Donne Forrest, a beloved figure in children’s book publishing for more than 40 years, died on January 7 at her home in Scarsdale, N.Y., surrounded by her family. She was 80.
Donne Alice Hansen was born on July 21, 1938 in St. Louis, where she also spent her childhood. She graduated from nearby Ladue High School in 1956 and attended both Pembrooke College (now Brown University) in Providence, R.I., and Washington University in St. Louis.
She married Winston Forrest, Jr., with whom she had two sons. Winston Forrest Jr. passed away in 1988.
In 1980, Donne Forrest joined the children’s book marketing department at what was then E.P. Dutton, reporting to Mimi Kayden, and excelling at what would come to be known as “author care,” arranging school and conference visits. Forrest moved to the rights department in 1988, and began handling subsidiary rights for both Dutton Children’s Books and Dial Books for Young Readers. She remained with the company—and the department—through a number of mergers and name changes, and in January 2014 she retired as director, children’s subsidiary rights for Penguin Young Readers Group.
In her role representing children’s sub rights, Forrest was a familiar face at the annual Bologna Children’s Book Fair, where she especially enjoyed down time away from the fairgrounds staying in a countryside villa with friends and colleagues. Christopher Franceschelli, former publisher of Dutton Children’s Books and now publisher of Handprint Books at Chronicle Books, offered a remembrance of those days: “Donne inspired a fierce love and deep affection from all with whom she worked,” he said. “Her spontaneous enthusiasm for the books she represented ignited sales and lasting friendships around the world. She conducted business with a professionalism and immaculate honor that spanned eras. For many years, she spent the Bologna Book Fair staying in a farmhouse villa in the hills outside of the city. A seat at the table there, which she ruled with a gentle benevolence and unflappable good humor, was deservedly a much-coveted commodity among publishing folks across at least four continents.”
Joye Dickens was a lifelong friend of Forrest’s, since junior high school. Dickens remembers Forrest as an excellent student who always made great grades. “The thing about Donne that people in the book world or in Italy will realize is that she was always the fun one,” Dickens noted. “We were all learning to swing dance in the 1950s and at a prom, she would be in the center of all of us, with her date, dancing, which surprised her granddaughter when I showed her a picture of that.”
For the past 20 years or so, Forrest and Dickens have been cornerstones of a group of women who spent summer vacations at a cottage on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. “I started the group maybe 23 years ago with members of my family, and Donne was there with us. I invited my niece and my daughter to join us and my daughter invited a couple friends and we ended up with two groups of women, those of us who recently turned 80, and the younger ones who were in their 50s. We had this cross-generational experience. We would say to the younger women, ‘How can you stand to listen to us?’ and they said, ‘Well, now we know what we’re in for, what’s coming up!’ It was a wonderful thing that happened year after year and Donne was always there. The Cape was a place she really loved to be. Very often she’d say, ‘I’ll just go to the grocery store while you all head down to the beach’ and we’d come back and she’d be reading.”
Dickens revealed some other potentially hidden talents of her friend. “Something that not many people know about is she took classical voice lessons. Donne was a singer. Fast forward to our years at the Cape. There was one year at a group dinner when we started singing old songs. Donne knew every word to every song! She would never call herself a musician but I see her as a multitalented person. Another thing people may not know is that Donne loved to cook. I think Italy influenced her a lot. At the Cape she was famous for her risotto. She had hundreds of cookbooks in her house; she collected them. In a house stacked with books, I think the cookbooks were a highlight of her collection.”
Many of Forrest’s colleagues and friends have expressed a wish to pay tribute to her in our pages. We are gathering their words here.