cover image The Literary Mafia: Jews, Publishing, and Postwar American Literature

The Literary Mafia: Jews, Publishing, and Postwar American Literature

Josh Lambert. Yale Univ, $35 (272p) ISBN 978-0-300-25142-5

The notion that a “Jewish literary mafia” served as postwar publishing gatekeepers is traced in this thorough study from English professor Lambert (Unclean Lips). Adherents of such an idea included Jack Kerouac and Truman Capote, who believed that “Jewish-dominated” quarterlies were engaged in “nefarious...control of U.S. publishing.” Lambert begins his takedown at the start of the 20th century, when it was “virtually impossible and virtually unheard of” for a Jewish person to be hired by a major publisher. He traces how that changed over the ensuing decades: Doubleday, Page, and Company’s decision to hire Alfred Knopf in 1912 was a turning point, as he went on to found his own house three years later. Many major houses in the next half-century were led by Jewish publishers, but Lambert shows that doesn’t give any merit to the pernicious complaints. Rather than a tight-knit cabal, the ascendent Jewish publising professionals were “members of different generations... socioeconomic strata, and some [had] very little in common.” He concludes with ideas for the industry’s ongoing diversity efforts, suggesting that investing in “BIPOC-led new ventures” could benefit the literary landscape in a similar way as the inclusion of Jewish editors and publishers did. It’s a niche history, but Lambert covers it well. Readers with an interest in the industry will find plenty of insights. (June)