Lancaster University: Third Lancaster degree for “literary impresario” Damian Barr

Award-winning writer, broadcaster and Literary Salon host Damian Barr has graduated from Lancaster University with a PhD in Creative Writing.

This is the third Lancaster degree for Damian, who previously gained a BA in Sociology and English Literature in 1998 followed by an MA in Contemporary Sociology in 1999.

He is grateful to Lancaster for academic success and for helping him transform his life, enabling him to embark on a stellar career following a chaotic and deprived childhood—which he wrote about in his memoir Maggie & Me.

He attributes the start of his phenomenal success to the welcome and support offered by the University, where he was given hardship funding and emotional support at a crucial time in his life.

Damian said: “Lancaster was a home for me. I felt quiet and safe there and there was a sense of community. I feel enormously grateful to Lancaster for giving me that time and space.”

Now a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, Damian has been described by The Financial Times as a ‘literary impresario’ and by The Guardian as ‘one of the most connected men in publishing’. He was listed by GQ as one of the 100 Most Connected Men in Britain and in the top 150 writers by The Bookseller in 2020.

He said: “Books are at the heart of my life and I’m lucky enough to make my living telling stories. I share stories to help us better understand ourselves and others, to ask better questions, not provide easy answers.”

His memoir of growing up in 1980s Scotland ‘Maggie & Me’ garnered several major awards; a Radio 4 Book of the Week, Sunday Times Memoir of the Year and Stonewall Writer of the Year.

‘You Will Be Safe Here’, his novel about South Africa, was a Radio 4 Book at Bedtime and Book of the Year in the Observer, Guardian and Financial Times.

He is currently host of the Literary Salon and fronts the BBC’s Big Scottish Book Club. He also acts as a literary judge a broadcaster, columnist, playwright and writer of short stories.

This all started with the chances he was given at Lancaster University. Damian was supported with four years of weekly therapy to address the nightmares, anxiety and post-traumatic stress of his childhood.

“Access to free and regular therapy was as essential to me as my degree in propelling me on a trajectory towards a healthy and happy adult life.”

His studies at Lancaster also prepared him for a career in journalism and then as a writer. He also spent his second year as an undergraduate on a scholarship at the University of Texas, Austin thanks to a bursary, which covered his studies but not his lodgings. He ended up receiving support from an anonymous benefactor in Glasgow, who asked for nothing but a letter detailing his progress once a month.

He progressed to an MA in Sociology and thanks to Lancaster’s strong industry links he secured a two-week work experience at The Times which led to his first job on the newspaper’s student online publication. This proved to be his passport into a journalistic career writing for a range of publications including The Guardian, The Independent and High Life.

He even met his future husband Mike Moran at Lancaster University which he considers to be the ‘single greatest thing’ that happened to him.

Summing up Lancaster’s legacy, he said: “It has allowed me to feel more secure, more able to take up space in the world and allowed me to be successful and happy.”