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Early years and family
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Callil was born in Melbourne, Australia, but has lived in London since 1960. Her widowed mother Lorraine Clare Allen, raised four children, of whom Callil was the third. Her father, Frederick Alfred Louis Callil, was a barrister and lecturer in French at the University of Melbourne. She was educated at Star of the Sea Convent, and at Loreto Mandeville Hall. She graduated from the University of Melbourne with a Bachelor of Arts degree in History and Literature in 1960.
In the same year she left for Europe, and, after a period in Italy, settled in London in 1964. She worked for Marks & Spencer as a buying assistant, then, after placing an advertisement in the Times newspaper ("Australian, B.A. wants job in book publishing", began work at Hutchinson Publishing company in 1965.
From 1967 to 1970 she was publicity manager of the paperback imprint Panther Books, and later all imprints of Granada Publishing, and then at Anthony Blond and André Deutsch. She left to work for Ink, a countercultural Newspaper founded by Richard Neville, Andrew Fisher, Felix Dennis and Ed Victor in 1971. Ink was an offshoot of Oz and was intended to be a bridge between the underground press of the 1960s and the national newspapers of that time. Launched in May 1971, it collapsed in February 1972, following the Oz obscenity trial.
At Ink, Callil met Marsha Rowe and Rosie Boycott, who went on to found the feminist magazine Spare Rib in June 1972. At the same time Carmen Callil founded Virago Press, to "publish books which celebrated women and women's lives, and which would, by so doing, spread the message of women's liberation to the whole population". Rowe and Boycott became directors of Virago in its first years.
Also in 1972 Callil launched a Book Publicity Company, Carmen Callil Limited. Harriet Spicer became Callil's assistant. This publicity company, run by Spicer and Callil, helped to finance Virago in its early years, together with Callil's inheritance from her grandfather. Further assistance came from Quartet Books, with whom the first nine Virago titles were published. Ursula Owen became a part-time editor in 1974. She was to become a full-time director, with considerable responsibility for the content of the Virago publishing list. In 1976 Virago became an independent company, with Callil, Owen and Spicer as Directors, shortly to be joined by Lennie Goodings and Alexandra Pringle.
In 1982 Callil was appointed Managing Director of Chatto & Windus and The Hogarth Press where she remained until 1994, continuing also as Chairman of Virago until 1995. In 1994 she was Editor-At-Large for the worldwide group of Random House publishing companies. At Virago, among other business and editorial aspects of the company, she was responsible for the creation and development of the Virago Modern Classics list, which brought back into print many hundreds of the best women writers of the past.
Callil left book publishing in 1994, and for some years divided her time between London and Caunes-Minervois in France. As a writer and critic, she has written reviews and features for many newspapers and journals, in addition to occasional radio and television work. From 1985–91 she was a member of the Board of Channel 4 Television. She was a Member of the Committee for The Booker Prize, 1979–84; a founder Director of The Groucho Club, London, 1984–94, and in 1989 received the Distinguished Service Award from the International Women's Writing Guild. She is a Doctor of Letters from Sheffield University, the University of York, Oxford Brookes University and the Open University. She has also been a judge of the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and The Orwell Prize. She was Chairman of Judges, Booker Prize for Fiction, in 1996.
- Lebanese Washing Stories, New Writing 5, The British Council/Vintage 1996
- With Craig Raine (editors), New Writing 7, The British Council/Vintage 1998; ISBN 0-09-954561-6
- With Colm Tóibín: The Modern Library: The Best 200 Novels in English since 1950, Picador 1999; ISBN 0-330-34182-0
- Bad Faith: A Forgotten History of Family & Fatherland, Jonathan Cape & Alfred A. Knopf 2006; Buchet Chastel, 2007.
- Emma Brockes, "The fearful fighter", The Guardian, 25 August 2007.
- "Ink" at rock'sbackpages library.
- Virago “About Virago Press", Virago.co.uk; accessed 26 November 2015.
- Callil, Carmen “The Stories of our Lives: Carmen Callil on Virago", The Guardian, 26 April 2008.
- Beevor, Antony “Antony Beevor reviews Bad Faith by Carmen Callil", The Daily Telegraph, 11 April 2006.
- Porter, Henry, "The enemies of free speech are everywhere", The Observer, 15 October 2006.
- Conrad, Peter "Vile Days in Vichy", The Observer 26 March 2006.
- Evans, Martin "Carmen Callil talks to Martin Evans about her recent excursion into the lies and hypocrisy of Vichy France", History Today, May 2006; ISBN 978-0-09-949828-5.