Jon Beckmann, the publisher of Sierra Club Books from 1973 to 1994 who transformed the press from a small, special-interest imprint to a publisher of national repute, died on January 9, 2013 in Northern California. He was 76.
The highly respected Beckmann began his career in book publishing at the trade division of Prentice-Hall in 1964. He left to become an editor, and later vice president, of Barre Publishers in Massachusetts, which specialized in books of regional interest as well as photographic and art books.
Beckmann was hired by the Sierra Club to originally direct its book and calendar publishing program. Over the years Beckmann’s vision extended beyond “environmental books” to encompass fiction and poetry, personal narratives about nature, titles on gardening and healthy lifestyles, and books that celebrated the natural world through art and photography. During his tenure at Sierra Club, Beckmann acquired such notable books as Wendell Berry’s The Unsettling of America, Robert Bly’s News of the Universe, and Timothy Ferris’s Galaxies. With Scribner as partner, Beckmann also built Sierra Club Calendars into a leading national brand and, in the late 1970s, began publishing children’s books.
Danny Moses served under Beckmann as editor-in-chief from 1979 to 1991. “To an editor,” says Moses, “Jon seemed an ideal publisher because he matched his business acumen with an unwavering commitment, in threatening times, to books and their authors as a potential source of art, wisdom, and compassionate understanding of our world.”
After leaving Sierra Club in 1994 Beckmann founded Millennium Press in Sonoma, Calif., which provided writing, agenting, and editorial services to the publishing industry. He also wrote After-Dinner Drinks: Choosing, Serving, and Enjoying, which drew on Beckmann’s considerable gifts as a chef and host and was published by Chronicle Books in 1999.