Helene Atwan began her career in publishing at Random House in 1976; she worked at A.A.Knopf, Viking Press, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and Simon and Schuster, before being named director of Beacon Press in 1995. She served for eight years on the board of PEN-New England and is the Administrator of the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award.
I'm proud to note that Beacon Broadside is celebrating its first birthday this week—what a milestone. All our metrics are strong—measures I didn't even know existed a year ago but which I now follow avidly. Thanks to a dedicated and very talented blog editor, Jessie Bennett, and especially to a tremendously creative and generous list of house authors and friends, we have a very deep archive of posts on almost any subject of interest to Americans who are drawing breath in the 21st century. This fall also happens to mark my 32nd year in book publishing, and my 13th as director of Beacon. I think I value the blog so much because it is so radically different from anything I could imagine back when I was banging out letters to authors on a Selectric, with white-out smudges betraying my all-too-frequent typos.
When I first started in publishing, dinosaurs roamed the industry. Actually, they were giants. Among them, in my second job, was Alfred A. Knopf, who greeted one of my banal pleasantries about the weather one fine morning by styling it "a stinker," but who was otherwise quite civil, especially to his heir apparent, Bob Gottlieb, a giant-in-training. Random House already owned Knopf, and was owned itself at the time by RCA, but RH was still very much run by "gentleman publishers" with Bob Bernstein at the helm. I also had the opportunity to work at The Viking Press when Tom Guinzburg was still president. As good as they were, all were warm up acts for the men I was about to encounter when I went to work at Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 1983.
Pat Strachan, currently of Little, Brown, and one of Bob Giroux's most illustrious mentees, Bob, and Helene Atwan, 2004
A great deal has been written about Roger Straus by some very fine writers. He was far more outrageous and colorful than they let on. (His wonderful wife, Dorothea Straus, has never received the press she deserves, and her death last month passed without enough comment. No one who knew them will ever forget them.) But of all the giant figures in the industry, the most impressive to me was Bob Giroux, whose death this month leaves a gaping hole in the industry. His obituaries (in the New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, and elsewhere) deserve to be studied, but they don't tell the whole story. I don't think I know anyone who worked with Mr. Giroux who didn't love him as much as they admired him. In addition to his considerable achievements as an editor, he was also a great mentor, an avid amateur Shakespeare scholar, and wonderful company. In my first weeks at Farrar, Straus and Giroux (and once I knew him I would never again abbreviate the firm's name by omitting his!), he invited me to lunch at his beloved Player's Club, where he took obvious relish in showing me around. The Booth room—the assassin's brother, of course—preserved lovingly, was a point of particular pride and pleasure. He enjoyed ordering our lunch—invariably awful in those days, watery soups and limp vegetables; pale, beaten down slabs of meat swimming in gray gravy—which he cheerfully consumed. He had a way of laughing—and he laughed a lot in good company—which made his distinguished face suddenly round and positively babyish. He took delight in things, and loved springing a surprise. One afternoon, he came striding down the hall out of his small, darkish office at the extreme end of the back hall to announce that he'd just received a new ms. from Walker Percy so we'd better add it to the next list. The catalogue, if memory serves, had to be called back from the printer. He loved good collections of letters—Flannery O'Connor's were often to him—and biographies. I hope to high heaven that someone will collect his letters and write a very long, detailed and juicy biography of Bob. Until then, we are very lucky to have the books he brought into the world, so many of them classics already, and for those lucky enough to have shared an overcooked meal or two with him, our fond memories.