Booker Prize-winning author Dame Antonia Byatt (87) and radio star Nan Witcomb (95) pass away-By VanessaC

Booker Prize-winning author Dame Antonia Byatt (87) and radio star Nan Witcomb (95) pass away-By VanessaC


It’s with a heavy heart that we report the passing of Dame Antonia Byatt, award-winning author of the best-selling novel Possession, at the age of 87, and Nan Witcomb, the Australian radio icon who rose to fame in the seventies, at the age of 95.

In a statement, Dame Byatt’s publisher, Penguin Random House, expressed that they were ‘deeply saddened’ to announce her passing.

‘She died peacefully at home surrounded by close family. A girl from Sheffield with a strong European sensibility, Antonia had a remarkable mind which produced a unique creative vision,’ the publisher said.

Dame Byatt, whose full name was Antonia Susan Byatt, was not just an author but a beacon who illuminated the literary landscape with her brilliance.

She was born in 1936 and grew up in Sheffield and York. She studied English at Newnham College, Cambridge, and further refined her craft at Bryn Mawr College in Philadelphia and Oxford.

Whilst at Cambridge, the dame began her work on her first two novels, Shadow of a Sun (1964) and The Game (1967).


Rest in peace, Dame Antonia Byatt and Nan Witcomb. Image source: X/@vintagebooks (left), X/@MichaelSmyth_ (right).

She then became a university lecturer for 21 years and began writing full-time in 1983.

Dame Byatt’s publisher proclaimed her as ‘one of the most significant writers and critics of our time’.

‘Antonia’s Quaker schooling encouraged a clear independence of thought, and throughout her career, she had an unerring ability to ask direct and searching questions,’ her publisher added.

‘Her novels showed a profound engagement with history and historical consciousness—and an understanding of the traditions in which she wrote—whether folktale or novel.’

‘And if her fiction offered an imaginative realm of ideas, it was also warm and engaging, and filled with unforgettable characters.’

Throughout her prolific career, Dame Antonia penned numerous acclaimed works, but it was her 1990 novel Possession that gave her widespread recognition.

The remarkable book was a complex tale about young scholars discovering the intricacies of two Victorian poets’ lives, which earned her the coveted Booker Prize. Such was the book’s influence that it was adapted into a film in 2002 and a BBC Radio 4 series that aired from 2011 to 2012.

Dame Byatt was then shortlisted for the Booker Prize again in 2009 for The Children’s Book.

More honour followed in 1990 when she was appointed CBE and was later appointed as a dame nine years later.

In 2018, she was awarded the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Literature Award, and among her other notable achievements are the Aga Khan Prize for Fiction for her 1994 short story collection The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye, the Shakespeare Prize in 2002, the Erasmus Prize in 2016, and the Park Kyong-ni Prize in 2017.

Dame Antonia’s literary journey remained vibrant till the very end. Her most recent publication was a collection of short stories entitled Medusa’s Ankles: Selected Stories which was released in 2021.

She is survived by her three daughters. The dame also had a son who tragically died in a car accident in 1972 at the very young age of 11, an event which inspired her poem, Dead Boys, which described how a child is perpetually present even after their death.

On the other hand, Australia has lost a true pioneer in broadcasting with the passing of Nan Witcomb at age 95.

Globally adored for her quick wit and vibrant personality, she was a trailblazer both behind the microphone and beyond.

A household name in the Adelaide community in the 1970s, Nan skyrocketed to fame with her talkback show on 5DN, now known as Cruise 1323.

But Nan’s remarkable talent wasn’t confined to radio—she was a writer too.

Nan was the author of the popular poetry collection, The Thoughts of Nanushka.

And also contributed as a writer to the pioneering Australian satirical TV comedy The Mavis Bramston Show, which aired from 1964 to 1968. With a knack for writing comical skits that kept viewers entertained, Nan left an indelible mark on Australian television history.

Seemingly unstoppable, she even lent her creative mind to four full-length plays, which were all staged in Adelaide. Nan also dabbled in songwriting, most notably for the accomplished actress Lorrae Desmond of A Country Practice.

Before joining show business, Nan trained as a nurse and then took to the skies, working as a flight attendant with Australian National Airlines (later named Ansett) for 23 long years. Her colourful experiences in the aviation industry inspired her to pen a memoir, Up Here and Down There.

he also famously became the hostess of the trendy ’70s nightspot The Barn Restaurant in McLaren Vale.

Nan gained national attention many years later when her poem, To Mourn Too Long for Those We Love, was read at the funeral of INXS lead singer Michael Hutchence in 1997.

Nan Witcomb passed away peacefully in her sleep at her Brighton nursing home, leaving behind a legacy of creativity, charm, and love for Australian arts and culture.

Nan also reportedly never married and left no children.

Key Takeaways
  • Booker Prize-winning author Dame Antonia Byatt, known for her novel Possession, has died aged 87.
  • She has been described by Penguin Random House, her publisher, as ‘one of the most significant writers and critics of our time’.
  • Dame Antonia was honoured with a CBE in 1990 and was made a dame in 1999. In addition to winning the Booker Prize, she also received the Hans Christian Andersen Literature Award in 2018.
  • Beloved Australian broadcaster Nan Witcomb, known for her 1970s talkback show on 5DN, has also died aged 95.
  • Aside from her radio career, Nan was also a successful author and scriptwriter, known for her contributions to the Australian satirical TV show, The Mavis Bramston Show and for her popular book of poetry, The Thoughts of Nanushka.
  • Nan’s poem, To Mourn Too Long for Those We Love, gained national attention when it was read at the funeral of INXS frontman Michael Hutchence in 1997.

Our hearts are with Dame Antonia Susan Byatt’s and Nan Witcomb’s families, friends, colleagues, and fans during this difficult time, may they rest in peace.

May their stories continue to transcend time, offering comfort, inspiration, and wisdom to readers for many generations to come.

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