Jeanette Winterson

Jeanette Winterson CBE
Winterson in Warsaw, Poland, 2005
Born (1959-08-27) 27 August 1959
Manchester, England, U.K.
Occupation Writer, journalist, delicatessen owner
Nationality British
Period 1985–present
Genre Fiction, children's fiction, journalism, science fiction
Notable works Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit
Spouse Susie Orbach (from 2015)
Partner Peggy Reynolds (1990–2002)

Jeanette Winterson, CBE (born 27 August 1959) is an award-winning English writer, who became famous with her first book, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, a semi-autobiographical novel about a sensitive teenage girl rebelling against conventional values. Some of her other novels have explored gender polarities and sexual identity. Winterson is also a broadcaster and a professor of creative writing. She is a two-time winner of the Lambda Literary Award, which focuses on LGBT issues.

Early life

Winterson was born in Manchester and adopted by Constance and John William Winterson on 21 January 1960.[2] She grew up in Accrington, Lancashire, and was raised in the Elim Pentecostal Church. Intending to become a Pentecostal Christian missionary, she began evangelising and writing sermons at age six.[3][4]

By the age of 16, Winterson came out as a lesbian and left home.[5] She soon after attended Accrington and Rossendale College, and supported herself at a variety of odd jobs while reading English at St Catherine's College, Oxford.[6][7]


After she moved to London, her first novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, won the 1985 Whitbread Prize for a First Novel, and was adapted for television by Winterson in 1990. This in turn won the BAFTA Award for Best Drama. She won the 1987 John Llewellyn Rhys Prize for The Passion, a novel set in Napoleonic Europe.

Winterson's subsequent novels explore the boundaries of physicality and the imagination, gender polarities, and sexual identities, and have won several literary awards. Her stage adaptation of The PowerBook in 2002 opened at the Royal National Theatre, London. She also bought a derelict terraced house in Spitalfields, east London, which she refurbished into a flat as a pied-à-terre and a ground-floor shop, Verde's, to sell organic food.[8]

In 2009, she donated the short story "Dog Days" to Oxfam's Ox-Tales project, which comprised four collections of UK stories written by 38 authors. Winterson's story was published in the Fire collection.[9] She also supported the relaunch of the Bush Theatre in London's Shepherd's Bush. She wrote and performed work for the Sixty Six Books project, based on a chapter of the King James Bible, along with other novelists and poets including Paul Muldoon, Carol Ann Duffy, Anne Michaels and Catherine Tate.[10][11]

Her 2012 novella, The Daylight Gate, based on the 1612 Pendle Witch Trials, was published on the 400th anniversary of the trials. The novella's main character, Alice Nutter, is based on the real-life woman of the same name. The Guardian's Sarah Hall describes the work:

"the narrative voice is irrefutable; this is old-fashioned storytelling, with a sermonic tone that commands and terrifies. It's also like courtroom reportage, sworn witness testimony. The sentences are short, truthful – and dreadful ... Absolutism is Winterson's forte, and it's the perfect mode to verify supernatural events when they occur. You're not asked to believe in magic. Magic exists. A severed head talks. A man is transmogrified into a hare. The story is stretched as tight as a rack, so the reader's disbelief is ruptured rather than suspended. And if doubt remains, the text's sensuality persuades" [12]

In 2012, Winterson succeeded Colm Tóibín as professor of creative writing at the University of Manchester.[13]

Awards and recognition

Winterson was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2006 New Year Honours[14] and a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2018 Birthday Honours, both for services to literature.[15]

She is a two-time winner of the Lambda Literary Awards. Written on the Body won in the category of Lesbian Fiction in 1994, and Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? won in the category of Lesbian Memoir or Biography in 2013.[16] Additionally, Winterson's book Sexing the Cherry won the 1989 E. M. Forster Award.[17]

In 2016, she was chosen as one of BBC's 100 Women.[18] In the same year she was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.[19] She presented the 42nd Richard Dimbleby Lecture in 2018 in celebration of 100 years of women's suffrage in the UK.[20]

Personal life

Winterson came out as a lesbian at the age of 16.[5] Her 1987 novel The Passion was inspired by her affair with Pat Kavanagh, her literary agent.[21] From 1990 to 2002, Winterson was involved with BBC radio broadcaster and academic Peggy Reynolds.[22] After their relationship ended, Winterson became involved with theatre director Deborah Warner. In 2015, she married psychotherapist Susie Orbach, author of Fat is a Feminist Issue.[23]

