Diana Athill

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Diana Athill
Born (1917-12-21) 21 December 1917 (age 100)
Norfolk, England, United Kingdom
OccupationLiterary editor, author
NationalityBritish
Alma materLady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford
GenreNovels and memoirs
Notable worksAfter a Funeral, Somewhere Towards the End
Notable awardsOBE, 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 greatest writers of the 20th century at the London-based publishing company Andre Deutsch Ltd.[2]

Early life[edit]

Diana Athill was born in the English county of Norfolk and brought up in Ditchingham Hall.[3] Her parents were Major Lawrence Athill (1888–1957) and Alice Carr Athill (1895–1990).[4] Her maternal grandfather was biographer William Carr (1862–1925).[5] 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[6] and worked for the BBC throughout the Second World War.

Career[edit]

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.[7] 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.[8][9]

Athill 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.

The first book of her own writing to appear was the short story collection An Unavoidable Delay (1962), and she has published two further works of fiction: a novel entitled Don't Look at Me Like That (1967) and in 2011 another volume of stories, Midsummer Night in the Workhouse. She is best known, however, for her books of memoirs, the first of which was Instead of a Letter in 1963. These memoirs were not written in chronological order, Yesterday Morning (2002) being the account of her childhood. She has also translated various works from French.

She appeared on Desert Island Discs in 2004 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.[10]

Athill was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2009 New Year Honours.[11]

In 2008, she won the Costa Book Award for her memoir Somewhere Towards The End, a book about old age.[12] For the same book, she also received the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2009.[13]

In June 2010, she was the subject of a BBC documentary, Growing Old Disgracefully, part of the Imagine series.[14] In 2013, she was listed as one of the 50 best-dressed over-50s by The Guardian.[15]

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).[16][17] Granta Books has since published two further titles by her: Alive, Alive Oh!: And Other Things That Matter in 2015 and A Florence Diary in 2016.

Personal life[edit]

According to journalist Mick 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.'"[18] The failure of her relationship with Irvine (referred to as Paul in Instead of a Letter),[9] 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."[18]

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."[18] 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.[18] 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.[18] She turned 100 in December 2017.[19]

Selected bibliography[edit]

Fiction[edit]

  • 1962: An Unavoidable Delay, short stories
  • 1967: Don't Look at Me Like That: a novel. London: Chatto & Windus. New edition, Granta Books, 2001. ISBN 978-1862074415
  • 2011: Midsummer Night in the Workhouse, short stories. London: Persephone Books. ISBN 978-1903155820

Autobiography[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "Diana Athill". Front Row. 26 April 2013. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 18 January 2014.
  2. ^ Diana Athill, "'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.
  3. ^ John Preston, "Diana Athill: Being the other woman was what I was best at", The Daily Telegraph, 11 January 2011. Retrieved 1 November 2016.
  4. ^ "Lawrence Francis Lambert Athill". Ancestry.com. Retrieved 3 January 2013.
  5. ^ "William Carr (1862–1925)". Ancestry.com. Retrieved 3 January 2013.
  6. ^ Prominent alumni, Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, UK.
  7. ^ Diana Athill, Chapter One, Stet. Excerpted in The Guardian, 3 August 2001.
  8. ^ "Stet: An Editor's Life (review)", Publishers Weekly, 1 March 2001.
  9. ^ a b Kira Cochrane, "Not bad for 91", The Guardian, 5 January 2009.
  10. ^ "Diana Athill". Desert Island Discs. BBC. 2004. Retrieved 3 July 2010.
  11. ^ "No. 58929". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 December 2008. p. 9.
  12. ^ "Costa Winners 2006 – present" (PDF). costabookawards.com. Archived from the original (PDF) on 28 October 2012. Retrieved 3 January 2013.
  13. ^ "All Past National Book Critics Award Winners and Finalists". bookcritics.org. Retrieved 3 January 2013.
  14. ^ "Diana Athill: 'Who is that woman who looks like me?'" The Telegraph, 29 June 2010. Retrieved 30 June 2010.
  15. ^ Jess Cartner-Morley (28 March 2013). "The 50 best-dressed over-50s – in pictures". The Guardian.
  16. ^ "Diana Athill introduces Instead of a Book: Letters to a Friend", YouTube, 3 November 2011.
  17. ^ Bill Eichenberger, "Diana Athill's 'Letters to a Friend' is one side of an interesting friendship", Cleveland.com, 7 June 2012.
  18. ^ a b c d e Mick Brown, "Diana Athill on letters, lovers & letting go". The Telegraph, 23 September 2011. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
  19. ^ "Legendary editor and writer Diana Athill turns 100", CBC Books, 22 December 2017.

External links[edit]