apply the techniques of mass marketing to minority ideas — to spread feminist ideas. There was a commercial aspect to it: I saw there was a vacancy, an opportunity, a hole for Virago.”
Harriet Spicer, who started as Callil’s assistant in 1972 and became managing director of Virago 10 years later, later described it as a “fairly wild life going on.” But besides noisy meetings and parties, there was a tremendous amount of work.
Virago was acquired in 1982 by the Chatto, Bodley Head and Cape Group, with Callil remaining on the board of directors but moving on to become Managing Director of Chatto and Windus. There Iris Murdoch published, and A. Bate and Edward are happy, and brought the ostentation into acquisitions, offering Michael Holroyd £625,000 for his autobiography on George Bernard Shaw in 1991. Three years later she left Chateau and, in 1995, severed ties with Virago, who had been sold to Little, Brown, where it remains a successful imprint.
In 2006, Calel turned author with an investigation into the family and Vichy France, Iman Sei. Through the tragic death of Anne Darquier, the healer who aided Callil when she first arrived in London, she explores the life of Louis Darquier’s father, the Nazi collaborator who sent thousands of French Jews to their deaths. The Observer described her as “outraged, provoked by her contempt for the man and her anger at the system of persecution and bureaucratic killing in which he served”, but also revealed “a weakness that few of her colleagues would have suspected”. Callil followed this up in 2020 with a study of her family history, oh happy dayShe charts how her ancestors were transported to Australia after poverty drove them to commit petty crimes, and draws parallels with modern inequality.
Calel never lost her fire, Exit the Man Booker International board After her fellow judges awarded the award to Philip Roth and Protest with Extinction Rebellion. But she was also generous. Writing in the GuardianCalel remembered her appearance in the Suffolk Book League, where a “group of women” came to thank her for Virago.
She wrote, “It was the writers and their novels to be truly thankful for, women writing away in times of no thanksgiving. All that was required was knowing they were there, loving and spreading them.”