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.
1972: Spare Rib Books is founded
Carmen Callil, with Rosie Boycott and Marsha Rowe of Spare Rib Magazine, start Spare Rib Books in July 1972, inspired by the magazine. The revolutionary idea of putting women’s words and history in print – in a magazine and in books — sprang from the counter-cultural underground press movement. Carmen Callil who did the publicity for the launch of the magazine saw a books opportunity; Marsha and Rosie agreed and the three met frequently to brainstorm book ideas. The company is registered in October.
By the end of that year the name was changed to Virago
1973: the newly-named Virago Press is official
Virago, a feminist business was officially listed as a publishing company in June 1973. Virago is registered as a limited company, with Carmen Callil, Marsha Rowe and Rosie registered as directors, having one share each, and Carmen the remaining
Quartet agree to publish jointly with Virago four books a year
1973: Virago: `for 52% of the population’
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.’
1974: Carmen Callil Ltd finances Virago
Marsha (to work full time on Spare Rib) and Rosie (to travel) step back and resign in 1974 and 1975 respectively; Ursula Owen, who begins working freelance in 1974, becomes a director later that year. 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.
1975: ‘Fenwomen’ Virago’s first book
Fenwomen by Mary Chamberlain is published. It is Virago’s first book (in association with Quartet).
1976: Virago is a feminist publishing company
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…
1977: Fully Independent Virago Publishes its First Book
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.
1978: Modern Classics Launched
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. View the full list of Virago Modern Classics here.
1978: The Virago Modern Classic list
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.
1978: ‘Testament of Youth’ Rediscovered
Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain is rediscovered and published. It later became a TV drama and is now a set text throughout UK.
1979: Angela Carter’s First Non-Fiction Book Published
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.
1980: The new man
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.
1981: Virago Moves
Virago moves to the top floor sharing office space with Oxford University Press, Ely House, Dover Street, Mayfair.
1981: Publishing feminist thinkers
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.
1981:The Art of Starvation: Anorexia Observed
The Art of Starvation: Anorexia Observed by Sheila MacLeod wins the Mind Book of the Year Award.
1982: Virago becomes a wholly owned subsidiary of the Chatto, Virago, Bodley Head and Cape Group.
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.
1982: Union Street wins the First Fawcett Society Prize
Pat Barker’s first book Union Street wins the First Fawcett Society Prize.
1982: Virago Modern Classics Publishes Elizabeth Taylor
Virago Modern Classics begins its long and devoted publishing of Elizabeth Taylor.
1983: Isaac Deutcher Memorial Award winner
Eve and the New Jerusalem by Barbara Taylor wins the Isaac Deutcher Memorial Award.
1983: The Tidy House wins the Fawcett Society Prize.
The Tidy House by Carolyn Steedman wins the Fawcett Society Prize in 1983.
1983: Virago’s First Feminist Saga
Virago publish the first feminist saga, Stand We At Last by Zoe Fairbairns.
1983: Rally Staged around ‘Over Our Dead Bodies’
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.
1984: ‘Wigan Pier Revisited’ published
Beatrix Campbell retraces Orwell’s steps in Wigan Pier Revisted.
1984: ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’
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.
1985: I’m Not A Feminist But. . .
I’m Not a Feminist But…, a volume of cartoons by Christine Roche, puts its finger on the pulse of ’80s politics.
1985: Is the Future Female – Troubled Thoughts on Contemporary Feminism
Is the Future Female – Troubled Thoughts on Contemporary Feminism by Lynne Segal challenged many of the current feminist orthodoxies.
1986: The Heart of the Race: Black Women’s Lives in Britain
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.
1986: Virago Travellers Series Launched
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.
1986: ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’ is published as Virago Modern Classic
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.
1987: Virago Management Buy-out
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.
1988: The Men’s Room
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.
1988: Sweet Desserts
Sweet Desserts by Lucy Ellmann wins the Guardian Fiction Prize.
1990: The Long Road to Greenham
Jill Liddington’s The Long Road to Greenham wins The Fawcett Society Prize.
1991: ‘You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation’ is Published
Deborah Tannen’s You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation becomes an instant bestseller.
1992: The Haunting of Sylvia Plath
The Haunting of Sylvia Plath by Jacqueline Rose wins the Fawcett Society Prize.
1993: Virago is 20
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.
1993: ‘Daughters of the House’ Wins Award
Michèle Roberts wins the prestigious WHSmith Literary Award for Daughters of the House, which was also shortlisted for the 1992 Booker Prize.
1995: Virago is purchased by Little, Brown
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…
1996: Life at 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.
1997: ‘Tipping the Velvet’ is published
Sarah Waters writes Tipping the Velvet which is published in the Virago V imprint.
1997: Virago bounces back
The imprint bounces back to achieve its highest trade turnover fuelled in part by the spectacular success of Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace.
1997: The Women’s Room becomes a VMC
Marilyn French’s The Women’s Room becomes a Virago Modern Classic.
1999: Virago Modern Classics is 21
Virago Modern Classics celebrate twenty-one years. We have published nearly 600 books, and have a core of 200 titles in print.
1999: Faces of the Century – Virago in the National Gallery
‘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
2000: Margaret Atwood wins Man Booker Prize for ‘The Blind Assassin’
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.
2002: Sarah Waters wins Author of the Year Award
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.
2002: Virago aquire Daphne du Maurier’s books
Virago Modern Classics acquires the complete list of twenty-seven of Daphne du Maurier’s books.
2003: ‘The Bookseller of Kabul’ is Published
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.
2003: Virago celebrates 30 years with Margaret Atwood poem
Virago celebrates thirty years of publishing the best of women’s writing, as commemorated in this poem by Margaret Atwood.
