Donne Forrest, longtime rights director at Dutton Children’s Books and Dial Books for Young Readers, died on January 7 at age 80. She spent more than 40 years in the children’s book publishing industry, and here, some of her friends and colleagues offer tributes.
Karen Lotz, managing director of Walker Books Group, and president and publisher of Candlewick Press
Donne was truly one of the most generous and kind people I have met in all of my publishing career. In the early days, she would gather all of the editorial and subrights assistants together in her office for a good gossip. When we reached the point where we got to go to Bologna ourselves, she took special care in giving us the scoop on everything from which appointments were must-sees to the appropriate time of day to drink cappuccino and the location of the best gelato stand. At the Fair, she was truly our “den mother.” With a twinkle in her eye and the lightest touch, she brokered fantastic relationships and conversations between buyers and sellers. Her approach and breadth of knowledge was instrumental to me in developing my own understanding of the global children's book market, particularly the U.K., which has been a crucial and meaningful part of my life — I am so grateful to her. Generally, she brokered all this from her position at the head of the table in the group "Villa" where many of us stayed over the years. Each night at dinner, with an ever-changing but often-repeating guest list (for it was indeed a coveted invitation), she presided over both the conversation and the menu provided by the wonderful family who hosted us there, utilizing her fabulous, lively, and ever-improving Italian. Grazie mille, Donne! I will miss you so much. You will be with us, always.
Rebecca Mancini, owner, Rights Mix
I met Donne eons ago at my very first job in publishing and I immediately recognized a “kindred spirit.” She was generous with her knowledge and unselfish with her time to those of us she mentored as well as being funny, smart, silly, and downright irrepressible. To me, she referred to herself as “your mom away from mom” and she was. She was a wise counsel, a sounding board, a shoulder to cry on, a giggle, a guffaw, a bright light, and the very dearest of friends. I was blessed to have her in my life for as long as I did and am bereft at her passing.
Klaus Flugge, publisher, Andersen Press, London
Never has there been a more lovely, warmhearted, and pleasant person to buy books from. In fact, once you bought a book from her you became her friend forever!
Susan Van Metre, executive editorial director at Walker Books U.S.
This is one of my favorite pictures of Donne, with her friend Carlo Bacchelli, in the Villa up in the hills outside Bologna, Italy, where we lucky Penguins and former Penguins stayed each year during the book fair. Donne was the Villa mother, organizing the rest of us guests, and Carlo our wonderful host. The Villa is Carlo’s family’s country home, which he generously opened to us each year, his aunts cooking us exquisite homemade food each night in dinners that lasted into the wee hours and ended only when the grappa and limoncello bottles were finally put away.
I was so excited to be invited to stay at the Villa for the first time in 2009, having heard about it for many years from former Penguin colleagues as a nirvana to be reached only through persistence in publishing and good communication with Italian cab drivers. I traveled to it nervously that first trip, speaking no Italian, via plane to Milan, train to Bologna, and cab to the Tamoil station in Calderino, where Carlo would come to pick me up and drive me up the winding mountain roads to Rasiglio. (He never trusted cab drivers to get us all the way there.) Donne checked in with me at each stop on this long route to make sure I wasn’t on the train to Rome or standing at an Agip station. And then made sure I was sitting by the fire with a glass of prosecco in hand promptly upon my arrival at the Villa. The Villa was the very best part of being at the fair that year and every year, thanks to Donne and Carlo.
Cecily Kaiser, children’s publisher, Phaidon Press
I was Donne’s favorite. Twenty years ago, I was her favorite Scholastic Book Clubs manager—I knew so because she would take me to lunch if I so much as sneezed, and she would “cut me a deal” on the books I licensed. Well. I suppose she took many of my colleagues to lunch... and perhaps “cutting me a deal” was really settling on a fair price without the back-and-forth tension of a drawn-out negotiation. Perhaps we all felt as if we were her favorite. And she was ours.
I didn’t see Donne for a while once I left Scholastic, but then by great fortune, I was invited to stay at the legendary Villa during the Bologna Book Fair seven years ago, and returned many times following that. Donne greeted me each year with a hospitality as if it were her own family home, and a get-it-yourself approach as if it were my own family home. And we were. Family. Donne’s family was wide, wise, multi-generational, multi-lingual, and singularly united by wit and humor. She was the center of the world at every dinner table: the storyteller, the color commentator, the whisperer under her breath. The luckiest were those who got to sit near to her. I was her favorite, so I often sat right next to her. Well. I suppose we took turns sitting next to her... and perhaps she whispered to us all at one time or another. Perhaps we all felt as if we were her favorite. And she was ours.
