LUNCH WITH THE FT: Carmen Callil: ‘You have to be difficult if you want to change the world’
The pioneering publisher of books written by and about women, has been called Miss Piggy and a militant feminist, but that’s far better than being an English elite
There is a convention among interviewers that you wait for dessert, when the knives have been cleared and a sense of camaraderie has set in, to ask your trickiest questions. I should have guessed that Carmen Callil — founder of Virago Press, publisher of Margaret Atwood, Maya Angelou and Angela Carter, a woman who accused Philip Roth of “going on and on and on” — would have no time for such cowardliness. I have barely started on my pork terrine when she strikes.
“I do feel that you must have had a terrible time reading about me,” she says. “Every year at Chatto [& Windus, the publishing imprint] — which I ran for over a decade — we have an annual dinner. And this year I made a speech, and I apologised to them for being a difficult woman. Because I definitely was, and am, probably. But, you know, sometimes you have to be difficult if you want to change the world. You can’t do it by being ... mimsy.”