Virago and the Modern World: From Second Wave Feminism to Corporate Publishing
Kingston University, London
Supervisor: Professor Norma Clarke
I am researching the transition of Virago Press from independent, pioneering feminist publisher to a niche women’s only imprint within a major publishing conglomerate. I will be examining the ways in which the changing status of the company relates to wider changes in the feminist movement. From the 1970s to the present day the history of Virago follows the move from second-wave to fourth-wave feminism. I will look at the launch of Virago in 1973 as a radical start-up founded on feminist principles with the aim of publishing and publicising women’s words and voices. I will then trace its transforming status through the 1980s and 1990s when it was bought and sold by mainstream houses and look at its changing publishing programme with each new incarnation. Finally, I will assess the impact of its acquisition by the global conglomerate Hachette on its list of titles and its relationship with contemporary feminism. Virago is the only one of the original group of second wave feminist publishers that is still actively publishing books today. The other houses folded and closed under commercial pressure. I will examine the various ways in which feminist voices now reach the public, looking at blogs and online/self-published works, as well as key texts by feminist thinkers that are published as one-offs on mainstream publisher’s lists. I will show how today’s fourth wave feminist writers and thinkers need to be entrepreneurial in order to get their message across, just as Virago’s original founders were pioneers and entrepreneurs in setting up the list in the first place.