We are saddened to hear the news that our Honorary Fellow and alumna, Dame Antonia Susan Byatt, has died.
Dame Antonia (1958, BLitt English, née Drabble) is hailed as one of the UK’s most significant writers and critics since the Second World War. Born in Sheffield as the child of a judge and an academic, Dame Antonia came to Somerville in 1958 following studies at Newnham College, Cambridge and Bryn Mawr College in the United States. She suffered badly from asthma as a child, and the resulting periods of recuperation and seclusion allowed her to develop a voracious passion for reading and storytelling. She met her first husband Ian Byatt at Oxford, and moved with him to Durham following their marriage in 1959.
She pursued a career in teaching to support her writing activity and published her first novel, Shadow of a Sun, in 1964. Her writing career was temporarily halted by an awful tragedy in 1972, when her 11 year-old son Charles was killed by a drunk driver. She recovered and published The Virgin in the Garden in 1978. The book’s success allowed her to retire from teaching in 1983 to work as a full-time writer.
Dame Antonia won many plaudits for her work, which spanned ten novels, six short story collections, four novellas, nine critical studies, and five edited volumes. Her 1990 novel Possession: A Romance was awarded the prestigious Booker Prize for Fiction, and her 2009 work The Children’s Book was also nominated for the award, as well as winning the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. Her writing also won international recognition, including the Irish Times International Fiction Prize; the Commonwealth Writers Prize (Eurasia region); the Premio Malaparte (Italy); the Shakespeare Prize (Germany); the Erasmus Prize (Netherlands); the Park Kyong-ni Prize (South Korea); the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement; and the Hans Christian Andersen Literature Award (Denmark).
She was appointed CBE in the 1990 New Year Honours, and DBE for ‘Services to literature’ in the 1999 Birthday Honours. She also received honours from eleven UK universities, including an Honorary Fellowship from Somerville. In 2008, the Times named her as one of the 50 greatest British writers since 1945.
You can read Dame Antonia’s Obituary in The Guardian here: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2023/nov/17/as-byatt-dame-antonia-byatt-obituary