Dec 21, 2020
Virago is a
London-based British publishing company committed to publishing
women's writing and books on "feminist" topics. Established
by women in the 1970s in tandem with the Women's Liberation
Movement (WLM), Virago has done much to address inequitable gender
dynamics in the publishing world, and, unlike anti-capitalist
publishing ventures, has branded itself a commercial alternative in
a male dominated publishing industry, seeking to compete with
mainstream international presses.
Initially known as Spare Rib Books,
Virago was founded by Carmen Callil in 1973 primarily to
publish books by women writers. From the get-go the company sought
two sorts of books: original works, and out-of-print books by
neglected female writers. The latter were reissued under the
"Modern Classics" label, which launched in 1978
In 1982, Virago became a wholly owned
subsidiary Random House, USA, but in 1987 Callil,
Lennie Goodings and others put together a
management buy-out. After a downturn in the market, the board
decided to sell Virago to Little, Brown, of which Virago became an
imprint in 1996 (with Lennie as Publisher). In 2006, Virago
became part of the Hachette publishing group with Lennie acting as
editor and publisher. She is now Chair of Virago.
Today the company's stated mission is to
"champion women’s voices and bring them to the widest possible
readership around the world. From fiction and politics to history
and classic children’s stories, its writers continue to win
acclaim, break new ground and enrich the lives of readers."
I met Lennie via Zoom to talk about her
life with Virago, as described in her new memoir A Bite of the
Apple, published by OUP around the world, and by mighty
Biblioasis in Canada.