Peter Owen (1927–2016) started his company, aged twenty-four, six years after the Second World War.
He ran the business from home, with a typewriter as his only equipment. Soon, however, the company started to flourish, enabling him to employ some staff – his first editor was Muriel Spark. He was able to bring some of the very best international literature to what was a very insular British market.
In the decades since then, although the industry has changed beyond recognition, Peter Owen Publishers continues the tradition of producing new and interesting writing. The company has published seven Nobel Prize winners, including Hermann Hesse, Octavio Paz and Isaac Bashevis Singer, and boasts a backlist that includes some of the most talented and important writers from all over the world.
Peter Owen sadly died in May 2016, but his legacy lives on in the publishing house that carries his name and his commitment to publishing talented and exciting writers.
‘Never has an investment of £900 produced such vast riches.’
— J.G. Ballard
‘I have admired Peter Owen and his lone stand for years. He has published books that otherwise would not have been published. We owe a great debt to him and the few like him.’
— Doris Lessing
‘It is delightful and refreshing to find Peter Owen almost as I remember him four decades ago, still one of the few remaining beacons of independence. Long may he and his house flourish.’
— Christopher Foyle, Foyle’s Bookshop
‘A maverick who seems to break all the rules but might, I suspect, simply be publishing books the way they used to be published before the big money arrived and will be published again when the big money has gone.’
— Dan Franklin, Daily Telegraph
‘Of all the publishing men in my life Peter Owen has been the most constant, the most predictably unpredictable, the most infuriating, the one to whom I always come back.’
— Margaret Crosland
‘Mad of course, but then he is one of life’s sweeter mysteries.’
— Anne Valery
‘A publishing impresario for whom books are global . . . We owe him the explosions not only of the only Catholic Japanese novelist, Shusaku Endo, but of Jane Bowles, James Purdy, Americans of shock genius and a host of translated Europeans, from Hermann Hesse to Chagall and Colette.’
— Mail on Sunday