Join Bristol Women’s Literature Festival and D.M Withers for a workshop of discovery through the Virago Archive.
Virago Press (established 1972) were the first commercial publisher in Britain to popularise the market category of ‘women’s writing’. Since the mid-70s Virago has brought a wide range of feminist fiction and non-fiction to readers, ranging over books inspired by the politics of the Women’s Liberation Movement, forgotten ‘classics’ by authors like Sylvia Townsend Warner, Rebecca West and Stevie Smith and new works by rising literary stars such as Angela Carter, Pat Barker and Sarah Waters, among others.
If you are a fan of women’s writing, many Virago books probably sit on your shelves. As you turn their pages, have you ever questioned how the company became one of the most successful publishing brands of the late twentieth century? Have you ever wondered about the challenges Virago faced, as a feminist publisher, when they attempted to marry a political commitment to publishing books by women, with the financial need to run a profitable and sustainable company?
This workshop will delve into the history of Virago of the late 70s, a time when the company was on the cusp of significant, mass-market success. Drawing on archive materials relating to the Modern Classics and other, less celebrated Virago titles like Bombers and Mash (1980) by Raynes Minns, we will explore how Virago diversified its publishing strategies at this stage in order to reach new readers and generate profit. This workshop will also consider why the relationship between Virago and the feminist movement was, sometimes, marked by tensions and misunderstanding through consideration of the publication of Half the Sky: Introduction to Women’s Studies by Bristol Women’s Study Group (1979).
D-M Withers is currently Research Fellow on the Leverhulme funded project The Business of Women’s Words: Purpose and Profit in Feminist Publishing, based at the British Library. Their publications include The Feminist Revolution: The Struggle for Women’s Liberation, 1966-1988 and Feminism, Digital Culture and the Politics of Transmission: Theory, Practice and Cultural Heritage. They are currently writing a short book, Virago Modern Classics: The Timely Business of Feminist Publishing, for Cambridge University Press’s Publishing and Book Culture ‘Elements’ series.