Ursula Owen has been a significant figure in the worlds of literature and free expression since the 1970s. A founding director of Virago Press in 1974, she worked there with a committed team as the company rapidly developed an international reputation, repositioning and rediscovering women writers and, over two decades, transforming both the literary canon and the contemporary publishing world.
During the 1990s, Owen became Cultural Policy Advisor to the Labour Party and Chief Executive of Index on Censorship. Yet behind these and other signal achievements lies the story of a refugee, a child who fled the Nazis, was educated at Putney High School, went up to Oxford, worked as a psychiatric social worker, travelled extensively, married and became a mother. In this compelling memoir, we discover an extraordinary life, with all its messiness, and meet a woman who’s always fought for ideas against a background of the tumultuous conflicts of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
‘Movingly honest, an important memoir about life, publishing and feminism, and so much more.’ —Philippe Sands, author of East West Street
‘Fascinating and inspiring, honest and raw, passionately true to what matters to her most.’ —Esther Freud
‘Owen has for decades been a potent figure in the world of literature, yet as her sensitive, vital memoir reveals, she traversed radically different worlds to get there. Born to German Jews in 1937, she recalls how the family only narrowly escapes to Britain, where her mother’s mental health promptly unravels. Owen comes of age with little sense of what she herself wants, but with revolution in the air, she’s soon juggling career, motherhood and men. Look out for lively cameos from the likes of Maya Angelou, who saves her from choking on a piece of steak.’ —Hephzibah Anderson, The Guardian
‘Born in England in 1937 of secular bourgeois Jewish-German heritage, the “conformist child” quickly realised that she and her siblings would be her parents’ route to assimilation in their new country, and the first part of this book is a fascinating memoir of a girl with a foot in two cultures, trying to find her own path in life as her mother’s mental health deteriorated and she feared, from an early age, that she would one day develop schizophrenia herself.’ —Alastair Mabbott, The Herald
‘She writes with an endearing modesty: her style is simple and direct. Imbued with the effort of achieving scrupulous accuracy, her frankness is disarming.’ —Sue Gaisford, Financial Times
‘The editor and publisher Ursula Owen has always considered herself an outsider. A very English German, a very Jewish Christian, a radical in a conservative world, a conservative in a radical world. Owen has often wanted to belong, to be quietly accepted. At the same time, part of her has always laughed, or scowled, in the face of convention.’ —Simon Hattenstone, The Guardian