Virago was founded in 1973 as ‘the first mass-market publisher for 52 per cent of the population – women. An exciting new imprint for both sexes in a changing world.’ It was an idea of Dame Carmen Callil’s, born out of a particular time, place and politics. The name instantly signalled Virago’s attitude. Virago means ‘heroic war-like woman’, or, as the thesaurus has it a particular kind of woman: biddy, bitch, dragon, fire-eater, fury, harpy, harridan, hussy, muckraker, scold, she-devil, siren, spitfire, termagant, tigress, vituperator, vixen, wench.
Here was a cheeky upstart, happy to shock and tease.
More than forty years on Virago is the outstanding international publisher of books by women. The cultural, political and economic landscape has changed dramatically but Virago has remained true to its original aims: to put women centre stage; to explore the untold stories of their lives and histories; to break the silence around many women’s experiences; to publish breathtaking new fiction alongside a rich list of rediscovered classics; and above all to champion women’s talent. Virago has never seen itself as niche, never a boutique publisher. We might, at times, publish from the margins, but we have never thought of ourselves as marginalised. Sometimes we publish to entertain, sometimes we publish to give readers the sheer pleasure of beautiful writing, sometimes we publish to change the world.