Portia Clark, a well-known figure in New York publishing from the 1960s to the 1980s, died on January 1. She was 91.
Clark began her career at WQED in Pittsburgh during the early days of public television; one of the shows she worked on was The Children’s Corner, where Fred Rogers was creating many of the puppets used in his later work. Later she produced TV shows at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism’s Office of Radio and Television.
By the early 60s she had found the work that would occupy her for over 20 years: book publishing. During these spirited years in publishing, in positions at Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and Oxford University Press, she helped define the field of book promotion to libraries. Together with colleagues from all the major houses, and the great children’s book editors of the era, she helped elevate the burgeoning field of trade children’s books from a sideline to a major publishing enterprise.
Traveling the country promoting book sales to libraries and school systems, she also toured with children’s book authors and illustrators such as Ezra Jack Keats and Virginia Hamilton. On the road or back at home in New York, she was a social ambassador and talented conversationalist, winning friends, buyers and reviewers for the company’s list. Long before what is now called "social networking," she was a skilled hostess of dinners and parties that spread the word about writers and books. With an enviable list of contacts (then a drawer of index cards), she became a fixture at the American Library Association and American Booksellers Association conventions, with her razor-sharp wit, smoky laugh, and her shock of coifed white hair.
Behind her business-like demeanor – tailored skirts, jackets with nipped-in waists, elegant high heels – was a strong-minded individual who never minced words. "I’d like to make a statement" was one of her trademark phrases. As an Oxford University Press colleague, Christopher Kerr, recalled, "Her happy contrarianism was a wonderful presence. She was great company. Her fearlessness was legend."
A memorial service will take place in Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., in the spring. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to Doctors Without Borders.
Sandra Hardy, a freelance writer and graphic designer, has written an appreciation of a longtime OUP colleague and companion.