a lady of letters

Diana Athill has this week celebrated her 94th birthday.

Her birthday is a fact I learned in the course of reading her wonderful new opus, ‘Instead of a Book: Letters to a Friend’ (Granta Books).

Athill has enjoyed a late-flowering literary career after a working life spent ensuring other people’s books found their way into print.

Authors like Margaret Atwood, Jean Rhys, Norman Mailer and a long list of other giants of 20th century literature published by Andre Deutsch Ltd.

Her memoir about that life in publishing, ‘Stet,’ was the first of her books that I came across a decade ago.

Since then, I’ve devoured pretty much everything she’s written.

What I love about her writing is that you can hear her distinctive voice, loud and clear.

‘Somewhere Towards The End,’ her recent memoir about growing old, was an international success.

And I’m really enjoying ‘Instead of a Book,’ which is her half of a 30-year correspondence with the American poet Edward Field.

I can’t imagine anyone keeping a collection of emails or social media data over a 30 year period and it having the depth and insight displayed in Athill’s letters, so thank goodness Field had the foresight to keep hold of them.

Diana Athill – Instead of a Book – promo clip

Diana Athill – good and bad sides of being an Editor

Diana Athill – Granta Books profile


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