Donne: never disingenuous or interested in attempting to be. Always sharp, but willing to laugh at herself when she missed something. Straight-shooting and definitive, joyfully flitting down the line between proper and indecent. Oh, and that wonderful breath-in pause that she would take while listening to you, before she offered her own shrewd take on the matter... So much to love. So much to take in, and take with us as we carry her forward.
Steven Kellogg, author and illustrator
With unfailing enthusiasm and dedication, Donne contributed an abundance of support and inspiration during the many years that she brought authors and artists together with the teachers, librarians, and kids for whom the books published by her company were created. She organized publicity campaigns, and complex author-visit itineraries, with astonishing efficiency and joy—instantly winning the trust and admiration of everyone involved. She always left bounteous quantities of good will and gratitude in the wake of every event she created.
I loved it when our conversations wandered into fields other than publishing, like politics, family dynamics, and cats. Her opinions were insightful, original, and often hilarious. She was a wonderful co-conspirator, colleague, and friend during the golden years of children’s book publishing, and I shall be forever grateful that I was able to know her and to work with her.
Fiona Kenshole, partner and senior literary agent, Transatlantic Agency
I am so lucky to have known Donne—I first met her in the ’80s when she was on her first sales trip to London and I was a very young acquiring editor at A & C Black. I can’t remember the title I bought—although I know there was one—but I do remember having delicious Turkish food for lunch, with a bottle of wine, of course. I was very nervous. As we made small talk she told me she was from Scarsdale. “Like the diet,” I blurted, because it was literally the only thing I knew about it. In spite of this awful gaucheness, we went on to become friends and it was always a pleasure to see her on trips and at fairs, and I gladly went on to acquire many books from her. She was quite brilliant at presenting her list. Being invited to dine with her at the Villa was a wonderful and memorable experience—even though I remember I arrived very late, after missing the turn and almost driving to Florence. I will miss Donne’s warmth, generosity of spirit, tact, and humor.
Silke Weniger and Alexandra Legath, Literarische Agentur Silke Weniger
Donne was the rights director with the greatest heart of all. Working for her as German subagents for over 20 years was a joy and privilege. Her attachment to her international team was unrivalled, her generosity unsurpassed. We miss her very much. Rest in peace, dearest Donne.
Roxie Munro, author and illustrator
One of the things I remember most about Donne was that she was always so kind to authors—sensitive, fair-minded, and interested in one’s work. She wasn’t impatient with inexperienced beginners, like me when I first met her at Dutton. She was the first to send me to conferences—you felt like she was on your side, and cared. And later, at Penguin working in rights, she continued to be always gracious and supportive. A really lovely person.
Cecile Goyette, editor and writer
One of the several weird reverbs of death is the stuff you learn about the person while reading their obituary, attending their funeral or memorial. I had for the most part thought of Donne Forrest as my friend who happened to have been a work colleague. Though we met at work, I wasn’t at Penguin for my entire career and while there we only occasionally had direct professional interaction (unless you count some really great lunches, which you should). As a friend, I loved her so much and wasn’t all that aware of how accomplished she was at her job. What I now know about Donne's professional reach and excellence only expands my appreciation of this wondrous and amazing person.
Donne, you were a total blessing in my and my family’s life. We were stupid-lucky to know someone like you—fun and funny, sweet and smart, good and kind from your tips to your toes. We all miss you, my darling friend, and I am thankful beyond measure that our time intertwined.
Farah Gehy, subsidiary rights director, Peachtree Publishers
I was fortunate enough to meet Donne about 20 years ago, when Penguin and Putnam merged. From the beginning, she was warm, approachable, funny, and just one of the kindest people I knew. She was always so easy to speak to about anything—from the mundane to quite serious topics. She took me under her wing during my first Frankfurt and invited me to some of her dinners—which I really appreciated since I didn’t know anyone. I remember after dinner there was a slight rain, and I thought we would never catch a taxi. But Donne, who loved to shock me, hiked her skirt up to her knees and put out her leg to catch a cab! I can’t remember if we caught a cab with her stunt, but I certainly remember the laugh that we had.
Donne was always so welcoming and inviting, and I think it was a drive for her to make others feel comfortable. Nowhere was that more apparent than at the Villa in Bologna. I’ve had the honor of having had many dinners there over the years and was lucky enough to be one of the house guests one year—where she still looked after me, after all of these years. At the Villa, Donne was always the queen of the table, making sure everyone was comfortable and having a good time. In this photo, here we are at the Villa on what would be her last visit. Her smile, warmth and kindness are so evident. I will treasure the memories and your kindness forever, Donne. Sleep well, dear friend.