Today in Literary History – December 21, 2017 – Diana Athill is born

Diana Athill, the literary editor, memoirist and novelist is celebrating her 100th birthday today. She was born on December 21, 1917, during the First World War, and is still an avid reader, supplying generous blurbs for new books she admires. Her most recent book, Alive, Alive Oh!, was published just last year.


She was born into a genteel British family and graduated from Oxford University in 1939. During the Second World War she worked for the Overseas Service of the BBC.

After the war she helped her friend André Deutsch set up a publishing house that would become hugely influential in the 1960s and seventies.

Among the authors whose works Athill nurtured are Jean Rhys, V.S. Naipaul, Molly Keane and Stevie Smith. She also worked closely with many North American writers whose works Deutsch published in the UK, including Philip Roth, Norman Mailer, Jack Kerouac and the Canadians Margaret Atwood, Mordecai Richler and Brian Moore.


After her retirement from André Deutsch in 1993 she published ten volumes of memoirs, such as Stet: A Memoir and Yesterday Morning: a Very English Childhood.

Her memoirs recounted her personal and professional lives and often confronted some of the difficult episodes in her troubled love life, including her stormy affair with the Egyptian novelist Waguih Ghali who committed suicide in her flat.


I have enjoyed the memoirs by Athill that I have read over the years. He style is simple and unadorned and she conveys great joy and unbearable sorrow with equal passion.

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