Carmen is vigorously polishing one of our three telephones. I am just twenty-five, Canadian, new to Britain and in awe of this formidable woman but as there are only two of us in the office I feel emboldened to ask: “Why did you start Virago?” She looks up and without missing a beat, replies “To change the world, darling. That’s why.”
I know I am in the right place.
Following the chronology of the press where she has worked nearly since its founding, Lennie Goodings tells the story of the group of visionary publishers and writers who have made Virago one of the most important and influential publishers in the English-speaking world. Like the books she has edited and published—by writers ranging from Maya Angelou and Margaret Atwood to Sarah Waters and Naomi Wolf—Goodings’s contribution to the genre breaks new ground as well, telling a story of women in the world of work, offering much needed balance to the male-dominated genre of publishing memoirs, and chronicling a critical aspect of the history of feminism: how women began to assume control over the production of their own books.
Part memoir, part literary history, and part reflection on more than forty years of feminist publishing, A Bite of the Apple is a story of idealism and pragmatism, solidarity and individual ambition, of challenges met and the battles not yet won—and, above all, a steadfast celebration of the making and reading of books.
Lennie Goodings is Chair of the UK publishing house Virago Press. Her authors include, amongst many others, Margaret Atwood, Maya Angelou, Sarah Waters, Natasha Walter, Sandi Toksvig and Marilynne Robinson. Goodings was part of Virago's management buy-out team of five who created a newly independent Virago in 1987 and became the Publishing Director in 1992. In 1995 Virago was sold to Little, Brown where Goodings remained the Publisher and Editorial Director. She stepped back from that position in 2017 and became Virago Chair, still editing and commissioning her authors. Lennie Goodings won the Bookseller's Industry Award: Editor and Imprint of the Year in 2010 and A Lifetime's Achievement at WOW, London's Southbank Women of the World festival in 2018. Born in Canada, she came to London in her early twenties and has remained there since.
Praise for A Bite of the Apple
"All an apple should be: crisp, tart but sweet, steeped in mysterious history and tangled symbolism, and not a bad missile when it comes to alleyway combat. Oh, and delicious!"—Margaret Atwood
"Lively, frank, fascinating—and above all, inspiring. A celebration of boldness: of wanting something better and making change happen."—Sarah Waters
"There is so very much to enjoy—and learn about—in this engaging book. We meet a young Lennie from Canada, in love with books, who lands a job at Virago and over the years survives and steers many of its changes to ensure its safety and vibrancy. Along the way, we track the changes in the publishing industry, in feminist thought and practice, and encounter the magnificence of Virago authors. A wonderful memoir and such a great read."—Susie Orbach
"An indispensable piece of feminist history; nothing less than the exciting story of how women found their voice—and made society listen. I enjoyed it hugely."—Caroline Criado Perez
"Behind every great book there is a great editor. And behind every feminist press, a remarkable set of women. Lennie Goodings is one of both."—Sarah Dunant