Legendary editor and writer Diana Athill turns 100

Diana Athill's distinguished career in literature includes writing award-winning memoirs and publishing iconic writers like Mordecai Richler.
British editor and author Diana Athill worked with many of the great authors in literature, including Norman Mailer, Mordecai Richler, Jack Kerouac, V.S. Naipaul, Philip Roth, Mavis Gallant and Simone de Beauvoir. (Jeff Spicer/Getty Images)

Distinguished editor and writer Diana Athill turns 100 years old on Dec. 21, 2017. 

Athill led a tremendous career in publishing for several decades and is a revered editor in Britain. She's worked with some of the most influential writers in English-language literature, including Mordecai Richler, Mavis Gallant, Philip Roth, Simone de Beauvoir and V.S. Naipaul.

After achieving success as an editor and founding director of the publisher André Deutsch, Athill began writing her own stories. Her acclaimed and revealing memoirs about her editing career became bestsellers. Somewhere Towards The End, published in 2008, won the Costa Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award.

Montreal's Richler is someone she reflects on fondly in her 2000 memoir StetIn an interview with Eleanor Wachtel on Writers & Company in 2001, she said Richler was "absolutely unchanged by being famous and successful."

"Mordecai I always liked very much and I can't think why because in those days when he was young, he was the most silent person you can possibly imagine. He had no small talk whatsoever. If Mordecai didn't have anything to say, he didn't say anything. But in some extraordinary way, one still knew that he was a dear man and funny and nice and one loved him dearly," said Athill in her interview.

Athill says her love for books started at her grandmother's house, where she spent a great deal of her childhood. 

"It was absolutely taken for granted that books were everywhere. Books were read all the time... when you weren't outside riding [horses], you were inside reading," said Athill in her interview with Wachtel.

"I was absolutely an omnivorous reader as a child. I think I read things I didn't understand quite often. I remember reading all the novels of George Meredith, which were extremely verbose and tiresome books. My grandmother started us all off [on reading] in our family. She was the most wonderful reader aloud."

Listen to Athill's full interview with Eleanor Wachtel below:

The British literary editor, novelist and memoirist celebrated her 100th birthday on December 21st, 2017. To mark the occasion, Writers & Company looks back on Eleanor's conversation with Athill in 2001. 52:28

Producer: Sandra Rabinovitch

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