For the last 15 years, I have been the publisher of Welcome Books (since 2005 distributed by Random House). I am increasingly interested in people most of us have never heard of but should know about. Perhaps this interest was fueled by our publication of a “biography” of a little fly-over town in Iowa (Peter Feldstein’s The Oxford Project). It became the first $50 photography book ever to win a YALSA Alex Award. Or maybe this idea gained traction when a photographer named Paul Mobley walked into our office with a box of portraits of American farmers that exquisitely conveyed their authenticity, their generosity, and their spirit.
My politics began to grow. Not against anything. But for... good food, clean air, fair practices of all kinds. Since then, I have been on the side of unsung heroes: the stewards of our land (American Farmer, which won the 2009 Western Heritage Wrangler—Best Photography Book Award); the keepers and teachers of cultural and culinary traditions (Cooking with Italian Grandmothers, which won the 2009 IACP Judge’s Choice Award); the protectors of our freedom (The Last Good War: The Faces and Voices of World War Two, which won the 2010 ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Award—Editor’s Choice, Nonfiction); and the advocates for those in need (Everyday Heroes: 50 Americans Changing the World, One Non-Profit at a Time, which won the 2013 IPPY Gold Medal—Outstanding Book of the Year Award for Book Most Likely to Save the Planet).
Looking back on my life, everything feels inevitable. My mother was an actress and a vocal member of Women’s Strike for Peace; my father was a playwright who refused to name names during the McCarthy era. I went to work for Harry N. Abrams (everyone needs such a mentor). The book I marketed most effectively there was Gnomes (I fell in love with what they stood for—peace, sustainability, kindness to animals, and commitment to family), and of the books that I acquired for Abrams, Carol Beckwith’s Masaai and Norman Rockwell’s Christmas Book stand out. When I left to cofound Stewart, Tabori & Chang, a memorable early title was Brian Lanker’s I Dream a World—a beautiful photographic book about African-American women whose lives became rich and profound against all odds.
This fall, Welcome Books publishes American Teacher: Heroes in the Classroom by Katrina Fried. It speaks to what teachers feel about the system they work within. And it’s a celebration of the staggering work they do. How divine it is that Barnes & Noble has made American Teacher the centerpiece of its Educator Appreciation Week (October 12–20), and that the independents are featuring it during American Education Week (November 18–22).
I suspect that everyone’s life has been affected by a great teacher. I still have and treasure my reading list from a class that I took in college from Rudolf Arnheim, who taught psychology of art at Sarah Lawrence. His book on Picasso’s Guernica showed me that ideas evolve on canvas, just as they do in dialogue.
I have been in visual book publishing for almost 45 years, working on books by people with passions. I am magnetized by talent and fascinated by context. I am grateful every time I am drawn into deep thinking or seduced by the light as the sun goes down.
My greatest grace is that I can steady my publishing course and keep my heart where it has really always been: making books that make a difference.