Select bibliography

  • Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985)
  • Boating for Beginners (1985)
  • Fit For The Future: The Guide for Women Who Want to Live Well (1986)
  • The Passion (1987)
  • Sexing the Cherry (1989)
  • Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit: the script (1990)
  • Written on the Body (1992)
  • Art & Lies: A Piece for Three Voices and a Bawd (1994)
  • Great Moments in Aviation: the script (1995)
  • Art Objects: Essays in Ecstasy and Effrontery (1995) - essays
  • Gut Symmetries (1997)
  • The World and Other Places (1998) - short stories
  • The Dreaming House (1998)
  • The PowerBook (2000)
  • The King of Capri (2003) - children's literature
  • Lighthousekeeping (2004)
  • Weight (2005)
  • Tanglewreck (2006) - children's literature
  • The Stone Gods (2007)
  • The Battle of the Sun (2009)
  • Ingenious (2009)
  • The Lion, The Unicorn and Me: The Donkey's Christmas Story (2009)
  • Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (2011) - memoir
  • The Daylight Gate (2012)
  • The Gap of Time (2015)
  • Christmas Days: 12 Stories and 12 Feasts for 12 Days (2016)[24]


  • Tetrick, Andrea (Mar–Apr 2013). "Jeanette Winterson". The Believer. 11 (3): 52–58. 


  1. "Jeanette Winterson". Bookclub. 4 April 2010. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 18 January 2014.
  2. "Jeanette Winterson: all about my mother". The Guardian. London. 29 October 2011. Retrieved 29 October 2011.
  3. Brooks, Libby (2 September 2000). "Power surge". The Guardian. London.
  4. International Journal of Sexuality and Gender Studies, Volume 6, Number 4. SpringerLink. Retrieved on 26 August 2011.
  5. 1 2 Patricia Juliana Smith (24 July 2006). "Winterson, Jeanette (b. 1959)". glbtq Encyclopedia. Retrieved 4 December 2008.
  6. Winterson profile Archived 25 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine.
  7. "Amazon sorry for book sales error which hit Accrington author". Retrieved 9 December 2016.
  8. Kate Kellaway (25 June 2006). "If I Was a Dog, I'd Be a Terrier". The Observer. London. Retrieved 6 December 2008.
  9. Ox-Tales Archived 20 May 2009 at the Wayback Machine.. Oxfam. Retrieved on 26 August 2011.
  10. The Sixty Six Project Archived 10 May 2012 at the Wayback Machine.. Bush Theatre. Retrieved on 26 August 2011.
  11. Guardian "Sixty-Six Books – review" 16 October 2011
  12. "The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson – review". The Guardian. 16 August 2013. Retrieved 9 October 2013.
  13. "Winterson becomes Manchester Professor". The University of Manchester. 2012-05-14. Retrieved 2013-06-20.
  14. "No. 57855". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 December 2005. p. 13.
  15. "The Queen's Birthday Honours List 2018". Retrieved 8 June 2018.
  16. "25th annual Lambda Literary Award winners announced". LGBT Weekly, June 4, 2013.
  17. "Harcourt Publishers Interview with Jeanette Winterson, Lighthousekeeping" Archived 12 May 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
  18. "BBC 100 Women 2016: Who is on the list?". BBC. 21 November 2016. Retrieved 7 December 2016.
  19. "Jeanette Winterson". The Royal Society of Literature. Retrieved 26 April 2018.
  20. "Don't Protect Me - Respect Me". Richard Dimbleby Lecture. Episode 42. 6 June 2018. BBC One.
  21. Gadher, Dipesh (26 October 2008). "Lesbian novelist Jeanette Winterson planned last visit to dying ex-lover". The Sunday Times. Retrieved 17 March 2011.
  22. Maya Jaggi (29 May 2004). "Saturday Review: Profile: Jeanette Winterson". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 4 December 2008.
  23. Stuart Jeffries (22 February 2010). "Jeanette Winterson: 'I thought of suicide'". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 15 August 2011.
  24. Hickling, Alfred (25 November 2016). "Christmas Days by Jeanette Winterson review – cruelty, comfort and joy". Retrieved 9 December 2016.
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