by Willa Cather
Willa Cather was one of the most important authors we reprinted in the Virago Modern Classics. No one has written better about the pull of solitude. In The Professor’s House, the ageing professor has a wife and daughters he loves, but thinks about ‘eternal solitude with gratefulness, as a release from obligation’.
The juxtaposition of another story, of a young man who feels pure energy – ‘Nothing tired me. Up there, alone, I seemed to get the solar energy in some direct way’ – with the overcrowded and now rather stuffy life of the professor is extraordinary. It’s the book I give most often to friends.
by Ford Madox Ford
I read a huge number of novels in my twenties. This was my first encounter with an unreliable narrator. It’s a tale of two couples, the Dowells and the Ashburnhams, who meet regularly in the spas of Europe.
They are not what they seem, and the unreliability of the facts, the shifting of identities, the grandiosity of the hopes, the endless disappointments, the huge emotional confusions and betrayals, the driving power of sex and love, all described in his bumbling way by the narrator Dowell, leave me devastated each time I read it. It makes you wonder what we can know about people – a very unsettling novel, but a great one.
by Mary McCarthy
I went to Florence for the first time with my husband when we were in our mid twenties. This was the most wonderful companion. Mary McCarthy combines history, art criticism, politics and social observation, and finds wonderful secret places – hidden churches, palazzos, little restaurants. Her description of the Donatello Mary Magdalene is deeply moving. I’ve never forgotten that ten days, and she was part of it.
by George Eliot
I read Middlemarch in a mountain village above Beirut in 1967. We had driven there from Oxford just after the 1967 war, and found a little summer house in Shemlan. I felt very homesick, and started reading the novel. There on the terrace, with grapes hanging down, and a spectacular view of the Mediterranean, I became absorbed in these people’s lives – Dorothea, Lydgate, Rosamund, the Bulstrodes. What I most love is that Eliot’s characters all possess ‘inner space’ – she analyses minutely their hearts and minds. Still my favourite 19th century novel.
by Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said
I’ve lived and travelled in the Middle East quite a lot and Edward Said has been important to me for years. So has Barenboim; his recent performances in London of the Beethoven piano concertos were simply astonishing. Parallels and Paradoxes: Explorations in Music and Society is the result of conversations between them. They talk about performance; how music is a means of defying silence; the differences between writing prose and music; the need for an ‘artistic solution’ to the Middle East crisis. Together they founded the West East Divan orchestra, with young musicians from Israel and Palestine: a heroic enterprise.
by Carolyn Steedman
We published this at Virago in the 80s, a time of huge rethinking of social relations and political culture. I was proud to be the editor for this book, which in some ways marked a turning point in how history was written, though it’s not history in any traditional sense of the word.
Finally, after all the scholarship boys’ stories, here is the scholarship girls’ version – angry young women catching up with Angry Young Men. It tells you about mothers and daughters, about class and the politics of envy, about the good father, working class conservatism, generational memory, about clothes and about women who don’t want children. It’s still read by students all over the world, and quite right too.
by Primo Levi
Primo Levi was a chemist, and chemistry may have saved his life at Auschwitz, where he was picked to work in a IG Farben factory. My father was also a chemist, and tried, without much success, to enthuse me about it. I did Chemistry at A level, and learned the Periodic Table – which Levi says is ‘the missing link between the world of words and world of things’. This book is a gem: 21 stories, each with the name of a chemical element. They include experiences of life in concentration camps, legacies from the profession of chemistry, what chemistry meant to him as a schoolboy. It made me see, as nothing else did, the beauty of the subject.
by Jumpa Lahiri
I recently discovered Jumpa Lahiri, who writes about Indian immigrants to America (where she lives). Her language is wonderfully and powerfully plain and her stories are about people who have assimilated into their new countries, something I’m particularly interested in as that’s what my family did here. Unaccustomed Earth looks at what becomes
of the second and third generations, no longer so constrained, as their parents were, by their communities of origin. They are stories of love and loss and belonging, or not, often unbearably poignant, and I read them over and over.
Ursula Owen is one of the founders of feminist publishers Virago Press
Grassroots posters giving an alternative take on the general election
Hundreds of people surrounded the fences this weekend. Hera Lorandos spoke to women who have suffered inside.
Laying out the case for Labour's leadership of a Progressive Alliance, Jeremy Gilbert argues that far from posing a threat to the Left, the Progressive Alliance offers a golden opportunity to end Tory rule and build a 21st century government committed to social justice
The Greens have stood down in Brighton Kemptown to clear the way for Labour, and the Lib Dems won’t stand in Brighton’s other seat, Green-held Pavilion. Davy Jones, who would have been the Green candidate in Kemptown, says this shows the way forward
The snap general election represents a unique opportunity to defeat this terrible government. We believe that visual artists have a crucial role to play!
Drax is the UK's biggest source of CO2 emissions – and we're paying for it, writes Almuth Ernsting
For the past 3 years, Barby Asante and members of London-based artists' collective, sorryyoufeeluncomfortable, have been responding directly to the vision of James Baldwin. Ahead of the nationwide release of a new film about the American activist and author, they reflect on the enduring relevance of Baldwin in Britain today.
Housing campaigners' gains in Bristol are spurring on a national movement to build a renters' union, writes Stuart Melvin
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports
On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.
Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns
The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections
In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines
Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.
West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective
How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences
The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally
Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill