Diana Souhami

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Diana Souhami (born 25 August 1940) is an award-winning English writer of biographies, short stories and plays.


Souhami was brought up in London and studied philosophy at Hull University. She worked in the publications department of the BBC before turning to biography.[1] While working at the BBC she published short stories, wrote plays which were performed at Edinburgh Festival, The Kings Head in Islington and broadcast as radio and television plays by the BBC. She devised an exhibition: A Woman's Place: The Changing Picture of Women in Britain for the British Council which in 1984 toured 30 countries. Her book based on this exhibition was published by Penguin Books.[2] She also reviewed books and plays for newspapers. In 1986 she was approached by Pandora Press and received a commission to write a biography of Hannah Gluckstein.[3]

Her life of Gluck was her only book in which she used a birth-to-death approach until her life of Edith Cavell (2010). "We don't live our lives or read in a linear fashion. Also, the internet has so much information that it rather absolves the biographer from being a storehouse of knowledge."[1]

Souhami became a full-time writer publishing biographies which mostly explore the most influential and intriguing of 20th century lesbian (and gay lives). She followed Gluck (1988), with Gertrude and Alice (1991) an account of the relationship between Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas which lasted from their first meeting to Stein’s death in 1946, Greta and Cecil (1994) examining the romantic relationship between Greta Garbo and Cecil Beaton, and Mrs Keppel and her daughter (1996) a dual biography of Alice Keppel, a long-time mistress of King Edward VII, and her daughter, Violet Trefusis. The Trials of Radclyffe Hall (1998), the biography of Marguerite Radclyffe Hall won the Lambda Literary Award for Biography in 2000[4] and was shortlisted for the James Tait Black Memorial Prize.[5]

In 2001 she departed from her usual genre to publish Selkirk’s Island, an account of Alexander Selkirk’s years as a castaway on Isla Más a Tierra (now better known as Robinson Crusoe Island) in the Juan Fernández archipelago. Booksellers and librarians had been puzzling whether to classify Selkirk's Island as fact, fiction, faction, fable or fantasy when it won the 2001 Whitbread Biography Award.[5][6]

Returning to lesbian biography Souhami's, Wild Girls (2004) is a dual biography of Romaine Brooks, the American-born artist and her lover Natalie Barney and is set mostly in Paris between the wars.[1] Never a straight biographer, Souhami places at the start of each chapter a short passage in italics where "she appears to be narrating some of her personal lesbian experiences - waiting in a bar for a blind date, a secret affair with a woman Dean, furtive love-making with a girl on the deck of a Greek ferry at night."[7]

In 2007 Souhami returned to writing about islands with Coconut Chaos, which is both an investigation into the lives on Pitcairn Island of the HMS Bounty mutineers and their descendants, and a memoir of her journey to Pitcairn with a woman known only as "Lady Myre".

Edith Cavell (2010) is a straightforward biography of the nurse who was executed for her role in the smuggling of allied soldiers out of Belgium during the First World War.

Murder at Wrotham Hill (2012), introduced a new genre being an account of the 1946 murder of Dagmar Petrzywalski and the subsequent investigation and prosecution of the crime.

“I started writing about lesbians 25 years ago in the hope of contributing to breaking the history of silence. Acceptance can’t happen without openness, and I believe we should all try to speak out in our own way. If you’re silent and invisible you’re no trouble to anyone. You’re so buried you’re assumed not to be there. So, historically, we have to dig deep to shed light on ‘these practices’, rid them of insult, turn the wrongdoing around, name and shame the abusers.” (Souhami quoted by Emily Reynolds)[8]



Television writing[edit]


  1. ^ a b c FitzHerbert, Claudia (1 August 2004). "A writer's life: Diana Souhami". The Telegraph. Retrieved 25 March 2014. 
  2. ^ Diana Souhami (2014). "A Woman’s Place The Changing Picture of Women in Britain". Diana Souhami books. Archived from the original on 13 March 2014. Retrieved 19 April 2014. 
  3. ^ A Personal Note introducing the new edition of Souhami, Diana Gluck: Her Biography Quercus 2013
  4. ^ "12th Annual Lambda Literary Awards". Lamda Literary. 15 July 2000. Retrieved 25 March 2014. 
  5. ^ a b "Diana Souhami, Writer". National Portrait Gallery. Retrieved 25 March 2014. 
  6. ^ Cunningham, John (27 April 2002). "The real Robinson Crusoe". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 March 2014. 
  7. ^ Hastings, Selina (27 July 2004). "Americaines in Paris". The Telegraph. Retrieved 25 March 2014. 
  8. ^ Emily Reynolds (13 May 2013). "For Books’ Sake Talks To: Diana Souhami". For Books' Sake. Retrieved 19 April 2014. 
  9. ^ "The Weekend". Diana Souhami. Retrieved 25 March 2014. 
  10. ^ "The Weekend". British Film Institute. 1976. Retrieved 25 March 2014. 
  11. ^ "Jupiter Moon". IMDB. 1990. Retrieved 25 March 2014. 

Further reading[edit]

Gale Group (1999). Contemporary authors. New revision series, volume 76 : a bio-bibliographical guide to current writers in fiction, general nonfiction, poetry, journalism, drama, motion pictures, television, and other fields. Farmington Hills MI: Gale. ISBN 9780787630867. 

External links[edit]