Diana Athill

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Diana Athill
Born (1917-12-21) 21 December 1917 (age 99)
Norfolk, England, United Kingdom
Occupation Literary editor, author
Nationality British
Alma mater Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford
Genre Novels and memoirs
Notable works After a Funeral, Somewhere Towards the End
Notable awards OBE, PEN/Ackerley Prize, Costa Book Award, National Book Critics Circle Award

Diana Athill OBE (born 21 December 1917) is a British literary editor, novelist and memoirist who worked with some of the writers of the 20th century at the London-based publishing company Andre Deutsch Ltd.[3]

Early life[edit]

Diana Athill was born in the English county of Norfolk and brought up in Ditchingham Hall.[4] Her parents were Major Lawrence Athill (1888–1957) and Alice Carr Athill (1895–1990).[5] Her maternal grandfather was biographer William Carr (1862–1925).[6] Her maternal grandmother's father was James Franck Bright (1832–1920) a Master of University College, Oxford. Athill graduated from Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford in 1939[7] and worked for the BBC throughout the Second World War.


After the war, Athill helped her friend André Deutsch establish the publishing house Allan Wingate, and five years later, in 1952, she was a founding director of the publishing company that was given his name.[8] She worked closely with many Deutsch authors, including Philip Roth, Norman Mailer, John Updike, Mordecai Richler, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean Rhys, Gitta Sereny, Brian Moore, V. S. Naipaul, Molly Keane, Stevie Smith, Jack Kerouac, Charles Gidley Wheeler, Margaret Atwood, and David Gurr.[9][10]

She retired from Deutsch in 1993 at the age of 75, after more than 50 years in publishing. She continues to influence the literary world through her revealing memoirs about her editorial career. She is best known for her books of memoirs (these were not written in chronological order, Yesterday Morning being the account of her childhood), and has also translated various works from French.

She appeared on Desert Island Discs at the age of 86 and selected a recording of Haydn's The Creation as the most valued of the eight records and Thackeray's Vanity Fair as the book.[11]

Athill was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2009 New Year Honours.[12]

In 2008, she won the Costa Book Award for her memoir Somewhere Towards The End, a book about old age.[13] For the same book, she also received the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2009.[14]

In June 2010, she was the subject of a BBC documentary, Growing Old Disgracefully, part of the Imagine series.[15] In 2013, she was listed as one of the fifty best-dressed over-50s by The Guardian.[16]

In 2011 Granta Books published Instead of a Book: Letters to a Friend, a collection of letters from Athill to the American poet Edward Field chronicling their intimate correspondence spanning more than 30 years (he kept all her letters, she kept none of his).[17][18]

Personal life[edit]

According to journalist Nick Brown, "She attributes her flight from convention to her first love, Tony Irvine, an RAF pilot with whom she fell in love at the age of 15, and who was blessed, she says, 'with a very open approach to life.'"[19] The failure of her relationship with Irvine (referred to as Paul in Instead of a Letter),[10] her "great love", "blighted" many years: "My affairs after that, I kept them trivial if I possibly could. I was frightened of intensity, because I knew I was going to be hurt."[19]

She says she was a "sucker for oppressed foreigners", an inclination she described as a "funny kink" in her maternal instinct: "I never particularly wanted children, but it came out in liking lame ducks."[19] One lover, the Egyptian author Waguih Ghali, a depressive, committed suicide in her flat. Her most remarkable affair, about which she later wrote a book, was "a fleeting, and distinctly odd" relationship with Hakim Jamal, an American Black radical who asserted he was God and was a cousin of Malcolm X. Jamal's other lover Gale Benson, was murdered by Trinidadian Black Power leader Michael X. Jamal was killed by others a year later.[19] Athill's account of these events was published in 1993 as Make Believe: A True Story.

Her longest relationship was with the Jamaican playwright Barry Reckord. The affair lasted eight years, but he shared her flat for forty. She described it as a "detached" sort of marriage.[19]

Selected bibliography[edit]




  1. ^ "Diana Athill". Front Row. 26 April 2013. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 18 January 2014. 
  2. ^ Athill, Diana (21 January 2004). "I'm a believer - but only in a good story". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  3. ^ "'Getting things right': Recalling her life as one of the 20th century's most acclaimed editors, Diana Athill, who has just turned 90, was a pioneer of the confessional memoir. Her new book is about ageing". The Guardian, 5 January 2008.
  4. ^ Diana Athill: Being the other woman was what I was best at - Telegraph Retrieved 2016-11-01.
  5. ^ "Lawrence Francis Lambert Athill". Ancestry.com. Retrieved 3 January 2013. 
  6. ^ "William Carr (1862–1925)". Ancestry.com. Retrieved 3 January 2013. 
  7. ^ Prominent alumni, Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, UK.
  8. ^ Chapter One, Stet. Excerpted in The Guardian, 3 August 2001.
  9. ^ "Stet: An Editor's Life (review)", Publishers Weekly, 1 March 2001.
  10. ^ a b Kira Cochrane, "Not bad for 91", The Guardian, 5 January 2009.
  11. ^ "Diana Athill". Desert Island Discs. BBC. 2004. Retrieved 3 July 2010. 
  12. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 58929. p. 9. 31 December 2008.
  13. ^ "Costa Winners 2006 – present" (PDF). costabookawards.com. Retrieved 3 January 2013. 
  14. ^ "All Past National Book Critics Award Winners and Finalists". bookcritics.org. Retrieved 3 January 2013. 
  15. ^ "Diana Athill: 'Who is that woman who looks like me?'" Daily Telegraph, 29 June 2010. Retrieved 30 June 2010.
  16. ^ Jess Cartner-Morley (28 March 2013). "The 50 best-dressed over-50s – in pictures". The Guardian. 
  17. ^ "Diana Athill introduces Instead of a Book: Letters to a Friend", YouTube, 3 November 2011.
  18. ^ Bill Eichenberger, "Diana Athill's 'Letters to a Friend' is one side of an interesting friendship", Cleveland.com, 7 June 2012.
  19. ^ a b c d e Mick Brown, "Diana Athill on letters, lovers & letting go". The Telegraph, 23 September 2011; accessed 21 August 2012.

External links[edit]