Obituary: Clarissa Luard
Tuesday 16 November 1999
For the writers, editors and publishers who worked with her during her five years in the rapidly changing council, she was in Ezra Pound's terms an "unwobbling pivot", a fixed point in the flux, a constant advocate. She was temperamentally at home with the two literature directors under whom she worked, Alistair Niven and Gary McKeone, both committed to creative and critical openness with clients. Openness suggested important initiatives to Luard which she undertook with vision and zest.
Her ambition for the literary publishing houses and magazines supported by the council was "best practice" within their limited means, and she encouraged them to exploit every resource to achieve circulation. Subsidy could be justified and extended if subsidised work found its way vigorously into the wider world. Distribution, marketing, publicity: her advice returned again and again to those topics.
She also insisted that publishers (however small and impecunious) treat authors fairly. In this her nine years' experience as a literary agent gave her insights into the anxieties, needs and responsibilities of authors. She persuaded publishers and authors that, more often than not, they were on the same side of the fence.
Born in 1948, Clarissa Luard grew up in the Essex village of Great Dunmow. Her family had strong connections with China. Her education did not include university: she attended Harlow Technical College and then worked for Lepra, Biafran relief and other charitable causes. She moved into public relations as a press officer, working largely for fashion clients at the Prima Agency. In 1976 she married the writer Salman Rushdie, with whom she had established a relationship in 1969. Their son Zafar was born in 1979.
In 1986 she joined the literary agency A.P. Watt, where she was involved in some celebrated deals, including Michael Holroyd's record advance for his biography of Shaw. Life was not entirely easy. In 1987 she and Rushdie parted, though she and their son still had to endure the anxieties and restrictions attaching to the Iranian fatwa against the novelist. It is reassuring to learn that Rushdie, their son and her brother were at her bedside when she died. Rushdie also gave the address at her funeral.
Her last major initiative was a market research project to establish how best to increase the sale of literature, and poetry in particular, to a largely unprofiled readership. Nothing could restrain her optimism or her idealism, not even the rumours of how small the poetry constituency in this country is.
My most vivid memory of Clarissa Luard, with whom as an Arts Council client I had regular contact, was three days after the IRA Manchester bombing in 1996. She appeared in Carcanet Press's chaotic temporary office with her air of confidence and goodwill, an elegant and inspiring Florence Nightingale. We knew when she appeared that it would be all right. And it was. She inspired confidence and affection. She inspired.
Clarissa Luard, arts administrator: born 5 December 1948; Literature Officer, Arts Council of England 1995-99, Senior Literature Officer 1999; married 1976 Salman Rushdie (one son; marriage dissolved 1987); died London 4 November 1999.
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