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15 November 2016

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Alumna Ursula Owen Features in Recent BBC Documentary

Black and white photo of Harriet Spicer, Carmen Callil and Ursula Owen in 1973

A recent BBC documentary following the founding and subsequent history of feminist publisher Virago Press features St Hugh’s alumna Ursula Owen, one of the Press’s founding directors. Virago was established in 1973 by Carmen Callil, Rosie Boycott and Marsha Rowe, with the aim of being ‘the first mass-market publisher for 52 per cent of the population – women. An exciting new imprint for both sexes in a changing world.’ Ursula Owen became a director in 1974 having joined in the company’s first year and joint managing director in 1982. In the last 40 years, Virago have been responsible for rediscovering, reprinting and publishing a vast collection of feminist thinkers and writers, from George Eliot, Willa Cather, Maya Angelou and Elaine Showalter, to another of our alumna Mary Renault (born Eileen Mary Challans) who read English in 1928.

The documentary entitled, ‘Virago: Changing the World One Page at a Time’, emphasises the revolutionary nature of the Press’s history, stating, ‘This is the account of a determined group of women from 1973 to today – writers and readers who fueled a revolution in how the world sees women and how women see themselves.’ The full-length version can be found via BBC iPlayer:

Ursula Owen returned to St Hugh’s in 2015 as part of a panel discussing the current state and future prospects of literary publishing and small presses, at a conference entitled, ‘Literary Activism: A Symposium’, organised by Professor Elleke Boehmer and St Hugh’s English Tutorial Fellow, Professor Peter McDonald.


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