Johanna Thomas Corr

Sunday Times

Johanna Thomas-Corr has established herself as one of the most influential literary critics working in British newspapers. She is highly regarded among readers, writers and publishers for her incisive opinions, wide-ranging tastes, mischievous sense of humour and iron-clad integrity.

In January 2023, she took up the position of Literary Editor of the Sunday Times and set about bringing these qualities to bear across the books section. She has made an immediate impact, reinvigorating the coverage and introducing many talented new contributors, making the Sunday Times the most influential and talked about books section within the British media. As a case in point: Johanna was at the centre of the year’s great publishing debates - dubbed “Puffgate” - after a quote from her scathing review of Jordan Peterson’s Beyond Order was misrepresented on the paperback edition so that it appeared to be a glowing endorsement. Johanna’s objections to this, which she laid out in a column, provoked several weeks’ worth of comment pieces across the media and have occasioned an industry-wide review of practices regarding endorsements. While editing the books section, as well as running the Sunday Times Young Writer Award, Johanna has continued to contribute her own reviews, interviews and essays. In her first issue as editor, she boldly chose to champion a debut novel in the lead review slot, which has traditionally been reserved for works of non-fiction. The book, The New Life by Tom Crewe, which is about the secret history of homosexuality in the Victorian era, more than justified the selection (it has subsequently won several awards). Johanna praised Crewe’s ability to delight, disorientate and disturb - and his characters who felt “fresh and alive”... “The whole book is a reminder… of just how interesting life is,” she wrote. Johanna also championed Zadie Smith as the “voice of the 21st century” in an essay marking her announcement as the recipient of the 2023 Sunday Times Award for Literary Excellence. There are few English novelists, Johanna wrote, “who take such a relentless interest in our multitudes, our comedies and tragedies, our bodies and minds, skin and teeth, blindnesses and hypocrisies, but also our moments of insight and grace and our reliable tendency to misunderstand and misinterpret one another.” The praise counts - as Johanna has never been afraid to dispense criticism where it is due. In her survey of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists list - a piece that was widely shared and debated across the industry - she lamented its narrow focus on white, female debut authors. “The Granta lists suggest that the glory years of the British novel lie in the past and maybe at some unspecified point in the future — anywhere but the here and now.” While she can be scathing, Johanna’s writing is always fair and it is always encouraging. She wants to raise everyone’s game, to banish lazy thinking and re-enchant readers. She is already succeeding in doing just that.