Diana Souhami, a renowned English author of biographies, plays and short stories, was born on August 25th 1940. Souhami was brought up in London where, in the 1960s, she pursued philosophy at Hull University. She has become quite an iconic figure around the world owing to her eloquent award winning writings which have elevated her status and made her very famous. Souhami’s biographies, short stories and plays are just stunning, and flawless, which has attracted many people into reading them. Her life’s work stands out as a key encouragement to other females, that they too can make it in life and become who they want. This has made her one of the best mentors and a key figure especially in the lesbian community. Before turning to writing biographies, Souhami worked at the BBC for some years, specifically in the publications department. While working there, she wrote and published short stories and plays which were performed at the Edinburgh Festival, The Kings Head in Islington and broadcast as radio and television plays the BBC. She developed an exhibition, known as “A Woman’s Place: The Changing Picture of Women in Britain” for the British Council which toured a tremendous 30 countries in 1984. Penguin Books published her book based on this exhibition. In addition, she reviewed books and plays for several newspapers.
In 1986, Pandora Press approached Souhami and gave her a commission to write Hannah Gluckstein’s biography. The Life of Gluck was her first and the last book in which she used a birth-to-death approach. She became a round-the-clock author publishing biographies mostly exploring the most influential and titillating of 20th century lesbian lives. Her next book after Gluck was ‘Gertrude and Alice’, a story of the relationship between Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas, which was published in 1991. She followed this two books with ‘Greta and Cecil’ in 1994 which gave an account of the romantic relationship between Greta Carbo and Cecil Beaton, ‘Mrs. Keppel and her daughter’ in 1996, a twofold biography of Alice Keppel, a long-time paramour of King Edward VII, and her daughter, Violet Trefusis, and ‘The Trials of Radclyffe Hall’, a biography of Marguerite Radclyffe Hall, which won the Lambda Literary Award for Biography in 200 and nominated for the James Tait Black Memorial Prize.
In 2001, she published ‘Selkirk’s Island’, which was a depart from her usual genre, a description of Alexander Selkirk’s eons as a castaway on Robinson Crusoe Island. This book left librarians and booksellers puzzled, whether to classify it as fiction, fact, fantasy or fable, when it earned the Whitbread Biography Award in 2001.
Souhami returned to lesbian biography in 2004, publishing ‘Wild Girls’, a dual memoir set in Paris, of Romaine Brooks ,an American artist and her romantic relationship with Natalie Barney.
In 2007, she published a book known as ‘Coconut Chaos’, which is both an enquiry into the lives of HMS Bounty insurgents and their progenies on Pitcairn Island, and a biography of her expedition to Pitcairn Island with a woman identified only as “Lady Myre.”
Souhami’s next book was ‘Edith Cavell’ in 2010, a biography of the nurse who was executed during the First World War for playing a part in trafficking allied soldiers out of Belgium. Her next book was ‘Murder at Wrotham Hill’ a story of the 1946 assassination of Dagmar Petrzywalski and the ensuing inquiry and prosecution of the crime.
Souhami’s books have received prestigious awards over the years as well as great attention from the public. She believed in breaking the history on silence specifically regarding lesbianism. “Acceptance can’t happen without openness, and I believe we should all try to speak out in our own way…” Wise words indeed from Diana Souhami.