The Next Chapter

Canadian book editor Lennie Goodings looks back at 3 famous writers she published over her illustrious career

The Canadian publisher of U.K.'s Virago Press talks about working with writers Maya Angelou, Margaret Atwood and Sarah Waters.
Lennie Goodings is a Canadian-born publisher active in the United Kingdom. (Biblioasis, Charlie Hopkinson)

This segment originally aired on Jan. 2, 2021.

Canadian-born Lennie Goodings is the longtime publisher of U.K. Virago Press, a feminist groundbreaker for its celebration of women writers. 

Goodings' 2020 memoir is called A Bite of the Apple. The book describes the satisfaction of working with and discovering female authors. 

Goodings spoke with The Next Chapter to talk about three of the most memorable writers she's worked with: Maya Angelou, Margaret Atwood and Sarah Waters. 

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou was an American poet, memoirist and civil rights activist. (Random House Trade Paperbacks, Katy Winn/Getty Images)

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou is an extraordinary memoir. It's one of the best ever written. It was originally published in America in 1969, and Maya used to tell us that her book had been sent to British publishers in the 1960s and early 1970s. And everybody in Britain, according to Angelou, told her no one would be interested in the story of a young Black girl growing up in the southern states. So everybody turned it down. 

"But we found it in 1984. Angelou's most famous phrase was 'My mission in life is not only merely to survive, but to thrive and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humour and style.' 

"I can see her saying that — she'd be up on the stage, dancing and being sexy, and people would respond to that. Taking her around Britain was like taking a glass of water to parched earth — people just drank her in."

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood won the Giller in 1996. (Bill Becker/Canadian Press, McClelland & Stewart)

"All her books are so fabulous. She puts women at the core of her stories and she's honest about women. The book I especially warmed to was Alias Grace, which was based on the true story of Grace Marks — was she or wasn't she a murderer? 

"One of the things that's great about that book is that everybody, men and women, impose their view on who Grace Marks is. So you never know: Is she a villain? Is she a seductress? Is she totally innocent? You don't know.

"It's a brilliant story."

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

Sarah Waters is a Welsh novelist. (McClelland & Stewart, Charlie Hopkinson)

"Sarah Waters came into our lives in the early 1990s. I became her editor in 1998. She felt that there was very little storytelling about lesbians in history and that the stories were either lost or buried. So she felt like there was this kind of clear slate — she could write her own stories.

"Fingersmith is set in London in the 19th century and it's almost Dickensian. Fingersmith means 'pickpocket.' With her, I think you will believe anything she tells you because she's such a seductive and shapeshifting storyteller."

Lennie Goodings's comments have been edited for length and clarity. 

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