We were saddened to hear of the death of Peter Day, a dedicated and long-standing member of English PEN, who for nine years edited PEN International magazine. Here Jane Spender pays tribute to her friend and colleague
I first met Peter in 1968 when he interviewed me for a job at the publishers Michael Joseph Ltd – I started work there shortly afterwards. I soon learned that he had had a variety of ‘careers’ before joining MJ, including – at different times – working in a legal office, as a house-cleaner and in an obstetric and gynaecological hospital ward. But literature and the creation of books were his great love, and the roles of publisher’s reader and editor were exactly right for him.
It was inevitable that he would join PEN, with its founding principle of literary exchange and good fellowship between writers, irrespective of political circumstance, and its work on behalf of writers censored, imprisoned, or worse, for their writings. And that, being Peter, as well as being active in the English PEN Centre he would take an active role in International PEN, where he became deputy editor of PEN International magazine. At the Seoul Congress in 1988 he stood in for the then editor, the philosopher and writer Kathleen Nott (who had edited what was originally The Bulletin of Selected Books, then PEN International, for thirty years), succeeding her as editor on her retirement in 1990 until 1999, when I took over from him.
From 1998 onwards he was an ardent attender at Congresses and at smaller meetings such as the Bled Conference. He made many friends, keeping in touch with all of them, and was welcomed as the guest of individual PEN Centres. At meetings of the Assembly of Delegates he could always be relied on to hand documents out to the delegates, or undertake any other task of whatever kind.
Peter was for some years Publisher at Allison & Busby, among other things building the crime fiction list there, and subsequently a publisher’s reader for Little, Brown, a role he continued with energy and interest until almost the end of his life.
Peter was the life and soul of the party – lively, amusing, often outrageous, immensely sociable and affectionate. But he was too a man of great sensitivity, seriousness and integrity, unfailingly and unstintingly supportive of his friends, indeed of anyone in trouble, and whatever impatience he might feel never interfered with that support. He brought all these qualities to whatever he did, not least to International PEN and he will be much missed by the many friends who knew him there.
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