Alison Light is a full-time writer. She is the author of four books of non-fiction to date and numerous other publications; she is a regular contributor to the London Review of Books and has written for the Guardian, the New Statesman, and the Times Literary Supplement among others.  She writes and broadcasts chiefly on issues to do with British cultural life, literature and history. 

She is currently Honorary Professor in the Department of English, University College, London and Honorary Professorial Fellow in the Department of English Literature at Edinburgh University. She is also a (non-stipendiary) Senior Research Fellow at Pembroke College, Oxford.

She was born in Portsmouth, UK and took a degree in English at Churchill College, Cambridge University. She then worked as a school teacher, as a studio manager at the BBC, and taught part-time in adult education. She gained a doctorate from Sussex University and has lectured, often part-time, in English at a number of institutions including Brighton Polytechnic, Royal Holloway College, and Newcastle University.

All her books have been enthusiastically reviewed in the national and international press. Mrs Woolf and the Servants (2007) was also runner-up for the Longmans History Prize and longlisted for the Samuel Johnson (now the Baillie Gifford) prize in non-fiction.  Common People (2014) was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson prize.

As the widow of the socialist historian, Raphael Samuel, who died in 1996, she spent several years helping to establish the Raphael Samuel History Centre and Archive: both are now flourishing in London. Her latest book, A Radical Romance, is a memoir of their marriage. 

Alison Light


A Radical Romance book coverAlison's new book

A Radical Romance: A Memoir of Love, Grief and Consolation, published by Fig Tree/Penguin. Available at www.penguin.co.uk

A Radical Romance has been shortlisted for the 2020 PEN Ackerley Prize - the only prize in the UK for memoir and autobiography. In the light of Covid-19, they will be announcing this year’s prize online on Wednesday 19 August. 

From the reviews so far:

  • 'All the complex shades and colours that we expect in fiction. A Radical Romance is more than just some summing-up: it is a work of art.' (The Guardian)
  • 'Admirable...she writes with precision and tenderness' (The Observer)
  • 'Funny and moving and deserves to be widely read'  (The Spectator)
  • 'Sex, breakdowns and lingering death are all noted frankly but with the precision that is the mark of the truly gifted writer'.  (The Herald)
  • 'Deeply moving.  Elegiac, nuanced and philosophical'  (Literary Review)

A piece in Spitalfields Life on Alison's time living there: Alison Light’s Spitalfields

Recent articles

A new piece by Alison for Slightly Foxed Magazine on a now-forgotten prizewinning novel by Ruth Adler, Beginning Again.
Building Jerusalem

Alison in the Kenyon Review:
Writing the Lives of “Common People”: Reflections on the Idea of Obscurity

Common People US book cover

Common People has been published in the US

Common People: In Pursuit of My Ancestors has been published in the US. Penelope Lively in the New York Times called it "The most powerful family history I have ever read."
And the Wall Street Journal hailed it as a "compelling portrait of a Britain in flux after the Industrial Revolution...full of moments where the public and the personal intersect to quietly devastating effect."
The Chicago paperback edition of Common People is now available.



Listen to Alison discuss with Matthew Sweet and others on BBC Radio 3 'The Strange Case of the Country House Pile' - why are we so obsessed with country houses?

Light gives our thoughts space to breathe alongside her own.
Intelligent Life Magazine, Economist

Her instincts continue to be those of the dissenter.
London Review of Books



© Alison Light 2020