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Virago’s non-fiction picks for 2017

This year we are publishing a selection of incredible writers, including Souad Mehennet, Carina Chocano and 23 year old Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Nadia Murad. Read on to find out about more about the non-fiction we’re looking forward to sharing with you in 2017. 

Lennie Goodings, Publisher

`Marvellous’ says Diana Athill about this wonderful biography of Molly Keane by her daughter Sally Phipps.  Born in 1940, Sally is the last of a generation who understood the world her mother had grown up in: the big houses, the down-at-heel grand people (`poor food, bad wine, no heat’) whose lifeblood was hunting and shooting, who believed that `it was an absolute duty to be amusing.’  Molly Keane is best remembered for her Booker-shortlisted novel, Good Behaviour, a brilliantly sharp novel about a mother-daughter relationship.  He daughter, who has inherited her mother’s talent, shows us a writer and a mother of `stiletto sharpness and infinite kindness’.  This is like reading Molly Keane again.

And you can also read Good Behaviour, Loving and Giving and Time after Time by Molly Keane in the Virago Modern Classics.

Molly Keane: A Life, by Sally Phipps, publishes in hardback on 26th January 2017.

Where does greatness begin? This is the question the brilliant biographer, Lyndall Gordon poses in A Voice of Her Own. This book looks at five extraordinary writers who crossed the frontier of genius. Says Lyndall in her introduction; `To say I chose these writers would be wrong. They chose themselves. For each had the compulsion Jane Eyre expressed when she said, ‘speak I must’. Mary Shelley spoke as a girl-prodigy; Emily Brontë, as a visionary who prized ‘the world within’ against ‘the world without’; George Eliot, as a self-proclaimed ‘outlaw’ defying the rules of her society; Olive Schreiner, as a dreamer, calling up the woman of the future; and finally Virginia Woolf, an explorer ‘far out and alone’ even as she wandered the city.’ Yet they all lived in the margins for one reason or another.  A fascinating, original and utterly compelling work that will illuminate and perhaps even challenge our view of these extraordinarily exciting women who changed the course of English literature. 

A Voice of Her Own, by Lyndall Gordon publishes in August 2017. 

I am sure you, like me, believe that books can change the world.  I believe wholeheartedly that The Last Girl by Nadia Murad has the power to make a difference. Nadia Murad is just 23 years old, a Nobel Peace Prize nominee and the first Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking of the United Nations. In this book she tells her own terrible story of being trafficked and of the tragedy her family has endured; as well as making a passionate plea to end the crimes against her Yazidi people in Iraq. She has testified before the UN Security Council and backed by Amal Clooney she is attempting to secure accountability for the genocide, sexual enslavement and trafficking of Yazidi girls and women by the militant group Islamic State (IS) in Iraq. To see the strength of a young woman who refuses to be defeated, who is determined to bring the news of the Yazidis to the world, who stands tall despite her own personal tragedies is both humbling and inspiring. 

The Last Girl, by Nadia Murad & Jenna Krajeski publishes in November 2017.

Grace Vincent, Publicity Manager 

Before I this incredible memoir was finished, I got to read the opening prologue and it utterly consumed me. I Was Told To Come Alone is Souad Mehennet’s (a German-born Moroccan Muslim who is also a Washington Post correspondent) brave and powerful memoir. As a journalist, she has confronted some of the world’s killers, unmasked Jihadi John, and gone deep into Muslim communities in the west. Her thirst for the truth is so compelling and in her work she’s trying to find out why young Muslim women and men are rejecting their parent’s dreams of economic betterment and personal freedom in favour or radical rebellion in the Middle East. As an independent, progressive Muslim woman who grew up in Germany, she is able to express the sense of ‘betweenness’ that she feels, between Islam and the West, Sunni and Shia and Morocco and Turkey, between objective reporting and fellow feeling.

I Was Told to Come Alone by Souad Mehennet is publishing on 13th June 2017.

