Tuesday, September 12, 2017

A Day for Publishers

The American world of books and letters owes a great deal to the date of September 12th, for on this date, in 1891 and 1892, two giants of the American publishing industry were born: Arthur Hays Sulzberger and Alfred Abraham Knopf, Sr.

Arthur Sulzberger was not, by nature, a literary man. In fact, he studied engineering at Columbia College. He entered the world of publishing when he married Iphagene Ochs, whose father, Adolph Ochs, only agreed to the union if Sulzberger would join his staff at the New York Times.

Sulzberger proved himself an astute businessman and helped the Times grow by implementing such creative strategies as commissioning an exclusive on Charles Lindbergh’s cross-Atlantic flight. In 1935, upon the death of his father-in-law, Sulzberger took over leadership of the paper. As a voice in journalism, Sulzberger found himself torn by his Jewish identity. He was the proud descendant of both German and Sephardic Jews, and, in 1929, was the founder of the Jewish Advisory Board (later Columbia-Barnard Hillel) at his alma-mater. This very same pride in his Jewish heritage, however, made him feel conflicted about seeming to be biased in his presentation of the Jewish situation in Europe and the rise of Nazism in the 1930s and 1940s (he is often criticized for downplaying the situation). It is also often noted that, following the lead of the Reform Movement of the time, Sulzberger was opposed to Zionism.

Arthur Sulzberger passed away on December 11, 1968.

Albert Knopf was a true literary man. He too was drawn to the publishing profession while studying at Columbia College. A year and a half after graduating, following a short stint at Doubleday and working for Mitchell Kennerley, Knopf opened his own eponymous publishing house.

Knopf books, which were known for their physical and literary quality, published many Russian and European authors who were completely unknown in America, including Joseph Conrad, Albert Camus and Franz Kafka, as well as publishing a host of now well-known American authors such as Willa Cather. At the time of his death, on August 11, 1984, authors of Knopf books had been awarded 16 Nobel and 27 Pulitzer prizes.

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