A true literary celebrity, Diana Athill was one of the best-regarded editors in publishing history. She discovered, championed and nurtured some of the most famous writers of the past 50 years, including Margaret Atwood, VS Naipul and Jean Rhys. The first female publishing editor of note, she was handpicked by Andre Deutsch to be the first director of his eponymous house in 1952, a role she remained in until the 1990s. Her own memoirs, mainly published in her retirement and dotage years, are highly acclaimed and show that Athill could easily have been a great writer herself had she opted to be the other side of the editing divide.
And, of course, she was a renowned shagger. Her only novel, Don’t Look at Me Like That, is a roman-a-clef about a young woman having an affair with a married man in 1950s London. She bedded Egyptian writers (who went on to kill themselves in her Primrose Hill flat), associates of Malcolm X (Hakim Jamal, who was later killed for sleeping with white women) and her longtime lover, Jamaican playwright Barry Reckord. Oh, and Barry Reckord’s girlfriend, who came to live with them. Truly 101 years that weren’t wasted.