Publishing legend and founder of Virago Press, Dame Carmen Callil, spoke at the Writers Rebel action on Tufton Street on September 2 2020.
She drew out the links between the foundation of Virago Press and the younger generations now fighting for equality and climate justice.
I am always being asked about why and how I founded Virago, the publishing house I established in 1972 to celebrate, encourage, and make available, the long long tradition of women as writers and thinkers, and human beings whose lives had been so long hidden from history.
What I usually say, is that with whatever is left of my flesh – I am now 82 and creaky – I passionately hope that younger women and men than I am now, will leap up to set the darkness we live in these days echoing with their shouts and actions, will act to change things, and to defend the liberal, compassionate and irreverent imagination of my youth.
But replace Virago, an old hat subject now, with the disasters facing the world we live in today. Replace the subjection and side -lining of women throughout history with what we have done to our marvellous planet, to the wonderful animals, plants, and human beings who live on it. Consider the cruelty and disregard we offer the first two – animals and plants – and the gross, gross and never – ending inequality we offer most of the human beings on this earth.
What I am saying here is that change isn’t static, and we need it NOW.
And yes, I am complaining about Boris Johnson and his galère, I am complaining about Brexit, I am complaining about Jeremy Corbyn, about all our political parties, and I am complaining that I am too old to start a new political grouping of all of us who care for the earth, for all that grows on it, for its animals and its human beings. We must demand tolerance, plurality, openness, for our civilisation such as it is, in the north, south, east and west of the British Isles – I would add the world here, but I have always been hostile to the global assumptions of the West.
It is ludicrous that we never achieve a British government which will implement at least some of our demands for the creation of a better society here, and for a concerted defence of our planet. All you of younger generations have to fight with, is the divided political parties we have – why won’t such parties form a coalition to replace the monstrous regiment of persons we are afflicted with in Britain today?
We need a united coalition of like-minded political parties, whatever odd differences they have, who nevertheless believe in some of what we believe in. Such a grouping must create an economics that defends and protects our earth, our animals, our seas, our skies, and in particular stops the disasters facing us NOW, for it is the weakest on the planet who are suffering and will suffer most from Covid this time around, and the next – because Pandemics and environmental destruction go together and will keep on coming.
It is such an honour to be able to talk to you all this evening, all of you fighting for change and justice, and in particular in this place, Tufton Street, which houses so many organisations, businessmen and politicians, the monstrous regiment which and who, are, quite simply, enemies of our planet, and of all who live and grow on it.
Dame Carmen Callil, has been a phenomenon on the British literary scene since her arrival in London from Australia in 1964. Almost ten years later, 1973, she founded Virago Press. She has judged the Booker Prize and was a founder of the Groucho Club. Her own book Bad Faith: A Forgotten History of Family & Fatherland was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize. She is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
You can watch Carmen Callil’s speech here.