Diana Athill dies at 101

Diana Athill dies at 101

Publisher Granta has confirmed the death of acclaimed memoirist and long-time editor Diana Athill, at the age of 101.

Athill died last night (Wednesday 23rd January) following a short illness.

Athill helped Andre Deutsch establish his eponymous publishing company in 1951 and had a stellar five-decade editing career there, during which she worked with authors including Philip Roth, John Updike, Simone de Beauvoir, Vidia Naipaul and Jean Rhys. She had written some earlier fiction and memoir, including Instead of a Letter (1963) and After a Funeral (1986), but had notable success with her book Stet: An Editor's Life, published in 2000 when she was already in her eighties, which contained frank recollections of her working relationships with the idiosyncratic Deutsch and his authors.

Stet was followed by several more books, including Somewhere Towards the End, which won the Costa Prize for Biography in 2008, and Alive, Alive Oh!, published for her 99th birthday, which explored her experiences of moving into a residential home.

Athill was the subject of a 2010 BBC documentary, “Growing Old Disgracefully” (part of the Imagine series), shared her "Desert Island Discs" on BBC Radio 4 in 2004 and guest edited the "Today" programme on BBC Radio 4 in December 2010. She received an OBE in the 2009 New Year's Honours.

Her work was published in 12 territories around the world including USA, Canada, Italy, Korea and Brazil.

Granta publisher Sigrid Rausing said: "How does one describe Diana’s work? Writers are sometimes startlingly different from their writing, offering a front to the world either through their personas or their words, or perhaps a combination of both. Diana’s work, by contrast, was somehow exactly like herself: formidable, truthful, often amusing.

"She was a soldier for clarity and precision, a clever and competent young woman brought by a combination of forces to a heady mix of London publishing and post-war love affairs. It is tempting to see one as the counterpoint of the other - sexual passion vs editorial discipline. I think the combination strengthened her, certainly as a writer, and probably as an editor (and lover) too.

"She had, in any case, the rare ability to grow seemingly stronger, not weaker, with everything life brought her, transcending the prejudices of her day and learning from mistakes. And what a writer she was. You can faintly perceive traces of Diana, the fluid rhythm, the steady intelligence, even in the books she edited - I am thinking particularly of Jo Langer's fine memoir of bleak and dangerous post-war Prague, My Life with a Good Communist. 

"Diana was an institution at Granta. News of - yet another! - new book was always greeted with unanimous glee and joy in acquisitions meetings. We will miss her indomitable spirit.”

Athill's books sold 170,282 copies at a value of £1.5m in the Nielsen BookScan era, via the TCM, with Somewhere Towards the End, published in 2008, her bestseller at 73,954 copies.