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Professor Marina Warner elected first female President of the Royal Society of Literature

Marina Warner, Professor of English and Creative Writing at Birkbeck, has been elected as the 19th President of the Royal Society of Literature (RSL). She will be the first woman to hold this position since the Society was founded in 1820. 

Professor Warner said on the appointment: “It is a huge honour and a great surprise to become President of the RSL. Literature has been my life – reading, writing, listening. I believe it matters to all of us, as individuals and in our relations with one another, now and stretching back to the past.

“Literature is storytelling and argument, thinking and remembering, entertainment and consolation; it’s a memory bank and a tool kit for discoveries of all kinds. Novels, plays, poems – writing in every genre – multiply the places where inquiry, dissent, passion, dream, hope, laughter, reflection, surprises and visions can happen.

“These are strange, uneasy times. Ursula LeGuin is right when she says, ‘Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words.’

“The RSL has been committed ever since it was founded in 1820 to furthering the making, reading, discussion and enjoyment of literature in all its variety. I am proud – and touched – to become the first woman to be entrusted with the Presidency. Literature matters, now more than ever.”

The RSL is Britain’s national charity for the advancement of literature. It honours and encourages great writing through Fellowships and literary awards, engages the public in literature through events, publications and outreach to schools, and acts as a voice for the value of literature.

Lisa Appignanesi, Chair of the RSL said: “It is both an honour and a delight to have the great Marina Warner take on the mantle of the RSL Presidency. She is a woman of resonant imagination and intelligence, as well as a writer of the highest distinction. I know she will guide the RSL to new heights as we move towards our bicentenary in 2020.”

Professor Warner was first elected a Fellow of the RSL in 1984. As well as her Professorship at Birkbeck, she is a celebrated novelist, short-story writer, historian and mythographer. She was made DBE in 2015, and awarded the Holberg Prize in the Arts and Humanities in the same year.

Professor David Latchman, Master at Birkbeck said: “Marina is an exceptional academic, whose talent and tenacity have led to a remarkable set of achievements - of which her appointment as President of the RSL is just the latest.

Her contributions to both Birkbeck and to the field of literature more generally are extraordinary, and we would like to extend our congratulations to her on this new appointment.”

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Published: 06 April 2017