Conversation: A Bookstore of One's Own: The Making of Persephone Books
Nicola Beauman in conversation with Mary Warnement
As bookstores around the world face declining sales, mergers, and even closures, one small, London-based publisher-bookstore has managed to thrive while dealing in an unexpectedly niche category: out-of-print books by women writers. Persephone Books—named after the Greek goddess as a symbol of creativity—started out as a small mail-order publishing business but ballooned into its current cult status after Persephone Book No. 21, Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day by Winifred Watson, became a word-of-mouth bestseller and, later on, adapted into a film starring Frances McDormand as Miss Pettigrew. Today, Persephone Books has a devoted and passionate following that continues to grow alongside the publisher-bookseller’s exceptional list of reprinted publications. As founder Nicola Beauman puts it, “the connection between [the books] is that they were forgotten and they’re very well written.”
Join us in a virtual conversation with Nicola Beauman to learn more about the origins of her business as well as the books that have made it famous.
Nicola Beauman née Mann was born in 1944 and brought up in London. After reading English at Cambridge she married Nicholas Lacey, the architect, worked in New York as a journalist and in an art gallery, and in London in publishing and as a fiction reviewer; her five children were born between 1968 and 1985. In 1976 she married the economist Christopher Beauman. A Very Great Profession: The Woman’s Novel 1914-39, her first book, was published by Virago in 1983 (reprinted 1989 and 1995); it was reissued in 2008, twenty-five years after first publication, as a Persephone book. Cynthia Asquith appeared in 1987, Morgan: A Biography of EM Forster in 1993, and The Other Elizabeth Taylor was published in April 2009 as A Persephone Life. Nicola Beauman founded Persephone Books in 1998. It was set up to reprint (mostly) women writers, (mostly) of the inter-war period portrayed in A Very Great Profession, and now has over a hundred titles in print.
Mary Warnement joined the staff of the Boston Athenæum in 2002 and became William D. Hacker Head of Reader Services in 2009. She has an MS in library and information science from Simmons University and an MA in medieval studies from the University of Toronto. Warnement enjoys fielding questions dealing with all time periods across all cultures, not to mention helping readers find what should be next on their list.