Virago was founded in 1973 and remains dedicated to championing women’s talents.
To explore four decades of Virago’s literary revolution, navigate using the dates on the right side of this page.
The rise of the Women’s Liberation Movement was causing seismic shifts in the march of the world’s events; women’s creativity and political consciousness was soon to change the face of publishing and literature.
The first Virago board meeting is held on 21 June with directors Carmen Callil, Rosie Boycott and Marsha Rowe. Rosie and Marsha had started Spare Rib magazine and Carmen’s publicity company, Carmen Callil Ltd, had worked on its launch in 1972. Carmen’s idea for a publishing imprint had initially been registered as Spare Rib Books.
Virago (working out of Carmen’s house in Cheyne Row, Chelsea, London) is to be ‘the first mass-market publisher for 52 per cent of the population – women. An exciting new imprint for both sexes in a changing world.’ Virago’s first book Fenwomen by Mary Chamberlain is published in association with Quartet Books.
Rosie and Marsha resign in 1974; Ursula Owen, who became involved in 1973, becomes a director in 1974. Harriet Spicer, who was working at Carmen Callil Ltd, takes up work for Virago. The following year Virago becomes self-financing and independent with capital of just £1,500 and a guaranteed overdraft of £25,000 and a loan of…
On page two of every book was printed: Virago is a feminist publishing company: ‘It is only when women start to organise in large numbers that we become a political force, and begin to move towards the possiblity of a truly democratic society in which every human being can be brave, responsible, thinking and diligent…
Inspired by Sheila Rowbotham’s Hidden from History, Virago begins the Virago Reprint library. First book from the new, fully independent Virago: Life As We Have Known It by Co-operative Working Women. Virago moves to fourth floor, 5 Wardour Street, Soho, London.
The Virago Modern Classics launch with Frost in May by Antonia White, leading to a list that becomes a Virago hallmark, dedicated to the rediscovery and celebration of women writers, challenging the narrow definition of Classic.
Published with new introductions by some of today’s best writers, the list encompasses such diverse writers as George Eliot, Grace Paley, Elizabeth von Arnim, Pat Barker, Edith Wharton, Mae West, Angela Carter, Willa Cather and Molly Keane.
Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain is rediscovered and published. It later became a TV drama and is now a set text throughout UK.
Angela Carter’s first non-fiction book, The Sadeian Woman, is published. Five of her novels are also published as Virago Modern Classics. She finished her Book of Fairy Tales for Virago just before her death in 1992.
The Virago Modern Classics publishes the new man – all Georges: George Gissing, George Bernard Shaw, George Meredith, and H.G. Wells – and all writing about the new woman of the late 1800s.
Virago moves to the top floor sharing office space with Oxford University Press, Ely House, Dover Street, Mayfair.
Throughout the seventies and eighties, Virago publish some of the major feminist thinkers including Kate Millett, Adrienne Rich, Eva Figes, Juliet Mitchell, Lynne Segal, Sheila Rowbotham, Barbara Taylor, Carolyn Steedman, Beatrix Campbell and Elaine Showalter.
The Art of Starvation: Anorexia Observed by Sheila MacLeod wins the Mind Book of the Year Award.
Carmen Callil remains Chair of Virago, but takes up role of Publisher at Chatto. Ursula Owen and Harriet Spicer become Joint-managing Directors of Virago. Company moves to the Chatto building, William IV Street, Covent Garden, London.
Pat Barker’s first book Union Street wins the First Fawcett Society Prize.
Virago Modern Classics begins its long and devoted publishing of Elizabeth Taylor.
Eve and the New Jerusalem by Barbara Taylor wins the Isaac Deutcher Memorial Award.
The Tidy House by Carolyn Steedman wins the Fawcett Society Prize in 1983.
Virago publish the first feminist saga, Stand We At Last by Zoe Fairbairns.
Celebrities and authors stage a rally at Central Hall Westminster for 2000 people, organised around Over Our Dead Bodies: Women Against the Bomb edited by Dorothy Thompson.
Beatrix Campbell retraces Orwell’s steps in Wigan Pier Revisted.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is published for the first time in the UK. Maya Angelou danced, sang and laughed her way into British hearts. We have since published nineteen of her books and have sold over 1.5 million copies.
I’m Not a Feminist But…, a volume of cartoons by Christine Roche, puts its finger on the pulse of ’80s politics.
Is the Future Female – Troubled Thoughts on Contemporary Feminism by Lynne Segal challenged many of the current feminist orthodoxies.
The Heart of the Race: Black Women’s Lives in Britain by Beverley Bryan, Stella Dadzie and Suzanne Scafe wins the Martin Luther King Award.
The Virago Travellers series is launched with A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains by Isabella Bird and Travels in West Africa by Mary Kingsley. A highly successful series, it reprinted the extraordinary stories of the journeys of some of the greatest travellers including Gertrude Bell, Emily Eden, Lucie Duff Gordon, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu.
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston is published as a Virago Modern Classic. It is read on many courses and has sold over 100,000 copies.
Carmen Callil, Lennie Goodings, Ursula Owen, Alexandra Pringle and Harriet Spicer complete a management buy-out from CVBC, then owned by Random House USA. Finance is provided by Rothschild Ventures and Robert Gavron. Random House retain a ten per cent stake. Virago moves to Mandela Street, Camden Town.
The famous feminist and sociologist Ann Oakley turns to fiction with The Men’s Room, which goes on to become a major TV drama series.
Sweet Desserts by Lucy Ellmann wins the Guardian Fiction Prize.
Jill Liddington’s The Long Road to Greenham wins The Fawcett Society Prize.
