Q&A with Marina Warner

We speak to the chair of judges for the Man Booker International Prize 2015. Plus the latest higher education appointments

October 10, 2013

Source: Dan Welldon

Marina Warner will be chair of judges for the Man Booker International Prize 2015. The professor in the department of literature, film and theatre studies at the University of Essex is known for books including Alone of All Her Sex, on the cult of the Virgin Mary, and Stranger Magic: Charmed States and the Arabian Nights.

Where and when were you born?
In Paddington, London, in November 1946; moved to Cairo in the spring of 1947.

How has this shaped you?
Strongly: my father was English, my mother Italian. Combined with my early years in Cairo, my background has made me both a native and a foreigner.

How significant was your convent school education?
Central. At the time, the low expectations and ladylike skills felt diminishing; but I now realise that the nuns were marvellously dedicated and colourful teachers, and I was remarkably well educated.

Describe your current job in no more than 140 characters
I teach literature, and argue for the central importance of imagination for individuals and society.

What’s your favourite novel?
It keeps changing. Apuleius’ The Golden Ass; The Arabian Nights; Elizabeth Bowen’s The Death of the Heart; Boris Vian’s L’ecume des jours (recently translated as Foam of the Daze); Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities.

How great a responsibility is chairing the Man Booker Prize judges?
We’re all of us already readers who mind about good writing and work to bring it more into the light. But that leaves a lot of scope for differing and arguing!

Have you had a eureka moment?
Yes, when a teacher explained to me that “sunset” was a metaphor, as the Sun didn’t actually sink.

What advice would you give to your younger self?
To worry less about not pleasing people.

Who have you always admired?
Christine de Pisan, 15th-century writer, historian, poet and passionate argufier, especially against male detractors of women. Surprisingly successful in her day; she married but was widowed early, and had a child. She gave spirited responses to events in her own time, praising her contemporary, Joan of Arc.

In the past decade, what has changed most in higher education?
Cruel, time-wasting competition for scarce resources between institutions; lack of respect for teaching; rise of expenditure on management and fundraising.

What are the best and worst things about your job?
Best: colleagues. Worst: parking.

As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
Sing opera.

What do you do for fun?
Wander about cities, looking at memorials, exploring buildings (churches), watching people.

What’s your biggest regret?
That I haven’t written fiction to match my vision of what I could do … but I am still hoping!

What’s an undergraduate degree worth?
A great deal - and the chance to get one is still shamefully restricted. Studying for three years is nourishing in a broader sense, and the pressure on students to earn while studying is one of the disastrous effects of the rise in tuition fees.



Johnjoe McFadden, professor of molecular genetics, has been appointed associate dean (international) for the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences at the University of Surrey.

Liverpool Hope University has made four appointments across its Faculty of Arts and Humanities. Florian Zollmann joins as lecturer in media, and Sarah Macmillan and Kate Ash will become postdoctoral teaching fellows in English literature. Kris Darby joins the faculty as a postdoctoral teaching fellow in drama.

Loretta Lees has been appointed chair of human geography at the University of Leicester. Previously professor of geography at King’s College London, she was this year made an academician of the Academy of Social Sciences.

Daniel Rowan, lecturer in audiology in the Hearing and Balance Centre at the University of Southampton, has been awarded the prestigious Denzil Brooks Trophy from the British Society of Audiology in recognition of his outstanding contributions to promoting excellence in clinical practice as chair of the society’s Professional Practice Committee.

The Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) has appointed Naomi Weir as assistant director. Ms Weir was most recently a senior policy analyst at the University Alliance.

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