Professor Alison Light

Visiting Research Fellow

Professor Alison Light (Pembroke College, Oxford)


Visiting Research Fellow, February - March 2019

Project: From Memory to Archive: A Critical Memoir

Professor Alison Light is a fulltime writer. She is also an Honorary Professor in the Department of English at University College, London, an Honorary Professorial Fellow in the Department of English at Edinburgh University, and a Senior Research Fellow at Pembroke College, Oxford.  She has taught at a number of institutions including, most recently at Newcastle University and University College, London.  She has also worked for the BBC, taught in adult education and as a school teacher.  Her reviews and essays have appeared in the national press and she is a contributor to the London Review of Books

Her most recent book, Common People: the History of an English Family (Penguin 2014; Chicago University Press 2015) was shortlisted for the 2014 Samuel Johnson Prize in Nonfiction.  A mix of social history, memoir and reflection, it used her own family history to explore the story of the itinerant working poor.  Professor Light writes chiefly on issues to do with British cultural life and history, the subject of both Forever England: Literature, Femininity and Conservatism between the Wars (Routledge 1991) and Mrs Woolf and the Servants (Penguin 2007 and Bloomsbury USA 2009), which was runner-up for the Longman History Prize.  As the widow of the historian, Raphael Samuel, who died in 1996, she spent several years helping to establish a History Centre and Archive in his name in London and edited two volumes of Samuel’s essays: Island Stories: Unravelling Britain (Verso 1997) and The Lost World of British Communism (Verso 2006).  

Her current project is ‘A Critical Memoir: From Memory to Archive’, an account of her marriage to Samuel, who was twenty years her senior.  It reflects on politics (Samuel was ‘brought up’ in the British Communist Party), on the nature of memory and mourning, and on the sources from which we, as writers, biographers and historians, generate a life.  A Radical Romance: A Memoir of Love, Grief and Consolation will be published by Fig Tree/Penguin Press, hopefully at the end of 2019.  Through her connections with the English Department, and its research group, she is also hoping to help consolidate inter-disciplinary work on ‘life-writing’ here.