Deborah Tannen’s You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation becomes an instant bestseller.
The Haunting of Sylvia Plath by Jacqueline Rose wins the Fawcett Society Prize.
Virago celebrates its twentieth birthday. The list has grown from eleven books a year to nearly 100, the staff from three to nineteen. Harriet Spicer is MD and Lennie Goodings is Publisher. Company is first in the Old Piano Factory, Camden Town and then moves to rent offices in Random House, Vauxhall Bridge Road.
Michèle Roberts wins the prestigious WHSmith Literary Award for Daughters of the House, which was also shortlisted for the 1992 Booker Prize.
Times are tough, downturn in the market results in smaller list and sadly, a smaller team. Independence is harder to maintain. After eight years of going it alone the Virago Board decides to sell the (profitable) company to Philippa Harrison, CEO and Publisher of Little, Brown (then owned by Time Warner). Move into Little Brown…
From January Virago operates as an imprint of Little, Brown. Photo from 1997 with Little, Brown CEO Philippa Harrison, Lennie Goodings, Publisher and Sally Abbey, Senior Editor.
Sarah Waters writes Tipping the Velvet which is published in the Virago V imprint.
The imprint bounces back to achieve its highest trade turnover fuelled in part by the spectacular success of Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace.
Marilyn French’s The Women’s Room becomes a Virago Modern Classic.
Virago Modern Classics celebrate twenty-one years. We have published nearly 600 books, and have a core of 200 titles in print.
‘The publishing firm of Virago achieved more for women’s literature than any other.’ Anna Ford, for her contribution to the National Portrait Gallery’s Faces of the Century in 1999. Photo (c) Sally Greenhill
Margaret Atwood wins the Man Booker for The Blind Assassin. We have now have published twenty-five of her books over thirty-five years and sold 3.5 million copies. Five years later Margaret Atwood wins the Edinburgh International Book Festival’s Enlightenment Award to mark a distinguished contribution to world literature and thought.
Sarah Waters shortlisted for both the Orange and Man Booker prizes for Fingersmith and a year later wins The South Bank Show Award for Literature, the Author of the Year Award at the British Book Awards, The Bookseller’s Association Awards and also Waterstone’s Author of the Year Award.
Virago Modern Classics acquires the complete list of twenty-seven of Daphne du Maurier’s books.
Virago publishes Åsne Seierstad’s The Bookseller of Kabul which will go on to win a Neilsen Golden Book Award for selling 500,000 copies.
Virago celebrates thirty years of publishing the best of women’s writing, as commemorated in this poem by Margaret Atwood.
Sarah Dunant publishes The Birth of Venus, beginning a stellar career writing Italian Renaissance novels, including the marvellous Blood & Beauty (2013).
Three of the six Orange shortlisted titles are published by Virago: Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, Shirley Hazzard, The Great Fire, Gillian Slovo’s The Ice Road. The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard goes on to win The Miles Franklin Award.
The Virago Modern Classics are thirty and Donna Coonan, Virago Modern Classics’ editor, launches the Hardback Designer Classics Series.
Sarah Waters’ The Night Watch hits Number One in the hardback fiction bestseller list, is shortlisted for the Orange and the Man Booker and she wins the Stonewall Writer of the Year Award (and again in 2009).
Little, Brown is sold to Hachette Book Group and soon after move to Blackfriars Bridge, London.
Waris Dirie, author of Desert Flower is awarded the Chevalier de la Légion dCHonneur by French Prime Minister Nicolas Sarkozy. Michele Hanson’s Living with Mother wins The Mind Book of the Year.
Linda Grant is shortlisted for Man Booker for The Clothes on their Backs (two years earlier she won the Lettre Ulysses Award for literary reportage for The People on the Street and in 2009 she wins The South Bank Award for Literature).
In 2008, Stella Duffy wins the prestigious Stonewall Writer of the Year award for The Room of Lost Things. Two years later she wins the award again for Theodora.
Marilynne Robinson wins the Orange Prize for Home.
Frances Osborne’s The Bolter hits Number One in the non-fiction spot. Lisa Appignanesi’s Mad, Bad and Sad, shortlisted for four other non-fiction awards, wins the Medical Journalists Award and Susie Boyt is shortlisted for the PEN Ackerley Prize for her memoir for My Judy Garland Life.
Lennie Goodings and Virago win Editor and Imprint of the Year at the book industry’s NIBBIES awards.
Nina Bawden’s The Birds on the Trees and Shirley Hazzard’s The Bay of Noon are nominated for the Lost Man Booker. Nina Bawden wins the Gold PEN Award for her contribution to literature.
Ursula Doyle, now Virago’s Associate Publisher, brings Claire Messud to the list; her first novel with Virago, The Woman Upstairs is published in 2013.
Sarah Waters wins Glamour Magazine Writer of the Year Award.
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain is published, selected for Richard & Judy and has now sold over 100,000 copies.
Virago Modern Classics acquire all of Mary Renault’s ouevre.
Charlotte Rogan’s The Lifeboat, published to great acclaim, is chosen by the Sunday Times as one of their four debuts of the year.
Polemic is back: Virago publish Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (2010); Living Dolls by Natasha Walter (2010) and Vagina by Naomi Wolf (2012) and all sell extremely well.
Katie Ward, author of Girl Reading, is awarded the Clarissa Luard Award by Hilary Mantel.
The Virago editorial team in 2013.
Seven forms of ownership later . . . Virago is forty, still celebrating the power to publish. To celebrate forty years of Virago, we asked our authors to write something inspired by the number forty. Their answers are published in a free ebook, available for download at your favourite ebook retailer.