Lisa Appignanesi OBE is a prize-winning writer, novelist, broadcaster and cultural commentator. A Visiting Professor at King’s College London, she is former President of the campaigning writers association, English PEN and is Chair of London’s Freud Museum.
Born in Poland, Lisa Appignanesi grew up in Paris and then in the province of Quebec – first in a small Laurentian town, subsequently in Montreal. She attended McGill University, where she wrote for and was Features Editor of the McGill Daily; spent a summer working for the Canadian Press, another doubling as a waitress and student at the Sorbonne. A Bachelor's degree in Honours English was followed by a Masters which included a thesis on Edgar Allen Poe. During that last year at McGill, she also taught at Loyola College.
Wooed to Britain in 1967 by what appeared in Canadian newspapers as a London buzzing with the new, she did a DPhil in Comparative Literature at the University of Sussex, spent a year in Vienna and Paris and wrote a thesis on Henry James, Proust and Robert Musil, which was later published.
After this, academic work didn't immediately beckon. First came a year as a staff writer in a social research firm in Manhattan. The work grew into a co-authored book on the counter-culture. 1971 saw her back in Britain lecturing in European Studies at the University of Essex, and some years later at New England College. During the second half of the Seventies, she became one of the founding members of the publishing cooperative, Writers and Readers, which included such luminaries as John Berger, Arnold Wesker and the young Irish writer, soon to be filmmaker, Neil Jordan; and originated the comic strip documentary series, Beginners Books.
The beginning of the Eighties found her at London's Institute of Contemporary Arts, an edgy cultural centre which crosses all the art forms. In Appignanesi's time as Director of Talks and later Deputy Director of the ICA, she made the ICA a leading international player in the world of ideas, a multi-discplinary and radical, philosophical talk shop. She initiated an exciting literature programme, discussion series, publications and conferences on everything from philosophy to art and advertising, politics to popular culture. She also set up the ICA video ‘In Conversation’ series; ICA-Television and acted as executive producer on a number of made for TV documentaries and dramas, including England's Henry Moore and Seductions. The mid-eighties also found her doubling up as Director of the Greater London Council Enterprise Board's cultural programme, a launch pad for thinking about and supporting the 'cultural industries'.
In 1990, she left the ICA in order to take up the challenge of writing full-time. She had two contracts in hand: one for a saga which became the best-selling Memory and Desire; another for a ground-breaking historical study, Freud's Women, co-authored with her partner, John Forrester. Radically different though they are on the surface, these books underline Appignanesi's interest in finding ways of marrying popular and high culture and writing across the divide.
Novels, several of them bestsellers, and a number of highly-acclaimed non-fictions followed. Restless with genre and branding, Appignanesi's fiction has moved across them – romance, saga, thrillers, the historical novel, a comedy in letters, a novel of return – while her non-fiction moved from history to cultural commentary and analysis, to family memoir. She has also made several television films, including a film for French television on Salman Rushdie. She has presented and scripted various radio programmes and series, such as 'The Case of Sigmund Freud', 'Freudian Slips', and 'Archive on Four: Freud v Jung', for BBC Radio 4, as well as presenting Night Waves for Radio 3 and appearing on Radio 4’s Saturday Review. She has frequently appeared as a cultural commentator on radio and television and written reviews and features for various newspapers, including The Independent, The Guardian, The Observer and The Telegraph.
She has given guest lectures across Britain, taught writing workshops and served on the Management Committee of the Society of Authors, on the Council of the Institute of Contemporary Arts. In researching The Memory Man, she became a Fellow of the Brain and Behaviour Laboratory at the Open University and shadowed Professor Steven Rose's group which works on memory, a subject which long fascinated her and is also at the centre of her family memoir, Losing the Dead which came out in a new edition in 2013. As Deputy President of English PEN, and then its President, (2002-2011) she led the 'Free Expression is no Offence' campaign against the Incitement to Religious Hatred legislation and campaigned for an end to the Blasphemy Laws and reform to the visa system and libel laws. She also helped to establish the PEN PINTER PRIZE for writers of courage in Britain and abroad; and worked to site Antony Gormley’s commemorative WITNESS chair in the British Library Plaza.
Her award-winning Mad, Bad, and Sad: A History of Women and the Mind Doctors from 1800 to the Present appeared to great critical acclaim, and was followed by the provocative All About Love: Anatomy of an Unruly Emotion. Her new book Trials of Passion: In the Name of Love and Madness again delves into the history of psychiatry, investigating the rise of the expert psychiatric witness through remarkable trials of passion. For her The Brain and the Mind series at King’s College London where she is a Visiting Professor, she received a Wellcome Trust People Award.
Her OBE is for services to literature