Harriett Sarah Gilbert (born 25 August 1948) is an English writer, academic and broadcaster, particularly of arts and book programmes on the BBC World Service. She is the daughter of the writer Michael Gilbert. Besides World Book Club on the World Service, she also presents A Good Read on BBC Radio 4. Before the programme was cancelled, she also presented the BBC World Service programme The Strand
Born in Hornsey, London, Gilbert was educated at the French Lycée in London and at a succession of boarding schools. She wrote about her early years in "Growing Pains", her contribution to a 1985 collection of autobiographical writing Truth, Dare or Promise. She subsequently went to drama school. On graduating, her first acting role was as Mother Elephant in a production of Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories for primary schools. The other peak of her success was playing a secretary murdered on page five of a BBC radio drama. She also worked as a nanny, a waitress, an artist's model and a clerk-typist. She took up writing in her twenties.
She nominated A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes, first read to her by her father when she was eight, as a life-changing book. The one piece of advice her father, the writer Michael Gilbert, gave her about writing was: "For God's sake, don't use adverbs." Her brother is the Independent journalist Gerard Gilbert.
From 1983–1988 she was literary editor of The New Statesman and, before that, of City Limits (1981–83). She has also contributed to Time Out, The Guardian, and The Washington Post. She was a judge of the 2011 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.
Gilbert presents one programme on BBC World Service radio: World Book Club, broadcast on the first Saturday in each month. Guests on the latter have included the Nobel laureates Doris Lessing, Toni Morrison, VS Naipaul, Orhan Pamuk, Wole Soyinka and Derek Walcott.
About presenting for the World Service, she has said, "I think I'm doing the dream job, I just love it, and I can't think of anywhere else I'd like to be".
Gilbert has introduced the World Service arts documentary series Close Up. In 2008 she stood in as presenter of the arts programme The Ticket. She previously presented the World Service's dedicated book programme The Word. Besides this she has presented arts programmes for BBC Radio 4, BBC Radio 3 and BBC Four television.
Writer and broadcaster Michael Rosen called her "one of the very best presenters of arts programmes on radio or TV". The Financial Times said of her, "the splendid Harriett Gilbert [...] painfully shows up certain would-be arty Radio 4 colleagues".
She is the author of six novels, including Hotels With Empty Rooms and The Riding Mistress. Her non-fiction books include A Women's History of Sex and The Sexual Imagination from Acker to Zola. She scripted the short animated film The Stain (1991) viewable at the Internet Archive.
Although she has not published a novel since 1983 she hopes to return to writing, possibly using her time at City University as inspiration.
At the 2009 Bath Literature Festival, she and the novelist Michèle Roberts discussed "Guilty Pleasures" (Dorothy L. Sayers and Georgette Heyer) as well as the enduring appeal of cross-dressing, duelling, and driving Daimlers.
- Elizabeth Sleeman (2003) International Who's Who of Authors and Writers 2004, Routledge, ISBN 1-85743-179-0
- Short BBC biography
- World Service profile
- Life Changing Reviews
- Daily Telegraph obituary of Michael Gilbert, 10/02/2006
- Independent obituary of Michael Gilbert, 10 February 2006
- "Orhan Pamuk leads shortlist for Independent foreign fiction prize", Guardian, 11 April 2011
- City university page
- BBC World Service Meet the Presenter – Harriett Gilbert
- Gilbert to front R4's Good Read
- Close up homepage
- The Ticket
- BBC podcast page of WBC
- Michael Rosen website
- "Radio choice", Martin Hoyle, Financial Times, 1 November 2008
- IMDb The Stain
- BBC’s Bush House beckons writing tutor, 26 March 2009
- Retrospectives: Guilty Pleasures
- Independent Foreign Fiction Prize Shortlist Pamuk, Guardian, 11 April 2011
- I Know Where I've Been – Harper and Row (USA) (1972). ISBN 0-06-011522-X
- Hotels With Empty Rooms – Harpercollins (1973). ISBN 0-06-011519-X
- An Offence Against the Persons – Hodder & Stoughton (1974). ISBN 0-340-18520-1
- Given the Ammunition – Harper and Row (1976). ISBN 0-06-011514-9 (published in the UK as Tide Race – Constable (1977). ISBN 0-09-461570-5)
- Running Away - Harper and Row (USA) (1979). ISBN 9990777985 – a novel for 'young adults'
- The Riding Mistress – Constable (1983). ISBN 0-09-464990-1
- "Growing Pains" in Truth, Dare or Promise: Girls Growing Up in the Fifties – Virago (1985) (edited by Liz Heron). ISBN 0-86068-596-9 – autobiographical essay
- A Women's History of Sex – Pandora P (1987) (illustrated by Christine Roche). ISBN 0-86358-142-0
- The Sexual Imagination: From Acker to Zola – A Feminist Companion – Jonathan Cape (1993). ISBN 0-224-03535-5 (published in the US as Fetishes, Florentine Girdles, and Other Explorations into the Sexual Imagination – Harpercollins (1994). ISBN 0-06-273313-3)
- Writing for Journalists – Routledge (1999) (with Wynford Hicks and Sally Adams). ISBN 0-415-18445-2
- World Book Club homepage
- Harriett Gilbert at the IMDb
- Biography on the BBC website
- BBC World Service – Meet the Presenter – Video profile
- Interview from 2003