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8 August 1950 |
|Occupation||Writer, broadcaster, critic|
Sarah Dunant (born 8 August 1950) is a novelist, journalist, broadcaster and critic. She was a founding vice patron of the Orange Prize for women's fiction, sits on the editorial board of the Royal Academy magazine, and reviews for The Times, The Guardian, and The New York Times. She teaches biennially at Washington University in St. Louis in its Renaissance studies course. She is also a creative writing fellow at Oxford Brookes University. She has two daughters and lives in London and Florence.
Dunant was born and grew up in London, the daughter of David Dunant, a Welsh airline steward, later manager at British Airways and his French wife, Estelle, brought up in Bangalore, India.
She was educated at the local girls grammar school, Godolphin and Latymer. From there she won a place at Newnham College, Cambridge where she read history and was involved in theatre and Footlights. After graduation and a brief spell earning an equity card in the acting profession, she moved to Tokyo, where she was an English teacher and a hostess in the nightclub for six months, before travelling home through South East Asia.
Back in London she worked for two years at BBC Radio 4, producing its then arts magazine Kaleidoscope, before travelling again, this time overland through North, Central and South America, a trip that became research material for her first solo novel Snow Storms in Hot Climate (1988) a thriller about the early cocaine trade in Columbia *(1)
She went on to work extensively in radio and television, most notably as a presenter of BBC2’s prestige late night live arts programme The Late Show in the 1990s and Night Waves, BBC Radio 3’s nightly cultural discussion programme.
She still contributes regularly to radio, and is an occasional presenter for BBC Radio 4’s opinion slot ”A Point of View”
Dunant started writing in her late twenties, first with a friend, with whom she produced two political thrillers and a six part BBC1 drama series Thin Air, broadcast in 1989, before going solo.
Her eleven subsequent novels have explored two genres: contemporary thrillers and historical fiction. What unites the two is her decision to use avowedly popular forms, characterised by compelling story telling, as a way to explore serious subject matter and reach large audiences. This has included (though not exclusively) a passionate commitment to feminism and the role of women inside history.
In the 1990s she wrote a trilogy around a British female private eye Hannah Wolfe, spotlighting issues like surrogacy, cosmetic surgery, animal rights, and violence to women. Sexual violence was also at the centre of “Transgressions” (based on a mysterious series of incidents happening in her house*2) which tackled what might happen if a woman woke to an intruder in her house and live to tell the tale. The resulting furore over the actions of the heroine “caused the book to become a cause celebre which triggered a debate about rape and popular culture.*(3)
In 2000, an extended visit to Florence changed her working life. In what she acknowledged was something of a midlife crisis * 4 Her old passion for history was reignited, a she started to research the impact of the renaissance on the city in the 1490’s. The result was The Birth of Venus, the first of a trilogy of novels about women’s lives in the Italian renaissance. The commercial success of these books in America and elsewhere (*5) allowed Dunant to devote herself full time to writing and research concentrating of the most current work being done in renaissance studies, most particularly concerning the lives of women. (*6) The novel Sacred Hearts, a story of nuns in an enclosed convent in 16th Ferrara led to collaboration with the early music group, Musica Secreta: a theatrical adaptation using the music of the period and with a choir, performed in churches and at early music festivals around Britain.
Since then she has been working on history of the Borgia family, seeking to separate the colourful historical truth from the smear and gossip that built up during their lives, and in history after their deaths. (*7) It has made her a passionate advocate for better historical accuracy in popular TV series like “The Borgias.” (*8)
As a journalist she has reviewed for all of the Uk’s papers, edited two books of Essays on Political Correctness and Millennium anxieties, and currently reviews for the New York Times.
Her crime novels were three times shortlisted for the CWA Golden dagger award, and in 1994 she won a silver dagger for Fatlands. (8*) In 2010 Sacred Hearts was shortlisted for the first ever Walter Scott Historical Fiction Prize, an award which highlighted the growing power and popularity of the form. (*9)
She is an accredited lecturer for NASFAS the UK arts charity, which promotes education and appreciation of fine arts.
In 2016 she was awarded an honorary doctorate of letters from Oxford Brookes University, where she is a guest lecturer on the Creative writing M.A. course.
She is married with two grown up daughters and divides her time between London and Italy.
In her journalism and public speaking she is an unrepentant liberal baby boomer, feminist and an advocate for legalisation of Marijuana *10 and *11) A Catholic by birth she has also written about the importance of religion in history and the need for Catholicism to reform itself. (*12)
- Exterminating Angels (co-written with Peter Busby as Peter Dunant), 1984
- Intensive Care (co-written with Peter Busby as Peter Dunant), 1986
- Snow Storms in a Hot Climate, 1988
- Birthmarks, 1991
- Fatlands, 1993
- The War of the Words: The Political Correctness Debate, 1994
- Under My Skin, 1995
- The Age of Anxiety, 1997
- Transgressions, 1997
- Mapping the Edge, 1999
- The Birth of Venus, 2003
- In the Company of the Courtesan, 2006
- Sacred Hearts, 2009
- Blood and Beauty, 2013
- In the Name of the Family, 2017
- 1993 Silver Dagger Award, for Crime Fiction, winner, Fatlands
- 2010 Walter Scott Prize, for historical fiction, shortlist, Sacred Hearts
- Smith, Dinitia (20 April 2004). "A Tale Born of Voices Echoing on Ancient Walls". The New York Times.
- Stanford, Peter (31 March 2006). "Sarah Dunant: Renaissance woman". The Independent.
- "Birthdays". The Guardian. Guardian Media. 8 Aug 2014. p. 39.
- Dunant, Sarah. "About". Sarah Dunant.
- Flood, Alison (2 April 2010). "Booker rivals clash again on Walter Scott prize shortlist". The Guardian.
1.Evening Standard 1999. Independent March13th Profile by Peter Stanford. 2006
2. Interview Weekend Times November 29, 1997
3. Mail on Sunday 18 May 1997. Guardian 27 May 1997. Sarah Dunant The Observer 1 June 1997. Joan Smith Sunday Times 8 June 1997. Evening Standard 27th Jan 2003. Good shock, bad shock.
4. New York Times article: Dinita Smith 2004.
5. Sunday Times 2004. BBC BOOK Club. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06pdlgb. Aitken Alexander Associates Literary Agency for further details http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/07/books/review/blood-and-beauty-the-borgias-by-sarah-dunant.html
6. Janet Maslin, reviews In the company of the Courtesan. New York Times March 2006
7.New York Times: Poison Incest. Intrigue The Borgias. Review 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/07/books/review/blood-and-beauty-the-borgias-by-sarah-dunant.html
8. Sarah Dunant.com. Blog on Borgias.
9. The Independent Martin Rowson Cartoon. Profile in Independent 31 March 2006( Peter Stanford)
10. “If the past is Another Country” Friday June 2, 2010 The Times.
11. BBC Radio 4 Point of View. Tribute to Teachers.
11. A POINT OF VIEW http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06py0lp
12. A POINT OF VIEW http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06pdlgb
- Official website
- Transcript of interview with Ramona Koval, The Book Show, ABC Radio National, 15 April 2007
- Sarah Dunant at British Council: Literature
- Sarah Dunant interview from Open2.net
- Listen to an audio slideshow interview with Sarah Dunant talking about Sacred Hearts on The Interview Online
- Sarah is a Fellow on the MA in Creative Writing at Oxford Brookes University