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Winterson, Jeanette

Jeanette Winterson

Elected: 2016

Year of birth: 1959

Image credit: Sam Churchill

Jeanette Winterson was born in Manchester, England in 1959.

She was adopted and brought up in Accrington, Lancashire, in the north of England. Her strict Pentecostal Evangelist upbringing provides the background to her acclaimed first novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, published in 1985. She graduated from St Catherine’s College, Oxford, and moved to London where she worked as an assistant editor at Pandora Press.

She is a regular contributor of reviews and articles to many newspapers and journals and has a regular column published in The Guardian.

One of the most original voices in British fiction to emerge during the 1980s, Jeanette Winterson was named as one of the 20 ‘Best of Young British Writers’ in a promotion run jointly between the literary magazine Granta and the Book Marketing Council.

Her novels include Boating for Beginners (1985), published shortly after Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit and described by the author as ‘a comic book with pictures’; The Passion (1987), twin narratives following the adventures of the web-footed daughter of a Venetian gondolier and Napoleon’s chicken chef; Sexing the Cherry (1989), an invented world set during the English Civil War featuring the fabulous ‘Dog Woman’ and the orphan she raises; and three books exploring triangular relationships, gender and formal experimentation: Written on the Body (1992), Art and Lies (1994) and Gut Symmetries (1997). She adapted her novel, The.PowerBook (2000), for the National Theatre in 2002. Lighthousekeeping (2004), centres on the orphaned heroine Silver, taken in by the keeper of the Cape Wrath lighthouse, Mr Pew, whose stories of love and loss, passion and longing, are interwoven in the narrative.

Jeanette Winterson adapted Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit for BBC television in 1990, and also wrote Great Moments in Aviation, a television screenplay directed by Beeban Kidron for BBC2 in 1994. Her radio drama includes the play Text Message, broadcast by BBC Radio in November 2001.She is the author of a collection of short stories, The World and Other Places (1998), and a book of essays about art and culture, Art Objects, published in 1995. In 2000, she also edited a series of new editions of novels by Virginia Woolf.

Her 2009 novel The Battle of the Sun (2009) is a children’s book which follows two other books for children, The King of Capri (2003) and Tanglewreck (2006). She edited Midsummer Nights (2009), a collection of stories by contemporary writers inspired by opera, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Glyndebourne Festival of Opera; and wrote the children’s thriller, Ingenious, for BBC Television.  In 2009, The Lion, The Unicorn and Me was published – a children’s story for Christmas.

She lives in Gloucestershire and London. In 2006, she was awarded an OBE, and in 2011, her memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? was published. The Daylight Gate (2012), set in Lancashire in the 1600s is about the Pendle witches and she has also published The Gap of Time (2015), a cover version of The Winter’s Tale from the Hogarth Shakespeare series.

More of our Fellows

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Diana Athill

Nelle Andrew

Philip Howard

Fellowship Election Process​

Fellows are nominated by peers and elected by our Council of writers – our governing Board. Being elected a Fellow of the RSL is a lifetime honour. This role gives them the opportunity to support other writers, readers and the future of literature. The RSL connects writers in the Fellowship to one another, and to a wider readership.