2003: The Birth of Venus
Sarah Dunant publishes The Birth of Venus, beginning a stellar career writing Italian Renaissance novels, including the marvellous Blood & Beauty (2013).
2004: Three Orange shortlisted titles are published by Virago
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.
2008: The VMCs are thirty
The Virago Modern Classics are thirty and Donna Coonan, Virago Modern Classics’ editor, launches the Hardback Designer Classics Series.
2006: The Night Watch hits Number One
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).
2006: Little, Brown is sold to the Hachette Book Group
Little, Brown is sold to Hachette Book Group and soon after move to Blackfriars Bridge, London.
2007: Barbara Pym becomes a classic
2007: Waris Dirie wins Mind Book of the Year
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.
2008: ‘The Clothes on their Backs’ shortlisted for Man Booker
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).
2008: Stella Duffy wins Writer of the Year
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.
2009: ‘Home’ wins Orange Prize
Marilynne Robinson wins the Orange Prize for Home.
2009: chart toppers
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.
2010: Lost Man Booker nominees
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.
2010: Lennie Goodings and Virago win Editor and Imprint of the Year
Lennie Goodings and Virago win Editor and Imprint of the Year at the book industry’s NIBBIES awards.
2010: Virago Welcomes Claire Messud
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.
2010: Sarah Waters wins Glamour Magazine Writer of the Year Award.
Sarah Waters wins Glamour Magazine Writer of the Year Award.
2011: ‘The Paris Wife’ is Published
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain is published, selected for Richard & Judy and has now sold over 100,000 copies.
2012: Mary Renault comes to Virago Modern Classics
Virago Modern Classics acquire all of Mary Renault’s ouevre.
2012: ‘The Lifeboat’ is Published
Charlotte Rogan’s The Lifeboat, published to great acclaim, is chosen by the Sunday Times as one of their four debuts of the year.
2012: Polemic is back
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.
2013: Katie Ward is awarded the Clarissa Luard Award
Katie Ward, author of Girl Reading, is awarded the Clarissa Luard Award by Hilary Mantel.
2013: Virago team
The Virago editorial team in 2013.
2013: Virago is 40
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.
2013: Launch of Virago Modern Classics for Younger Readers
Donna Coonan starts a new list within the Virago Modern Classics including L. M. Montgomery, Rumer Godden and Joan Aiken.
2013: The Stereotype of the 1950s housewife is challenged by Rachel Cooke
Her Brilliant Career, by Rachel Cooke.
2013: Tracey Thorn, everybody’s favourite disco queen . . .
. . . tells us what it’s really like to be in a band.
2013: Careless People: Murder, Mayhem and the Invention of The Great Gatsby
Brilliant critic Sarah Churchwell takes us to America, 1922.
2013: In response to you know what . . . (!) we publish Fifty Shades of Feminism
2014: Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala wins the PEN-JR Ackerly Award
‘A stunning memoir of grief . . . contains some of the best, most affecting writing about love and family that I have ever read’ – India Knight, Sunday Times
2014: Patricia Highsmith, the Queen of Crime, joins the Virago Modern Classics
2014: Maya Angelou, much-loved Virago author, dies at the age of 86
2014: Virago Modern Classics welcomes Angela Thirkell
The best-loved Barsetshire series, by Angela Thirkell, first joined the Virago Modern Classics list in 2014.
2015: Testament of Youth film is released
One of Virago’s most treasured memoirs, Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth, is adapted for the big screen.
2015: I Call Myself a Feminist
Twenty-five young women tell us why they call themselves feminists.
2015: Asne Seierstad publishes One of Us: The Story of Anders Breivik and the Massacre in Norway
‘An astonishing piece of work . . . looks straight at horror and doesn’t flinch: it is classic reporting’ Evening Standard
2015: Carrie Brownstein’s Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl tells it like it is
Virago Press publishes the memoir from the Portlandia star/feminist punk hero.
2015: Laughing all the Way to the Mosque by Zarqa Nawaz
‘A sort of Muslim Miranda’- Sunday Times
2015: Virginia Baily’s Early One Morning is a stunning success
A beautiful novel, now sold in over fourteen languages.
2015: The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters is shortlisted for the Baileys Prize for Fiction
2015: Rachel Seiffert’s first novel with Virago, The Walk Home, is longlisted for the Baileys Prize for Fiction
2016: Stop the Clocks, Joan Bakewell’s book on what she will leave behind, is published
2016: Virago Modern Classics mark the 50th anniversary of the fabulous Valley of the Dolls
2016: President Obama interviews Marilynne Robinson, one of his favourite writers
The Givenness of Things, by Marilynne Robinson.
2016: Elena Lappin publishes the timely What Language Do I Dream In?
‘This beautiful exploration of what it means to be European in the twenty-first century has never been more necessary’ – Anne Sebba
2016: iO Tillet Wright’s Darling Days
A New York memoir that also tells us about gender.
2016: Linda Grant’s stirring The Dark Circle is published
2016: Emma Watson chooses Virago books for her book club: My Shared Shelf
Half the Sky and Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl are chosen for My Shared Shelf.
2016: Virago publishes Lauren Graham from Gilmore Girls
Sarah Savitt, Virago’s Deputy Publisher, brings us the wonderful memoir from Lauren Graham, Talking As Fast As I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls (and Everything in Between).
2016: The Virago Team
Top row (l-r) Ailah Ahmed, Commissioning Editor; Lennie Goodings, Publisher; Donna Coonan, Editorial Director, Virago Modern Classics. Bottom row (l-r) Sarah Savitt, Deputy Publisher; Angela Cammarota, Executive Assistant; David Bamford, Assistant Editor.