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Bringing Viktor Frankl’s Timeless Holocaust Memoir to a New Generation of Young Readers

A Q&A with Will Myers

Viktor Frankl
Photo credit: Prof. Dr. Franz Vesely

First published in 1959, Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl’s memoir about surviving the Holocaust, has become an enduring tribute to hope in the face of unimaginable loss and suffering. Frankl’s struggle for survival during his three years in Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps has helped generations of readers, including such celebrities as Jimmy Fallon, Michael Phelps, and Chris Martin, find a path to greater meaning and purpose in their own lives. His inspiring message is one for all ages, which is why we embarked on a project to adapt his classic for a younger audience.

Man’s Search for Meaning: Young Readers Edition will be released tomorrow, April 25, available for young readers who are finding their place in the world. Today, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, editor Will Myers spoke with us about the idea behind the young adult adaptation of the text, how it differs from the original publication, and what new supplementary materials are in store for the book.

Christian Coleman: Tell us about where the idea of publishing a YA edition of Frankl’s memoir came from. 

Will Myers: The idea originated with our director, Helene Atwan. I had worked on our gift edition of Man’s Search for Meaning, and she had the idea of doing a YA edition. She and I discussed what a young readers edition of the book would contain. Beacon had adapted a YA version of one of our Martin Luther King books, A Time to Break Silence, and the idea was: which other Beacon books would lend themselves well to a YA treatment?

Then we discussed the idea with Franz Vesely, who is our contact with the Frankl Estate, and whom we consult on all matters pertaining to our editions of Man’s Search. Franz was immediately excited and supportive of the idea.

CC: What about the project excited you? 

WM: I had read Elie Wiesel’s Night and The Diary of Anne Frank as a young reader, but unfortunately it wasn’t until I was an adult that I read Man’s Search for Meaning. So when I began thinking about a young readers edition of the book, I was really excited to imagine what it would be like to encounter the book as a young reader. I was interested in the possibilities of approaching the book with a young reader’s eyes and seeing the book from a different perspective.

Man's Seach for Meaning YACC: Were there any new materials you had to work with, any new materials that you found for this edition? 

WM: I went back to the archives that were available to us. Franz Vesely previously introduced me to a trove of letters and speeches that Frankl wrote right after he was freed from the camps; I looked for those that would illuminate some of the themes of the memoir. I also did a lot of photo research for the photo insert. I wanted to include photos that showed the life Frankl lived outside the memoir: his mountain climbing hobby, and the dignitaries that he met, such as the Pope. I also wanted to include historical photos to illustrate the conditions Frankl faced in the camps, and for that I turned to photos from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s archives. I also included a glossary of terms and a timeline of the Holocaust, which I think makes this edition a valuable teaching tool.

CC: What changes did you have to make from the original publication? 

WM: From the perspective of a young reader, Frankl’s personal story is the central and most important part of the book. The second part, in which Frankl expounds on his very important and influential theory of logotherapy, was a bit above the heads of young readers. In that section, I thought it was important to trim that down as well as the passages that were of professional interest for psychologists. What I wanted to keep in that section were passages exploring the universal themes that highlight in greater detail what he talks about in the memoir.

CC: Were there any particular challenges that came with adapting the text for a younger readership? 

WM: It’s difficult to know with certainty how much knowledge young readers have coming into this, how much they know about the Holocaust. Some of the questions I had while considering this were: Do we need to footnote this? If there’s a philosopher’s name, do we need note who the person is and what he’s known for?

The other issue was how to make this the most valuable teaching tool we could, and thinking about how we could make it as accessible as it could be to young readers while minimally interfering with a masterpiece. I was very aware that this is a classic work of literature, so I approached it with a good dose of humility. I didn’t want any editorial intrusion unless I felt it was absolutely necessary to help a young reader understand it. Thankfully, Franz Vesely was available as a resource and was supportive of the minor changes I did make.

CC: What goals did you set out to accomplish with this new edition? 

WM: To introduce this book to a new generation of readers. As I said, I didn’t encounter Man’s Search for Meaning until I was an adult, and it’s something that I would’ve found valuable as a young reader. I was really excited for the opportunity to get this in the hands of young readers. I feel strongly that Frankl’s universal message of coping with suffering can help young readers going through a variety of difficult issues they may be facing.

 

About Will Myers 

Will Myers is an Editor at Beacon Press. He acquires for the nature and environment list, with a particular interest in books on environmental justice and activism, climate change, and the intersection of race, class, and the environment.

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