Sarah Savitt, Deputy Publisher 

I’m the daughter of an economist but am still woefully under-informed about economics and how it shapes our lives. Frances Weetman’s essay, the winner of the first Virago/New Statesman Award for Political and Economic writing, is both educational and provocative, explaining the economic models that rule our world – and then probing whether this current thinking is actually beneficial. Chosen as the winner by judges including Gillian Tett, Weetman asks timely, important questions, from whether we need an ‘economics enlightenment’ to whether you could name five female economists (I can’t).  

Whose Model is it Anyway? by Frances Weetman publishes in e-book on 2nd February.


We all have to leave our childhoods behind at some (often painful) point, but for Jeanette Walls this experience was extreme. Growing up in an isolated mining town in the American Southwest with alcoholic parents, Jeanette Walls dreamed of a stable, middle class life – and eventually found it as a journalist in New York. But can you ever escape your parents, and what does it mean to leave your roots behind? Walls’ book sits beside other classic memoirs of difficult childhoods like Augusten Burroughs’ Running with Scissors, Mary Karr’s The Liars’ Club, Andrea Ashworth’s Once in a House on Fire or Lorna Sage’s Bad Blood. I hope the film this year – starring Brie Larson (of Room fame) as Jeanette plus Naomi Watts and Woody Harrelson – brings many new readers to this incredible memoir.

The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls is out now.

Ailah Ahmed, Commissioning Editor

This book blew me away by answering all the most topical questions about the new gender debate. It covers topics such as the rise in referrals for gender variant children, feminists and the trans community, and “the mainstream media’s ‘trans moment’”, among others. It’s also a moving account of dealing with mental health, falling in love and growing up.  

Trans Like Me, by CN Lester is publishing on 25th May.

Here is an amazing feminist reading of the way that women are represented on screen – and the mixed messages we are sent as a consequence. Carina Chocano is honest and open in this addictive essay collection. In my favourite chapter she recounts her mixed feelings about PRETTY WOMAN, and looks at FROZEN, asking why it is that Elsa has ‘powers’, but she has no power?

You Play The Girl: How Pop Culture Made a Woman out of Me, by Carina Chocano is published on 3rd August.

Susan de Soissons, Director of Author and Media Relations

Joanna Moorhead traces the life of her cousin, the English-born surrealist artist and writer, Leonora Carrington. Part family; art; social and women’s history, The Surreal Life of Leonora Carrington is a fascinating account of a woman who left behind the trappings of wealth and privilege, immersing herself in the world of the Surrealist movement of the 1930s. 

Leaving Lancashire, still in her teens, and with little money, Leonora’s tumultuous decisions take her to London where she meets the artist Max Ernst, who becomes her lover.  We follow Leonora through Europe, working alongside artists of the day – from Dali to Magritte – to New York, while soaking up the heady atmosphere, finally residing in Mexico for the remainder of her life.  Full of insight – touching and riveting – I heartily recommend Joanna’s story. In it I discovered one of Britain’s greatest artists, a woman I knew nothing about, and a fresh take on a movement I thought I knew; I came away with a deep respect for Leonora who refused to be confined – quite literally – and dared to be different at a time when almost everyone and everything was against her. Watch a Tate film of Joanna, with Leonora in her studio in Mexico.

The Surreal Life of Leonora Carrington, by Joanna Moorhead is published on 4th April 2017.

At the age of twenty-eight, Jessica Lee, who grew up in Canada and lived in London, finds herself in Berlin. Alone. Lonely, with lowered spirits thanks to some family history and a broken heart, she is there, ostensibly, to write a thesis. And though that is what she does daily, what increasingly occupies her is swimming. So she makes a decision that she believes will win her back her confidence and independence: she will swim fifty-two of the lakes around Berlin, no matter what the weather or season. She is aware that this particular landscape is not without its own ghosts and history.

This is the story of a beautiful obsession: of the thrill of a still, turquoise lake, of cracking the ice before submerging, of floating under blue skies, of tangled weeds and murkiness, of cool, fresh, spring swimming – of facing past fears of near drowning and of breaking free.

Turning, by Jessica J. Lee is published in paperback in May 2017.